Themeing Firefox and Thunderbird

In past posts I have covered add-ons for both Firefox and Thunderbird, here I want to tell you about themes.  Now themes may not seem as useful as add-ons to you but they do have an important purpose. They do more then just change colours and icons within the program. They allow you to blend the program into the rest of your computer environment.  For most spending any time selecting a theme may seem like a waste of time, but for me it is as important as making changes in my physical environment around me.

Let me explain by giving you the example of what I use for a Firefox and Thunderbird theme.  The theme I use for both is called PitchDark.  As the name would suggest the theme is dark, in other words instead of being brightly coloured with lots of white areas the theme changes most of the colours to darkgreys, browns and black.  Now as it turns out this is not an easy thing to do.  There are many dark themes that fail to maintain readability when recasting the colours.

So why would I choose a dark theme? Well I spend too much time in front of a computer, 8+ hours at work and then a few hours each evening at home.  For me staring all day at a computer screen is pretty painful on the eyes.  Over the years I have found that if I make the background of most my programs black then my eye strain seems to be greatly reduced.  For my most often used programs I try find a theme that is dark or some settings that allow me to adjust the colours to reduce the glaring white areas.

Another reason to theme and make that theme match the rest of your environment is a bit more subversive. I imagine most users of Thunderbird or Firefox could identify them running on a computer screen from some distance. What they recognize is the standard theme.  Change the theme and this will trick a few people.  Select a theme that will make the program look like most of the other programs you are running and it becomes a bit of a challenge.  Maybe this is desirable in a work environment where they really are not paying you to surf the web or read personal emails.

So if you spend a fair amount of time in front of a computer I suggest spending the time at getting themes that you like to look at.  For Firefox and Thunderbird you can start at the Mozilla theme site.

Emailing Photos

Have you ever received an email with photos attached that take minutes to download and then you are stuck scrolling from side to side trying to guess what the subject of the photos is. Well this is one of the most common email mistakes I have seen. Here is how to correctly send photos in an email and upload to a website.


First a little technical background on what is causing the problem, skip to the next section if you really don’t care.

It all comes down to resolution. As digital camera technology has improved the resolution has grown. We usually refer to the resolution of a camera in megapixels. For example my Nikon D200 is a 10.2 megapixel camera. Another way to look at the resolution of the camera is the size of the image produced in pixels, on the D200 the large size image is 3872 x 2592 pixels. Now that we know the resolution of the camera we need to determine the resolution of the monitor that is going to display the image. My monitor has a resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels, you can check your display by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Properties->Settings. Now compare the size in pixels of the photo to the display size of screen. Big difference! In my case the photo is more then double in each dimension, 4 times bigger then my display.

Now you probably have not noticed this when working with photos on your computer. This is because most programs hide this by dynamically resizing the image to make it fit within the program window. These programs accomplish this by resampling the photo into a lower resolution format to fit the window size. Depending on the algorithm the results can be great or can be rather poor.

Size Matters

What size of photo is good to send? The first step is to figure out is what the receiver is going to do with the photo. If you are just sending a few photos to a friend from a trip or of your kids then something in the range of 600 pixels is good. If the photos are going onto a social networking site or some other web page determine what size restrictions exist on the site. Ask the web page admin if you don’t know. Many of these sites will resample the image if it is too big which means all you are doing by uploading a bigger image is wasting the time it will take you to upload all these large files. In almost any case it is good to resize your images down before sending. The one exception to this is when the image will be printed. In this case a high resolution image is desirable. I won’t go into the details why.

Overall a smaller photo creates a smaller file size. So if you are sending a large number of photos then either send in batches or make them even smaller. I would try keep any email to under 1M in size. Another option is to put a bunch of files into a zip format.

How To Resize

So you have your photos downloaded from your camera and stored in a folder. You have gone through them deleting the ones that did not turn out. You are now left with a few award winning shots to share with your friends. So how do you resize them. Well there are many options to choose from. I will cover two of them.

