ian's web help

New to browsing or HTML authoring? Shopping? Or just want some solid information? You've come to the right party.


How to browse smartly. Find what you want. Get what you want. With minimum fuss.


You're using one now. But these are the ones I recommend.

Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is open-source but high security, and is always getting better. Fully Netscape-compatible. Available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, just about everything current.

  • It is very standards-compliant, second only to the commercial browser Opera in HTML 4.01 and CSS2 compatibility. (Plugins and extensions can give additional Opera-like features too.)
  • Popup blocking is built-in and on by default, as is a Google search in the toolbar.
  • It supports server-limited Favicons like Internet Explorer (IE) but also more universal "shortcut icons" that can be different for each page on the same server.
  • It has advanced tabbed browsing, for which I also recommend the extension Tabbrowser Preferences; opening "new windows" (target=_blank, target=_new, etc., except javascript new windows) and external links (e.g. opening .html files from your OS) in new tabs is on by default. Tabs save taskbar space and allow window switching by Ctrl-PgDn and Ctrl-PgUp (and their non-PC counterparts).
  • Also, modifier keys do something useful to links: Ctrl-click opens the link in a new tab, Shift-click opens it in a new window, and Alt-click saves the link (target). Also, while your left pinky is on the Ctrl key after opening a tab, you can use Ctrl-W to close it (or a new window). For more shortcuts, check out these links for mouse and keyboard.
  • Most of the above features are already in the Mozilla suite.
  • For IE users (Windows and Mac OS), it will import your IE favorites, and there is help "For Internet Explorer Users" in the Help menu.
  • Read the the official "why".

My recommended extensions:

  • Tabbrowser Preferences added options for tabbed browsing (such as making links that normally open new windows instead open new tabs), but the options I used the most are now in the Options/Preferences dialog box.
  • Last Tab and Focus Last Selected Tab add ordered-closing tabbed browsing (closing a tab returns you to the last-focused (last viewed) tab). Last Tab also allows Ctrl-Tab for tab flipping and selecting (just like Alt/Cmd-Tab for applications).
  • User Agent Switcher adds options for alternate-browser-pretention (reports to the server of the browsed site as being a different browser; use only when the default doesn't work). I actually haven't had to use this (as of 2009) in the last few years, but it's there if I need it.
  • MakeLink is a blogging tool to copy a link/page and various info (link name or page title) to the clipboard (I make a modifcation to the pop-up menu (adding the underlined "L" for us keyboard users), which the author will include in the next release
  • FlashBlock lets user conditionally load Flash/Shockwave/Authorware object, replacing the embedded object with a frame of the same size, containing a "play" button for loading the actual object. This is especially good for preventing pages with tons of Flash ads and such from using too much CPU.

Important notes:

  • Be sure to install the latest versions of available extensions that are explicitly compatible with the version you have installed. If you're having trouble installing extensions, make sure you enable "Allow web sites to install software" in the Web Features section of Options/Preferences. (You are always prompted before such an installation occurs anyway, and you also disable the option again after putting in your extensions.)
  • When upgrading Firefox, remove any older versions first!! Many extension problems and startup issues will be resolved just by doing that. You may want to save your profile first (in %appdata%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\????????.default (1.5 and later) in Windows, ~/.mozilla/firefox/????????.default (1.5 and later) in Linux, and ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/????????.default/ in Mac OS X).
  • Prevent backspace from making you lose work. If a text box you're using no longer has focus (e.g. by switching tabs back and forth), backspace (delete on Mac) would function like a Back button. Disable this by opening about:config and setting browser.backspace_action to 2.

A little tech-evangelism:

<rant>Unfortunately, many websites are written for browsers (usually IE/FrontPage), not standards (HTML4.01, CSS2, etc). Some go as far as to detect browsers and deny access to those not using IE or Netscape, or even just IE. For those websites where the page would work anyway (i.e. don't use IE-only functions/elements/extensions but check that you're using IE), there's good news for Mozilla Firefox users: the extension User Agent Switcher, which modifies the text string Firefox sends to identify itself, controlled from the Tools menu. If the page still doesn't display or function properly, you're out of luck, and you've got to use IE. Or, try contacting the webmaster to make the site more accessible.</rant>

Search Engines

To find most things you want on the web, use Google. I use this as my regular search engine. I can find my homepage from here, and most likely you did too.

Recently, Yahoo! developed their own search engine and dropped Google. I can find my homepage from there, too. It's probably about as good as Google.


If you're looking for certain specific information, it may be best to start in one of the databases below instead of one of the search engines above.

Internet Movie Database
IMDb.com is probably the most comprehensive database for movies, tv shows, and video games (credits). Find actors, directors, writers, composers, voice actors, too. Seaching this regularly can help you appreciate the portfolios of people in the industry, and can probably also help you play the Kevin Bacon game.

Internet Broadway Database
IBDB is the Broadway analog of IMDb. Find actors, directors, writers, composers, etc.

All Music Guide
AMG is the comprehensive database for musical artists and bands. Each artist page contains a short biography and links to related bands, influences, and albums. So far, every artist I've looked for here, I've found.

