UBlock Origin – a Better Alternative to AdBlock

MIT Technology Review has a profile of Wladimir Palant, the creator of Adblock Plus, that highlights some of the less-than-ethical practices that Palant and his company, Eyeo, engage in.

To hear Palant talk about the [“Acceptable Ads”] whitelist feature today, Acceptable Ads has both an underlying ethical premise (online journalism and blogging rely on ads to stay afloat) and a pragmatic one (Eyeo and Adblock Plus need to pay people like The Gatekeeper to determine whether ads are obnoxious or not). Palant had toyed with other ways to run Adblock Plus—including micro donations and asking users to disable the extension for certain websites—but ultimately decided to charge large organizations to be part of Acceptable Ads, while allowing around 700 others, by the latest count, into the program for free. “I realized that finding that middle ground between publishers and users would require resources a hobby product could not afford,” says Palant. If Eyeo didn’t charge larger companies, it wouldn’t be able to offer the Acceptable Ads program at all—removing any incentive for online ads to become less intrusive.

But the appearance of a conflict of interest, and critical lapses in transparency—like not initially announcing that Adblock Plus was charging millions of dollars to some companies in the Acceptable Ads program—led some users to feel betrayed, and some publishers to compare Eyeo’s business model to a mafia protection scheme.

Stuff like this led me to switch to uBlock Origin (Chrome and Firefox). uBlock uses the same block lists as Adblock Plus — along with additional options that Adblock doesn’t offer — and is faster/less resource-intensive to boot.

I removed Adblock Plus from all my computers a few months ago and have enjoyed ad free browsing without issue ever since. I’m glad I made the switch.

Breevy Review

Breevy ScreenshotUntil a few years ago I used a text expander program for Windows, but gradually stopped. The program I was using had increasing conflicts with other software I used, and after awhile I realize I just didn’t have much need for that sort of program.

Recently, though, I started a project where I had to repeatedly update information in a textbox based on the same template. After a week or so of copying and pasting the template, it dawned on me that a text expander might save me a ton of time.

A few quick searches later and it looked like Breevy was the best such utility on Windows. After a couple weeks of using it, I have to agree.

Breevy does basic text substitution without a hitch. For example, I set up an abbreviation so I can type .date into any text window and when I hit the space bar, it insert the date in the format I prefer. It does so extremely quickly and has yet to crash despite invoking different text substitutions literally thousands of times.

It also has a lot of features I will probably never use. It can launch programs. For example, I have it set up so if I type .mail, it launches Thunderbird. But I can’t really see myself using that very often.

It can also do complex substitutions, where it asks you for input and then dynamically uses that input as part of the substitution, etc.

Breevy also gives the user fine-grained control over how abbreviations launch. I want to make certain I never invoke a text substitution accidentally, for example, and Breevy makes it trivially easy for me to control the conditions that will trigger a text substitution.

It also makes it easy for me to work on the 5 or 6 computers I typically use in the average day by using Dropbox to update and sync all of my settings and abbreviations across multiple computers.

The only downside to Breevy is the price — $34.95. In a world of $2 apps, I was a bit taken aback the first time I saw the price. On the other hand, by my calculations I saved more than $34.95 — and a good deal of sanity –in just the first week of its free 30-day trial. So, I had no problem justifying paying for the full license.

The Cat Organ, Or, Damn There’s Some Weird Stuff on Wikipedia

Cat Organ Illustration

You couldn’t make this stuff up, except someone apparently did sometime in the 16th century (though the excerpt below is from a later 19th century work) according to Wikipedia,

This instrument [the cat organ or piano] was described by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin in his book Musiciana, extraits d’ouvrages rare ou bizarre (Musiciana, descriptions of rare or bizarre inventions):

When the King of Spain Felipe II was in Brussels in 1549 visiting his father the Emperor Charles V, each saw the other rejoicing at the sight of a completely singular procession. At the head marched an enormous bull whose horns were burning, between which there was also a small devil. Behind the bull a young boy sewn into a bear skin rode on a horse whose ears and tail were cut off. Then came the archangel Saint Michael in bright clothing, and carrying a balance in his hand.

The most curious was on a chariot that carried the most singular music that can be imagined. It held a bear that played the organ; instead of pipes, there were sixteen cat heads each with its body confined; the tails were sticking out and were held to be played as the strings on a piano, if a key was pressed on the keyboard, the corresponding tail would be pulled hard, and it would produce each time a lamentable meow. The historian Juan Christoval Calvete, noted the cats were arranged properly to produce a succession of notes from the octave… (chromatically, I think).

This abominable orchestra arranged itself inside a theatre where monkeys, wolves, deer and other animals danced to the sounds of this infernal music.

The cat organ was almost certainly never built but rather was likely the equivalent of a 16th century urban legend. However, an article at Mental Floss maintains that a similar musical instrument using pigs was actually constructed in the 15th century and again in Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid-19th century,

We are sure, however, of the existence of the katzenklavier’s [cat organ] cousin: the pig organ. In the 15th century, King Louis XI of France ordered Abbot de Beigne to create a “concert of swine’s voices.” Obliging, the abbot built a crude keyboard made of live pigs, which jabbed spikes into the rumps of squealing swine. A similar instrument—the porko-forte—was designed in Cincinnati 400 years later.

I’m skeptical of both of those accounts. The Porco-Forte, supposedly built in 1839 in Cincinnati, Ohio, has all the earmarks of a hoax.

Android App: DiskUsage

DiskUsage ScreenshotRecently I needed to figure out what was taking up so much space on my Android phone to the point where I only had a couple hundred megabytes of free space.

DiskUsage is a free app that will scan your storage and then display a map of all your directories, making it easy to find what is eating up all that space.

It worked well, and I was able to find and prune the offending subdirectory quickly. Just a nice, task-specific utility to have.