Blog-o! Notes from

Tue, 27 Sep 2011
Thunderbird’s UI Directions.

On a previous post in a different blog, some commenters were asking us if we were considering doing things that we have planned to do for a while now, and that led me to realize that I haven’t been communicating the future of Thunderbird’s UI nearly well enough. I mainly blame it on my trying to do too many other things, and thus failing to cover all the bases. So, having said all that, here is the list of things, in no particular order, that I would like to see worked on in the next few versions of Thunderbird. But first, I’ld like to say a little bit about why I want them.

I recently heard about someone who said “Thunderbird looks like iTunes”, and while that’s rather complimentary given the amount of time Apple puts into making things look good, it doesn’t really lead me to believe that people can pick our product out of a screenshot. And so one of the overall goals is to make Thunderbird iconic. You can always tell when a screenshot is of Apple mail, based on the layout and the lack of colour, and Firefox is similarly immediately recognizable because of the big circular back button and smaller rectangular forward button. Similarly, I’m hoping to have Thunderbird look different to other apps, while still fitting in on the platform, and maintaining a little consistency with Firefox. Of course, that’s not the only goal, nor even the main goal. My main idea for Thunderbird is to let you focus on the content that’s important to you, and not be distracted by things you don’t care about. Hopefully most of the changes I talk about here will help that, and as a side benefit also help to give us a more unique style.

  • A simple thing that will make the product nicer to use is just to line things up. We’re all over the place, and it should be fairly simple to make this better. There are a couple of bugs that are related to this, and I suspect we could file a few more for various other parts.

  • We want to put the tabs on top, because they let us put the compose and address book into tabs, while still having the appropriate toolbars. (As well, having everything be a tab makes the application more consistent, as described in the next point.)

  • This leads into removing the standalone Compose and Address Book windows. You’ll still be able to open a window for those functions, but it will just be a regular window with a Compose or Address Book tab. (No bugs for this yet. Removals are sensitive things, and we want to get the replacement UI working well before we remove the existing UI.)

  • We really want the Thunderbird button, so that we can hide the menus, and have less Glass on Windows, and make the most common actions easier to find and use.

  • But, to add that button, we first need to see what the most common menu items people use are, therefore we need Test Pilot.

  • We would like to add a HomeTab, to give people a personalized place to land when they start Thunderbird, or open a new window.

  • We would like to merge the Gloda bar and Quick Filter bar, cause duh.

  • Having two different settings locations is too confusing for me, let alone people who don’t care about the details of the product. We want to merge those into a single searchable place for all the settings, a la Mac System Prefs.

  • This next change is more a small, personal thing, rather than part of a grand plan. It was originally suggested by Mike Beltzner, and while I’ve had some time to work on it, I haven’t had enough to push it through to completion. Basically, I’ld like to be able to order my email by date, while grouping it by subject. (This is different than threading, because I don’t care about which replies are to which messages. I just want a single group for the subject, with the messages ordered by date within that group, and the groups ordered by the date of the most recent message.) There’s no bug for this yet, but as mentioned, I started to write an extension, before hitting some annoying bugs that made it hard.

  • Compactify the header. It’s really too big. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. What I really mean here is that we should move the buttons and their toolbar out of the header, to float just above it. This would allow people to easily turn them off (by removing the entire toolbar), and for those of us who like to keep them, it would make them more visually distinct. As an added bonus, in vertical mode, we could merge that toolbar with the other toolbars, to get something like the pictures of what Thunderbird could look like posted by Asa Dotzler.

  • And finally, I think we should remove the Migration Assistant. It was very useful in the 2.0⇒3.0 transition, but it’s been less and less useful as time goes on, and as people have moved more and more onto Thunderbird 3, and 4, and 5… (No bug for this one either, again, because removals are sensitive things.)

See all the bugs in one big list.

Many thank-yous to Alex Faaborg, and areweprettyyet for the code to link the bugs, and the basis of the styling to make them stand out.

[Posted at 11:02 by Blake Winton] link
Thu, 08 Sep 2011
A Proposal for Updates with Add-ons.

Add-ons are an important part of many Mozilla products, and many people have noticed that they’ve taken a hit as we’ve switched to the Rapid Release process. To help users have a little more control over how well their Firefox works, I would like to propose the following slight modification to the automatic Update process:

It all starts when Firefox (and Thunderbird) notice an update is available.

