Firefox Flash Blocker

I accept fully that many sites, including some I run, need advertising to operate. My Wi-Fi Networking News site has Flash ads on it right now, for instance. But I am, unfortunately, finding that Flash ads are now frequently highly intrusive even on sites I trust. They cycle endlessly. They use visual pows to knock my eyeballs on the floor. They play audio without my permission.

Since Flash is not under my control, I have to take a stronger action and use FlashBlock, a simple Firefox plug-in that loads Flash, but doesn't play it, putting a replacement symbol in its spot that, when hovered over, changes to a play button. This means that I'm back in control of my attention, sound, and browser.

If it catches on, it's another reason for IE users to switch to Firefox, and it will probably reduce the response rate on Flash ads, thus moving advertisers to other mechanisms.

Now I just need a tool that blocks the almost year-old JavaScript-based popup ads that defeat ad blockers. They use JavaScript to write parts of the popup script, which requires some simulation to test--that is, the browser would need to run the script in a sandbox, analyze its output, and then use that to decide whether to kill the popup.

One Server Standing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about on the 10th anniversary of my starting a hosting and Web development company that I was finally getting out of the business of hosting domains, email, blogs, and Web sites for colleagues and friends.

I'm finally done. (Almost.)

All the email is gone; my wife's account was the last to migrate to Fastmail.fm.

Almost all the domains are gone: just a handful of ones that I need a little more control over, and I'm going to move them off my office server soon enough.

Almost all the Web sites are gone: one remains with very low traffic that's several years out of date (it's an archive of the best online fiction, but suspended a while ago) because it's an .org and it's taken my friend Jeff a while to jump through weird hoops to move a .org domain's DNS.

What it means, primarily, is that I can go out of town and not have to worry about a power failure, a power-supply failure, or backup problems in my office. I have three computers that are co-located at digital.forest where I can turn to them if the system dies or needs help. I can pay them to work on my computers in a pinch. My email is in New York. My DNS is all over the world.

My operational responsibilities are running down to the bare minimum.

The Latest Glenn Blog: Regular Sucking Schedule

Sure, the title of this new blog I started could apply to my little boy, a regular sucker, but I'm really talking about RSS and aggregator behavior and the bandwidth, scaling, and cost behind it.

I've started Regular Sucking Schedule to try to pull together information from many sources and report on my own experiments. I'll also post code there under Creative Commons license (and hope that others improve and contribute to it) as I write it and clean it up.

Please write me with RSS issues that I can link to or respond to my posts on the matter!

Throttling RSS Seems to Work

On Nov. 13, I posted a graph showing the fast growth in the requested bytes in RSS and similar feeds from my Wi-Fi Networking News and a few (much smaller) other sites. The bandwidth usage showed a growth from the mid-200 MB per day range up to about 350 MB per average per day. During that same time, I wasn't seeing an increase in visitors of that scale--maybe 10 to 20 percent, not 75 percent.

After analyzing logs, I discovered that a small percentage of aggregation sites and aggregation servers were requesting as much as 20 to 30 percent of the bandwidth unnecessarily through aggressive downloads that didn't check the If-Modified-Since headers or other tools to prevent a retrieval of a page that hadn't changed.

I built a simple program running via Apache that throttles RSS downloads: a given IP and user agent combination can only request a given RSS feed file if it's changed since they last retrieved it. Pretty simple. But the effects are profound, as this graph shows.

Rss Nov Dec

As you can see, I threw the switch on Nov. 20, just before Thanksgiving, but I haven't seen a real decline in readership at my Wi-Fi site or the other sites--just a decline in bandwidth. The average (with lots of posts over the last week or so, meaning more RSS retrievals because of the update) is back to about 200 MB.

This reveals a lot about the sloppiness of some of the aggregators out there. Right now, my top aggregator is Mozilla (Firefox, primarily), which makes perfect sense: there are a lot of people using the RSS button in Firefox to subscribe to my feed, and if it's the top engine that's because of many unique users.

Since I pay by the gigabyte for overages above my minimum (which I've hit), this change will save me a reasonable pittance: probably $10 or $12 per month. Sounds like someone needs to build a master site for testing aggregation competence so that aggregator software developers can test this, and users and Web site operators can report on it back to developers.