Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trimming the Context for Firefox Context Menus

Extensions make Firefox a lot more useful. For some extensions, it's especially useful to reach them through the context menu that pops up when you right-click with your mouse.

That usefulness, though, can get eroded if you wind up with too many options on the context menu. That happened to me. I wound up having to right click, then scroll through the context menu to find the tool I needed. That's a pain.

The problem is that Firefox extensions often add themselves to the context menu whether they're useful to you there or not.

The solution? Edit the menu. How? With another extension.

If that sounds counter-productive, consider this: the extension you'll use doesn't add itself to the right click menu. In fact, it doesn't even add itself to the Firefox Tools menu. It just sits in the Add-ons dialog box waiting for you to want it.

The extension is called, appropriately, Menu Editor. You can get it here. See Extending Firefox if you need help.

Once it's installed, go to:

Tools > Ad-ons > Menu Editor > Preferences

There's a drop-down menu to select the menu you want to edit. If you choose Main Context Menu, you'll see all of the items that can be on a context menu.

I say "can" be on a context menu because there are actually a few different context menus depending on where you are when you right click. That's the "context" part of "context menu."

You'll get the significance of that when you see how many menu items there are. You probably don't see them all on any one menu, but they're lurking.

This makes designing your menus a little hit or miss. I hid a couple of items that I later added back on.

Tip: Before editing your menus, right click on a web page and see which of the menu items are useful. Do it in a few different contexts, like on white space, with text selected, on a tab, etc. Make a list of the items you want. That way, once you're in Menu Editor, you'll be able to quickly hide the items you don't want. It's amazing how many items wind up on the menu. I didn't remember some of them until I started editing the menu.

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Monday, July 27, 2009


My son and I were at Best Buy the other day and saw an HDMI cable for $150. He turned pale.

You see, he's been trying to convince me to get a new, high-definition computer monitor, partly by saying we could also use it as a TV. The $150, he noticed right away, was more than the cost of the monitor he wanted.

Is that possible? The cable costs more than the monitor? No, it's not.

In fact, we'd been home for less than 10 minutes when he found a comparable cable online for less than $40. That's a big difference -- more than $100.

Now, Best Buy would probably argue that its expensive cable is far superior than the cheaper cable. Some unfortunate suckers will probably believe it. CNET doesn't:

CNET strongly recommends cheap HDMI cables widely available from online retailers instead of the expensive counterparts sold in your local electronics store.
That's right at the top of CNET's "What HDMI Cable Should I Buy" page. CNET says it's tested a lot of different cables, from brand name to generic, and hasn't found a bit of difference in quality. It calls high-priced cables a "rip-off" and says you shouldn't pay more than $10 for a six-foot cable.

Popular Mechanics came to the same conclusion after its own eyes-on testng. Gizmodo came to a more nuanced conclusion based mainly by comparing the outrageously-priced Monster cables to cheap ones. Still, the testers at Gizmodo suggest starting with a cheap cable and upgrading later, if you think it's worthwhile.

The testing mirrors my experience with other kinds of cables and accessories. I've used cables to extend USB, monitors, keyboards, mice and more, and the expensive ones haven't performed any better than the cheap ones. I'm sure there are limits, but I haven't found them yet.

I ordered an amazingly cheap USB car charger from a company in Taiwan. Auspiciously, it arrived early. Not so auspiciously, the package read: "Universal great authority to you everywhere." For less than $2 it's hard to complain about the translation.

Inside the package was a cigarette lighter plug with a USB jack on it, a cable with a USB plug on one end and a generic power jack on the other, and an adapter to convert the generic jack to a Nokia power plug. It all seemed a little flimsy, but it's outlasted the phone by a couple of years now and still going strong.