Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Getting Videos to Play in Firefox

I think I've solved a lingering problem I've had playing certain videos in Firefox, and I'm posting the details here mostly so I don't forget them and partly in case anybody else is tripping over this.

I will periodically land on a web page with a video at the top. Usually I don't want to play the video, but sometimes I do ... in which case I have mixed results getting the video to play in Firefox. Typically Chrome has no such problem with the page, which makes sense given that the issue in Firefox relates to a couple of browser extensions I use. What made diagnosing the problem tricky was that (a) results were inconsistent (some videos played, some didn't) and (b) the problem resulted from a combination of two extensions, not just one particular one.

They symptom was that, when I clicked the play button on a video, the player box would turn into a black screen with a spinner that would spin indefinitely, until an error message popped up saying that the video player had hit a time limit waiting for the video to load. Again, this happened on some videos but not others. In particular, I never had a problem with a YouTube video. It was at least consistent in that a video that triggered the error would always trigger the error, regardless of page reloads etc.

The two Firefox extensions involved are HTTPS Everywhere (which tries to force page contents to load using the more secure HTTPS protocol than the ordinary HTTP protocol) and Disable HTML5 Autoplay (which prevents videos from automatically starting to play). The first extension is a security enhancement. (For an opinion piece on why HTTPS is important, read "Why HTTPS Matters".) Unfortunately, many web sites either do not deploy HTTPS for some content or screw up their site configuration. Regarding the second extension, I find video autoplay to be rather annoying, since it frequently involves ads or other videos that I have no interest in, and forces me to play whack-a-mole to shut them the bleep up.

I'm loathe to give up either extension, and fortunately I don't have to. What works for me is a combination of two tweaks. On a site where I get problem videos ( is the main source, in my case), I click the toolbar button for the autoplay extension, leave "Disable Autoplay" selected, but deselect "Disable Preloading". That only needs to be done once per site. With a page open containing a problem video, I then disable HTTPS Everywhere (again, by clicking its toolbar button and deselecting the first option). That should automatically cause the page to reload, and the video will play properly. After I'm done watching, I just reenable HTTPS Everywhere. This part has to be repeated for each page containing a video that will not load via HTTPS, but it's a price I'm willing to pay to preserve security.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grouping Rows of a Matrix

I spent a large chunk of yesterday afternoon doing something I thought would be simple (relatively speaking) in LaTeX. I wanted to group rows of a matrix (actually, in my case, a vector) with right braces, and label the groups. An example of what I wanted is in the image below.

This seems to me to be a fairly common thing to do, and LaTeX has been around over 35 years (TeX even longer), so by now it must be pretty easy. Right? Um, not so much. I wore out Google looking for packages that would do this. Curiously, it's easy to put braces over and under things:
  • $\overbrace{[x_1,\dots,x_n]}$ [\overbrace{[x_1,\dots,x_n]}];
  • $\underbrace{[x_1,\dots,x_n]}$ [\underbrace{[x_1,\dots,x_n]}].
There are packages to let you surround matrices, arrays etc. with a variety of delimiters (not just parentheses or square brackets). Nowhere, though, could I find a command or package to do the above.

Fortunately, something pointed me in the direction of the PGF/TiKZ package, which I've used in the past for doing drawings. It's an incredible tool in terms of both what it can do and the outstanding quality of its manual. Because it does so many things, I've never really gotten to know all its capabilities, and in particular its ability to do matrices in a picture environment.

Here is the code to do my illustration. You need to load the TiKZ package and two of its libraries in your document preamble, as follows:

\usetikzlibrary{matrix, decorations.pathreplacing}

The code for the drawing is:

 \matrix (vec) [matrix of math nodes, left delimiter = {[}, right delimiter = {]}] {
f_1 \\
\vdots \\
f_{a} \\
f_{a + 1} \\
\vdots \\
f_{b} \\
f_{b + 1} \\
\vdots \\
f_{c} \\
\node (a) at (vec-1-1.north) [right=20pt]{};
\node (b) at (vec-3-1.south) [right=20pt]{};
\node (c) at (vec-4-1.north) [right=20pt]{};
\node (d) at (vec-6-1.south) [right=20pt]{};
\node (e) at (vec-7-1.north) [right=20pt]{};
\node (f) at (vec-9-1.south) [right=20pt]{};
\draw [decorate, decoration={brace, amplitude=10pt}] (a) -- (b) node[midway, right=10pt] {\footnotesize something};
\draw [decorate, decoration={brace, amplitude=10pt}] (c) -- (d) node[midway, right=10pt] {\footnotesize something else};
\draw [decorate, decoration={brace, amplitude=10pt}] (e) -- (f) node[midway, right=10pt] {\footnotesize something silly};

The name of the matrix ("vec") is arbitrary. The amplitude for the brace (10pt) and the offsets (10pt and 20pt) are matters of taste.

If you happen to know a faster way of doing this, please do share in a comment.