Firefox 6.0 Is My Default Browser Again

I've just made Firefox my default browser again (after using Chrome/Chromium as my default for quite some time). FF6 renders things almost as fast as Chrome, even on our ridiculously complicated pages at work. This was my primary reason for not using FF for such a long time.

However, there are other things that I've decided are worth going back to FF at least for the time being. If any of you know of ways to accomplish this stuff with Chrome, please enlighten me!

  • Tab groups. I often have dozens and dozens of tabs open. Some I like to have open for my "night life." Some I like to have open for research. Some I like to have open for work. Tab groups let me organize these, and hide the ones I'm currently not interested in.
  • Vimperator. This was one thing I missed dearly when I decided to ditch FF for Chrome back in the day. Vimium just doesn't work as well. It's close, but still not as robust. For example, I can still use Vimperator shortcuts when viewing a raw file. Not so with Vimium.
  • Permanent exceptions for bad certificates. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal. You visit a site that has a bad certificate, your browser warns you that bad things could be happening and advises you to be careful. That's great! However, for work we all use several VMs for development (I often have 7 VMs running all the time just for my day-to-day routine). They all share the same certificate, which is bad. Chrome doesn't let me tell it to stop bothering me about the bad certificate. Firefox does.
  • Memory usage. Strangely enough, memory usage isn't something that most people say is awesome in FF these days. But I've personally discovered that it is better than Chrome on "poorly-endowed" systems. Both Chrome and FF are consume gobs of RAM on my regular 8GB+ RAM machines, but I have plenty to spare so it doesn't bother me much. I recently inherited my wife's old MacBook, which only has 1GB of RAM. Chrome is absolutely painful to use--it's slow and brings the rest of the system to a crawl. Firefox is noticeably more responsive on that machine.
  • Selenium. I don't do much UI testing these days, but I do still use Selenium to automate some mundane tasks for work. Haven't checked to see if this is available for Chrome for a while...

So far, the only regret I really have with my decision to move back to Firefox (again, for the time being) is the amount of chrome. Chrome does a good job of staying out of the way and letting me see the web page. Firefox just has just a bit more going on at the top and bottom of the window. Definitely not a deal-breaker on my 1920x1080 laptop though ;)

Selenium Unit Test Reuse

Yesterday, one of the QA guys at work approached me with a question that turned out to be much more interesting to me than I think he had planned. He's been doing some unit testing using Selenium, exporting his test cases to Python. His question was this: how can I run the same unit tests using multiple browsers and multiple target servers?

I'm pretty sure he expected a simple 3-step answer or something like that. Instead, he got my crazy wide-eyed "ohhh... that's something I want to experiment with!" look. I started rambling on about inheritance, dynamic class creation, and nested for loops. His eyes started to look a little worried. He didn't really appreciate the nerdy lingo that much. I told him to pull up a chair and get comfortable.

Since I already had some other work I needed to pay attention to, I didn't want to spend too much time trying to figure out a good way to solve his problem. After about 20 minutes of devilish chuckles and frantic rustling through Python documentation, I came up with the following code:

from types import ClassType
from selenium import selenium
import unittest

IPS = ['', '']
BROWSERS = ['safari', 'chrome']

class SomeUnitTest(object):

    def test_something(self):
        sel = self.selenium
        # test code

def main(base):
    suites = []
    results = unittest.TestResult()

    for iidx, ip in enumerate(IPS):
        for bidx, browser in enumerate(BROWSERS):
            def setUp(self):
                self.verificationErrors = []
                self.selenium = selenium("localhost", 4444, "*%s" % self.browser, "http://%s/" % self.ip)

            def tearDown(self):
                self.assertEqual([], self.verificationErrors)

            ut = ClassType('UT_%i_%i' % (iidx, bidx), (unittest.TestCase, base), {'ip': ip, 'browser': browser})
            ut.setUp = setUp
            ut.tearDown = tearDown


    for obj, error in results.errors:
        print 'In: ', obj
        print error

if __name__ == "__main__":

I know, I know... it's got some dirty rotten tricks in it, and there are probably more efficient ways of doing what I've done. If the code offends you, look up at my previous disclaimer: I had other things I needed to be working on, so I didn't spend much time refining this. One thing I'm almost certain could be done better is not monkey patching the dynamic classes with the setUp and tearDown methods. Also, the output at the end of the test execution could definitely use some love. Oh well. Perhaps another day I'll get around to that.