If you have Windows XP or Vista then there is a resizing tool built into the OS. Here is how to use it:

  1. Go to the folder you have the photos in.
  2. Select the photos that you wish to email. Use Shift or Ctrl to select additional files. I would suggest no more then 10 photos per email.
  3. Right-click on one of the selected items and selection Send To->Mail Recipient. This will pop up a new window.
  4. Select Make all my pictures smaller.
  5. Click Show more options…
  6. Choose a size for your pictures. What size depends on end use, refer to the section above.
  7. Click OK.
  8. A status bar appears the photos are resized.
  9. Then a new message window will appear in your default mail program with your pictures attached.
  10. Replace the subject name with something more meaningful.
  11. Fill in the list of recipients.
  12. And you’re ready to send.

The second method is using a photo organizing program, which gives you better control. If you are taking more then the occasional snap shot then you should start using one of these programs. There are many different ones out there and many good free ones. If you are on a Mac then iPhoto does a great job of this. If you are on a PC I suggest using Picasa by Google, download here for free. In what ever program you choose there should be a resizing tool build in, just hunt around for it.

So after you have the photos in the organizing tool do all your corrections first. Pick out your best shots, many programs allow you to assign rating to help do this. When you have a bunch of photos then move on to sending them. I have described how to do this in Picasa, but it should translate to any program.

  1. First select the photos you want to resize. Using the ctrl to select multiple files. You can also select all the photos in a folder.
  2. Check the photo tray to see if you have all the photos you wanted.
  3. Now click on File->Export Picture to Folder…
  4. You should now have a window called Export to Folder. In this window you can select exporting options.
  5. Select the location the files will be exported to. Put them into a new folder to make the emailing or uploading process easier.
  6. Resize the images based on the section above.
  7. In most cases leave the Image Quality selection as Automatic.
  8. Now select OK.

You are done the resizing. Now all you have to do is open your email program and attach the newly resized photos to your email. After you are done emailing or uploading the photos you can delete the entire folder. You can try experiment with different settings above see how it looks. Just send the email back to yourself to see how they look to the recipient.

A Few Other Tips

Here are a few other suggestions for uploading or emailing photos:

  1. Rename your photo files to something more meaningful, DSC_0089.jpg does not tell you much. Almost all photo organization programs allow you to batch rename files. I tend to use the format year then location/event, for example 2006BVI_1.jpg. When exporting the photos they should keep the original name.
  2. If you are uploading photos onto a web page then do the resizing before uploading. Real estate agents have to be the worst at this. The take pretty bad photos to begin with. Then upload the full size image onto the web page. On the web page the photo is restricted in size by the layout. So a large file is sized to 480 X 320 and what you see is a photo that takes seconds to load and looks all jagged. Please don’t do this. Take the time to determine what size the photo will be displayed as. Then do the resizing in your preferred program.
  3. If you are doing a lot of online gallery work then spend some time looking into image quality settings. Many time this can be lowered without any perceived loss while making your pages load faster.
  4. For Facebook it seems that the max photo size is 604 pixels in either dimension. So resize to this.

I hope this helps. I now expect proper sized photos from your next vacation.

Adding on to Thunderbird

Last time I covered add-ons to Firefox. I hope you managed to find a few you liked.

This time we are going to look at add-ons to Thunderbird. The installation of add-ons onto Thunderbird is a little different from Firefox. Go to Tools->Add-ons on your Thunderbird email window. This will launch a window called Add-ons. From this window you can see a list of add-ons that are currently installed. To keep your add-ons updated try click on Find Updates button at the bottom. To add more add-ons click on the link at the bottom right Get Extensions. This will take you to the Thunderbird Add-Ons web site in your browser. Here you will find all the add-ons that exist and they are all free. I would suggest first checking out the Recommended Add-ons list. Installing requires a few extra steps compared to Firefox. When you find an add-on that you like, just right-click on the Download Now button on the add-on’s page and choose Save Link As… to download and save the file to your hard disk, remember where you put the file. Now go back to the Thunderbird Add-Ons window you opened before. Click the Install button. In the widow that pops up locate, then select the file you downloaded and click “OK”. When the installation window pops up select Install Now. After your add-on is installed you will have to restart Thunderbird to use it. For each add-on it is worth check out any options that it allows you to adjust.