We immediately check the user’s add-ons to see if they are compatible, or if there are compatible versions we haven’t downloaded yet.

If all the add-ons are compatible (or will be made so at the next download), we show the NoAddons dialog:

NoAddons dialog

It‘s the same as the current Firefox or Thunderbird update dialog, and as you would expect, the “Ask Later” and “Update Firefox” buttons do the same things that they do now.

On the other hand, if there are in-compatible add-ons, we show the Addons dialog:

Addons dialog

As you can see, we let the user know which add-ons are incompatible, and give the user an extra button at the bottom to do something different.

The new “Update when my add-ons work” button (wording to be clarified later) will check the add-ons periodically, and automatically update Firefox when all the add-ons are compatible. If the add-ons aren’t compatible after a week (period of time to be configurable), the user will be shown this dialog again, with the (hopefully smaller) list of incompatible add-ons.

Showing the user which add-ons are incompatible will let them decide whether the add-ons are important enough to not upgrade, or whether they can live with the (hopefully short) period of reduced functionality.

As always, comments welcome, but keep them polite or they’ll be deleted.

[Posted at 14:49 by Blake Winton] link
Wed, 07 Sep 2011
Back To School 2011

I haven't posted about the girls for ages because Delphine's not totally comfortable with being the subject of a blog any more. I guess if you want to get to know Delphine better you'll have to either meet her or wait until she starts her own blog. But I might sneak in the odd post, like this one.

This week Delphine started Grade Three and Cordelia started Grade One. Cordelia wasn't excited about starting Grade One until a few days before, when her sister convinced her it would be fun. Delphine has had Cordelia firmly under her wing since school started: they entered the first day fray together (with strict instructions to us to stay out of the way) and they have been meeting up at recess and sharing snacks.

Both girls love their respective teachers. Delphine is in a 2/3 split which seems like it's going to be an awesome class. Cordelia is in a 1/2 split – I'm not sure who is in that class but I really like the teacher so I think it will be a good year for her, too.

More generally, Cordelia is still clinging to her baby status. She doesn't like to read, although I think she reads better than she likes to let on. She also flat-out refused to learn to ride a bike this summer, although she's learning to go like stink on the scooter to keep up with Big Sister. I'm curious to see what being in Grade One will do for her carefully maintained aura of incompetence. I'm pretty sure she steps up and shows her abilities when she's at school, and I think soon she's going to have to accept that we know that she can do stuff.

Cordelia has always had an affinity for numbers (as I expect I've mentioned) and her report card last year said "Cordelia shows an avid interest in math". I'm curious to see how that interest develops in Grade One's more advanced math.

Cordelia's my little maker. Her catchphrase is "I could use that for something!", whenever I try to throw away some interesting box or widget. And indeed, if I let her have the thing she will cut it up and glue some other bits to it and transform it into a building or a slide or a cat or some other creation. I so want to take her to a Maker Faire.

Around about when she turned eight Delphine transformed from a little kid into a pre-adolescent. I used to think "tween" was a nonsense marketing category, but there's a marked difference between seven and eight. She's got a new spirit, a little bit of sassiness and attitude, but not in a bad way; she's still polite and civil (mostly) but she's got opinions. A few of her rants: "Why do they change everything when they make movies out of books?!" (with a subrant: "'How to Train Your Dragon' was nothing like the book!"); "Everyone thinks Canadians live in igloos!"; "Why does everyone drive everywhere?!"; and one of my favourites, "Everyone else has a nice basement, why is ours is all gross?!" She's going through a bit of a noisy, self-righteous phase which, if she doesn't grow out of it, will serve her well on the Internet (or in the Computer Science Club) some day. But it all comes from noticing the greater world and realizing that there are different ways to be in it, and trying to work out what your choices say about you.

This year she's starting ballet, which will hopefully teach her self-discipline and maybe some humility (unless she turns out to be really good at it). She's still enjoying piano, and she's taking an art class with Cordelia. Perhaps a little overscheduled; we'll see how it goes.

