Homepage weigh-in

ScaleA homepage's weight is just a number measuring size at one moment in time. It's just one piece of the mosaic of a website's total health, happiness, and success... but it does come up from time to time when member libraries redesign their websites. "Is my homepage normal? How does it compare to other libraries' homepages?" 

To find out, I did a weigh-in with 55* SCLS member library website homepages on June 11-12, 2014. I used the YSlow and Firebug add-ons in Firefox to measure how many kilobytes it takes to display each homepage. In other words, I measured the total (uncached) file size of all the HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and images that make up each one. Here's the weight chart:

SCLS Member Library Homepages' Total Weight in KB
High (100th percentile) 8187.00
80th percentile 1246.48
Median 638.20
20th percentile 268.56
Low (0 percentile) 74.10

Some context: 1000KB = 1MB. The body-weight cliches continue to apply:

  • "Too big" or "too small" for one person may be "just right" for someone else.
  • Weight doesn't take into account the value/function of each component (like muscle, fat, and bones). Proportions matter.
  • I won't post individual weights online, but will share them with library staff who want to know.

A finding that interested me: the 17 weightiest pages are all CMS-generated. Different CMS's are represented throughout the weight levels (Drupal, WordPress, CivicPlus, GovOffice.com, etc.). My assessment:

  • CMS workflow efficiencies can make it easy to add weight to a page without much effort or intention.
  • Making wise choices about a site's infrastructure (themes/templates, modules/plugins, etc.) and content (especially images) equates roughly to the diet and exercise choices that help maintain a healthy body weight.

* All 53 SCLS members, plus two additional project sites managed by member libraries.

Firefox Redesign

You may have already noticed on the patron PCs that Firefox has had a redesign starting with Firefox 29.  The staff computers are updated less agressively as extensive testing with Koha needs to happen first.  Expect to see staff computers updated around the end of June or beginning of July.

In this video, Johnathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, shows what's new in Firefox starting with version 29.


Trusted Reviews has more information about the changes.

Firefox and PDFs printing out blank

Has your library recently experienced patrons complaining that when they print out PDF files they come out blank?  Well, we know that the problem is being caused by a recent release of Firefox, specifically version 29.0 that was released on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  By chance Tuesday night is the same night that we automatically update patron PCs with any new applications, so all patron PCs got this version of Firefox the day it was released.  After we received numerous reports about this we started investigating and saw that lots of Firefox users were experiencing the same problem.  People were saying that when you did a print preview of the PDF file it looked just fine, but then when it was printed out all you got was a blank page.

Thankfully, Mozilla got right to work on this problem and released Firefox 29.0.1 on Friday, May 9, 2014.  So the next Tuesday evening all patron PCs got this update, which fixes the PDF printing problem.  If you are still getting reports of PDFs printing out blank then find out which patron PC it was printed from and verify the Firefox version on that PC.  This is done with the following steps:

  1. Open Firefox
  2. Click on the Help menu item
  3. Click About Firefox in the dropdown menu
  4. The version will be listed in the window that opens

If you see 29.0.1 then you are ok, but if you don't then please call the Help Desk to get the update installed.  Please note: this is only for patron PCs as staff PCs have their Firefox updated by us because we use it for Koha.

Easy way to clear a browser's cache

Do you want a quick and easy way to clear a browser's cache?  Well here it is:

  1. With the browser open, press Ctrl+Shift+Del
  2. Select what you want to delete (i.e. cookies, cache, etc.)
  3. Click the appropriate button at the bottom of the window to confirm the delete

Now isn't that easy.  The best part is that these steps work for IE, Firefox and Chrome.

Fix broken links with Firefox LinkChecker add-on

Screen shot of right-click menuBroken links on a library's website are like weeds in a garden or broken windows in a home—they tell visitors, "No one takes care of this place. Fend for yourself!" But the Firefox LinkChecker add-on makes finding these broken links easy.

After installing LinkChecker, visit a web page that needs checking, right-click, and select Check Page Links (or go to Tools > Check Page Links). LinkChecker tests the links one by one and adds color highlighting to show you the state of each:

  • Valid (green)
  • Forwarded/forbidden (yellow—as in, LinkChecker couldn't do this one; you be the judge)
  • Broken (red)

What can't LinkChecker do? Find appropriate replacements for the broken links and actually fix the links. Or decide whether the linked resources are still useful and appropriate. That needs a librarian's touch!