If you live outside the US then you might be tired of being told by the spell checker that you can’t spell colour or many other words correctly. Well no longer a problem. You can find many different dictionaries on the add-on page.

Great little tool if you commonly email people in different places around the world, like a multi-site development project. With it you can add as many world clocks to the bottom bar of Thunderbird as you would like. You can have clocks change colour based on their local time, which gives you a quick visual idea of who might be still at their computer.

Image Zoom
This is one of those add-ons that works for both Thunderbird and Firefox, but find it most useful in Thunderbird. I am sure you have received emails with massive photos attached that require you to scroll right and down to see sections of the image. (A topic for a future post maybe on how to email photos correctly). This add-on will automatically resize the image to fit your window. If you want to see a bigger version then just click on the image.

Signature Switch
Great tool for quickly adding different signatures to your email. Very useful if use one email address for several purposes (friends, work and volunteer).

Lightning adds calendars to Thunderbird. Which means you don’t have to use Outlook! This add-on is pretty big and still somewhat beta so be warned that no everything works perfectly with it. However I have been using it at work for over a year now without too many problems. It is also getting better with every release. You can track multiple calendars (work, home, etc) within it. You can also import external calendars such as national holidays or local events (if you use Google Calendars then see the next add-on).

Provider for Google Calendar
Along with Lighting this add-on gives you bidirectional access to your Google Calendars. You have to login in when you start Thunderbird. You can then add events to Google Calendar directly from Lightning. Makes a great way to organize your family schedule.

This one was made by my friend Steve, so yes this is a shameless plug. This will only be useful for programmers. If you have to send a chunk of code to someone then you loose all the nice formatting you get in your editor, assuming you are still not writing code in vt100 terminals. Well this add-on solves the problem. When you go to paste the code in your email right-click and select Paste Highlighted Code from the pop up menu. Your code now looks as it should!

A Foxy Bird – Firefox and Thunderbird

I though I would cover in a few posts some ways to get more out of your Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.

First if you don’t have these two programs on your machine then I suggest you give them a try. They are both great open source programs that have a great collection of add-ons that will make your daily internet experience better.

First I want to start of with a few cool things that are the main programs and don’t require add-ons.

Firefox Live Bookmarks

This has to be the one single feature that I make the most use of. I assume that you are familiar with bookmarking your favourite websites in Firefox. This is great because it allows you to get back to a site you like quickly. Well live bookmarks takes that one step further by making use of websites that provide an RSS feed. An RSS feed provides a list of the most recently updated parts of a website. For example a news website, like CBC, will have an RSS feed that lists the most recent headlines that have been posted on the site. A user can then subscribe to this feed using a program called a news reader which will allow them to see the latest updates on the site. Firefox allows you to see these RSS feeds within your browser and without having a separate program. To do this it uses the live bookmarks feature.

To enable a live bookmark you first need to find a feed. Lucky for you there is one from this site. On the right hand side of the page you should see a section titled “Available Feeds”. In this case this site has two: one for entries and one for comments. We will use the entries feed in this example. So click on that says Entries RSS. This will load a page that has a list of recent posts made on this site, with all the site formatting removed. At the top of this page will be a box that says Subscribe to this feed using and then a pull down box that has Live Bookmarks selected by default. Click on the Subscribe Now button. You should now have a box in front of you that looks the same as the regular box for adding bookmarks. Now decide where you want the live bookmark to appear. If this is something you are going to use daily, which it will be for this site, then add it to the Bookmarks Toolbar Folder. You should now have a new bookmark added to your toolbar, but this one will be a lot more useful.

