March 10, 2021

Browsers, Privacy, and Research Part 3

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Here is the final article in the trilogy. The first part was an introduction, then the privacy and other things were discussed in the second part. Now it is time to examine a few extensions (also called add-ons) that this cowboy has found helpful for productivity and security.

Extensions can be privacy risks, but when selected with care, they can enhance both productivity and internet safety. Especially in strong browsers.
Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos / dfrsce
It doesn't take an architect to add extensions since other people did the construction. Finding them is not much of a challenge, but loading good ones requires discretion. They can easily be added onto the browser's structure. Sometimes, too easily.

Once again, I must point out that I am writing about my experiences using a Windows 10 desktop computer. Do my experiences and learning qualify me as a "power user"?

Some Extensions can be Harmful

Yeah, get the caution out there before discussing what I am using. I was unable to learn how many extensions are available for Firefox, but there are quite a few. Most people use browser extensions. As discussed in earlier articles, the Chromium software is the basis for Chrome, Vivaldi, Edge, Avast!, Brave, and others. Those developers make their own refinements, and for the most part, the approximately 200,000 Chrome extensions work on those browsers.

Both Mozilla (the Firefox folks) and Chrome try to monitor extensions for security, but over seventy malware extensions crept in. Many are deleted from the Chrome store, but people using those extensions on other Chromium-related browsers may want to check this link themselves, and use their search function to check theirr extensions against this list. If someone has an extension that was suddenly deactivated, check to see if there's a reason for it.

When people want to purchase something online, they should check: How long the vendor has been working, total reviews, recent reviews, and so on. In a similar way, it may be a reason for caution if the extension has only a few installs, if it is new, has something like "get free stuff" in the description, and so on. If the extension has less than sixteen installs, consider leaving it alone.

Just for fun, look at this older but undated article which recommends a hundred extensions. I lack belief that they intend for someone to get all of them. It's extremely focused on the Google ecosystem, and I know some of them are bad. Elsewhere, most of the ten on this list strike me as frivolous. Also, readers may want to see ThioJoe's video of interesting extensions, which is a bit more thoughtful.

Just a bit more information so people can make informed decisions. First, "Browser Extensions Are a Privacy Nightmare: Stop Using So Many of Them". Most extensions are free, and the Chrome store is like free day at the candy factory. No need to be in such a hurry to load up! Also see, "Browser Extensions: Are They Worth the Risk?" Two simple tools that you have available are experience and healthy skepticism. You can also look things up when a report crosses your radar about privacy concerns related to the Honey  and Grammarly extensions, for example.

Don't be disunderstanding me, though. Honest and well-intentioned extension developers are out there. Unfortunately, they can be hacked and the sidewinders can strike us. More established extensions have a good chance of being safer, but they are also targeted by hackers.

Bogged Down

This short section is important enough to warrant its own space. Suppose a user has a prairie schooner-full of extensions and all of them are safe. The simplest reason to avoid overcrowding the corral is that they use up bandwidth and slow down the browser. (Compare internet speed with a "clean" browser without extensions.) If there are some extensions that are seldom used, use the extension settings and switch them off. Most of the time that is simply a right-click, select "manage", then turn it off until needed, then switch it back on at that time. If the extension remains unused, it may not be needed it after all, so consider uninstalling it.

Privacy Extensions

It's a mite ironic that while extensions can be hazards, several are made that make your browsing life more secure. Privacy Badger has been highly recommended, and I have it on Chromium-based browsers as well as Waterfox (it can be put on Firefox as well, obviously). There are several extensions that have loyal fans who want to slap leather with each other outside the saloon, especially Ghostery and uBlock Origin (also, AdBlock Plus). I've traded off, but currently have uBlock on some of these. By the way, the three mentioned here each have millions of users.

An interesting extension set for Firefox/Waterfox is Containers. Essentially, web cookies go into their own jars so they don't get crumbs all over each other. Facebook is restricted from tracking you, and that fence can be disabled as desired. There are banking, shopping, personal, and other categories, and users can set up their own containers. Some can be assigned so that every time a bookmark is clicked, it automatically opens in that container. These setting can be changed. I have Fakebook and several Google properties in their own categories so they can't follow me around the web and tell Big Tech where I am and what to suggest for sale.

An interesting advantage to Containers is that since cookies are separated, someone can log in to separate accounts at the same time on the same browser.

Reading Views

It gets so tedious trying to get through all the clutter when wanting to simply read an article. Firefox has a Reader View, and Edge has Immersive Reader. Those let people customize the background to some extent, but they also have an option for TTS (text-to-speech). On Edge, if Microsoft Natasha was real, I would ask her out. But seriously, that voice is almost perfect for my hearing. So is the Michael voice. Computer voices have come a long way in recent years.

However, those options are not always available; they won't saddle up on some sites. Reader View by Yorkis has been extremely good to me. Several options in reading as well as having your installed computer voices read to you. (Natasha reads to me through this extension on Edge as well.) A right-click gives the Reader View option. Also, the user can customize and edit text and save the document. I have used highlighting, bold, italics, deletion, and other things when using an article for reference.

Watch out for imitations. Since a lot of this is open source, people have made rip-offs of the Yorkis version. Out of curiosity, I tried a couple. They were close, but not as good. Also, if they would hijack the original, what other tricks will the developers pull?

Sending to eBook Readers

While we're in the neighborhood, there are other extensions or bookmarklets available for eBook readers. The three here involve Kindle, which is has a large customer base, but one has other options. Amazon's own extension allows editing the title and author's name. I customize several so they show the organization and date, then they are sorted on the device.