[Posted at 22:32 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 01 Sep 2011
Japan 2011: What I Ate

The sad thing is, I wasn't all that hungry when I was in Japan. Normally I love to eat but I couldn't get excited about food, probably because of the heat and humidity. It's terribly ironic, to me, to go all that way to somewhere where I'd normally want to stuff my face and then not being interested. Fortunately I was hanging out with a person with a normal appetite, so we ate regularly and interestingly anyway. (If I had been by myself I might have just survived on bread and fruit juice, and that would have been a pity.)

My first meal in Japan was dinner: okonomiyaki at a cook-it-yourself restaurant near Ameyayokocho, with Dave and his friend Robert. We had a kind of miscellaneous omelette, fried enoki mushrooms in butter (so good!) and some sautéed greens. The greens came in their own little soup of cornstarchy sauce, which you are supposed to add gradually to the greens. After you have cooked the greens and sauce, you add a bunch of cheese, which suddenly changes the whole thing from sautéed greens to fried cheese with bits of greens. Tasty.

We also had a couple of flagons of Japan's Default Beer. You go into a restaurant and order "beer" and they bring you "beer", a glass mug of a cold, easy-drinking lager with a good inch of head on it. (Usually Asahi Super-Dry or Kirin Lager, I think.) It was the perfect drink in that weather, and Dave and I had one with almost every meal.

Japanese Breakfast For the next morning's breakfast I had ordered the "Japanese breakfast" at my ryokan, and I was eager to find out what it entailed. It turned out to be rice, miso soup, some lightly-pickled sliced cucumber, steamed greens in a sweet sesame sauce, scrambled egg with tomato and orange on the side, and some grilled fish. Also green tea and a little package of nori. It was a lot of food and I didn't finish everything, which I'm sure is either completely insulting or totally acceptable. The fish was delicious: mild and slightly crispy on the outside.

Tiny shrimp sushi For lunch that day I decided we should have sushi, since that's the quintessential Japanese food in my mind. Dave found us a conveyor belt sushi place where we had eel, salmon, tuna, tiny fish, tiny shrimp, and plenty more.

Later that afternoon we wandered to Harajuku, where the street eat of choice is crepes. This is curious because there aren't really any other street eats in Japan, apart from the odd soft-serve ice cream place — walking while eating just isn't done — but for some reason it's acceptable to eat a filled crepe folded into a cone while walking around Harajuku. I had ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream in my crepe; I think Dave had bananas or apples in syrup or something similar. (Dave has lost lots of weight since moving to Japan by eating carefully and walking a lot; I think he must have had to eat even more carefully and walk even more after I left to make up for sharing my bad habits while I was there.)

For dinner that evening we went to a (chain?) restaurant which offered a variety of food: garlic cheese bread, pizza, shrimp chips, chicken. We had some gyoza and an assorted yakitori plate (grilled chicken parts on sticks; mmm, chicken kidneys). I think we also had something with cheese, but it's hard for me to say because I was rocking some serious jet lag and pretty much falling asleep on my plate.

Next day's Japanese breakfast was about the same, but with salmon instead of the mystery white fish.

Ramen We had ramen for lunch in Fujisawa, on the way to Enoshima. It was a rustic little restaurant, staffed only by two cooks behind the bar. You order by selecting and paying for your dish from a machine, then giving the resulting receipt to the cooks. It was delicious: the meat was tender, the noodles were soft with that particular chewiness you only get from freshly made noodles, and the broth was savoury and rich. (I wish I had been as hungry when I had it in front of me as I am now writing about it. Irony!)

It was on Enoshima that we had the mango softserve ice cream that I posted about earlier. It was almost like a mango sorbet, with enough creaminess to make it luxurious without cutting the refreshing fruitiness of the mango. Served in a twist ("mix") with vanilla it was like a creamsicle all grown up.

After Enoshima we went on a long train ride to a yakitori restaurant run by some friends of Dave's. We could have ridden the whole way in a standard JR train car, like a fancier subway car, but there's an option on JR (the rail company) to take a "Green car", a sort of first-class which is more like a double-decker GO train car — cushy reclining seats with a tray, and drink and snack service (with very cheap beer!)

Sink The restaurant was like a pub, kind of dark and medieval with low ceilings and lots of wood. (Never mind the high-tech powered sliding door which are all-but ubiquitous in stores and restaurants.) The sink in the picture gives you an idea of the rough-hewn feel of the place.

