Firefox 3: Color profile support (oh the pretty, pretty colors)

Browsers, Firefox, Mozilla, Photography, Work 65 Comments

[Click on pictures to view different sizes.]

I got my first camera around 1985 or so. It was second-hand Fujica 35mm with a 50mm lens that I purchased for $110. I ran a lot of film through that camera, and used it constantly through all of high school and university, going so far as to process my own film, do my own prints, and work as the photo editor for the school paper. I finally replaced my old Fujica with a second-hand Nikon FM2n (and a handful of used prime lenses) in 1997 or 1998. Since then, of course, I’ve been a digital camera junkie, starting with a 1 megapixel Kodak DC240, then moving up through a host of various Nikon and Canon point-and-shoots until finally scraping together the cash for a proper DSLR, the Nikon D70s. I’ve upgraded once since then to the Nikon D80, and I think this is all the camera I need until Nikon puts out a reasonably priced full-frame sensor model. In short, I’m a bit of a photography enthusiast.

One thing that has always irritated me about looking at pictures on the web is that browsers don’t seem to display photographs properly. And by “photographs” I really mean “colors”. I spend a lot of time tweaking pictures in Photoshop, but when I upload them to my Flickr account and look at them in Firefox 2 the colors aren’t the same — they’re more washed out, dull, and lifeless. It’s a subtle thing, but annoying nonetheless.

Here’s an example of what I mean. The following is a split-photo created from two screenshots — one of my Flickr photos displayed in Firefox 2, and the same photo displayed in Photoshop:

Firefox2-Photoshop-Split

It turns out that these differences are because of something called “color profile support”. Firefox 2 does not include support for color profiles, so the browser renders colors as best it can without doing special tweaks based on your system or custom color profiles.

The good news is that Firefox 3 does include full support for color profiles. The bad news is that color profile support will be turned off by default when Firefox 3 ships. I’ll explain why this is the case a little later.

Here’s a three-split photograph created using screenshots of another of my Flickr photos in Firefox 2, Firefox 3 (with color profile support enabled), and Photoshop. As you can see, the Firefox 3 photo matches the Photoshop photo exactly. This is happy news for photographers.

ColorProfileExample6a

There are two ways to turn on color profile support in Firefox 3. The easiest is to install the Color Management add-on (which will work with Firefox 3 Beta 5). After you install the add-on and restart Firefox 3, color profile support is enabled, and you can specify a custom color profile by going to the Tools menu, selecting “Add-ons”, and clicking the Color Management add-on “Preferences” button. If you do not specify a color profile, the system default profile will be used, which should be OK for most people.

The second way to turn on color profile support is through the about:config page, which is a special page where a huge number of different (and usually hidden) Firefox options can be tweaked. This is not a recommended method for most people — about:config options should only be edited if you are very aware of what you’re doing. That said, if you do want to edit the options there, they are gfx.color_management.enabled and gfx.color_management.display_profile. For more about editing about:config, see the SUMO knowledgebase article, or the more detailed (if slightly out of date) content over on MozillaZine.

Here’s another example photo, this time just Firefox 2 compared to Firefox 3 with color profile support enabled:

ColorProfileExample1

Why wouldn’t you want it turned on?

So, if color profile support is so awesome (and it really is, in my opinion), why won’t it be on by default for Firefox 3? There are two main reasons.

First, color profile support causes a roughly 10-15% performance hit in many of our performance tests. If the images that you’re viewing are of a reasonable size, that’s probably negligible. If they’re large, it could be noticeable. We’re working on improving the performance of this feature so that we can turn it on by default in future releases.

Second, plugins do not currently support color profiles. What this means is if a plugin has been color-matched precisely with other parts of the page, it may no longer match when color profile support is turned on. As an example, here are two screenshots of a plugin displayed on the GuildWars game website, Firefox 2 on the left, and Firefox 3 (with color profile support enabled) on the right. You’ll notice that the background grey on the Firefox 3 screenshot is a lot darker, so the corners and bottom of the plugin no longer match it exactly. This is caused by color profile support being enabled — if disabled, Firefox 3 renders the background grey exactly the same way as Firefox 2.

GW-side-by-side

So, there are currently some trade offs involved with enabling color profile support, and the Firefox 3 developers have opted to leave it disabled by default for the time being. That said, I have been using Firefox 3 with color profile support enabled for months and have never encountered any noticeable performance impact. It is likely that a future version of Firefox will see this feature enabled by default, which will be a happy day as everyone will then be able to see photographs on the web as they were meant to be seen. There will be great rejoicing.

