Saturday, March 05, 2011

Browser bigamy

Double your pleasure

Firefox knows that I am Zeno, remembers all kinds of things about me in its cookies, and enables me to post blog comments under that name with a minimum of difficulty. I can go traipsing through the ScienceBlogs and the Discover blogs and Facebook with my Internet identity firmly established (an on-line identity, by the way, that actually dates back to the pre-Internet era—no kidding!). My browser's memory preserves my preferences and smooths my on-line excursions.

Except when it doesn't. I need my real-life identity when I check into my faculty website or my personal Facebook page (not to be confused with my blogger Facebook page). Before I hit on a convenient solution, I found myself having to log out of various accounts and log into others. It was a minor nuisance. I especially didn't like it when I would be finishing up a post or comment, only to discover upon trying to publish it that I was operating under the wrong handle. (My students really don't need comments from some stranger named Zeno.)

The solution arose rather naturally. My school district has (big surprise!) standardized on Microsoft Office products, so all of our computers default to Internet Explorer. On my campus computer, therefore, I became accustomed to accessing the college's website using IE. When I finally prevailed upon our microcomputer support people to give me installation rights on my own office computer (not a particularly easy task, by the way), I promptly installed Firefox. While beginning to use it to log in to my favorite sites (like the aforementioned ScienceBlogs, for example), I paused to consider whether to use my real-life persona or my blog identity. Soon I realized it was easy to let Firefox be Zeno's browser while retaining IE as the real-life math professor's browser.

I set up a similar configuration at home. These days it's not unusual for me to have two different browser windows simultaneously open on my desktop. Google Reader tracks my favorite blogs in Firefox while IE keeps an eye on my college pages. Depending on which browser I'm using at the moment, I'm either real-life me or Internet me. I am such a power user!

Um. Not really. A genuine power user would configure different personalities within the same browser program and toggle back and forth at need, but I've never taken the time to learn how to do that. This is as much a story of “good enough for now” as it is a story of browser bigamy. It reminds me of the glory days of Lotus 1-2-3 (remember that?). One of the officers of my local computer club revealed that he didn't have a word processing program. He was using the 1-2-3 spreadsheet to do the job. He'd create wide cells, format them as text, enable word-wrapping, and type each paragraph of his document into different cells. He was very proud of himself, even though it sounded like a cumbersome and jury-rigged system. But what the heck. It worked, and he was comfortable with it. My computer-club colleague and I aren't quite Rube Goldbergs, but we have our delusions of adequacy.

Speaking of which, now it's time for me to pop over to my IE window. I just graded an exam and discovered that one of my chronic underachievers didn't bother to show up to take it. Zeno can't drop him from the class roster, but real-life math professor can!


Ian said...

There's always multifox:

Or if you want another browser and don't want to use IE (I never touch IE if I can possibly help it), Chrome does a decent job.

Enon said...

I once knew a very wealthy businessman who kept a bevy of secretaries to handle scary technical things like fax machines. He wrote an entire book in Lotus 1-2-3 because that's what was on his PC.

I also run two browsers, separating work and personal. It's the easiest solution to keeping the browsing histories and bookmarks separate, as well as logins.

Zeno said...

Ian: Thanks for the tip. I have no special love for IE, but I've used it for years as the school's default browser and it's convenient as a second choice to Firefox.

Enon: I was told by a legislative staffer a few years ago that his boss required his secretary to print out all of his e-mail messages so that he could read them in a binder. It didn't surprise me.

Lorraine said...

I'm sure a genuine power user would do exactly as you did. For one thing, it's simple. For another thing, it's ergonomic, as your 'environment' is a subliminal reminder of your current identity.

While I too have no special love for IE, it implements a few things more nicely than IE. On Firefox I sometimes miss having 'print selection' on my right mouse menu. I also miss the policy of older IE versions of inserting the original URL as a comment in the second line of files saved using File|Save As. Now why would they discontinue such a useful feature?

Mark said...

Another option for Firefox is CookiePie:

Disturbingly Openminded said...

RE: Your Lotus 1-2-3 friend.

Someone taught me the IF command in Excel (remember when Excel was an Apple program?) and didn't teach me much of anything else -- this was before the Help function contained much help.

I built some very clunky spreadsheets that used little else besides IF, a few other functions (TRUNC was helpful) and long chains of mathematical logic to accomplish, well, something or other. I still feel elated when I discover a function command that lets me do something that used to require half a dozen steps.

Anonymous said...

That's nothing; Schönfinkel and Curry once took a function K that generates constant functions

[K(x)](y) = x

and a function S that implements a generalized application

[S(x,y)](z) = [x(z)](y(z))

and used them to cobble together every other computable function.