Once again the food was delicious: we had grilled bits and pieces on sticks, mostly-raw chicken (I wasn't up for more than a taste of that), and hiyayakko, sliced tofu with soy sauce and fish flakes. (A.k.a., "That cold shit.", as Dave thinks of it.) Also more beer.

For Sunday's breakfast I requested "Western-style", as much because I wanted to see what they would do with it as because I craved familiar food. "Western-style" breakfast turns out to include back bacon, scrambled egg, a giant slab of toasted white bread, tomato and some orange. Also penne with sweet tomato sauce, and steamed broccoli. Of course.

Tonkatsu We had lunch at a chain tonkatsu restaurant called Wako. I had a combo with pork medallions, a shrimp and some pumpkin, all breaded and deep-fried, as well as a haystack of shredded cabbage and the usual miso soup and bowl of white rice. There was a side of mayo, for what I'm not sure (I made the cabbage into coleslaw with it). Also chawan mushi, a savoury custard. The tonkatsu was crispy and delicious and the pile of cabbage was a refreshing change from the analogous pile of french fries you would get on this side of the Pacific. It, as well as the miso soup (I think) were bottomless — you could hail the waitress and she would come over with a enormous bowl of shredded cabbage and pile another stack of it on your plate.

Having had a tasty plate of deep fried for lunch, we set out vaguely in search of something healthy for dinner. I moved to a hotel in Saitama on Sunday, so we were in Saitama for dinner, and had a choice of the usual suspects: ramen, sushi, and so on. We eventually talked each other into Korean barbeque and decided to be healthy another day.

Most Japanese restaurants have pictures of all the dishes they offer, but the interesting thing about Korean barbeque is that the food in the pictures is still raw. I guess that's not the most interesting thing — the most interesting thing is that the food they bring to your table is still raw. Each table is fitted with its very own little fire pit, some intrepid young man comes by with a bucket of hot coals and skillfully sets it into place, and then you use cunning little tongs to cook everything to your taste. We had some delicious strips of beef and placated the gods of healthy eating by roasting up some assorted veggies.

There was no breakfast at my hotel in Saitama, so on Monday morning I ventured out on my own to find something to eat. It seems like an odd choice, but I found it at 7/11. They have a decent selection of cellophane-wrapped pastries, so I bought brioche sort of thing, and added a can of delicious Boss Caffe Latte from the vending machine in the hotel lobby.

Lunch led us on an epic train journey to Utsonomiya, the world's gyoza capital, for (that's right) gyoza. We went to a tiny restaurant and ordered their special plate of 12 gyoza*, all different (and beer!) There were pork, shrimp, chicken, kim chee, pork and shiso, and some more which were delicious but not readily identifiable. (I actually left the kim chee dumpling; it was just too spicy for lightweight me — Dave helped me out with it.)

(The more I write this post the sadder I am that I had no appetite to speak of while I was in Tokyo. Everything was good but it would have been even better if I had been hungry.)

By dinner time I was craving a Pickle Barrel big salad. I don't know what it says about me that when I'm in a foreign country full of exotic, delicious food I crave the most pedestrian Western food, but there it is. All I desired was a giant bowl of crispy iceberg lettuce, ham, eggs, and chicken smothered in some unctuous dressing. There is about 0% chance of finding that anywhere in Tokyo, let alone Saitama. We wandered around sussing out various restaurants and finally chose an odd little second-floor pub, advertising $3 beer in the window. (We weren't sure whether $3 beer was a good sign or not, food-wise, but we figured at least it meant there would be $3 beer.)

The place was decorated in a blackened-wood and fishing nets motif. We got ourselves a beer, and ordered what might be the closest thing to my big salad you'd find in Tokyo: a green salad with sashimi. It was delicious, and hit the spot. We also had shrimp and cheese sticks — shrimp with cheese rolled in an egg roll wrapper and fried — and I think Dave ordered some other stuff I either didn't try or tried and didn't remember.

Individually wrapped boiled egg On Tuesday my 7/11 breakfast was a boiled egg (individually wrapped) and a Georgia Iced Coffee. I thought the Georgia Iced Coffee would be pretty much the same as the Boss Iced Coffee, but it was much more bitter and metallic-tasting. I learned from Dave, later, that all the different iced coffee brands have distinctive flavours, and I just lucked into the one I like best first try.