Send to Reader has various plans, but I have no use for them. It's simple and fires off the article to the Kindle. It also has a compose area on their site so things can be copied and pasted, or even several articles can be put together with URLs as one document. There is no extension any longer, but a JavaScript bookmarklet can be dragged onto the toolbar. 

Finally, the nice people at Five Filters have a Push to Kindle bookmarklet. The free version is limited to thirty articles a month. Also, after selecting the preview before selecting "send", there is an option to download EPUB and PDF versions.

These have saved me a great deal of eyestrain because I don't have to look at the monitor screen so much. By the way, I have the last two Kindle bookmarklets on Opera, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

Password Managers

There are many of those out there, open source and paid versions. I thought long and hard about going forward with this because all the internet passwords are in one place. They have safeguards in place and a passel of encryption, so I think that even if the provider was hacked, the hacker would get gibberish. However, if the user forgets or misplaces the One Password to Rule them All, it's a huge problem.

Fortunately, it is possible to make backups or even print out the master password list. I have recommended KeePass before, but have not tried its online version. Even so, it is useful to store passwords on the desktop and save backups elsewhere. The manager I'm using now has both browser extensions (Firefox and Chromium) and a desktop version. My desktop and browser extensions all synchronize with each other, so I can log in from Waterfox, Avast!, Brave, or whatever.

Saving Tabs

No, I'm not talking about those aluminum things from soda cans. Tabs on browsers. When I'm doing research, it's not uncommon for me to have a dozen of them open for reference. What if the power goes out or I make a mistake and close the browser? They may be saved in the history of the browser, sure, but it takes a long time to weed through all that. Vivaldi has a tab saver built in, but the user has to actively select it.

Tab Session Manager by Sienori has the user covered for the most part. By default, there are incremental savings of tabs, and it usually saves them when the browser is exited. That means tabs for reference are not gone. Also, if it's time to watch Stargate SG-1, I can save the set to open later. It gets a mite tedious deleting them, but worth the extra clicking. This can be had on Chromium- and Firefox-related browsers.

Visual Bookmarks

There are several of these available, apparently pioneered by Opera's Speed Dial. Chrome, Vivaldi, Firefox/Waterfox, and others have their versions built in. I want all my visual bookmarks to be the same on each browser that I use. While there are several options, I want with Speed Dial 2. Several of my most important bookmarks are available in the same way on each browser. That's because I registered. Also, I paid the small fee for the "pro" version.

Screenshot Extensions

Screenshot, screen cap(ture), whatever you call them, Edge and Vivaldi have the tools built into the browsers. So does Windows 10. There's a whole whack of 'em available (here are some recommendations), and several have worked reasonably well for me over the years. Nimbus Capture is highly rated. This one has various screenshot options and has a screen video recorder as well. However, editing the videos and certain other functions are only available at the paid level. Apparently, Awesome Screenshot has the same capabilities, but very limited on the free level.

Do people need those extensions? They have their convenience, but sometimes someone wants to act quickly. The old "print screen" button (often PRNT SCR or similar) does a fast grab, and then it can be pasted into video editing software for trimming and annotation. Also, there are free video recorders for the computer such as OBS Studio and ShareX to consider.

Taking Notes

This is something that has cost me a great deal of time with researching and testing. The Edge browser has Collections built in so the operator can send a web page to a collection or type out a note there. No spell check, and the amount of text is limited. When I ran out, I added more notes. Collections can by synchronized with mobile-device Edge.

Using Collections on Edge while watching a video
(Used under Fair Use provisions for educational purposes)
Vivaldi has a notes capability as well, but I thought it was so awkward, I searched for an add-on.

I came up empty. Some required registration, others worked with Google (which struck me as a security concern since they make Chrome, after all), and quite a few were baffling. Some "sticky notes" seemed promising, but were cumbersome or had other drawbacks.

ALT+TAB is useful to flip between applications or scroll through them. Two reasons that I did not extend my extension search. First, Edge does this notes thing well. Second, I can open up a word processing document and flip back and forth, or put both screens side-by-side and work that way.

Wrapping Up

These are not all of the extensions I use, nor are they all that I've tinkered with in the past. Using healthy skepticism, a bit of investigation, and moderation, extensions can help with research, privacy, and productivity. Sometimes they can even enhance web experiences. Remember the links furnished within this article so you can be better equipped to make informed decisions.

February 1, 2021

Browsers, Privacy, and Research Part 2

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen
Most recent edit: 6-11-2021

In Part 1, I gave a brief overview of things that are happening in the wild world of browsers. After I commenced my research, I learned that there is a prairie schooner-full of possibilities including several I know nothing about, so most of this discussion is based on personal experience. Remember, I am using a Windows 10 desktop.

We need to be secure from spying, tracking, and hacking. Personal experiences and observations using several browsers. Some may even be surprising.
Credit: Freeimages / Armin Hanisch

In this day and age, we need to be secure from spying, hacking, and tracking.

Something else that bears repeating is that most Windows browsers will get you where you want to go — right out of the box. Which browser is the "best"? Looking at reviews, there is conflicting information. Many times, reviewers use benchmarks (of which there are many, and some view them with mistrust), which should explain why reports on which is fastest are inconsistent. I have also seen conflicting information regarding privacy settings.

A brief comment on browser speed is in order: Someone can have the fastest browser this side of the Pecos and an excellent connection, but sites and servers out yonder can be slow. Check connections to other familiar sites before blaming a browser for being slow.

An area of concern is fingerprinting. Actually, this is where being unique is detrimental. I tested eight browsers at once (my computer is thinking about reporting me for abusing it) with Cover Your Tracks, there are other sites to check them as well. It was nowhere near scientific, because some have add-ons, some have privacy protection built in, and Chrome was used mostly "as is" because I did not add privacy extensions. Six were reported as having good protection, with Brave randomizing the fingerprint as well. Vivaldi was good, with "some gaps". The test on Chrome indicated that I am not protected against tracking. Interesting, because there are polarized results between being very secure or sucking rotten eggs.

