Outing the trackers


Earlier this month, I had written about Firefox and its new “Enhanced Privacy Protection”. If you follow me around, you know a couple of things:

  • I’m concerned about websites tracking me as I spend my time online reading various things. I want to be in charge and don’t want options that something or someone else has decided are good for me
  • I’ve used an advertising blocker for a long time. My current tool is uBlock Origin or the actual blocker built in and enabled in the browser I’m using

The browser I’m currently using is Opera and version 65 takes it to an interestingly new level. So, of course, I have its anti-tracking feature turned on. It’s actually the first thing you find in Opera’s preferences so you can’t miss it.

Now, that’s been around for a long time.

What’s new is the next step in openness. In the URL bar, there’s a little shield to let you know when blocking is active. It gets really interesting when you click on that shield.

I went to the landing page of a newspaper that I read online.

By this count, 23 ads and 10 trackers were blocked. Each of those would require a bit or a lot of bandwidth to download if they weren’t blocked. My internet access is slow enough as it is so I appreciate any opportunity to speed it up. In this case, by blocking. Opera claims “up to three faster” by using its tool.

I can’t confirm or argue the time claim except to note that it definitely appears faster when I load the page. And, maybe a calculated value isn’t all that significant; the fact that I think it’s faster is enough.

This window goes further.

When you click on the “List of blocked trackers”, you get a sense of just what is going on. Without this tool, I’d miss it completely.

At this time, because of the novelty and the ease to view this list, I’m spending time looking at what appears in this list. I recognize some but certainly not all of them. Just who owns them and what do they do?

All of this just affirms what I’m doing by using the blocking tools.

How about you?

Getting serious about privacy


I think we’ve all heard of the stories – I mention that I was looking to buy this or I did a search for that product and then, lo and behold, advertisements for that product appears on your desktop. Coincidence or not, it’s pretty freaky when it happens.

A long time ago, I took action around here to block advertising and third party cookies. When I want to purchase something, I would like to do my own research and come to my own conclusions about products. Plus, I didn’t like all the bandwidth that these advertisements were using. It definitely slowed things down here and my internet access is slow enough to begin with.

If only this setting, which is available on all modern browsers, did the trick.

Basically, websites are on their honour to recognize this and do something about it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a banner that told you that they respecting you. Actually, search engines like DuckDuckGo that do respect you make that claim up and front. Thank you for that.

For the others, I guess we’re on our own. Allow it to happen or do something to prevent it like installing an advertising browser blocker.

Fortunately, for us, latest releases of browsers are helping the cause.

Opera has advertising blocking built right in and also offers a free VPN.

Brave also has advertising blocking as a key component. It also has an interesting feature – most modern browsers allow you to open a “Private Window” which has a limited privacy protection. But, Brave also allows you to open a tab using the Tor network. That’s very handy instead of using the Tor Browser.

Chrome is promising a feature that will block what they’re calling “heavy” advertising. Where the advertisement blocking extension fits into this remains to be seen.

This weekend, I’ve been playing around with the latest in Privacy protection from Firefox. It’s labelled as “Enhance Privacy Protection”. Rather than just taking their word that they’re blocking things, a graph, by day, shows what they’re blocking. As I write this, Firefox claims that it has blocked 47 trackers. For the record, it’s 11:15 on Sunday morning. I’ve been on Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, my blog, and a couple of newspaper websites. I haven’t even checked my email yet; it’s the weekend…

So, what’s it blocking?

There’s a warning that some sites won’t work with this level of paranoia. That’s always been the concern when you’re using blockers. For those special times when I absolutely need to go to a website, I’ll open it in a Private Window so that it can set all the cookies it wants and they’ll be gone when I close the window.

If you do one bit of learning today, read the corresponding documentation from Mozilla.

Trackers and scripts Firefox blocks in Enhanced Tracking Protection

Kicking the tires on Opera GX


In a world where every browser pretty much looks the same, I was intrigued with the announcement that Opera was going to release a gaming browser. The preview picture had me interested; the features are interesting.

The default colours are an LED looking red on a black background.