ColorProfileExample2

For more examples of Firefox 2 vs. Firefox 3 (with color profile support enabled) screenshots, check out my Flickr set.

Loaf

Cooking, Food 4 Comments

Step 17: Close up

A while ago I decided that I wanted to learn how to make bread. I have a love-hate relationship with bread, you see — I love good, chewy, fresh, crispy bread, but I hate most of the stuff you can buy at the grocery store or market. The market bread was disappointing, honestly — I was expecting great things from that and it was just boring, weak, and flavourless. Boo.

Anyhow, after asking David Humphries for a book recommendation, I picked up Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible (Amazon.ca, Amazon.com). It is an excellent book. After pouring over the introductory essays for a few days, I skipped ahead to the “Basic Hearth Bread” recipe, and gave it a shot. It worked beautifully. I made my third loaf of it yesterday, and I took pictures of the process that are over on my flickr account. Check out the set here: making bread.

Sprouts!

Food, Gardening, Herbs, House, Moncton 2 Comments

first sprouts

I’ve always wanted to have my own herb garden, and now that we have a house with a big yard and plenty of sun, it’s time. At the beginning of March I started doing some research and very quickly discovered that buying herb plants, particularly the number and variety I want, was simply untenable. At a minimum of $3 per plant (plus shipping, and shipping plants isn’t cheap) I was looking at a final bill of a couple hundred bucks, the majority of which was for annuals. Since half the idea is to save money by not buying fresh herbs at the grocery store (seriously, $2-3 for a small handful of wilted basil?), a couple of hundred bucks wasn’t in the cards.

Then I spotted the seed prices, which are much more in line with what I had budgeted for this little experiment. While there are a few herbs that can’t really be grown from seed, the vast majority can, and ordering from Richter’s, I got many more herb, tomato, vegetable, and decorative plant seeds that I really need for less than $50. Another $12 got seeding flats and soil, and I was all set.

Last Saturday I spent a couple of hours planting out two flats’ worth of seeds — 144 units in all, with 2-3 seeds in each. These included: Sweet Basil, Thai Basil, Lemon Balm, Chives, Cilantro (two types), Dill, Greek Oregano, Italian Parsley, Rosemary, Garden Sage, French Thyme, Yellow Currant Tomatoes, Roma Tomatoes, Alpine Strawberries, Chinese Lantern, and four types of chiles (Cayenne, Jalapeno, Scotch Bonnet, and Serrano). I planted 144 in total because I’m pessimistically expecting a 75% failure rate, but we’ll see how it goes. There are still some herbs I need to buy as plants, including Bay, a couple of Mints, and French Tarragon. I expect I’ll also need to pick up a few Rosemary plants since those are apparently difficult to grow from seed.

Today, six days after planting the seeds, I was excited to discover the first sproutlings. The Sweet Basil, Thyme, Chives, and Oregano have all germinated, in spite of the less-than-stellar conditions they’ve had to deal with. Of course, I really have no idea what I’m doing beyond what I’ve read on a handful of pages on the internet, so we’ll see how it all turns out in the end.

Firefox 3 Bookmarks (My god, it’s full of stars…)

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 89 Comments

[Note: I use a Mac, so all screenshots and descriptions are of the Mac UI. Things are likely different for other platforms. Also, you can click on all the pictures below to view other sizes.]

I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional bookmarks — I tend to bookmark lots of things and my bookmarking system always degraded to the point of uselessness pretty quickly. Bookmarks became a bit of a junk drawer for me — I’d throw things in there and they’d end up forgotten, or lost, or just never pulled out and looked at again. I never had the patience to create a nice clean folder hierarchy and file things neatly away. I am clearly not a student of the “everything has a place, and everything in its place” school of thought.

Firefox 3 introduces a few new features to bookmarks that I think make them much, much easier to use, more useful in general, and much more useful in particular for catastrophically disorganized folk like me. The three main features being introduced are: Bookmark Stars, Bookmark Tags, and Smart Bookmark Folders.

Bookmark Stars

Bookmark Stars are a quick and easy way to bookmark a page with a single click. At the right end of the Location bar there is now a star icon that is hollow if a page is not bookmarked, and solid if it is.

To bookmark a page using the star, you simply click it once. Like so:

1-empty-star

Click.

2-starred

That’s it. Firefox 3 introduces one-click bookmarking — the quickest and easiest way to add a Location to your personal bookmark list. You don’t have to do anything else beyond this, but you can if you want to.

If you click the star again, it opens the Bookmark dialog, where you can edit the bookmark title, add tags to the bookmark, file the bookmark in a folder, or delete the bookmark. Naturally, you can still open the Bookmark dialog with cmd-D (or ctrl-D if you’re not using a Mac).