Ironically, add-ons to enhance privacy such as blocking trackers can make you identifiable. Technology is constantly changing. The best way to avoid being tracked on the web is to stay off it. Unless someone wants to adopt a hermit lifestyle, that doesn't seem possible. We do what we can to mitigate damages. A VPN (virtual private network) can help, but like everything else I've examined, is not an absolute guarantee of privacy. I don't have one except for the one built into the Opera browser and an extension I use on occasion. Interesting that according to customer service, my provider had blocked a creation science site on their servers, so that Opera VPN got me around that. It turns out that the representative was full of hooey, because a new modem solved the problem. Still, the VPN worked in that situation.

To be direct, I think some privacy concerns are overblown. Using a secure browser on a secure website with a padlock in the address bar means it is usually safe for the average user that wants to check banking information, credit card status, or make a purchase. But then, doesn't it help to use fake names on social(ist) media? Asking for a friend.

I suspect that built-in browser anti-tracking as well as related extensions are a good reason that stats for websites are inaccurate. Someone could very well visit a site but it does not register. In fact, when I had a statistics counter embedded to record sites, I usually had information on the operating system, browser, language, location, and so on. I just tried a couple of browsers on a site that has a stats log that is made visible to the public ("see my stats"), and it didn't know I was there.

On the other hand, I get a mite nervous when I need to do some research on a sensitive topic. (No, I'm not exploring the deep dark web, I wouldn't know how.) The internet provider knows where I am going, but I don't want to announce search terms to the world through Google trackers. A secure browser and a non-tracking search engine (I use DuckDuckGo) can help.

A humorous side note now. In Murder by Death, Tess asked detective Sam Diamond, "Why do you keep all those naked muscle men magazines in your office?" Sam replied, "Suspects! Always looking for suspects!" I can imagine someone asking why I was visiting sites of which they may disapprove, and I would answer, "Research!" They can believe me or not.

Now let's consider some browsers themselves. It seems that people are fanatical about their favorites, but like I said last time, there's no need to feel married to one, and using different browsers for different applications helps in the privacy department. No need to cover all the features and things because many are similar in each. You savvy? Also, tests on speed and things vary. People test them in labs (the results between testers disagree at times), but I'm discussing my experiences.

While most offer to store your passwords and seem to be secure, many people do not allow that. I don't. Instead, I use a password safe that generates unique secure passwords — even I don't know them. You have to have a master password to get in, then you can copy and paste, or use a password manager that synchronizes all of them. Mine works on multiple browsers as well as the desktop version. Seems safer that way.

Sure is annoying to tweak each browser's dictionary and add specialized words that I have to use such as uniformitarianism and mitochondrial DNA, but that's the way it goes.

When doing your own research, check the dates. This child has seen harsh reviews of, say, Edge, but they were several years old and the browser has changed quite a bit for the better since then.


Opera

This will be short because it's not in my heavy rotation. Part of the problem is that it's partly or mostly controlled by the ChiComs, and I don't want them in my home any more than they are already. However, it does work. I don't know if it was an earlier release, but if I rightly recollect, there was something a bit off about the way it rendered pages, but I don't see that happening now. It is considered good for privacy concerns such as tracking, and will probably let you make a secure online purchase.


Firefox

This one was an old friend. I lost interest for a while, but it has had substantial upgrades and is my current default browser. It scores well in privacy areas. You can save and synchronize your bookmarks across several devices, and even have them saved in your account. That was helpful when I upgraded to a new computer and installed FFX, but the best (and most detailed) way is to back up your profile. They give you instructions for that on the site. It also has blockers for ad tracking that I supplement with extensions, but more about those next time.

There was a "notes" function at one time, but that was apparently put out to pasture. Well, we do have other software for that. Also, the "Take a Screenshot" function can be accessed with a right-click. I like this one better than in other browsers that have it.

Our break-up was difficult for me. After FFX did a hard left politically and hypocritically promoted internet censorship, I uninstalled it. Too bad for many reasons, one of which is that I didn't want this to be a political article. The rest of it is not, however.

I read mixed reviews of the Pale Moon browser, but those that were most negative were older, so I'm giving it a test drive. There were some features and extensions in Firefox I wasn't happy to go without, but this fork seems adequate. Interestingly, one internet test of browser security rated it higher than the Brave browser, but it appears that my internet fingerprint on it is like sending up a flare. It will be for occasional use. Like the others, it works immediately after installing.

EDIT: Pale Moon was all right, but I replaced it with Waterfox. All the advantages of Firefox (including the ability to install add-ons) but without the political stuff from its owners — that I could find, anyway. 


Forking

Despite the faults of Google, they seem to be looking out for us regarding hacking. This weblog is a Google property, and I have 2-factor authorization enabled. I just signed into this account and had three alerts, including on my Android phone. Coupled with the strong password, that account feels protected.

The rest of the browsers discussed below are "forks" or modifications of the Chromium browser source code, which is the foundation for Google's Chrome. I have used several that are more secure than Chrome. No need to switch and ditch, folks can see what they like. Some are so much like Chrome, the user will have to check to see which browser is currently running. For the most part, extensions are compatible and can be downloaded from the Chrome store.


Avast Secure Browser and CCleaner Browser

For writing this section, I switched to the Avast browser.

Some folks have burrs under their saddles because the Avast! antivirus company was allegedly using a company that shared data. This was rectified, but I've seen some sites that are unforgiving. The antivirus itself usually has a high rating, even for the free version. To complicate matters, Piriform makes CCleaner, which has an almost identical browser — and Avast! owns Piriform now, so why have two browsers? 

