New browser for my Chromebook

Every morning around 5am, I sit down in the rec room and watch the morning news and try to do some learning while reading stories on Flipboard. I’ve done it for years. I open my Chromebook and head to the Flipboard tab. The “For You” tab has a great collection typically and then I’ll head off to topic-specific links. Recently, I’ve had trouble with these links. Inevitably, I’ll end up with this error.

But I was just there a second ago!

It’s easy to solve; just reload the page and they’re back.

I’ve mentally speculated what the problem is and I know the old adage “it’s a poor man that blames his tools”. But with all the talk about the Chrome browser and its desire to chomp up all the available memory, I wonder if the 4GB on my machine has reached its capacity.

So, I thought I’d do a little experiment and see if I could find an answer. If it was Windows or MacOS, the switch to an alternate browser would be easy. On ChromeOS, the browser is so tightly integrated with the operating system as its user interface that you can’t download and run something else.

But, the Chromebook supports Linux. I’ve enabled Linux and poked around before and it works so nicely. There’s something cute about the @penguin command line…

I went to the Mozilla website to see if I could grab Firefox and run it. After all, it runs Firefox nicely on my Linux box over there. There was one catch though. My Chromebook is an Acer R13 with a MediaTek M8173C processor. All of the downloads were for computers with an Intel processor. The MediaTek is an ARM processor though.

What to do, what to do?

I poked around and ended up looking at Firefox esr (Extended Support Release) and it runs on an ARM processor. Downloading it was actually a breeze. There was no messing around with Flatpak, just run this from the command line.

sudo apt install firefox-esr

It installed so nicely and quickly. Would it actually work?

It fired up quickly. I added it to the Shelf so that I wouldn’t have to load Linux separately and then run it from the command line. It worked nicely.

Of course, I couldn’t remember any of my passwords so I loaded the Add-on to my Password Manager. That got me in but I couldn’t easily share things … on other browsers, I use Shareaholic but there’s Add-to-Any for Firefox. It added itself slickly as well.

The browser itself ran so nicely. I kept being amazed and I actually felt a bit bad about it. I wasn’t running things on top of the operating system; I was running things from Linux which is so powerful to begin with.

In terms of overall performance, both browsers seem to run equally as well. As for the Flipboard error, I didn’t get it this morning using Firefox but one morning is hardly the acid test.

For the moment, I’m just pleased that I was able to think my way through it and get it to install and run nicely.

Cookie management

So, if you read the post from yesterday, you probably realized that there was a flaw in that process. Even though Consent-O-Matic gets rid of that extra click in your browser for you, the cookies are still set on your computer.

In some cases, a lot of cookies. Ideally, they are there to improve your browsing experience but let’s face it. Unlike the good ones that remember that you’re logged in and have preferences for a site, they majority of them are used to follow your actions on the internet to “improve your browsing experience” which typically means that a profile is being built to deliver good advertising for you!

Since I do a lot of random news reading in the morning before the dog gets up, I’ve always wondered what my profile actually looks like. “This guy is weird and doesn’t appear to have a pattern.” Is random stuff a pattern?

Often, when I’m following a link or concept and I remember, I’ll open a Private or Incognito Mode window to visit the site knowing that when that window is closed, so are the associated cookies. It is a bit of a kludge if I’m doing a lot of reading so I was pleased when I found a better solution in the form of yet another extension.

Cookie-AutoDelete is a sweet little extension. It does just what its name implies. When you visit a site, cookies are set as per normal but when you move away from that site, the cookies are deleted.

Now, if all it did was the above, it would be frustrating because there are some sites that you visit all the time and it would be helpful just to keep those cookies. You’re covered here; Cookie-AutoDelete allows you to whitelist sites.

Obviously, WordPress is a website that I visit regularly so it only makes sense to Whitelist it to avoid having to log in every time I visit to set a login cookie.

It took me a bit to get the hang of it. Now, it’s like second nature, if I’m visiting an email or social media account, I’ll Whitelist it so that there’s continuity of being logged in. For others that I might visit once just to read the news or something, it’s cleaned out when I leave.

When I first installed the extension, I deleted all the browser cookies to start fresh with the thought that I would just accumulate those from sites that I use regularly and clean the rest.

I do have notifications from the extension enabled; there’s something good about reading a message indicating that a bunch of cookies have been deleted when I leave a site. There may come a time when I find that a bit too noisy and I’ll turn it off but, for the moment, it’s kind of neat to see.

Taming GDPR

When the concept of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was announced, I think most people felt that there would be more openness and safety in web browsing. At least in the European Union.

We’ve all run across those requests for permissions before you visit a website. In the beginning, I was kind of interested in the sites that gave you the most information and asked to see the complete information about what information they were requesting. In some cases, it was a complete deluge of information and quite honestly, I didn’t know most of them.