Basically, you just set the servers you need to test and the browsers you want Selenium to run the tests in. Those are at the top of the script: IPS and BROWSERS. Then a new unittest.TestCase class is created for each combination of IP/server+browser. Finally, each of the test cases is thrown into a TestSuite, and the suite is processed. If there were any errors during the tests, they'll be printed out. We weren't really concerned with printing out other information, but you can certainly make other meaningful feedback appear.

Anyway, I thought that someone out there might very well benefit from my little experiment on my co-worker's question. Feel free to comment on your personal adventures with some variation of the code if you find it useful! Updates

There has been quite a bit of recent activity in my project since I first released it nearly a year ago. My intent was not to become a competitor with,, or anyone else in the URL-shortening arena. I created the site as a way for me to learn more about Google's AppEngine. It didn't take very long to get it up and running, and it seemed to work fairly well.

AppEngine and Extensions

I was able to basically leave the site alone on AppEngine for several months--through about September 2009. In that time, I came up with a Firefox extension to make its use more convenient.

The extension allows you to quickly get a shortened URL for the page you're currently looking at, and a couple of context menu items let you get a short URL for things like specific images on a page. Also included in the extension is a preview for links. The preview can tell you the title and domain of the link's target. It can tell you how much smaller the URL is compared to the full URL. Finally, it displays how many times that particular link has been clicked.

That as all fine and dandy. It was the second Firefox extension I had ever written, and it's still running strong. In June or July of 2009, I started working on a little program to make it easier for me to interact with Twitter the way I wanted to. This was a great opportunity for me to incorporate into the application so any URL I wanted to post to Twitter would automatically be shortened for me, using my own shortener.

Porting to WebFaction And PHP

Anyway, around the end of September 2009, I noticed that there were a lot of problems with It was slow and sometimes completely unresponsive. Certain URLs would redirect to their full URLs, while others wouldn't. The Firefox extension stopped working nicely. Oh yeah, and AppEngine rolled back to a previous revision of the code without me telling it to. That's when everything just died. It didn't take long for me to decide to migrate my project from AppEngine onto my awesome WebFaction hosting.

At this point, I was faced with a small dilemma: keep the code in Python, or port it to PHP. I opted to port it over to PHP, because I didn't want all of the overhead of a full Django instance for a site that needed to be very zippy. And I was unacquainted with other Python options.

By early October 2009, I had managed to turn the project into a PHP beast, running on Apache. It was a lot more responsive than AppEngine ever let be. There were a few bumps along the road, what with the extension and Twitter client relying on various parts of the site. Eventually it got to a point where I could just let it sit and work.

Chromium Extension

Sometime around the end of December, I decided to write another extension for, only for Google Chrome and Chromium this time. This extension isn't quite as feature-packed as its Firefox brother, but it gets the job done.


Shortly after "completing" the Chromium extension, I had what seemed like a pretty original idea. Who knows if it really is, but I still haven't seen another tool quite like the one that I made as a result of this idea. I thought, "Now, why should I need to install an extension in each Web browser I use on each computer I use? Is there a better way?"

The answer came quickly: a standalone, desktop application. Write one program that handles shortening URLs for you. My laziness told me to make a program that monitors your system clipboard for URLs. If a URL is detected, try to shorten it, and update the clipboard contents in place. Boom. Done. All extensions become useless beyond things like the URL preview (which is very useful, imo).

The next question I asked was, "Do I make it platform-dependent? Should I stick it to the majority of computer users and write my tool for Linux only? For OSX only? For, uh... Windows only?" Again, an easy question to answer. Support them all or don't even bother writing the application.

