Zenji: towards a simpler web browser (from 2007!)

Browsers, Innovation, Mozilla, Mozilla Labs, Open Source, Ramblings, Web, Work 8 Comments

Robcee and I spent a bunch of time thinking and talking about alternative browser designs back in 2006/2007. He recently posted his idea from back then, so I figured I’d dig through the archive and post mine. I call it Zenji.

Note: Where it says “[EMPTY PAGE]” that’s where the actual Web content or Dashboard would be. So that’s just a lie.


Zenji was an attempt to re-envision the browser as something smaller and simpler. Some of the ideas have actually shown up in modern browsers, which is gratifying. Other ideas are just terrible (no back button? whuck?). Were I to sit down now and put together ideas for Zenji 2, I would do a lot of things differently.

That in mind, here’s a quick overview of Zenji. The long version is a 13 page PDF which you can download.

The primary goal of Zenji was to be “as simple as possible, but no simpler.” It encompassed a pared down feature set that would let most users use the vast majority of the Web without being overwhelmed.

While Zenji was to be as simple as possible, it also had to be able to grow with the user. Novice users become expert users over time, and what they need in a browser evolves as well.

Features and UI

What Zenji doesn’t have:

  • Traditional tabs
  • A URL bar
  • Any form of bookmark organization
  • Back/forward buttons (2010 editorial comment: yeah, what?)
  • A “home page”
  • Context menus
  • Most preferences or customization options
  • Traditional “addons”

What Zenji does have:

Search: Search is the primary focus of Zenji, with the main search bar stretching across the entire top of the window.

Toolbar: The Zenji toolbar does not appear at the top of the window, but rather on the side. Default toolbar buttons are: Dashboard, Stars, Timeline, Subscriptions, Zoom, Widget bar. Additional buttons include: Downloads and Archives.

Dashboard: The dashboard was envisioned as a new breed of “start page” that is local on the users’ machine, but that pulls information both from the browser and the web. It could include things such as: recently starred pages, most frequently visited pages, latest subscription updates, Zenji tips & tricks, help/support info, new widget promotion, user polls & feedback requests, etc.

Stars: Stars are Zenji’s simplified bookmarks. Clicking the “Star” button opens/closes the Stars sidebar, which includes the user’s starred pages sortable by recency and/or frequency. Includes a search box.


Timeline: Timeline is a hybrid of history & tabs that can be viewed as a list (with favicons) or thumbnails.


Subscriptions: Subscriptions are essentially fully integrated feeds. If you subscribe to a page, Zenji shows you the most recent updates to your subscriptions in this sidebar.


Zoom: Apparently I thought zoom was important enough to have on the main toolbar. This would probably be different now :)

Downloads: Sidebar of stuff the user has downloaded through Zenji, all neatly organized. Everything goes into a single directory, which can be sorted in Zenji in various ways.

Archives: Archived pages (basically saved web pages) are stored in a single Zenji archives directory.

Widget bar: This is where the user can add things to Zenji’s UI and functionality. Widgets were envisioned as a new breed of add-on, being small, very task-specfic, and allowed to change nothing about Zenji’s UI beyond, at most, displaying a panel when clicked. Examples would include: Gmail bookmark/icon with new message count overlay, Facebook w/ overlay, Current weather + temp, Flickr RSS stream and uploader, Personas, etc. Widgets would be a simple drag/drop to install and uninstall.


Page actions: Star, Subscribe, Archive.


And et cetera. There’s more detail (and more craziness) in the PDF. Turns out thinking about browser design is a lot of fun :)

Check out the Mozilla Labs Chromeless browser experiment if you haven’t — the team is working on making zany experiments like this as fast and easy as possible, which I think could lead to an amazing period of exploration and innovation.

A random post about grocery shopping

Cooking, Food, Ramblings 1 Comment

A long time ago I realized that grocery shopping isn’t something I can do haphazardly — send me into a grocery store without a list and a solid plan of action and I’ll come out with a completely random array of stuff, little of which can be used to put together anything even remotely resembling a meal.

So, I plan. Nothing crazy obsessive-compulsive, just a rough idea of 5-6 main meals we can make, plus various things for breakfasts and lunch. Rob and I both work from home, so we eat in the vast majority of the time and only go out for lunch or dinner two or three times a week.

As an example, here’s the menu plan I cobbled together earlier today:

  • Soba salad with spinach + edamame (dinner, leftovers for lunch)
  • Beef curry (dinner, leftovers for lunch)
  • Saag aloo (to have with beef curry)
  • Ramen (w/ pork, scallions & bokchoy — dinner)
  • Beef & mushroom stirfry with noodles or rice (dinner, leftovers for lunch)
  • Leek & potato soup (dinner, leftovers for lunch)
  • Chana masala & rice (dinner, leftovers for lunch)
  • Bacon & Eggers (breakfast, weekend)
  • Muslix & yogurt (breakfast, 2-3 times)
  • Cereal w/ berries (breakfast, 2-3 times)
  • Steel-cut oatmeal (breakfast)

And that pretty much gets us through the week, with a few cheese & cracker or toast snacks here and there, and enough produce to throw together an extra side or snack if needed.

