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 ‘ 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”.

Giuseppe Verdi

This post is a big departure from the normal things on my blog but I do have license to write about whatever I want!

One of the places we pass on a particular dog walk route is the Verdi Club in Amherstburg.  Like so many clubs that you’ll find, it’s a very popular place for wedding receptions, all of my kids had their graduation there, and there’s a wonderful restaurant open to the public where we’ve been known to drop in to enjoy a night out.

Recently, a big banner has been on display announcing the recognition of Giuseppe Verdi‘s 200th birthday.

Now, I’m not a frequent visitor to the opera but there is an odd connection to me and to education!  Yes, I did accompany a fellow teacher as a chaperone on a field trip to Toronto where we did attend an opera.  But there’s another connection.

In my first year of teaching, one of the English teachers at my school happened to be patrolling the hallways after dismissal and before the buses left.  He stuck his head into my classroom (the door was always open) where I was at my desk marking and I had my portable stereo tuned to the local rock station and I was doing my thing.

I’ll still remember the conversation.

“How can you mark with that stuff on?”

My new found mentor then invited me down to his classroom to see how marking should be done.

I had not mastered the fine art of marking yet.  I never thought of it as an art; it was more of a marathon for me.

Maybe this guy has the key.  What could I lose?

I dropped down to his classroom at day end a couple of days later and, sure enough, he had music on his portable stereo.  I stuck my head in the door and saw the trick to marking.  He had opera playing on the machine and, with both hands, he was directing!  Clearing my throat to let him know I was there, I was in for a lesson.  Apparently, there was an art to holding your red pen like a conductor.  I’ll never forget what was playing – it was “La Traviata” by Verdi.

After that, I did listen to more classical music while marking but I’ll admit, I was never quite a complete convert.

But, as a tribute to that moment, and to celebrate Verdi’s birthday, I present “La Traviata”.

Looking for more?  There’s lots more on YouTube.

The Seattle Times recommends 10 recordings to listen to in honour of Verdi’s birthday.

On Twitter, look for the hashtag #Verdi200

The Browser I’ve Always Wanted To Use

On my computer, I’ve always kept the latest copy of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Chromium, Safari, and Opera – depending upon the computer.  It’s not nearly as important now but years ago, it really was important to test your webpages on different browsers as they can render things differently.  There’s nothing I find more frustrating than visiting a site and it just doesn’t look right or you’ve done something that limits things.  Remember messages like “Sorry, this page ony runs on Internet Explorer”.

I always am intrigued by web studies showing where the current popular web browser is.  Only a fool would take a look at one set of stats and make complete decisions based on that.  Rather, they’re just a snapshot in time.  It’s always been interesting to see the fall and decline of Internet Explorer, the rise of Firefox and Chrome.  Always taking a small slice of the pie has been Opera.  And yet, it’s always intrigued me so I keep it installed.  Unlike other browsers where I load up on extensions, I keep Opera basically free of them.  That way, if I run into something that looks badly on one browser, I could flip to Opera and test it unfettered by third party authors.

There has always been a lot of things to like about Opera; it’s very quick to load, always seems to be rated highly in security testing, Scandinavian in design (who doesn’t like good things with Scandinavian heritage), and I’ve never had it crash on me.  Like Firefox, the latest version allows you to search from the address bar as well as having an area to specify a search engine.

I’ll typically have the default search enging set to use Google and the second one to use Yahoo!  It allows me to to do two searches without a great deal of effort.  Opera has also had some unique features like Turbo Mode and Speed Dial which you don’t find by default on other browsers.  All in all, it’s a solid performer and yet I’ve never made it my default browser.  It’s a question I really can’t answer except that, I guess, I like the additional functionality that extensions to Firefox and Chrome provide.

This week, there was exciting news from Opera.  They’ve released their next version – Opera Next.  Word had been trickly down that Opera was going to be re-written, abandoning its Presto web engine in favour of Blink.  So, you know me – I had to give it a shot.

With the switch in engines, it came as no surprise that Opera Next looked like Chromium or Chrome right out of the box.  I started to poke around to see what was what.

Right off the bat, there were a couple of things that had me scratching.  I’m a big user of pinned tabs.  At present, there doesn’t seem to be a way to pin a tab in Opera Next.  The other gotcha was the X to close a tab.  It’s on the other side of the tab.  As a long time Chrome user, old habits die hard!  Got to suck it up here.  That certainly can’t be a show stopper!

Opera Next is snappy and was a pleasure to work with.  Now, it comes time to deck it out.  Can I customize it?  I went to the Chrome store and many of the extension were expecting to install themselves into Chrome.  That’s fair enough; I don’t know why but I thought that they would just transport across the platforms.  But I did poke around and from the Opera Menu, there’s an option to install extensions.  Opera is developing its own store for extensions so a trip there was in order.  There’s some of my go-tos there.  I install Web of Trust, Evernote, Feedly, LastPass, Ghostery, and Ad Block Plus.  That’s about it – no blogging tool at present – I was hoping to see Scribefire.

While there, I notice that there’s an option to change themes.  I visited the Opera Next theme site and there are a few ways to dress up your browser desktop.  I looked at a couple – nothing green!

Desktop real estate is important to me.  In my browser, I’ll also downsize the font a couple of steps.  I’m not a fan of Full Screen Mode all the time so the less that the browser uses, the more room there is for me to read.

I stacked Chrome, Opera Next, and Firefox together and you can see that Chrome maximizes the screen real estate nicely.  Notice how it places the tabs on the same row as the exit, minimize, and maximize buttons.  That’s a really good way to avoid dead space.  I’d really like to see Opera Next and Firefox follow suit.

Regular browsing functionality was there.  I was surprised that Opera Mail was not included.  Perhaps it’s just because it’s early in development?  I guess time will tell.

There are two features unique to Opera Next that I spent a bunch of time playing with.  One is called “Stash” and the other “Discover”.  I’m excited about both.

Discover finds news stories for you just by selection.  I changed the setting to Canada and then back to Global.  It seems to have more interesting reads for me at the moment.  I’m just not interested in Toronto’s Mayor or a certain Senator.

That’s a really nice feature.  It reminds me of Rockmelt for Web.  It’s based on the premise that there should always be something new and interesting to read when you open your browser.

The second feature, Stash, I think is best described as temporary bookmarks.  A regular bookmark is permanent.  With Stash, if you’re browsing the web looking for stories, click the little heart icon to stash them away for later retrieval.

Don’t get caught up on the actual stories I’ve stashed above – I just stashed three pages for this post.  I can see myself using this quite a bit, particulary in conjunction with Discover.  As I scan news stories, I can Stash them and then later on take some time to read them fully.  I see a boost in productivity coming here.

I haven’t even talked about cottonTracks.  This could turn out to be a big change for me.

My first kick at Opera Next was very positive.  For the Chrome or Chromium user, there’s very little new learning to take on and yet, the potential for better productivity certainly is there.  I really did enjoy it; the limiting factor is the number of extensions that are currently available.  That will get better with time and Opera has promised regular updates over the next while.  I’m looking forward to seeing this product evolve.