A week's worth of midnight hacking saw the birth of Clip2Zeus 1.0a. It's a cross-platform compatible desktop application that does exactly what I just mentioned. When it's running and detects a URL on your system clipboard, it will try to shorten it and update it in your clipboard. If you copy a block of text, the application will only modify the URLs in that block of text--meaning the block of text will still be in your clipboard, but it will have shorter URLs.

I use the program every day at work (on OSX). It's been very fun for me to see a short URL any time I copy a nasty URL to my clipboard. Imagine that; I'm a big fan of my own work...


Lately, I've noticed that the site was getting kind of slow again. Sometimes it would take several seconds for Clip2Zeus to shorten URLs in my clipboard, when it was normally instantaneous. Every once in a while, Clip2Zeus would completely fail to connect to the website.

One of my friends has asked me a lot of questions about the Tornado framework in the past months. I had read a few things about Tornado when it was open-sourced last year, but I didn't really feel the need to dabble with it. These questions prompted me to tinker a little.

Last night I re-ported to Python, using the Tornado framework this time. So far I'm very impressed with its responsiveness. The framework offers a lot of neat little utilities, and it is very fast (as reported by dozens of other reputable sources).

On top of the speed increase that came with the transition to Tornado, my RAM usage on WebFaction has come down by nearly 100MB. Just by turning off the one Apache-backed website. Now I'm nowhere near my RAM cap! Wahoo!!

Enough rambling. Like I said at the beginning of this article, a lot has been happening with this project in the past year. I didn't even think about all of the time I put into projects related to my simple little side project. Looking back, I'm quite satisfied with how things have unfolded.


Here are some simple statistics for Since March 2009...

  • 5,252 URLs have been shortened using
  • links have been clicked 198,267 times
  • 315,951 URL characters have been turned into 11,532 characters

In April 2009...

  • 217 URLs were shortened
  • links were clicked 617 times

In February 2010...

  • 1,182 URLs were shortened
  • links were clicked 32,830 times

Not too shabby for a side project.

Announcing: Clip2Zeus

Sometime last year, I embarked on a mission to create my own TinyURL or This project had no real purpose other than to help me learn how to use Google's AppEngine. All of the URL-shortening services I had tried up to that point were perfectly satisfactory for my needs, but I wanted to explore a little.

It didn't take long for me to come up with the site that is now I learned some neat things about AppEngine, and the site worked well enough for my needs (just like the others). Eventually I wrote a Firefox extension to make it easier to use the site. It offers the ability to quickly shorten "any" URL, and it also has a preview utility. This allows you to hover your cursor over a link and learn various bits of information about it--target domain name, the target page's title, number of hits, etc.

Toward the end of 2009, I started writing the same sort of extension for Chrome/Chromium. It offers pretty much the same sort of functionality as its Firefox brother, minus keyboard shortcuts.

Before long, I found myself embarking on another 2zeus-related endeavor. This new project is one that I am actually quite proud of and satisfied with. I wrote a program that will run in the background on your computer. I call it "Clip2Zeus". This program will periodically poll your clipboard, looking for URLs in whatever text you currently have on it. If any URLs are found, the program will run out to and try to shorten them. Once a valid result comes back from, your clipboard is automatically updated with the original URLs replaced by the shortened version.

It doesn't stop there, though. You can control the program using a couple of interfaces. One interface is a Tk GUI, which allows you to set the polling interval or turn off polling altogether. Should you choose to do that, you can click a button in the GUI any time you explicitly want to shorten URLs in your clipboard. There is another command line interface that offers the same sort of functionality.

I've been using this program on several computers for a couple of weeks, and I haven't noticed any memory/performance problems at all. It works just as well on Windows as it does on Linux, and just as well on OSX as it does on Linux. It just sits there silently until you give it a URL. It works with any program that can access the standard clipboard mechanism for whatever OS you're using.

You can download and install it using easy_install or pip. Or you can download it and install it directly from

Firebug for !Firefox

Pretty much anyone who's been doing any Web development in the last few years probably prefers to use Firefox because of the incredibly powerful extensions it offers. Among the extensions I hear most Web developers complain about not having in other browsers are Web Developer and Firebug. Several people feel that they could get by with another browser (such as Google Chrome) if it only had Firebug.