3-open-bookmark-dialog

The Bookmark dialog has other surprises, too. The drop arrows beside the Folder and Tags fields expand the dialog so you can add new folders, browse through your existing folder tree, or select pre-existing tags with a checklist.

ReplacementFolderView

6-extended-tag-list

Of course, if you want to delete the bookmark, you can do that here as well, using the “Remove Bookmark” button.

7-delete-bookmark

Bookmark Tags

Tags are a way to add flexible “extra” information to a bookmark. Where Folders let you organize bookmarks in a way, they’re limited in that you can only put each bookmark in a single folder. Not so with tags — you can add as many tags to a bookmark as you want. For example, I could put my “French Onion Soup” recipe into a “Recipes” folder (or even a “Soup” subfolder under “Recipes”), but I couldn’t put that bookmark into both the “Vegetable” and “Soup” subfolders at the same time. On the other hand, I can tag that single bookmark with “recipes”, “soup”, “french”, “onion”, “vegetable”, and anything else I want.

So how is this flexible information useful? The two most obvious ways are through the Bookmark Organizer and the “AwesomeBar” (that I discuss in an earlier post).

The Firefox 3 Bookmark Organizer (now called the “Library”) can be accessed through the “Bookmarks” menu, and looks like this:

9-bookmark-organizer

As in Firefox 2 you can browse around your bookmark folders here, if you have any:

10-sort-by-tag

What’s new is the ability to list bookmarks by tag. By expanding my “Tags” folder and clicking on “soup”, for example, I can get a list of all the bookmarks I have that have the “soup” tag. If a bookmark has a “soup” tag and also has a “recipes” tag, it will also show up in the “recipes” tag list:

12-view-tagged

Tags allow you to very quickly file a single bookmark in a bunch of different places, rather than having to create an exhaustive hierarchy of folders and file each bookmark carefully within that organizational structure. I find that this saves a ton of time and effort in the long-run, and makes it much easier for me to find my bookmarks later.

As I mentioned, tags are one of the things searched when you type words in the Location bar, like so:

awesomebar-tag-search

If you want to read more about the new Location bar features (affectionately dubbed the “AwesomeBar”), check out my other post all about it.

Smart Bookmark Folders

Finally, there are Smart Bookmark Folders. These are basically “saved searches” that automatically update when you add new items matching that search to your bookmarks. So, if I create a “Soup recipes” Smart Bookmark Folder, any time I add a bookmark that has “soup” and “recipes” in the title or tag, it will automatically be added to my “Soup recipes” folder.

Creating a Smart Bookmark Folder is easy. First, do a search in the Bookmark Organizer, then click the “Save” button at the right hand side below the search bar:

16-create-smart-folder

That will prompt you to name your Smart Bookmark Folder, which I’m calling “Soup recipes”:

17-name-smart-folder

This adds a Smart Bookmark Folder called “Soup recipes” to my list of folders, with a nice purple folder icon indicating that it’s not just a regular folder. Now I can find all the results for a “soup recipes” search just by clicking on that folder, and new items will be included as they are added over time:

18-view-contents-of-smart-folder

These new Bookmark features — Stars, Tags, and Smart Folders — in combination with the “AwesomeBar” have completely changed how I use and think about Bookmarks. Where once Bookmarks were my junk drawer, they’re now flexible and powerful enough to make a significant difference in how I use the Web every day.

AwesomeBar is awesome

Firefox, General, Innovation, Mozilla, Work 41 Comments

In Firefox 3 the URL bar is being completely revamped in extremely exciting ways. In Firefox 2 the URL bar is fairly staid and plain, giving you a drop-list of recently-visted URLs and partial page titles. If you started typing in the Firefox 2 URL bar, it would generate a drop list of URLs whose domains matched what you were typing, like so:

Firefox 2's URL bar - less awesome than AwesomeBar

It would only match the start of the domain, however, so typing “mozi” would only list URLs that started with “http://www.mozi…”, which doesn’t include things like “http://developer.mozi…”. Those would only be listed if you started typing “developer” in the URL bar:

Firefox 2's URL bar - less awesome than AwesomeBar

This is OK behaviour. If you happen to know the URLs of the pages you’re looking for, the Firefox 2 URL bar will help you out by giving you a list of URLs whose starting bits match what you’re typing. Saves a little time, and becomes a quick way to get back to sites whose URLs you have at least partially memorized. If you were hoping to revisit a site but you didn’t know how the domain started, you’d be out of luck and would have to resort to using one of the major search engines to look for it.