People were irritated because there was software bundling going on; they suddenly discovered a new browser was  installed! If they weren't paying attention and opting out, they could simply use Revo Uninstaller or something else and remove it.

The CCleaner and Avast browser work, and they seem to try very hard to keep the user safe. Ad blocking, anti-fingerprinting, blocking phishing sites, anti-tracking, webcam guard, and more. They also guard against extensions, so the user needs to confirm that they are indeed wanted and not forced extensions from nefarious sites. Some malware will try to add something without the user's knowledge, and this guard shows up when I go to the Chrome Web Store to download an extension. I actually had to allow some extensions twice, so that cuts down on browser hijacking. By the way, I did not download adblock extensions during my testing and these still scored well in that fingerprint test mentioned earlier.

Again, they are very much like Chrome, but more secure. If a user has the Avast! antivirus, their browser links up with it for Banking Mode. Although I do not have it on this computer, I remember how Banking Mode pretty much isolated the browser from other parts of the computer; I needed to use other keys or disengage it to do other things. Check banking information, credit cards, whatever else, then exit and go about other business.

Between, the two, I preferred Avast! to CCleaner. I used Avast! as my default browser for a few weeks and was mostly satisfied. Having a passel of tabs open for reference while working on articles caused some difficulties, but I reckon I'm an exception, not the rule.


Edge

Some people just have to live on the edge. Now I am writing using the Edge browser. Yeah, I know, people love to hate Microsoft while using their products at the same time. Internet Explorer was dreadful, which prompted competition from Netscape. That, in turn, evolved into Firefox. IE was improved over the years, and apparently Microsoft had a chimera of IE that they called Edge for Windows 10 users. Gallop ahead to today, and Edge is another Chromium-based browser that has its own extensions library, but also accepts them from the Chrome Web Store.


It feels  more robust in rendering sites and videos, but I'll allow that it may be just my imagination. Edge has been reliable and fast. It, too, scored well in my fingerprint security test. I also read conflicting reports: great on anti-phishing, bad on being hacked in a test — in 2017! Even so, I gave it a fair trial by making it my system default browser for a few weeks, and did so again later.

It integrates with the user's Microsoft account, but that is not mandatory. I found it helpful. Also, it can synchronize your data (including collections, favorites, extensions, and so on) to that account and also other devices.

A researcher may be interested in something they call "Collections". A page can be saved into a panel that is accessible through a command or keyboard shortcut, then retrieved later:

Ready to add a page to a collection
In addition, text can be selected and added to a collection as well, easily added with a right-click of the mouse. I even made a couple of collections that are only text. This feature seems to work like OneNote, and since it, too, synchronizes in the account, I can work on things with my smartphone. F'rinstance, I pondered a topic, made notes or saved links in collections, and added to it on the go. Don't expect to write a novel in the collections area, characters are limited. Make another note in the collection and keep going.

Edge also has a built-in web capture (screenshot) capability that is easily accessed through a right-click. From there, notes can be added and there is a "draw" thing that I do not use. It's useful, but when quick action is needed, slapping that Print Screen button is mighty handy, and I can paste it into photo editing software right quick-like.

Unless I'm missing something, the ALT+Tab that normally lets one scroll through applications gets troublesome. I can have many tabs open, but when I want to go back and forth between Edge and, say, LibreOffice Writer, it moves to the next tab instead of to the application. Tricky, so I have to use the mouse and click between the two. It's difficult to be me.

EDIT: The ALT+Tab problem had to be solved in my Windows 10 computer settings. Also, Edge has added the option to move the tabs to the side, something available in Vivaldi (with a vengeance). You can do that with a click, and put them back just as easily.

Vivaldi

Now I'm using the Vivaldi browser, and have a few things to say about it. Like the others, it will do what it's supposed to right away. It was initiated around 2015 by someone who was on the prod with the Opera company's actions. With the enthusiasm to make something else that is better, Vivaldi is lacking in some areas. 

I was unable to import bookmarks very well. It shoved them all into a folder called "Imported", so I had to make my own folders and move bookmarks into them. Reading the forums, there are several items that have not been addressed (such as typing a site name and then pressing CTRL+Enter to reach a destination; a minor detail that could have been easily fixed). It has problems enabling extensions, such as Speed Dial 2, which was ruined by a Vivaldi update. EDIT: They fixed that later, but I have to hit the "Home" button. Also, the user has to hunt for solutions for some things that are not issues in other browsers.

This is another one that I used as a default browser for a few weeks, then I went back to Firefox. It seems clunky and there is a lack of professionalism to it. It promises to be secure, but I lack belief that this is a promise on which I can hang my hat. Seems like they spent a lot of time making it customizable and gimmicky rather than robust. It seems faster to me than some other browsers.

There are a couple of things that I found very useful for writing and research. We can stack tabs and screen-tile them side-by-side. My usual approach when featuring an article is to write an introduction, add some thoughts and other links, excerpt, link to finish reading, and often a video at the end. Some rather involved articles require frequent reference, so I can tile them next to each other. 

The "Notes" feature is interesting and useful, but I disliked it at first. It is available in the side panel. Highlight text and send it to a note, or open it up and add some thoughts. Use Vivaldi's screen capture tool (which I forgot to mention) and add it to a note, and format it if you've a mind to. Also, a note can be inserted into an article.

At first, I detested Notes and went to Edge to work with the Collections thing. Whether I missed it or a subsequent update made improvements, I don't know, but the Notes function is useful to me again. You see, I didn't want to use the small side panel, but it turns out that a user doesn't have to do it that way.