The shopping list, not including stuff we already have on hand looks something like what’s below. I do organize it in order of where stuff is in the store because that just makes life easier:

  • Limes (3)
  • Spinach (lg pkg)
  • Green onions
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Bokchoy or napa cabbage
  • Shitake mushrooms
  • Eggplant
  • Onions (3lb)
  • Potatoes (5lb)
  • Leeks (2 pkg)
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Blueberries or raspberries
  • Bread for toast
  • English muffins
  • Bacon
  • Beef brisket/flank
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Stewing beef (2 pkg)
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Frozen spinach (2-3)
  • Sugar
  • Tomato paste
  • Basmati rice
  • Beef stock (2-3)
  • Coffee beans (2)
  • Muslix

And there you have it. My grocery list for tomorrow. Exciting times.

Seven things you probably already know about me…

Meme, Ramblings, Work 3 Comments

I got tagged by robcee, so here goes…

The Rules

  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post. (see above)
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post. (see below)
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs. (see below)
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged. (you’ll just have to trust me)

The Seven Things

1) I figure skated for many years as a kid and was pretty good at it. I quit when I was 17.

2) I haven’t driven since sometime in 1994. Until this year I just never lived somewhere where I needed a car. My license has since expired, so right now I find myself in the interesting position of owning a vehicle (a second-hand van I got for a song) but not being able to drive it.


3) I used to collect comic books. I still have two decent-sized boxes, most of which are old X-Men and related mutie titles. I am an annoying person to watch the X-Men movies with.


4) I didn’t get interested in food until around 2001 and didn’t really start cooking at all until 2002-2003. In 2001 I was living in Montreal, and it was there that I discovered that food can be f&*%ing incredible. The combination of cheap rent, high salary, and a city full of insanely awesome restaurants expanded my epicurean horizons by several orders of magnitude. Until then I’d largely lived on ramen, kraft dinner, and boiled potatoes with butter. I am not joking.


5) I was addicted to the Asheron’s Call MMORPG (an early precursor of World of Warcraft), and played it with obsessive-compulsive fervour for two years. Funnily enough, the game is still going, having recently celebrated their 100th monthly update. I hope they leave it going forever, if only so I never have to completely say goodbye to Dereth. Holtburg, represent.


6) I was a total goth in highschool (more of an early precursor to goth since goth wasn’t goth then). There is no photographic evidence of this that I am aware of, and I would like it to stay that way.


7) I really love camping, but never get a chance to go any more. I’ve even gone winter camping, which is crazy fun although your feet are basically wet the whole time.



Seven People

  • Shaver – Because he introduced me to Asheron’s Call.
  • Lilly – Because he’s fun.
  • Melissa – Because she’s awesome.
  • Mary – Because she’s also awesome.
  • Zab – Because he’s Zab.
  • Peter Rukvina – To get this meme over to PEI.
  • Nicholas McDowell – Because I’ve known him since something stupid like 1994 but haven’t actually met him yet. Yay internet.

Stuff I’ve looked up on Wikipedia…

Ramblings, Reading, Web No Comments

Gerv posted about his Wikipedia addiction, so I figured I’d follow suit, only slightly differently. I don’t read nearly as many Wikipedia pages per day as he does, and rather than pick a dozen random pages I figured I’d just give a list of 50 or so interesting ones I’ve looked at recently. For really no particular reason other than I’m sort of bored and looking at Wikipedia is fun.

On being unplugged

Internet, Ramblings 2 Comments

rob, being totally intrepid

Spending a full two weeks offline turned out to be more interesting than I expected. Like many of my friends, I believed that I’d be itching for some connectivity or email or news or Twitters within a matter of days. But I wasn’t. I thought I’d end up feeling cut off and isolated having no access to Web feeds, news sites, email, or TV. But I didn’t. I thought that, by the end of my exile, I’d be relieved when I was finally able to get back online. But that didn’t happen either.

Instead what I discovered is that being online all the time is profoundly fragmenting, stressful, and distracting. It turns out that I really don’t need to be incessantly jacked into the Matrix, that having constant, up-to-date information about all the myriad details of global, economic, political, and technology news doesn’t make me better, stronger, faster, more knowledgeable, or better informed. What it does make me is more scattered, erratic, stressed, edgy, and flighty.

Yes, flighty.