Screen shot of color highlighting on links

Uh oh, looks like I've got some work to do on my Delicious links...

Cool Tools: Advanced URL Builder

Find-using-linkcat-highlightedSounds a bit dry, right, perhaps even difficult? But no! This tool is fairly easy to use, and if you're a LINKcat junkie (by choice or by job description) then it can put the "fun" in functionality.

Advanced URL Builder (AUB) is a Firefox Add-On that lets you create custom search links on your right-click context menu. I found it while looking for a tool that would let me rapidly convert street addresses to a map display. AUB does that by default, and with just a little work it can do a lot more. You can get AUB here.

Installing AUB inserts a new context menu item, Find using..., that is available by right-clicking whenever a word or phrase is highlighted in your browser window. This new menu item has several default search widgets: Just Open (for text that is a URL), Google Maps, or Dictionary (reference.com). Note that the Google Maps option defaults to the UK edition. You may want to adjust the Google Maps search widget by changing the ".co.uk" part of its URL to ".com".

To adjust the Google Maps URL, or to add your own search widgets, select some text on a web page, right click, select the Find using... menu item, and finally select its Options... Then you can double click the Google Maps URL to modify it, or you can add a menu option for any website having a search function that uses a structured query URL.

Using AUB with LINKcat searching

As an example, let's create an AUB search widget using the LINKcat launcher. Here's how to create a general keyword search widget for LINKcat. This AUB widget will yield the same results as you get when you search LINKcat Catalog in the PAC.

1. Get into the AUB Options window if you're not already there.
Highlight any text on a web page, right click, choose Find using... and then Options... The AUB Options window will open.
2. Click the Add button.
A new item will appear at the bottom of the list of options, named New Item, with an empty URL.
3. Double click the new item's Name to change it.

For this example: LINKcat Catalog
4. Double click the new item's URL to edit it.
Type in (or paste) your search URL. For this example:

Note that this is a partial URL. The search term is going to automatically get appended, matching whatever word or phrase that you have highlighted when you right click in the browser.

5. Click OK to finish, or go ahead and Add some more search widgets, perhaps these:

LINKcat Title

LINKcat Author

LINKcat Subject


Now, if that all went well, then you should be able to select any text on any web page, and launch these searches from it. Below are some phrases for testing. Just select a name, book title, place or ISBN, then right click and search with your AUB widgets.

Tomorrow, July 30, is the birthday of novelist Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights. She was born in 1818 in the town of Thornton, West Yorkshire, UK. Are you traveling there? Try the audio book version, ISBN 9781400106882.

Firefox Add-ons

Firefox add-ons are small pieces of software that let you add new features and change the way your browser works.  You can install these add-ons yourself without the need for a call to the Help Desk. 
There is a very large community of developers that create these add-ons, so the chances of finding one that does what you want is pretty good.

An important security note about add-ons is that you need to be VERY careful about where you get them from because they may harm your computer or violate your privacy.  Unless clearly marked otherwise, add-ons available from Firefox's Add-on gallery have been checked and approved by Mozilla's team of editors and are safe to install. I recommend that you only install the approved add-ons and never install any of the add-ons marked as Experimental because they have not been reviewed.  Never ever install an add-on from an unknown source!

Once they are installed most people just forget about them.  But, as I discovered recently this is not a good idea.  I got a call from a library with an unusual problem with Firefox.  When they right-clicked within their Firefox browser they got a menu that was longer than their screen was tall.  After much research I discovered that this problem was caused by an out-of-date add-on.  Since the add-on was no longer needed is was disabled and then the problem was resolved.

If you're having a problem with Firefox one way to tell if it is being caused by an out-of-date add-on is to start Firefox in Safe Mode.  The easiest way to do this is from within Firefox.  You go to the Help menu and choose "Restart with Add-ons disabled...".  Then a window called "Firefox Safe Mode" with some troubleshooting options appears. Here you would click the "Start in Safe Mode" button.  Never ever click the "Reset Firefox" button as this will reset Firefox to a default state by creating a new profile, migrating only essential data and then moving all of the old Firefox data to a folder on your desktop. Warning! This change cannot be reversed.  Once in Safe Mode see if your problem persists.  If the problem is gone then it's a pretty good bet that it is an out-of-date add-on causing the problem.  So now you know you need to update your add-ons.  When you are done testing and want to get out of Safe Mode, just close Firefox and wait a few seconds before opening Firefox for normal use again.