A bit tricky, but the user can start a new note from the main menu, then "tools", then "Notes". This launches a new tab and existing notes are available. Click the + to start a new note. Typing essentially gives the note an automatic title, which is easily changed by typing something else at the beginning. For some reason, a note does not begin at the left margin, so be aware of that. In the side panel, click Notes, then the + sign to start a new note. But it's small. This is remedied by double-clicking the title, and that tab opens to provide plenty of work space.

Something very useful in all this is the aforementioned page tiling. When writing a weblog, the workspace and the notes can be tiled in a split screen for easy reference.

Notes and tab tiling are two big reasons that I have not scrapped this browser. Again, it does browser stuff as well as the others. It also seems to be a bit faster. At one point, I was keeping Vivaldi as a standby, but it has had substantial updates and is my unregistered assault browser of choice for writing.

Brave

I was afraid of the Brave browser (see what I did there?) because it has some unusual attributes. There are some negative things to say, but let's be clear: it seems to be faster, and I tried it out as my default browser for a few days.

It blocks ads and tracking. Sometimes it can break a site, so the user must switch off the shields for a while, or permanently on certain sites. Brave has a strange cryptocurrency token thing happening with "Brave Rewards" where users get "paid". To do that apparently requires a lot of browsing on participating sites, and someone could make a few grotzits. Ain't no way I'm giving the bank information to Uphold so they can verify my wallet.

This is all opt-in or opt-out, so people don't need to let this concern them. Those who want to investigate and are excited by cryptocurrency, investigate and see how it goes.

People are excited by this newcomer. Brave is by no means the first one with an emphasis on privacy. This one is strong on security and blocking trackers. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but it's fast and gets the job done, and many people are enthusiastic about it. It keeps offering to save passwords even when that is switched off in settings, but that will probably be fixed later.

In the previous article, I mentioned "incognito" or "private browsing". Usually, this works as a "safe mode" where extensions are disabled. No private browsing window is going to give the user added security on the web. They do not store history, cookies, and whatever from that session; my wife won't be able to find out that I was looking to buy her a talking moose head for her birthday. Brave gives you an option of a regular private window or one with the Tor "onion routing" network, which gives more security.

The people behind the Gab social media service have a fork of Brave called Dissenter. It still needs polish, but is supposed to have speed and security. EDIT: Dissenter just went into my Do Not Use warning list. Slow to update (if the user can figure out how to do that in the first place) and other quirks prompted me to uninstall it. Then I had to figure out how to fix the computer so it would go online again. Coincidence? Maybe. So, Dissenter just seems to be a platform for the social media extension of the same name. My recommendation is that if someone really must use Dissenter, they should only use it for that purpose and select a better browser for their primary.

Concluding Thoughts

We covered several browsers. Some of them may have seemed surprising, but I thought they worked well for the most part. I really want to say again that there is no cost or commitment, and people may want to seriously consider different browsers for different purposes. Or maybe family members. If you want to check some out, the links are above in the product names.

Hindering the efforts of trackers and hackers and spies (oh my) does not begin or end with safe browsers. While that is important, we must keep our computers ready. After all, technology is constantly changing, so something might burrow through the shields. A reliable virus scanner is essential, as is malware protection. When the software calls home and wants to apply updates, let it. They are often just facelifts, but we don't want to let repairs get left outside in the rain — updates can contain security fixes.

At one time, I used CCleaner. It would clean out tracking cookies, the cache of browsers, and the registry. Some folks didn't like it, and one made the assumption that since people only use one browser anyway (yeah, right), he had some tedious instructions on how to go without CCleaner. I kept using it until I got this new computer. Free software called Glary Utilities was recommended. Glary Utilities and CCleaner both have free and paid versions, but I don't need the higher level. I run Glary Utilities every day for cleaning out the registry, check for spyware and malware that got through, erase tracks, and more.

The final part in this series is what I consider the most fun: browser extensions. No, I'm not going to throw out a list of "must have" items, but those that have been helpful in my research and writing. Quick note: people who go wild with extensions and customizations are taking risks with their privacy. You can find the third part here.

January 28, 2021

A Bad Breakup with Firefox

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen 

This is somewhat depressing. I feel like an old friend betrayed me, having used Firefox off and on for several years, and now this. It has made many improvements in speed, reliability, and security, but the Mozilla company has taken the bit of leftist politics into its teeth and jumped the corral fence.

It was disappointing to learn that Mozilla, makers of Firefox, are promoting internet censorship. This is unacceptable, and there are other options.
This derivative image was further modified at PhotoFunia.

Shouldn't web browser companies focus on keeping us secure from tracking, spyware, hacking, and such? The expression "stay in your lane" comes to mind. I was dismayed to learn that Mozilla, makers of Firefox, have called for deplatforming and punishment of President Trump and others. So they are in favor of censorship.

I am not uninstalling Firefox because I'm leaping onto the bandwagon and saying, "Me too!" or to look good to folks who call themselves patriots. This was unpleasant news to me, and I didn't know about it until the night before I wrote this article. Unfortunately, it has some features that really don't want to live without.

Despite some negative reviews, I've saddled up the FFX-derived Pale Moon browser for a test ride. It's reasonably safe, but I can tell right now that it probably won't become my default browser. For one thing, it made writing this article difficult by refusing the "paste unformatted text" function of CTRL+SHIFT+V, and launched some of that web inspection stuff — how many people need that, really?. I moved over to the Brave browser to finish this. Also, some add-ons/extensions upon which I rely are not available in Pale Moon. Still, I can use it as a stand-by and a utility. Great name, too.

EDIT: I uninstalled Pale Moon and installed Waterfox. It has the advantages of Firefox and even allows add-ons, and seems to be working well. 

Firefox, I'll be a fool for your lovin' no more.