Enter AwesomeBar

In Firefox 3, however, the staid and plain URL bar has been transformed into a much, much more powerful and useful tool. Dubbed the “AwesomeBar”, it lets you use the URL field of your browser to do a keyword search of your history and bookmarks. No longer do you have to know the domain of the page you’re looking for — the AwesomeBar will match what you’re typing (even multiple words!) against the URLs, page titles, and tags in your bookmarks and history, returning results sorted by “frecency” (an algorithm combining frequency + recency).

Not only that, but the drop-list results show you the page’s favicon, the full title, the URL, and whether you have bookmarked and/or tagged the page in a richly formatted two-line display.

Here are some screenshots illustrating the magic. I tend to look up a lot of recipes on the internet, and the other day I wanted to find the recipe for a spicy ginger carrot cake I’d seen somewhere in my surfing. Here’s how the new AwesomeBar makes this unbelievably simple:

I start by typing “ginger”, and AwesomeBar searches through my history and bookmarks to return everything that matches that keyword, showing the first six and letting me scroll through the rest. You’ll notice here that several of the results are bookmarked (blue star icon on the right), and tagged (tag icon). The sites’ favicons are displayed on the left, making it really easy to scan through the results if you know what site you’re looking for in particular:

Firefox 3's AwesomeBar in action - one keyword

Instead of scanning and scrolling, however, I just add another keyword, “carrot”. AwesomeBar updates the list to show only the three results that match both these keywords:

Firefox 3's AwesomeBar in action - two keywords

Adding one more keyword, “cake”, narrows the list to just a single option:

Firefox 3's AwesomeBar in action - three keywords

Et voila. Out of thousands of entries in my bookmarks and history, AwesomeBar has found the single “ginger carrot cake” recipe I had read somewhere online in the past year. I had no idea which site it was on, so wouldn’t have been able to search by the site’s domain. Even Google wouldn’t have helped me here since this recipe doesn’t appear until the 8th page of results when searching for “ginger carrot cake”. AwesomeBar searches only my personal, local bookmarks and history, making it an incredibly powerful tool for finding pages that I’ve visited before and want to find again.

I’ve been using the Firefox 3 nightly releases for some time now, and I can honestly say that the new AwesomeBar behaviour has absolutely changed how I use the Web. Not having to remember URLs or resort to global web searches to find pages I’ve visited before has made using the Web a whole lot easier and more efficient.

So, yeah. AwesomeBar? Awesome. If you’re willing to play with not-quite-fully-baked software (by which I mean “beta”), you can experience the awesome yourself by grabbing the Firefox 3 Beta 5 download and testing it out.

Want to read more?
Edward Lee, the primary AwesomeBar developer, has written a bunch of blog posts over the course of AwesomeBar’s development:

Game review: Riddle of the Tomb

Games, Reviews No Comments

Riddle of the Tomb cover art

FWIW, I write short reviews because 9 times out of 10 someone else has written a longer, better, more detailed one than I ever would. Here’s that review for this game: Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb (@ adventuregamers.com). (Note: they changed the title for some reason.)

My review: Decent graphics, slightly annoying UI (the click-and-drag to spin things part is basically awful and unintuitive given the cursor), ok voice acting, ok music. The puzzles are entirely too easy, and the game is too short. I paid $19 for this game, which is too much. This is a $6 game, at best.

Beef curry

Cooking, Food, Recipes No Comments

Ingredients

  • 1 kg stewing beef, in 1″ cubes
  • 2 tbsp oil (canola, vegetable, whatever)
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp curry powder
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 c water or stock

Method

  1. In a medium pot (with lid), brown the beef in the oil in three batches, and remove to a bowl.
  2. Toss garlic and ginger into the empty pot where you browned the beef. Saute over med heat for a minute or two. Toss in the lemon juice and curry powder and cook for a few minutes (3-4). At this point the bottom of the pot is covered with browned bits of beef, ginger, garlic, and curry powder — don’t worry about that, it’ll all come off after you add the water and simmer the beef. It’s tasty, honest.
  3. Return beef to the pot and stir well so the curry goop coats the beef. Add tomato paste. Cook like that for a minute or two.
  4. Add water, bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1.5-2 hours.
  5. 15 mins before serving, remove lid and turn heat up to med-high. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly.
  6. Serve with rice and/or naan, and some sort of vegetable (I did garlicky-ginger sauted spinach).

Done! Yum. The curry powder is not hot at all. If you want spicy-hot curry, add as much cayenne pepper to the curry powder as you want.

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