Of course, I had to change it to green right off the bat.

Much better. LED type colours look great on a black background.

So, the colours might bring me in but features need to be here to keep me. And, don’t take away any of the features that I’ve been accustomed to with Opera.

It looks good in that department; the battery saving, VPN option, advertisement blocking, video popout, and the menu sidebar were all intact. In addition to all of the quick buttons in the sidebar, there are two new ones. If you have a Twitch account, it’s just a click away. The real power, as far as I’ve discovered is the GX Control, shown above.

Here, you can control how much memory and how much CPU Opera GX is allowed to use. So, if you’re doing something else and Opera GX is in the background, these control allow you to stop it from taking over your computer when it wants. It’s not that I’m a big-time gamer but there are times when I’m working in another application with a browser open that might benefit from these limits.

It just looks so cool and different from any other browser.

There’s a quick setup feature that gets you going in a hurry.

as well as some new wallpapers, if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I have the browser maximized when I’m using it so I’m not going to use that much, I suspect.

In what appears to be a permanent tab, you have access to something labelled GX Corner.

That’ll keep you up to date in the gaming world. I also see it as an interesting way to monetize the product by selling space here.

Google comes as the default search engine but that’s easily changed. The browser settings appear to be the same as in regular Opera.

The version number is a tongue in cheek feature?

Your version is LVL 1 (core: 60.0.3255.50747)

Will Opera GX level up in future updates?

I will note that the download and install process is pretty routine. The only thing that would have been nice to have had from an installation point of view would have been to ask me if I’d like to use the extensions that I’d had in place with my “other” Opera installation.

At this time, that’s about it. It’s a really different experience to use in a dark space. The tabs seem to take on less importance with their dark colours but the favicons and the outlined active tab really pop off the screen.

I know that it’s early in development but it will be interesting to see where the Opera team goes with this product. It will also be interesting to see how other browsers respond. Controlling the amount of resources your browser uses is very desirable.

You can download your own copy here.

A really quick fix that took a while


I’ve been using Linux in one form of computer or another since 2004.  It was at an ISTE conference that I attended a poster session (I was the only one; everyone else was at Apple or Microsoft based sessions) and the gentleman gave me a demo and a CD to install when I got home.

I got home; made an old computer dual bootable and haven’t looked back.  I’ve played with a number of distributions and currently am using Linux Mint on this computer and love it.  Everything is so stable and reliable compared to what’s on the other side of the hard drive.  

I also recognize that I’m not the nerdy type that compiles my own, etc. etc. but that’s OK.  If there’s one thing that Linux stands for, it’s freedom.

One of the very best things about Linux is that it can be configured to check for updates for every program on your computer at bootup.  With the move to operating system stores, this seems to be becoming adopted everywhere and I think that’s a great thing.  You should be running the latest and most secure of everything.

Anyway, since 2004, updates come along and I just acknowledge to the Update Manager to do its thing while I work on whatever it is that I want.  There’s no begging me to quit the application that I’m using so that it can be updated.  It just happens at next launch.

So, life was good until a couple of days ago when Update Manager refused to go any further until I fixed something.

Repository ‘https://deb.opera.com/opera-beta stable InRelease’ changed its ‘Origin’ value from ‘Opera Software ASA’ to ‘Opera Software AS’

How much difference could one lousy A make?  Well, it was enough to stop everything.

I put my years of training on Windows into action and rebooted the computer.  Same thing.  I deleted the offending program Opera and reinstalled.  Same thing.

So, apparently all this experience in the past wasn’t going to cut it.  I looked around the Update Manager with every menu and option I could find.  I struck out.

I was almost prepared to just delete Opera and continue to use Firefox, Chromium, or Vivaldi instead.  But that’s admitting defeat – an action I seldom like to take.

Then, from the depths of my memory, I went back to life on the command line.  It is a skill that more often than not has been replaced by some button on a GUI somewhere.  In particular, I started to wonder if the answer lied in using the APT command.

And, I was right!  It was just a matter of running “apt update” as superuser.