During my two week exile from the Intarwebs, I rediscovered my ability to read long, complex pieces of writing in a single sitting. I regained a sense of calm and an ability to focus of which I had forgotten I was capable. Without the constant distraction of email and IM and IRC and Twitter and Growl and SMS and Web feeds and the telephone and everything else, I found myself more present than I have felt in a long, long time. By contrast, the constant barrage of interruptions and distractions feels very much like a system that appears stable only because all the subsystems are equally unstable. Let just one of those subsystems get out of whack and the whole mess comes crashing down. This, I’ve realized, is neither wise nor healthy.

I also discovered that the lack of a clear line between “work” and “not-work” makes me insane. Now that I have regained some tenuous grasp of my sanity (which I hadn’t realized I’d lost until I stumbled across it again), I’m going to try to hang on to and strengthen it by being very, very disciplined about establishing and maintaining work/not-work boundaries. I’ve been working from home for four years now so this could be a bit tricky, and I’m bound to backslide now and again (and crunch-times are fair game, of course), but it’s a worthy and necessary goal. So far it’s working out.

It’s just time to slow down. I’ve spent the past eleven years continually ramping up my information consumption and communications channels, while gradually blurring the lines between work and not-work to the point of invisibility. I’ve been boiling that frog so unbelieveably slowly that I really had no idea just how stressful it had become. But now I do, so now it’s time to start fixing it.

Vacation lesson #2: Slow isn’t just for food.

I have a (another) new blog

Books, Ramblings, Writing 6 Comments

Faithful readers! All, like, four of you. You’ll be excited to learn that I’ve started yet-another-weblog. I’ve been intending to start this one for a while, but having a couple of days off has finally given me the time to get it done-enough to start using. It’s over here:

Parchment Moon

Parchment Moon is a weblog about books, writing, language, and other literary things. Mostly books, tho’. Anyhow. There you go.

Chunky Sausage Pasta

Ramblings, Recipes No Comments

The lack of updates is due to the fact that I’m buried neck-deep in work. Long story short, we’ve had to postpone some software/design upgrades for my project twice now, but…you know, we’re learning. Mostly I’m learning a lot about what it’s like to be a project manager (sort of) for a small but intense little project.

All that aside, I did make something yummy for dinner tonight that I would like to eventually recreate. Here’s the recipe:

Chunky Sausage Pasta


  • 3 hot Italian sausages, cut into chunks while raw
  • 1 red onion, chunky chop
  • 1 large green pepper, chunky chop
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 jar Classico Spicy Red Pepper sauce
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Fresh grated parmasean cheese (get the good stuff, really)
  • Tortiglioni pasta (or ziti)


Heat a good sized sauce pan to medium or medium hot. Drop in sausage chunks and let brown well on one side, then stir/shake. Keep doing this until sausage is cooked through. Some sausage bits will stick to the bottom, and if you’ve got the temperature at the right level, they’ll get nice and brown. Don’t worry, they’ll unstick later.

When the meat is cooked through, toss in the peppers and onions and stir well. Cook these for a little while until starting to soften. Add minced garlic and black pepper and stir, continuing to cook until the veggies are cooked but still a little crisp. Pour in the full jar of sauce, stir well, and turn heat to low. Let this simmer for a while, stirring occassionally.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Cook pasta. Tortiglioni is a nice big fat chunky pasta that goes well with the chunky sauce. Drain (don’t rinse).

Pasta goes in bowls, sauce goes over it, and top with grated parmasean and some more fresh black pepper. This is a little spicy and would go nicely with a fairly bold red wine.

Feeds two with leftovers for lunch.

Ah, software

Photography, Ramblings 4 Comments

So, it turns out that my Photoblog software doesn’t want to let me log in. Not only that, but it doesn’t want to email me my current or a new password. Long story short — I’m screwed. There’s no way for me to actually log in and use that part of the site anymore.

As it turns out, however, that’s OK. The reason I was even looking at it is because I’m replacing it. Posting individual photos was simply turning out to be a pain in the butt, so I just stopped doing it. I’m going to be using Lussumo Filebrowser instead. This is an extraordinarily slick little piece of php coding (no database) that basically builds a gallery of images (or whatever other file types you have), including, if you so choose, thumbnail previews. It’s…just neat. And tiny! Those Lussumo guys seriously seem to know what they’re doing.