As time went on, this became annoying. Finally, I decided to do something about it and that’s where I found Consent-O-Matic.

You like websites to respect your right to privacy, and your browser clears cookies when you close it. Consequently, you get the same cookie-consent box each and every time you visit the same websites. And you got tired of submitting the same information over and over. If only there was a way to automate your way out of this pickle? Lucky for you, Consent-O-Matic exists.

Consent-O-Matic is available from the Chrome store here and Mozilla here.

It seems to work as advertised. There comes a time when your mind becomes numb analysing the data that a web site wants to collect and you essentially have to agree to give it up anyway if you want in. Consent-O-Matic takes the mindless clicking of consent away.

If you get tired of giving approvals, you might just find this the answer.

The worst of the worst are the third party cookies and browser developers have given you the option of turning them off in the browser already. If you haven’t checked in a while, you might want to look at your settings to ensure that they are still unallowed.

Little help please?

I guess this is a plea for a little bit of help from my learned followers. From 5-6 in the morning, I devote my time to coffee, cereal, and some reading. (Except on Friday mornings)

My go-to reading involves a couple of local news sources and then I’m off to see what’s new in a variety of scenarios. My app for that has been Flipboard where I have over 170 categories that have caught my interest over time. The top group sits on top of the screen.

You can see that I’ve customized it over the years for my interests. There’s a big list that’s available from a waffle menu and “For You” seems to pull top stories from there.

Of course, I enjoy reading stories from all over the world but do try to focus on things Canadian and from Ontario. (One of the other categories not show here included Windsor / Essex County)

I’m nothing, if not fickle, at times.

I recently upgraded the Firefox web browser and once again it was promoting Pocket which it has acquired. It’s got an interesting integration right into the new tab of Firefox.

And to its credit, it does pull some interesting stories but I found that it’s important to check the date as they’re not all recent. I’d like to have some control over what appears, notably Canadian content. I’m hoping that it will learn when I pick Canadian stories so that it will show more of them to me. I hope that they’re random and interesting but from Canada.

How to find those Canadian stories is the next step. There is an option to Explore content and an interesting assortment is provided.

I’m not particularly fond of more of the “C” word that it offers. These topics aren’t selectable permanently; clicking opens a page of content related to the topic. I like that.

But, I’d also like to add the option of giving me Canadian and Ontario stuff. I can’t find it; and to me, that’s a show stopper for making this a permanent place for morning reading.

Now, I’m honest enough to let you know that I’ll accept humility if someone could come forward and tell me how to configure it for what I’m looking for. I like the integration into the browser but to be honest, I still have a tab open and devoted to Flipboard for my daily motivation.

Little help here?

Private relay

Man, this is a utility that I could have used a long time ago and still wish I could use it today.

Today, it would be nice for all teachers to have access as well.

How many times have you signed up for a newsletter, download a piece of software, or wanted access to a web service and you’re asked to provide your email address? All the time, right? Then, in a lot of cases, you do your evaluation of things and decide that you’re no longer interested. But, the email keeps on coming. Sometimes, it’s even begging you to return. Or the worst, your original request to be removed was honoured but your email address has been sold to another entity who are bombarding your mailbox with something else.

Now, I have no hesitation whatsoever with someone that offers me a service, I like it, and I want to support it. It’s the abuse of my email address being used for something else that really bothers me.

Like most people, I have a few different email addresses for different purposes, including software testing.

In this day and age though, there are a lot of teachers looking for new and exciting ways to engage students and they’re trying out alternatives, only to find themselves on a never-ending mailing list. There are well-intentioned people that are providing links to this and links to that but, more often than not, an email address is required to access things.

Mozilla has announced a new service called Private Relay that may very well help you out in your quest to find the next great thing. The concept seems simple enough; whenever you visit a website that wants an email address, this extension will generate a “burner” email address on the fly.

This helps you meet the requirement that you provide an email address to access things and keeps you in touch with the server and your real email address safe.

While we could use this service right now, sadly it’s still in testing and you have to be invited to the party to be able to use it.

But, the concept really excites me. It’s definitely something that I would put to good use so I’m going to keep my eyes on the formal release to the general public.

And, the best thing, is that this project is open source which means that anyone can look at the code. Check it out here.

In the meantime, be wary of websites that offers lists of “great resources”. It’s easy to say, here’s a link, here’s a link, … The real value comes when the list maker gives you an indication of grade level and curriculum expectations that can be addressed by using the resource. Perhaps they should also give an indication if an email address is required in order to access that resource. That would help you protect your online identity and that’s always a good thing.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about providing an email address to online services. Do you have a safety strategy? Would this service from Mozilla be of use to you? Why or why not?