Onward and Upward

Last night, I posted about starting to teach introductory programming to some homeschoolers. I’m really excited about it, and I’m looking forward to using my programming skills to do something more than just putting food on the table.

In the same line of thinking, I was pondering a way to make more use of the skills I’ve learned. My kids are going through the pain of learning their multiplication tables. I didn’t struggle through that because of a tape my mom got for my brother that he used to listen to every night. I thought about doing the same thing for my kids, and I might just do that, but on another track, tonight I started writing a small program that would quiz them on their multiplication tables.

I mean, the premise is pretty simple: a question pops up, they answer it. If they get it right, they get a congratulations-message. If they get it wrong, they get the right answer and a consolation. That’s what I’ve got so far, but I’m thinking about extending it.

Enter a name, and the program keeps track of you, either through a flat file or something else, but it keeps track of things like right vs. wrong percentage, longest streak, things like that. Then you pit your kids against each other, with your love at stake, and you can’t lose. You’re leveraging their competitive nature and natural insecurity for their own good.

Ok, ok, never mind the parents love thing. But it might be something to get them working at their multiplication tables.

I Reject Your Web Site and Substitute My Own

FireFox is my web browser of choice, and with it I use three addons that form the trifecta of bullshit content removal: FireBug, Stylish, and AdBlock Plus. While I'm sure most of you are familiar with AdBlock (or broswer addons like it), the other two allow for fine-tuning of what's left behind. Let me show you a before and after screen shot:

It's quite a substancial difference.

For a long time I was happy with just using AdBlock to remove unsightly advertisements on pages but after a while I started noticing that the sites were noticing that I was blocking their ads. So instead of seeing nothing where the ads used to be, I started seeing this:

Now some people might feel bad for depriving the web site of its primary source of revenue... but not me. In fact, because I'm spiteful (and capable!), I will take blocking your crap to the next level. This is where Stylish and some knowledge of CSS comes in.

At the core, web sites are nothing more of organized blocks of stuff with other stuff inside it with the organization being provided by HTML. The blocks of stuff are then manipulated, positioned and made pretty by CSS (cascading style sheets). Since ads and other junk are contained in these various blocks, one just needs to find a way to identify those specific blocks and use the magical CSS declaration {display:none} to make it go away.

Using FireBug
To help me find which blocks to hide, I use FireBug. FireBug is an addon that allows you to do stuff like browse a page's DOM (document object model), manipulate CSS, debug JavaScript, and lots of other things. So using FireBug, I first find the element I want to hide and then look to see if there is some kind of identifier I can use to attach my magical declaration to. In the above example, I can piggyback off of the existing CSS class "feature-aside".

After enabling Stylish and creating a profile for the wowheadnews.com domain, I simply need to write a style using the same class name and add my declaration to it. When the profile is activated by visiting the site, my style gets appended to the page... and because there is a style with the name "feature-aside" already, my declaration gets added to it. And just like that: poof. Gone!

This gets repeated for every element that I want to get rid of. Extra huge banner at the top? Toast. Fifty million "Like" buttons? History. A completely asinine comment section underneath main articles? See ya later trolls. A few minutes of work is all it takes for me to reformat any site into something that is clean and useful. Granted I don't do this for every single web site I ever visit, but if I visit the site more than 5-10 times a week I think it's useful to do.

Addendum: Yes, the site in my example is called Wowhead. Don't ask me where they came up with the name, it sounds retarded, and their logo is a little red rocket... but it's one of the best damn Warcraft databases out there. Too bad they aren't getting any advertising revenue from me.

Summer Blog Challenge Day 10 Digest

Summer Blog Challenge posts for August 17, 2011

Until tomorrow,
The Management