Monthly Archives: March 2006

Thunderbird extension development hell

I had this great idea for an extension to Thunderbird that was neither trivial nor non-trivial, and thus interesting and doable (time will tell on the doable part). In fact, so much so that I figured someone must have done it already, so I went surfing the Thunderbird extensions trying to find it. I couldn’t. It appeared, so some inexplicable reason, I’d have to do it myself.

I soon found out why someone hadn’t done it before me: Thunderbird development is a nightmare.

The problem with developing for Thuderbird is that it’s a poor cousin to Firefox. All the dev doco revolves around Firefox, so as a function of that Firefox has hundreds of extensions (I think I saw a figure of 750 somewhere), sometimes multiple extensions with approximately the same functionality, whereas Thunderbird has dozens of extensions. Add to that the dev tools seem to be Firefox oriented, and I then find myself in development hell.

There’s documentation on extensions in general, but it all uses Firefox for it’s examples. So there’s nothing to cookbook-style leverage from. The doco says to install ChromeEdit (chrome being most of the user interface of the Mozilla suite), but it’s a Firefox only extension. Alternatively, you get your hands dirty editing user.js – but it’s not an alternative for Thunderbird developers, it’s how you do it. There’s a DOM inspector, but that has to be compiled in (it no longer comes as part of the Windows distribution) … or after a lot of looking, it turns out that the DOM inspector is available as a Thunderbird extension. Neither the recommended Extension Developer’s Extension nor Venkman (a IDE for javascript) work for Thunderbird, only for Firefox. I hadn’t gotten more than a quarter way through getting the recommened dev environment set up, and I’d burnt a few hours by this point, so I figured it was time to tell the world about this joy.

The summer time blues

So, here we are, still in summer time in AU, in the week’s extension. Of my two machines at home, the XP one was patched, and is okay. The Win2K one wasn’t, and moved by an hour yesterday. Despite wider media awareness of the issue last week, I’d expect a lot of systems with automatic switching to be effected. As ever, it’ll be those that get switched manually (eg most household appliances) that have no problems.

PS. 10:30am. Amongst the high-profile clocks that are inaccurate today is Melbourne’s famous Nylex sign.

PS. Wednesday 8pm. Due to lots of hits via Google, there’s some more discussion of this topic here.

Sunday Quickies

Inventor of the cube-farm “sorry”.

Check out this massive Lego sports stadium. It think it might be at a Legoland. Not to be confused with the Wembly Stadium at Legoland Windsor.

For the Google junkies out there, there’s a list of the highest paying adsense phases – around USD$50 a pop. Brought to you by the Google adsense keyword tool.

In the same way that moving electrons create magnetism, moving mass has been shown to create gravity.

Hassles with background-image and font sizes

The other day I was working on upgrading the eVision web site to the new look (as well as the latest WordPress 2.02). While I’ve been using HTML for more than a decade, I have to admit, my grasp on CSS is patchy. I’m still picking it up. So it took a bit of wrestling to get it to (more or less) match the design provided by the graphic designer. The big graphic still isn’t in quite the right spot, but no matter, it’s still a vast improvement over the old one.

I did learn a couple of (possibly) valuable tips:

  • In Firefox, the background-image of a div doesn’t display in the portion of the div that has nothing in it. In my case, I had a UL (which forms the dropdown menu) in there, right justified. The background only appeared in the left hand bit in IE, not Firefox. I had to add a   to it to get it to appear… and then I had to specify a height, so the background image would go to the right height, instead of just the nominal height of the non-existent text.
  • Font sizes… after complaints from a colleague who is keen on big text, I had to remove all the references to pt sizes in text, in favour of em, so that IE would resize the text when asked. Firefox handles this even if you’ve got all pt sizes.
  • I also learnt I need to study CSS a bit more. The next projects will be doing some more upgrades and new WordPress themes, I think. I’ve got a few that need doing.

RIP Neil Raine

You may not have heard of Neil Raine… sadly neither did I until today. He died on Wednesday in a hang-gliding accident in Spain. His role in the geek world? He was a contributor to RISCOS, the operating system of the Acorn Archimedes range, the first consumer computer to use a RISC processor, way back in the late 80s.

He also contributed a number of games that BBC users might recall, including Hopper, Planetoid and one of my personal favourites, Magic Mushrooms, a platform game that allowed you to design your own levels.

Neil may not have been rich or famous, but geeks like him make an untold contribution to the world of computing. Here’s to you, Neil.

Local news report. RISCOS News Report.