While writing this, I saw an article about FFX banning a "Dissenter" plugin. I don't know about it. They should be dropping plugins/extensions/add-ons that are not safe, but this was apparently a slap in the face to free speech. I wonder if the Dissenter browser is any good? Well, I do have quite a few installed now, so I'm only curious.

Now I have to find an alternative to Mozilla's "Thunderbird" desktop email client.

January 1, 2021

Browsers, Privacy, and Research Part 1

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

All y'all should know up front that this series of articles is based on my experiences as a Window 10 desktop computer user. Many of the things discussed will apply to laptops (are they different from notebooks?), but mobile devices will be left alone for the most part. Exploring browsers can be fun!

So many browsers out there to choose from. Most do the job right out of the box. Beginning a series on my browsers, and will discuss extensions.
Credit: Pixabay / Pete Linforth

While many people are content to use the browser that came with their computer, they may ignore the fact that there are many browsers to choose from. Since Google (the parent company is Alphabet) dominates teh interwebs, sojourners on their properties are inundated with, "Hey, we're the best! Download Chrome!", which is probably why they have a huge market share (a difficult process that reminds this child of political polling) in the browser wars. The dominant browser years ago was Internet Explorer, which more experienced users loved to hate.

If you want to move around the web, the major browsers will get the job done. Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi (which evolved from Opera), Safari —

"That creation scientist also designed a browser, Cowboy Bob?"

No, you're thinking of Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.

Firefox, Edge (the Microsoft replacement for Internet Explorer), and many more. They will get the basic job done right out of the box. What I am going to discuss are the browsers (and later, the extensions/add-ons) that I have used.

 

Considering Privacy

Should we be concerned about tracking and privacy? It's a tough call, and it may feel like the big companies know everything about each of us already, so there's not point in bothering. After all if you disable those packets of data known as cookies, your internet activities will be severely curtailed. Most are good, some are used by sidewinders to spy on us. They can generally be cleared out of browsers, but if you get radical on clearing the browser's cache, you must log in at every site where you've logged in before.

The most popular browsers claim to protect your privacy, but many people are leery of Chrome because of Google's reputation for censorship, tracking, allegedly selling information, and so on. While my weblogs are a part of Google's ecosystem, I still try to reduce my activity.

I do not use Chrome very much. Just as a standby.

Several browsers have enhanced protection built in and active, though some require the user to enable them. Ad-blocking, anti-fingerprinting, suspicious site protection, and more are there to help us. Don't be disunderstanding me, Chrome has privacy features as well and they are probably effective.

One of the simplest privacy extensions is that special function that has names like "In Private", "Incognito", "Private Mode", and similar. This bad boy lets you visit any site, but it's like you've never been there before. You'll have to log in to sites (including 2-step verification if enabled), but cookies and history are made to go away when you close it. Not only does that help with internet privacy, but snoopy spouses, children, siblings, dorm mates, and so on.


Stick a Fork in It

The ranch house for many browsers is open source code. Modifications of browsers are sometimes called forks. Mayhaps it has something to do with a fork in the road, because I can't see a culinary connection. Chrome, Vivaldi, Edge, and others are based on the Chromium source. From Chromium, the other companies add their own bells and whistles. In many ways, a Chrome user can download other browsers, import their bookmarks/favorites and other data, and see little or no difference. Firefox also has forks, but those seem less common and are considered unreliable or even pointless because FFX is more powerful.

 

Having Multiple Browsers

Apparently most people just use one browser. That's fine, and the privacy-minded can have extensions that help a great deal (more about that another time). However, having a One Browser to Rule them All mindset cuts down on the privacy. It has been suggested to have different browsers for different purposes.

You can have one for banking and other financial activities, another for social(ist) media, a third for— well, you get the idea. Listen, it's not a commitment. You bought the horse but don't like the way it balks at jumping fences, take it back. I mean, browser. I haven't seen one that you have to purchase outright, so if it doesn't work, uninstall it. I'm partial to Revo Uninstaller, and have used the free version for years until I upgraded to the paid version just recently. But never mind about that now.

That's enough for this first installment. I'll tell you about my main browsers, some that are auxiliary, and a couple of others next time. However, I'm looking forward to discussing extensions and why some are essential, but a security risk. Oh, a bonus right now: ditch the browser toolbars, they usually have malware or other risks. Look it up. To read the second part about browsers themselves, click here.

December 23, 2020

Nancy Pelosi Fans Flames of Science vs Faith

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Nancy Pelosi, leftist Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, has made it clear many times that she is dishonest and incompetent. In her latest fatuous remarks foolishness, she attempts to demonize people of faith for allegedly 'not believing in science".

Nancy Pelosi claimed the stimulus bill was delayed because people of faith do not believe in science. Clearly another lie to dehumanize Christians.
Made at PhotoFunia

In an article on Piltdown Superman, I wrote about how atheists and other anti-creationists dehumanize their targets. Indeed, this sort of thing only escalates. (Just think of Germany in the years around 1939 where Jews were dehumanized.) In an earlier article on this weblog, I wrote that leftists are demonizing supporters of President Trump, and they want to punish us — some are even recommending reeducation camps.

Let's saddle up and ride to higher ground to get a bigger picture.

One major instance where Nanny Pelosi demonstrated her lust for power and prestige was promoting the Obamacare bill. But what was in it? She said that we have to pass the bill to find out what's in it. Great idea. In fact, that's how I buy houses. I just plunk down the money and find out later if my million dollar investment has been worthwhile.

Pelosi is supposedly a Roman Catholic. Since people don't trust atheists (for many good reasons), claiming to be Catholic is safe enough for many people — especially if you don't practice some of the core values, such as the sanctity of life. No, she is definitely not a Catholic in good standing. It is a religion for convenience and posturing.