Click on the new bookmark. Instead of being taken to that site you are instead presented with a list of items. These items are the updates from the website you just bookmarked, in this example all the most recent posts and pages titles on Jamas.Net. The number of entries is controlled by the RSS feed. Pick an item on the list that you would like to read and click on it. You are then taken to the web page with that item on it. Pretty cool!

Give this a try by going to some of your favourite news sites or blogs. Some of these sites may have more then one feed. For example CBC has about 20 feeds that you can choose from: CBC RSS Feeds. Most sites will advertise that a feed is available, looks for something saying RSS feed. However, Firefox will also let you know that one is available. In the address bar, where appears you will see an orange icon. Click on the icon and it will bring you to the feed subscription page that we used above. If a page has more then one feed then you will get one of them but not all, which one seems to be a bit random, so in most cases it is better to find the actual feed link on the site.

Before long your entire bookmark toolbar will contain nothing but live bookmarks.

Thunderbird Filters

If you use email for work or are a heavy home user then you need to start using filters to help you manage your growing inbox. Message filters allow you to create rules that will carry out a task on an email message that matches the rule. For example I get a lot of bills via email. Now often the bill we be sent but the payment does not need to be made for a few weeks. So like most people I will ignore it. After a week goes by my inbox has filled up a little more and the bill is no longer at the top of my list of emails, in most cases it is no longer of the first page of emails. What I need is some way to highlight those emails so that I won’t forget about them. This is were filters come in very handy.

As an example lets take take those bill emails and tag them as a bill. First I create a new tag called Bills. Go to Tools->Options in the Thunderbird menu bar. On the window that pops up select Display and then Tags. Click Add. Enter in a tag name “Bills” and then select a colour, in this case something that will standout like red. Click OK. We now have a tag called Bills created.

Now the filter. First find an email for one of your bills that you receive. Now go to Tools->Message Filters in the Thunderbird menu bar. This bring up a new window called “Message Filters”. If you have more then one email account then pick the one that you are getting your bills sent to. Next click New. This will bring up another window that allows us to create a filter. First give the filter a name “Tag as Bill”. Next we need to decide what in an email identifies it as a bill. So take a look at the email you found earlier, is there something in the subject line that is unique or maybe it is the email address that the email is sent from. For example the bill from the gas company, Enbridge. In this case I don’t get any email from Enbridge other then emails about my bill. So I am going to add a rule based on that. In the middle of the filter rules window click on the first box. There is a drop down list of fields to match on, the default is Subject. From this list I am going to pick From. The box next to this is the condition, default is Contains. The default is fine in this case. Next I enter what to match on, “enbridge”. Now at the bottom of the window I tell it what to do with a matching message. In the first box you select an action, default being Move Message To. In this example I want it to tag the message, so I select Tag Message. In the next box I pick which tag I want, if you did the previous bill tag setup then you will have a tag called Bill in the list. Your done so click OK.

We now have a filter created, so lets test it. In the Message Filters window we should have something in the list called “Tag as Bill”. First make sure that it is enable in the check box. Now at the bottom of the window you have the option to run the message filter on your inbox. Thunderbird will automatically run the filter on any new messages but it does not do this for messages you already have in your inbox. Click on Run Now. This will run all your messages through the filter. If it was successful then the bill email you found earlier will now be tagged as a bill.

So give some other examples a try. You can the filters to do different actions. For example I could instead put all my bills into a specific folder. You probably also receive bills from more then one company. You can go back to the filter we just setup and add other criteria, like the email address of another company. In this case make sure that you tell it to match any of the criteria and not all.

Well that is it for now. In some future posts I will show you how to do more things by using add-ons for both Firefox and Thunderbird. If you have a question then send it my way.