Oh, and replying y (not the default) to allow the change to be made to my system.  

Update Manager runs smoothly again.

So, there’s my visible thinking for today.  And, I’ll add the blogging component to make a record to myself should this ever happen again.  Eighteen years it was until I needed to solve this problem.  Who knew?

Just for one lousy, stinking “A”.

Screen capture


It was a feature to the Opera browser that I knew was there but didn’t actually use.  If you read my weekly newsletter yesterday, you’ll already know that I used it then.

I’ve always used tools like Jing or Shutter (with a great deal of success and happiness) so had never bothered to even try this feature out.  My bad.  I mean – I have the browser open already, why not use a feature that’s baked into it?

ScreenCapture

Clicking the little camera starts the process.

Capture

There is a fulls screen capture mode but I doubt that I’d use it much.  Instead, a selection appears in the middle of the screen.  Note that their are eight pull points where you can resize the image as needed and then you just “Capture” it.

Snapshot

Next stop is the editor so that you can doctor the final image.

Of course, there is the standard arrow pointing feature but look across the top at the tools.  I could take a picture with my camera and insert it into the image.  Why I’d ever want to do this escapes me at the moment but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

There are a couple of handy features though.

  • Blur – sometimes it’s important to blur part of the image like you’ve captured personal information and want to make it unreadable
  • Emoji – there’s actually a nice collection of emoji just a click away if you want to insert one, or two, or three, or more.  (I’m pretty conservative so I just inserted one above!)
    Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 7.45.53 AM

What impressed me was how quick it was – not that my old way was a huge time suck.

But, I just like to poke around with new things and this did indeed impress me.

If you don’t have Opera installed, you can download one for Linux, Macintosh, or Windows from here.

Quickly find a Wikipedia article


I was intrigued by this Google Chrome extension.  (It also installs in Opera).

As in the “About” function, it only does one thing…

My immediate thought about a use for it is to check essay content if you suspect that a bunch of text has simply been copied and pasted from the Wikipedia.  Of course, content can certainly be legitimately used within writing provided that it’s properly referenced.

Further than that though, Qikipedia is Open Source software and so clicking on the “View Source” like directs you to the source for the project.  It’s good reading for the programmer in you.

You can find the extension on the Chrome Webstore here – https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/qikipedia

A feature I didn’t know I needed …


… until this morning, that is.

I turned on my computer and booted it into Linux Mint to do some work and the Update Manager reported that there were a number of updates.  This isn’t a new thing.  I always apply the updates and then go about using the application.  Generally, life goes one and the promise that the developer has “fixed some bugs or tweaked something to give better performance”.  Quite frankly, I just go along with the claims; I don’t spend hours testing them out.  I just figure things get better.

One of the updates was to the Opera Browser.  So, I let the Update Manager do its thing while I did something else.  When it reported that life was good (i.e. everything installed), I opened Opera.  A new tab opened which doesn’t always happen but that’s OK.  It shared that there were some updates.  The cryptocurrency issue was still at the top but I decided to do a quick scroll anyway in case there’s something really different.

And there was.

About half way down, I saw this.

Selection_001

Those reading this blog know that I would have to stop in my tracks and try it.  I literally sucked in my breath.  This is amazing.

I can’t think of the number of times that I’ll be in the middle of reading a long, scrollable article and then wonder who the author was.  Or some key point at the beginning.

My technique is usually to grab my mouse and roll the cursor to the top.  Or do the same thing with my trackpad.  Of, if I’m connected to this external keyboard and using Windows or Linux, just tap the Home button.  For the Macintosh, Home has a different meaning.

Regardless, I’ll admit there are times when I lose track of what I was doing.  It’s like walking into a room and then forgetting why I was going there in the first place!  But now, I can just tap the tab to go to the top and then tap again to return to exactly where I was.  This was built just for me.  I just didn’t know that I needed this feature until I got it!

Add this to the list of amazing things that Opera has added – cryptocurrency protection, Turbo Mode, free VPN, in-browser adblocking, sidebar, …

For me, this is big.  What about you?  How long before other browsers copy this feature?