Well, my friends, the trusty folks who built Firebug actually offer their amazing product for other browsers! It goes by the name of "Firebug Lite." I'm not sure exactly how long this has been around, but the earliest date I can find suggests that it was released to the public in July of 2008.

I happened upon this utility while perusing Django Snippets the other day. A member by the username of jfw posted a middleware which injects the Firebug Lite utility into a response when you're not using Firefox and when your site is in debug mode. I've found it to be quite useful. I hope you all do too!!

Windows 7 Public Beta Screenshots

Here are some screenshots of the Windows 7 public beta. I installed it in a VirtualBox virtual machine and allocated 600MB of RAM to it.

The new and improved sloading screen

The new and improved sloading screen.

The login screen

The login screen

Logging in....

Logging in....

The desktop.... and a fish!!

The desktop.... and a fish!!

Your choices of Microsoft-sponsored security--the ones that will slow down your computer the most

Your choices of Microsoft-sponsored security--the ones that will slow down your computer the most!

Oh oh!!  It's Internet Explorer 8!  Chews up my site like a charm.

Oh oh!! It's Internet Explorer 8! Chews up my site like a charm.

Captionless taskbar icons until you hover.

Captionless taskbar icons until you hover.

The new Windows Media Player

The new Windows Media Player.

It's version 12!

It's version 12!

Setting your desktop theme

Setting your desktop theme.

Minesweeper wants hardware accelerated graphics

Minesweeper wants hardware accelerated graphics.... why??

All-new Minesweeper

The all-new Minesweeper.

I won!

I won!


Paint. Very perty.

The start menu

The start menu.

All programs in the start menu

Looking at all programs in the start menu.

Gadgets and the clock thingy

Some desktop gadgets and the clock thingy.


Slashdot in IE 8.


Downloading Google Chrome.

WTF?  Verifying application requirements??

What the....? Verifying application requirements??

Ahh... Chrome.

Ahh... Chrome.

Control Panel--stupid people's version

Control Panel--stupid people's version

Control Panel--all options

Control Panel--all options

Administrative tools

Administrative tools

Some things never change... but what's up with the 200MB partition??

Some things never change... but what's up with the 200MB partition??

First UAC popup...

First UAC popup...

Second UAC popup...

Second UAC popup...

Installing Avast

Installing Avast Antivirus.

Windows services

Windows services.... there are a ton of these as usual.

Pong Service for Wireless USB??

Pong Service for Wireless USB??

Heh... Preliminary scan results show that malicious or potentially unwanted software might exist...

Heh... Preliminary scan results show that malicious or potentially unwanted software might exist...

Oh, nevermind... we're good.

Oh, nevermind... Windows says we're good now.

Shutting down... took long enough to get a delayed screenshot.

Shutting down... took long enough to get a delayed screenshot. Could have probably shot 20 more.

Stage 1 of the sloading screen

Stage 1 of the sloading screen.

Stage 2 of the sloading screen

Stage 2 of the sloading screen.

Avast has started its scan

Avast has started its scan.

1% complete... after a few minutes!!

1% complete... after a few minutes!!

Done! after about 30 minutes...

Done! after about 30 minutes...

Third UAC popup...

Third UAC popup...

Trusted publishers?

Trusted publishers? These two screens kept coming up each time I would try to update Avast's antivirus database...

The Resource Monitor.  I was doing nothing at the time.

The Resource Monitor. I was doing nothing at the time.

Activating my copy of Winders 7

Activating my copy of Winders 7

w00t.  I'm legit.

w00t. I'm legit.

Benchmarking my system.

Benchmarking my system.

My VM ranks in at a solid 1.0!

My VM ranks in at a solid 1.0!

Details, details...

Details, details...

The classic Windows theme and a buffalo butt

The classic Windows theme and a buffalo butt...

Why all the games??

Why all the games?? Why not include something a little more productive??