Chromatabs for Firefox

There is a really interesting extension called Chromatabs at Mozilla Labs today. Mozilla Labs is Mozilla’s ongoing project to develop some innovative and new techniques of presenting information to users and to investigate new technologies.

Chromatabs

Chromatabs is an extension developed by Justin Dolske which aims to make tabs a lot easier to locate by colourizing tabs to provide a strong visual indication. To demonstrate the concept, there is an example on Mozilla Labs which asks you to locate all letter Ks and all red letters. Locating red letters is a lot easier.

The blog entry also discusses existing solutions and problems. At the moment, tabs in Firefox all essentially look the same, so finding that page when you have 20 tabs open requires a deep visual inspection of all your tabs. Favicons can help, but not all sites have them.

Mozilla Labs also points to Colourful Tabs which attempts to implement a similar concept:

Its solution is to simply assign each new tab a color from a fixed list, in sequence. First example, the first tab will be blue, the second is yellow and the third green. The tab remains that color until it is closed. Each time you browse the web, you’ll have to remember what a particular color means at the moment.

Chromatabs is different. Rather than giving each site a different colour each time, it’ll take a hash of the sites domain. This means every time you visit a site, it’s tab will be the same time. The idea is that as we visit these sites again and again over time, we’ll develop a strong connection between the colour and the site.

At the moment, it’s still a proof of concept extension. One of the concepts discussed in the further work section:

It might be more intuitive if Chromatabs analyzed each page to determine the most prominent color on the page, and then used that color for the tab. You would then see Slashdot tabs in their distinctive green, Fark tabs in purple, and Zombo.com tabs in, uhhh… oooooo….

I do see several problems from Chromatab’s current implementation. Probably about half the sites I visit I’ve never actually been on before, or don’t visit very frequently. I won’t have any mental relationship between that site and the colour of the tab. Various sites can also end up with the same colours e.g. my blog and Mozilla.

If you want to try it out, download the extension from Firefox Add-Ons. This extension is definitely one to watch.

If you’re interested in finding out about how the extension was developed, check out this blog entry

BSOD Screensaver

The blue screen of death is one of the most annoying screens you can get on Windows. I think I’ve only seen it on my computer once in about the 3 years I’ve got it but I saw a computer at the weekend with BSoD-ed whenever somebody logged in and tried to use it for more than a minute or so. I think the computer was infected with a virus but we hypothesized some other possible reasons, such as the proximity of a stand selling Apple products just next door.

For those of you who don’t see the BSoD enough, you can get a Blue Screen of Death screensaver at the Microsoft website. The screensaver is designed to be quite realistic and to adapt depending on the operating system. It even shows the bootup screen!

Bluescreen cycles between different Blue Screens and simulated boots every 15 seconds or so. Virtually all the information shown on Bluescreen’s BSOD and system start screen is obtained from your system configuration – its accuracy will fool even advanced NT developers. For example, the NT build number, processor revision, loaded drivers and addresses, disk drive characteristics, and memory size are all taken from the system Bluescreen is running on.

A bit of fun for LAN parties I suppose. 

Deep Astronomy – Blog of the Week

Tony Darnell‘s Deep Astronomy website is a really interesting read. Although the website says it isn’t a blog, it is regularly updated with astronomy-related articles and videos and has a RSS feed.

There are articles about dark matter, telescopes, cosmic background radiation, near earth objects and more. The articles are well illustrated with images, diagrams and videos. They’re not too technical and are easily approachable, even if you don’t know a lot about astronomy.

If it’s the only thing you look at on this site, I strongly recommend watching the powerful "Hubble Deep Field" video. It really gives you an idea about the size and expanse of our universe and is beautifully made. I love the music too. There is also a video about life in the universe.

Replacing Passwords with Passphrases?

Came across an interesting article which argues the case for replacing passwords with passphrases. So instead of authenticating into websites with passwords such as qwerty or password123, we may authenticate using a passphrase such as "This is my very secret password" or "Ooh Ah, Cantona".

Jeff Atwood says:

"Passwords are fundamentally broken because they aren’t compatible with normal human behavior… We have to encourage users to stop thinking of passwords as single words, and start thinking of them as pass phrases. The worst imaginable pass phrase (eg, "this is my secret password") is many times more secure than an average single word password (eg, "god123"). And it’s easier to remember."

I certainly think it’s an interesting idea. Especially as many users choose simple passwords for fear of forgetting it; a sentence may better relate to a certain blog or website. For example, someone may choose "This site is way too blue" as their passphrase on this blog; which is a ton easier to remember and to link to this site.

Passphrases would be a lot harder for an automated script to crack. Assuming 70 different characters can be used in a password (26 uppercase letters, 26 lowercase letters, 10 digits and some punctuation), an 8 letter password would have something like 70^8 combinations. An 8 word passphrase could have something like 500000^8 combinations.

There are some flaws in the arguments – sentences obey certain rules and since many people will probably use sentences as their pass phrases, an intelligent script could work out the sentence in a lot less guesses. Further more, if somebody manages to read the first few letters as they are typed on the keyboard, they may be able to guess the rest of the phrase. If I saw one of my friends type "Sta" I may hazard a guess at "Stargate is good/awesome" as a passphrase.

Also, there are some considerations to do with how much leeway we allow on the passphrase. With the passphrase "The Firefox jumped over the Opera", should the passphrase be accepted if Firefox is not capitalized? Should it be accepted if a word is missed out? With pass phrases, it may sometimes be hard to remember the exact word order and the location of all the punctuation.

Any thoughts? 

Via OneCommune.