Removing advertisements from uTorrent

BitTorrent may have got some bad press due to its use for downloading copyrighted material such as music and movies but it does have its legitimate uses too. In my case, many a Linux distro has been downloaded in this way and it does take the weight off servers by distributing the load across users instead.

Speaking of Linux, my general choice of client has been Transmission and there are others. In the Windows world, there is a selection that includes BitTorrent, Inc. themselves. However, many favour uTorrent (or μTorrent) so that’s the one that I tried and there free and subscription-based options. To me, the latter feels like overkill when an eternal licence could be made available as an easy way to dispatch the advertisements on display in the free version.

As much as I appreciate the need for ads to provide revenue to a provider of otherwise free software, they do need to be tasteful and those in uTorrent often were for dating websites that had no scruples about exposing folk to images that were unsuitable for a work setting. Those for gaming websites were more tolerable in comparison. With the non-availability of an eternal licence option, I was left pondering alternatives like qBittorrent instead. That is Free Software too so it does have that added advantage.

However, I uncovered an article on LifeHacker that sorted my problem with uTorrent. The trick is to go into Options > Preferences via the menus and then go to the Advanced section in the dialogue box that appears. In there, go looking for each of the following options and set each one to false in turn:

  • offers.left_rail_offer_enabled/left_rail_offer
  • gui.show_plus_upsell
  • offers.sponsored_torrent_offer_enabled/sponsored_torrent_offer_enabled
  • bt.enable_pulse
  • gui.show_notorrents_node
  • offers.content_offer_autoexec

In practice, I found some of the above already set to false and another missing but set those that remained from true to false cleaned up the interface so I hope never to glimpse those unsuitable ads again. The maker of uTorrent need to look at the issue or revenue could get lost and prospective users could see the operation as being cheapened by what is displayed. As for me, I am happy to have gained something in the way of control.

A faster Firefox?

I have been having problems with Firefox being sluggish so I resorted to a Lifehacker tip to see if that helped. It was a matter of opening up the Error Console from the Tols menu and entering the following long line into the command bar and hitting the evaluate button:

Components.classes[“@mozilla.org/browser/nav-history-service;1”].getService(Components.interfaces.nsPIPlacesDatabase).DBConnection.executeSimpleSQL(“VACUUM”);

It did the track once or twice but its database hoovering claims are on trial as far as I am concerned. Keeping an eye on what’s eating system resources will be on the menu too, especially after seeing what my brief foray with Ubuntu One was doing. A move to Google Chrome cannot be ruled out of the question either.

Self-hosted web analytics tracking

It amazes me now to think how little tracking I used to do on my various web “experiments” only a few short years ago. However, there was a time when a mere web counter, perhaps displayed on web pages themselves, was enough to yield some level of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction in many a case. Things have come a long way since then and we now seem to have analytics packages all around us. In fact, we don’t even have to dig into our pockets to get our hands on the means to peruse this sort of information either.

At this point, I need to admit that I am known to make use of a few simultaneously but thoughts about reducing their number are coming to mind but there’ll be more on that later. Given that this site is hosted using WordPress software, it should come as no surprise that Automattic’s own plugin has been set into action to see how things are going. The main focus is on the total number of visits by day, week and month with a breakdown showing what pages are doing well as well as an indication of how people came to the site and what links they followed while there. Don’t go expecting details of your visitors like the software that they are using and the country where they are accessing the site with this minimalist option and satisfaction should head your way.

There is next to no way of discussing the subject of website analytics without mentioning Google’s comprehensive offering in the area. You have to admit that it’s comprehensive with perhaps the only bugbear being the lack of live tracking. That need has been addressed very effectively by Woopra, even if its WordPress plugin will not work with IE6. Otherwise, you need the desktop application (being written in Java, it’s a cross-platform affair and I have had it going in both Windows and Linux) but that works well too. Apart maybe from the lack of campaigns, Woopra supplies as good as all of the information that its main competitor provides. It certainly doe what I would need from it.

However, while they can be free as in beer, there are a some costs associated with using using external services like Google Analytics and Woopra. Their means of tracking your web pages for you is by executing a piece of JavaScript that needs to be added to every page. If you have everything set to use a common header or footer page, that shouldn’t be too laborious and there are plugins for publishing platforms like WordPress too. This way of working means that if anyone has JavaScript disabled or decides not to enable JavaScript for the requisite hosts while using the NoScript extension with Firefox, then your numbers are scuppered. Saying that, the same concerns probably any JavaScript code that you may want to execute but there’s another cost again: the calls to external websites can, even with the best attention in the world, slow down the loading of your own pages. Not only is additional JavaScript being run but there also is the latency caused by servers having to communicate across the web.

A self-hosted analytics package would avoid the latter and I found one recently through Lifehacker. Amazingly, it has been around for a while and I hadn’t known about it but I can’t say that I was actively looking for it either. Piwik, formerly known as PHPMyVisites, is the name of my discovery and it seems not too immature either. In fact, I’d venture that it does next to everything that Google Analytics does. While I’d prefer that it used PHP, JavaScript is its means of tracking web pages too. Nevertheless, page loading is still faster than with Google Analytics and/or Woopra and Firefox/NoScript users would only have to allow JavaScript for one site too. If you have had experience with installing PHP/MySQL powered publishing platforms like WordPress, Textpattern and such like, then putting Piwik in place is no ordeal. You may find yourself changing folder access but uploading of the required files, the specification of database credentials and adding an administration user is all fairly standard stuff. I have the thing tracking this edifice as well as my outdoor activities (hillwalking/cycling/photography) web presence and I cannot say that I have any complaints so we’ll see how it goes from here.

Episodes of poor performance

Over the last few days, I have been noticing from various that this blog isn’t performing as I would want it. The first hint was a comment on a tuxmachines.org mention for a recent entry (thanks for the support, by the way) that the link wasn’t working as it should have been. Add to this various emails from Are My Sites Up? saying that the site seemed to be down. By all accounts, this free service that I found through Lifehacker would appear to be doing its job and without the annoying advertising emails that Internetseer used to send me in addition to its weekly report when I used its free service. In fact, that you get alert emails several times a day is a factor in favour of the newcomer.

With one exception, these problems would appear to be intermittent. The exception was when I went using the WP Super Cache WordPress plugin and it seemed to result in breakage of the site so it got disabled even if it is meant to be helpful during episodes of heavy load. Otherwise, the outages would seem to be general flakiness of the service provided by my hosting provider. I have a site with them on an older server and that seems to fare far better than the one playing host to this blog. This sort of thing does make me wonder if we are getting real progress or whether it’s a case of one step forward and two steps back. Nevertheless, I’ll continue keeping an eye on things and, if there is too much deterioration, a move might be in order but that’s a good bit away yet.

Firefox spell checking: getting rid of a mispelling from your dictionary.

Mozilla Firefox includes a spell checker and like any such function, it offers a chance to add words to a custom dictionary. Of course, you can also add misspellings too and these definitely need to be removed. With Word, it’s a matter of looking for custom.dic and deleting the nefarious item. With Firefox, it’s similar, at least on Windows anyway. The file that need to edit is persdict.dat and you’ll find it in C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[random name].default. My search for the relevant information took me over to Lifehacker.

Update 2012-12-11: For users of Linux, the location of the above file is as follows: /home/[user id]/.mozilla/firefox/[random name].default. Once you find persdict.dat in there, the required editing can be perfomed.