She said that people didn't follow the science regarding the Wuhan virus. Anyone with a grain of sense and access to a non-censorious search engine can learn that science was at the forefront. (In my opinion, Trump trusted the wrong people too much; he had dyed-in-the-wool Democrats involved. We know how they've obstructed him even before his inauguration.) Nanny also said people have said that they have faith, so they don't believe in science.

Care to back up that claim? Maybe it was the friend of an anonymous source who spoke under conditions of anonymity who had been drinking Quaalude-laced punch. Ironically, while dehumanizing "people of faith", she said that "science is an answer to our prayers" because we can do both faith and science. Two standards, no waiting.

Listen, witch, we know that your flying monkeys believe anything you tell them. There is no conflict between actual science and faith. (Between the pseudoscience of evolutionism and the Christian faith, yes, definitely.) Sheeple will believe her, of course, and that will fan the flames against not only Conservatives, but those of us who believe the Bible. 

What a liar. By the way, Nanny, I can show you many names of people who believe the Bible and are enthusiastic about science. It's really too bad that people who want free stuff and like to be told what they want to hear keep putting this wicked creature in power.

December 13, 2020

Living Under Divine Judgment

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

This article contains raw emotion, but I hope that some of these thoughts will be useful. I also hope they will be interesting not just to Americans, but people in other Western countries. Supposedly every generation feels that the world is getting worse. Well, it is.

An article written while trying to climb out of despair. Raw emotion, but clinging to faith in God who upholds the universe, not in fallible man.
Credit: Pixabay /Enrique Meseguer
Readers should be informed that I am a Christian, politically Conservative, a biblical (young age) creationist, and believe in the pre-tribulation rapture. I'm not going to spend a great deal of time backing up everything I say because people seldom pay attention to those things anyway, and y'all can look things up your ownselves. But I'll document a few things. 

Leftists and Theological Liberals

It is no secret that political leftists, professing Christians who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture ("liberal" theology), and misotheists all ride for the same brand. They despise those of us who believe the Bible, and those of us who uphold recent creation and provide refutations of fish-to-fool evolutionism are the worst of the lot. The Democrat party has made its hatred of Judaism and biblical Christianity increasingly known in recent years.

The First Global Divine Judgment

It didn't take long after the Fall of man (Gen. 3:6-7) for sin and wickedness to begin to escalate. Cain's killing of Abel was the first murder, and things only got worse. The Genesis Flood was a global judgment on the wickedness of the day (Gen. 6:5-8). Evil among men was rampant, so God brought the מַבּוּל, mabbul, global Flood (this word is used in the Bible only in reference to the cataclysm).

Future Divine Judgments

People don't like to be told that God is the Creator and we're accountable to him, so biblical creation science is actively suppressed in the secular science industry — especially Flood geology. We learn throughout the Bible (especially in the New Testament) that wickedness shall increase, and people will be going about their business as they did in the time of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39). Then, despite warnings, the Flood swept them away.

People are being warned and told that they must humble themselves and repent before God. Jesus died on a cross for our sins and was bodily raised from the dead, covering the sins of all who place their faith in him. There was a past judgment, and there will be a final Judgment where everyone has to stand before Jesus and everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord — whether they like it or not (Phil 2:9-11). Between the Flood and the final Judgment, there have been judgments upon nations. This is not the kind of message that gets us invited to country clubs.

Past Prophets

When people discuss prophets, many focus on foretelling future events, but this was not their primary focus. They provided warnings and calls to repentance, and in many cases, it did not go well (Luke 11:49-51). Indeed, read the prophets of the Old Testament. Israel would appreciate God, then whore after idols and provoke him to wrath (a common theme in the book of Judges and other biblical books of history), and sometimes the cycle happened in front of the prophets.

I have been very frustrated because I strive to give glory to God and to help equip the saints so they can defend the gospel message — beginning from the very first verse. How can you edify lazy people who are not serious about the Word of God and show no interest in being informed? Indeed, when I post links on social(ist) media, there have been times when I posted the wrong link and people still clicked "Like". Maybe one time someone told me about an incorrect link!

No, I'm not comparing myself to one of the prophets. Something that struck home was in Ezekiel 2:7 and 3:16-21. God said to him that the people were unlikely to listen, but it was his responsibility to be obedient. It applies to me and to others who proclaim the truth. It is difficult for me when I seldom see results for my work.

Growing Apostasy

Like great wickedness grows over time, so does rejection of the authority of God's Word. When examining the history of deep-time beliefs and evolutionism, the church ceded science as well as respect for the Bible to materialistic views of science philosophies. Compromises grew, as did apostasy. We were told that there would be a great apostasy before the appearing of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3), and I believe we're very close to those events.

While there are still pockets of resistance, mainstream churches are bastions of liberalism and apostasy. The church is the Bride of Christ, but like the ancient Israelites, she chases after idols of money, prestige, fame, acceptance, and a wagon train-full of compromises. Indeed, much of the church has left its first love (Rev. 2:4-5).

Increasing Persecution

Persecution has existed from the beginning of Christianity, and we were warned (Mark 4:17, Acts 11:19, Rom. 8:35, 2 Tim. 3:12). There are organized persecutions of God's people by Mohammedans, Hindus, atheist regimes, and more around the world. In Western countries, it is increasing. Preaching the gospel or reading the Bible aloud can get you thrown in jail, for example. Do not think that the violence will decrease.

It's been said that persecution weeds out the true Christians. Those who want their best life now and will listen to false teachers are unwilling to listen to solid teachings from the Word. Instead, they listen to cherry-picked verses out of context that help them feel good. Sure, Skippy, the Bible is all about you, and making you feel good. You can be sure that false Christians will be the first in line to take the Mark of the Beast and renounce the true God as revealed in the Bible. True Christians are faithful even to death.