We were down at Tokyo Bay at lunchtime — I wanted to check out Tokyo's "Harbourfront". There's a big mall down there (Doug Ford take note!) and they were having some kind of ramen festival in one of the food courts. (Or else one of the food courts was set up to simulate a perpetual ramen festival; now that I think about it I'm not quite sure which.) I had a hankering for eel, so I ordered something which looked like a delicious bowl of ramen with eel on top. Turns out the colour reproduction on the picture was a little off, and I got a delicious bowl of ramen with two slices of boiled bacon on top. (Dave tells me it was Okinawa-style ramen, which is of course different from the various other kinds of ramen.) I know boiled bacon sounds disgusting, but it was smoky and tender. I expect if you tried boiling Canadian mass market bacon it would fall apart or go slimy, but I think if you got good bacon from a butcher it would boil up nicely. Try it in soup!

I also had some melon soda. Melon is a big flavour over there, although it seemed more vaguely fruity than tasting of any melon I'm familiar with.

After we walked around the waterfront some more we had kakigori, which is like a sno-cone or granita or whatever they call flavoured ice where you are. I chose Blue Hawaii flavour, which is... blue. And sweet. It was delicious, just the thing to eat while sitting by the water and sweating gently.

Our next stop was Tokyo Tower, where I had a piece of cheesecake at the restaurant up top. Cheesecake seems to be quite popular in Tokyo, and I was curious as to how it was interpreted. It was softer and smoother than a New York-style cheesecake, and had a nice sharp cream cheesy bite.

Dinner was fancy, at the Chou Chou Dinning Room (not to be confused with Tony's Fine Dinning, a roti place up on Sheppard). Like many restaurants in Tokyo, it was on the second floor — Tokyoites don't have our aversion to going up a level or two to eat or shop. The restaurant was beautiful; we entered on a transparent walkway over a mock riverbed of white stones. Shiny dark wood and elegant lighting set a mood of quiet refinement.

Keeping with the classy style of the place, I refrained from ordering my usual beer and had a grapefruit sour instead. We ordered chicken gyoza and little fish baked in phyllo, with the heads still on. But the highlight of the meal was the risotto, a creamy sweet-savoury delight.

Wednesday was my last day in Tokyo. My final 7/11 breakfast was a green bun filled with cantaloupe-flavoured custard. Why was it green? Green tea? Melon? Mint? It's hard to say, and the flavour wasn't much help. The custard was delicious, though, and not something I'm likely to ever get in Toronto. I also had a tub of yogurt in a vague attempt to eat some protein, and, sadly, my last can of Boss Caffe Latte.

Dave and I decided that my last meal in Tokyo should be the iconic conveyor belt sushi, so for lunch we ducked into a really cheap little place. It was fascinating — they had laid out the restaurant so that the conveyor belt wound round into every cranny of the odd-shaped room, so it formed an irregular, jagged L-shape and we had to shuffle sideways behind half the other diners to get to our chairs.

I didn't realize how cheap the place was until Dave pointed out they were serving fake wasabi. But even the cheapest saddest Tokyo sushi is still fresh and delicious; really, the only thing that distinguished it from more expensive sushi was that the rolls were slightly misshapen. We had the usual selection of tuna, salmon, and clam. Dave scooped himself a plate of natto sushi, and I had some alarmingly tacky shrimp salad sushi, while I amused myself trying to think what you could serve conveyor-belt style in a Canadian restaurant: sandwiches? Salads? It's such a great way to have lunch: fast, fresh and cheap.

My very last Japanese food purchase was a can of peach soda from a vending machine in the airport. Even though I was only there for a week, the idea of Japanese vending machines has lodged itself in my brain, to the extent that whenever I go to a public park in Toronto I'm always briefly disappointed that I can't buy myself a can of coffee or a soda from a handy vending machine.

I love eating in other countries; you learn so much about a place from what and how they eat. I loved the little plates, which allow you to try lots of different things, and to eat as much as you like and no more. I liked the way everyone orders together and shares the food. I think the Japanese custom of not eating while walking is healthy and sensible (although it would take me more than a week to get out of the habit). And I liked the food itself: everything (apart from my 7/11 delights) was freshly made from excellent ingredients. Tokyo is a great destination if you like to eat.

[Posted at 11:23 by Amy Brown] link