Anyhow…the existing photo site is going away and will be replaced in the nearish future. I think I’ll start going through and organizing my photos right now, in fact…


Ramblings 2 Comments

I’m no longer going to physiotherapy. At $45/visit with only a fraction of that covered by our insurance, it’s just not feasible. Alas. Massage therapy is even worse (I went once, I will not be going back) as it’s $70/hr. Given how little effect physio and massage therapy were having, it’s really just not worth the money. Out of this whole several week ordeal, I’ve learned the following things:

  • Sitting in front of a computer for more than four hours/day is potentially dangerous, according to experts. Averaging at 12+ hrs/day, I’m clearly wicked Xtreme.
  • Exercise is good. Also, fun. Also, it requires actual athletic footwear, or it will wreck your ankles. I will be getting a new pair of Nikes this afternoon.
  • Massage therapy hurts. Like someone poking you under your shoulderblades with an icepick sort of hurt. I’m sorry, but seriously, if I’m gonna give someone $70/hr for a massage, it’s going to be at a spa, thanks. What the hell?

Anyhow, that’s the end of physio yet again. I’m continuing on with the gym, of course, since a) it’s fun, b) it gets me away from the computer for a while, c) it’s good for me, and d) it’s not expensive. Hoorah.

Later I’m going to the dentist. On the way, I’m gonna buy a (muchly belated) present for my dad’s birthday and a pair of sneakers. And maybe a book. Such fun. (It’s really nice outside.)


General, Ramblings 2 Comments

For my entire life I’ve wished that there were more useful hours in a day, whether it be by doing away with sleep (my strategy during highschool and university) or by days suddenly becoming 36 hours long (my current strategy). Neither, as yet, have worked.

The issue is this: there is always more that I want to do than I have time. I suspect that the vast majority of us are in the same boat. On a slightly related topic, there also seem to be things that take up a disproportionate amount of time, attention, energy, or personal sanity than they’re worth.

I’ve been trying to address both of these issues lately, in two ways: First, I have started to reduce the sheer quantity of things I do (ostensibly in favour of quality); Second, I have started to simply drop things that cause me more stress than they’re worth.

An example of the first is that I have reduced the amount of time I spend playing video games in favour of spending more time reading, writing, and working on work-related things. This is good. I’m not saying that gaming is bad, because it’s not — gaming is a perfectly valid hobby of which I am a long-time fan. It’s certainly a far sight better than rotting your brain watching reality television, for example. For me right now, however, gaming has just dropped off the bottom of the priority list. This will likely change when Spore is released, but for now gaming is largely out.

The second is best exemplified by the number of forums and mailing lists I’ve been dropping. For a long time, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and posting on a variety of web forums and mailing lists, most of which are either game-related or peripherally work-related. A while ago I realized that some of these, for various reasons, were wasting too much of my time and energy without really returning any sort of real value. So, I’ve been dropping them like hot rocks, dumping, unsubscribing, or debookmarkifying them en masse. The sporadic nugget of useful information to emerge simply wasn’t worth the overall cost.

The end-goal of all of this stuff-reduction is to regain my ability to focus. Once upon a time I used to be able to sit reading a book, utterly rapt to the point where people had to actually yell at me in order to get my attention. This is not the case any more. I have what appears to be a (mild and) acquired form of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Not actual ADD because I’m fairly certain that I can control the situation if I try, but ADD for all effective intents and purposes.

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Inability to focus on any one item or task for more than 15-30 mins (or, often, less) without my mind drifting.
  • Inability to maintain interest in a single item or task for more than 15-30 mins without having to switch over, even just for a moment, to another application or task.
  • Inability to actually finish a book-length piece of writing without starting another one halfway through.
  • Inability to complete tasks without switching at some mid-point and doing something else for a while.

These aren’t all the symptoms, but they pretty much cover the major issues that annoy me the most.

I blame a number of things, of course, but primarily I lay the blame squarely at the feet of these infernal machines: modern desktop computers.

Back in the day a typewriter was a typewriter, a radio was a radio, a television was a television, a telephone was a telephone. No longer. Now I find myself sitting in front of a machine that can effectively emulate all of these machines and more, all at once, all on the same screen. My TV picture is sitting to the top left of my typewriter, the radio interface (the playlist of which I control) is a mere button press away, I have four different personal communication clients open, monitoring (and taking part in) dozens of different, ongoing conversations. I have news feeds coming in at a rate even the big news agencies could not imagine a decade ago. And that’s just this one screen, during the course of a regular work day.

I have completely lost my ability to focus because there are simply too many things constantly clamouring for my attention.

It needs to stop, and I have started to take some steps towards more deliberately managing my own attention. I, like all people, can only really effectively focus on one thing at a time. Anything else, even a single simple interruption by email, IRC, the radio, or what have you, splits that focus. I’m starting to believe that it’s harmful — not only to personal productivity, but also to a person’s sanity. There is no possible way that everyone I know who is my age actually suffers from real Attention Deficit Disorder, but it sure seems like it some times.

Me, I just can’t keep it up, so I’m beginning to be very deliberate in what I pay attention to through the course of a day. So far, it has been an interesting exercise.

That said, I have 1000 words of writing to do.

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