So now you're asking, how do I keep my add-ons up-to-date?  It's really easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open Firefox
  2. Go to the Add-ons Manager by clicking "Add-ons" in the Firefox (or Tools) menu
  3. Click on the Extensions tab on the left
  4. You will now see a list of all of the add-ons that you have installed
  5. In the upper right corner you will see a gear
  6. Click on it and a menu like the one below will appear
  7. Add-on-Update
  8. If the "Update Add-ons Automatically" option is checked you're done
  9. If it is not checked click on it to check it then you never have to worry about old add-ons again
  10. If you want to update them now just click the "Check for Updates" option
  11. Firefox will then update all add-ons that have a newer version
  12. Once all the updates are done you may need to restart Firefox

My two favorite add-ons are Print Edit, which gives you print preview with edit capability, and Print pages to PDF, which gives you the ability to print the content of one or more browser tabs into a PDF document.  Please leave a comment and let me know some of your favorite add-ons.

Scrolling Through Web Pages

Firefox Back ButtonWhile using control button and scroll wheel to resize an image in Firefox I accidently discovered I can scroll through web pages I’ve been to by holding down the shift key instead of the control key and turning the wheel on my mouse.

Thunderbird Font Size

A few libraries have asked how to change the global font size of Thunderbird instead of the font size used in messages.  If you want to change the font size of the mailboxes, the messages pane and Thunderbird menus, the Theme Font & Size Changer add-on is worth a look.

  1. Download the Theme Font & Size Changer add-on
  2. Open Thunderbird  MP900442939
  3. Click Tools
  4. Click Add-ons
  5. Click Extensions
  6. Click the little "gear" at the upper right and select Install Add-on From File...
  7. Go to the folder where the add-on is saved and double-click it
  8. Click Install Now
  9. Click Restart Now towards the upper right
  10. After Thunderbird restarts, click Tools
  11. Click Theme Font & Size Changer
  12. Now you can test the settings until you find one you like

HTML5, CSS3 and You!

'<embed>' photo (c) 2007, Luis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So, how is your personal relationship to HTML5 and CSS3 going? Did you even know that you had one? You do now or soon will, if your library continues to rely on Windows XP for staff or patron workstations.

Perhaps we should start with the basics. What are HTML5 and CSS3? Technically, these are website content format standards that are maturing but are still under development. They represent a large number of feature enhancements over HTML4 and CSS2; too many to get into here, and probably you don't need (or want) to care about all the details.

What's important for you to understand is that some of these new features are highly, highly desirable to website developers. This is why Google Apps (among other sites) ended their support for Internet Explorer 6 in 2010, and then ended their support for IE7 (and Firefox 3.x and other browsers) in 2011. Can you guess the fate of IE8? Hot tip: don't bet on its longevity...

Officially, Microsoft is continuing to support Windows XP SP3 and IE8 until April 8, 2014. However, there will be no new versions of IE for the XP platform; IE8 is all you get. The good news is that IE8 does support some HTML5 features. The bad news is that some sites have already dropped support for IE8 because its implementation of HTML5/CSS3 is just too primitive or incomplete.

The world is not ending, of course, at least not on account of IE8. If your budget says that XP stations will be operating in your library for some time to come, then there is always Firefox. SCLS will continue to update Firefox on XP stations for as long as we are able to, and Firefox on XP is fully capable of handling websites that demand a lot from HTML5 and CSS3. You just need to be aware that as time goes on, IE8 will become less and less useful (and in some cases impossible to use) on evolving websites.

Want to know more about what's missing from IE8 (and for that matter, from IE9 on Windows 7)? Check out the fun interactive chart at http://html5readiness.com/. Hover your mouse pointer over any spoke on the chart wheel to see the name of the new feature that it represents, and note how many spokes are missing labels indicating IE8 and IE9 support. Want to replay the "browser wars" of recent years? Dial back the chart to yesteryear by clicking on the tags above it.