The Big Cartoon Database
BCDB contains lists of most of the popular cartoons ever shown on TV, including movies based on them. The front page also groups the shows by studio, like Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., Fox, Disney, etc.


A service of the company Lexico on the domain reference.com, which includes a thesaurus and an encyclopedia.

Wikipedia (language select page) (English)
Wikipedia is a comprehensive encyclopedia in the Wiki style (a site with articles that anyone can edit). Quality is controlled by the users, so vandalism is curbed within a short period of time. See About for a detailed description of Wikipedia and the pros and cons of this project.


These are just some of the places I shop. I'll give you the reasons why. In alphabetical order. Not the reasons, the shops. Followed by a deals site and a charity site.

Get most of your books, music, videos, and gifts here! No tax to any state except WA and ND (different for Amazon Merchants like Babiesrus.com or marketplace items), and free shipping on qualified items (almost everything) on orders of $25 or more. They also have an online marketplace like eBay but without bidding.

Get most of your books, music, videos, and gifts here! Free shipping on orders of 25.00 or more. Best for textbooks and some DVDs and CDs. Plus, it has one of the shortest addresses on the web (bn.com)!

Get some good geeky computer gear here! At good prices too. They get specials every now and then. It's worth subscribing to their mailing list. Their Super Geeky 12-piece computer toolkit is a must-have. Get it discounted when you order anything else. No tax outside of CA.

Can't find what you want above? Find it here! It's easy and pretty safe. Find new and old, big and small in this online marketplace. Bid on items or "Buy It Now!" if that option is available. Sometimes "Buy It Now" is more than worth it if you watch auctions to their closing; many times the final price exceeds the "Buy It Now" price.

A relatively new computer and consumer electronic hardware and software site. Shipping is generally reasonable, tax to CA, NJ, and TN. I got my new LG DVD writer and my new Athlon 64 CPU, an MSI motherboard for it, and tons of other stuff from here. All excellent devices and prices so far.

A great computer and consumer electronic hardware and software site. Shipping is a little much, but they have some great deals that make it worth it even over some buy.com and Computer Geeks prices. This server actually runs on an SMC router from TigerDirect that was recertified so about half-price, better than retail + rebate (at the time I bought it).

My choice airline for coast-to-coast travel. They're got DirectTV in every seat, with select channels, included in the airfare.

Southwest Airlines
My choice airline for West Coast travel. Sign up for their mailing list and get notified when there's an Internet-only special.

the hunger site
Donate food for free. Every click has the hunger site donate staple food to where it is needed. Also check out its sister sites, like the Breast Cancer Site and the Child Health Site. The shopping is for gifts promoting the site charities, some of which also include a given donation amount to a related site charity.


Want to make your home on the web?



Places to go to write HTML.

World Wide Web Consortium
The place to go for all your HTML needs. Want a tutorial? Go here. How about a good HTML reference? Go here. Also the authority on CSS, Cascading Style Sheets, which streamline a whole site's style in one or several files. Unfortunately, some browsers do not support CSS 2 fully (like IE), or very poorly (like Netscape 4 and below), Of the major browsers, Opera probably does the best job, with Mozilla 1.0/Netscape 6.2 and above next, then IE 6.

You could use Notepad, but why? The Unix text editor vi has been ported to many different operating systems as Vim, or VI-improved. There are graphical versions (gvim, with buttons and menus) and text-only versions (run from the command-line). (I use both.) You need to exercise and learn some commands, but once you get going, you become fast and very efficient in typing and coding. Vim also color-codes your source code to make it more readable for you. gVim goes a step further by showing bold, italic, and underline. Syntax highlighting is all built-in for many different types of code like HTML, C or Perl (you name it, they've probably got it). Bottom line, Vim can do everything Notepad can do and more. Here are my configuration files if you want an example: vimrc.zip (change the prefix "_" to "." in Unix); they go to your home directory in Unix and c:\vim or c:\Program Files\vim (or wherever %vim% points to) in Windows.

Notepad++ (SF project page)
If you like the ease of use of Windows Notepad but like the syntax highlighting of Vim, then probably Notepad++ is for you. Notepad++ exactly gives you Notepad plus a multi-document, tabbed interface, syntax highlighting for selected languages (not as extensive as Vim, however), macros, and more.

Perl scripting language
Perl stands for Practical Extraction and Report Language. It is a scripting language to automate tasks in Unix and other operating systems, but is probably most widely found in use with dynamic web pages. You may have seen a web address (URL) ending in .pl -- this means the page you are looking at is the output of a Perl script and not the .pl file itself. This hides the details of how the resulting page came to be, for security and the benefit of the casual browser who doesn't care about those details anyway. Whether you can use Perl or not depends on where your page is. If you can, go here for a tutorial.

PHP Hypertext Preprocessor
The PHP acronym is recursive; it actually stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. It is exactly how it sounds, a scripting language that is at its simplest HTML, but processes embedded PHP commands in special tags. This site (on the main and home servers and the Lycos servers) uses PHP. At the very least, it makes site maintenance easier.

Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!