Noetic-worthy

A biblical principle is the noetic effects of sin. All have sinned (Rom. 3:23, 6:23), and sin touches every area of our lives. As I understand it, those in rebellion against God grow more ungodly and hateful (Rom. 1:17-32). I have seen people who seem reasonable, but when the subject turns to God and especially the refutation of evolutionism (which is a cornerstone of the religion of atheism), then they go nuts. Similarly, I've seen online nests of atheists who are so consumed with hate for God and God's people, they are living illustrations of the facts that not only is atheism incoherent, it affects the mind.

America: Bye Bye Babylon

While elections in the formerly United States have been tainted with cheating and fraud for decades, it has never been as pronounced as it was in November 2020. Despite documented proof of fraud, the election has been stolen. Federal courts allowed it. 

We prayed for God to have mercy because President Trump upholds religious liberty, opposes abortion, and is a friend to Israel. However, the USA has allowed and even encouraged the evils of abortion, transgenderism, returning to Marxism, homosexuality, euthanasia, and much more, we are going to get what this country deserves. The left hates Israel. Other countries that formerly respected God's Word are wallowing in their feculent sin.

How can it be that such people are not only holding power, but get continually re-elected? Because of those things I have mentioned before: sin, apostasy, rebellion against the authority of God's Word, approval of evil, and more. This has been escalating in recent years.

Further, I also believe it's greed. People vote for politicians because they believe the promises of getting free stuff, or at least that their lot in life will improve. Black people are, according to Democrats, too stupid to make anything of themselves, so continue to keep tax 'n' spend leftists in power and remain dependent. Greed, selfishness, and dependency are what made America great, right?

Some Democrats only want to win at all costs, and have their heads wedged where the sun doesn't shine. They only pay attention to the leftist media outlets, and many had voter's remorse when they learned of Lyin' Joe Biden's views (when he remembers them, or even his own name) and criminal allegations against him. Does anyone actually like him or Cram-a-lot Harris?

I have lost respect for Democrat voters. God forgive me for the contempt I have.

Republicans have accepted previous election results and have not been doing violence. It is the Democrats and other leftists have been violent. Although supporters of President Trump have wanted fair election results, leftists want us punished (see "Expect Mostly Peaceful Post-Election Activities from Leftist Democrats"). Listen to this vile sidewinder who is in a position of power:


That's criminal. Literally. But she's walking around free.

People are talking about secession, and it is very likely that there will be a civil war. There may yet be a miracle and God will delay judgment.

Republicans are not as pure as the driven snow. When they had authority and political power to make changes for the better, they squandered it. Country club Republicans should be slapped. Hard. If we are given a miracle and self-proclaimed Conservatives and Republicans foul up their opportunities, be assured that the trend toward a leftist one-party totalitarian system will continue.

My Confession

Over the years, I have struggled with depression. Y'all probably picked up on that when I was expressing my frustration with the apathy of professing Christians and creationists to my efforts and those of others at The Question Evolution Project (as well as shadowbans from Facebook leftists). In fact, I stated that I am ashamed to be an American and will never vote again. You have no idea how many strong profanities I had to resist putting in this article. 

Depression, personal failures, stolen election, living in a nation under divine judgment — I was in despair and actually prayed that God would end my life (and considered hastening the event myself). I can point out some atheists and evolutionists who would celebrate, and Christians might say, "Isn't that a shame, tsk tsk" and go back to sharing captioned pictures. I had to confess my lack of faith to God, the Creator of the universe who upholds all things (Heb. 1:3, Col 1:17, Gen. 1:1, John 1:1). I am ashamed of myself. My faith and trust are supposed to be in God, not in man. I did say that this had raw emotion...

Not a Bang but a Whimper?

It may very well be the end of America. Loss of freedoms, global government, all those things we saw in socialism and communism that people refused to learn will come upon us. This may be delayed. In fact, this article may be partially outdated. But I had to write it.

Let me leave you with links to some articles that helped improve my outlook, plus two music videos below. First, "Where Do We Go from Here?" by Ken Ham. In addition, I recommend, "Is This How It All Ends?" by Bill Muehlenberg. Finally, a bit of an unusual source: a reluctantly-written newsletter from J. Jackson of ApologetiX. You may have to embiggen your browser display, or use a browser function (or add-on) to make it easier to read. For that newsletter, click here. Now get portable electronic copies of your Bibles and hide them.



November 1, 2020

Expect Mostly Peaceful Post-Election Activities from Leftist Democrats

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

There was a scene in The Blues Brothers movie where the band was playing rock music at a country bar. The people started throwing bottles and such because they were angry. When the band played appropriate music, the same activities commenced. You could not tell the difference between rage and joy. Same with the political left.

Expect violence from the left before, during, and after the election. Also, they have plans to eradicate people who oppose them.
Mostly made at Pablo
Sure, people get a mite rambunctious when celebrating, but we've seen leftists acting up with any excuse. The mainstream media are controlled by sidewinders who actively suppress views that differ from leftist talking points. Indeed, back in 1977 Francis Shaeffer described what we see today [1]. If you search for material on how Joe Biden and other leftists are corrupt socialists, keep in mind that social(ist) media have saddled up to ride for the Biden brand [2] and mainstream news is demonstrably dishonest.

This country was established to be a constitutional republic using a democratic process. It was never meant to be mob rule, but that's what you get when you listen to fools.

Elections are supposed to be about concepts and belief systems (see "God, Creation, and Government" for more [3]), selecting the right person for the job. People used to have respect for one another, at least to some extent. When B. Hussein Obama became Caliph in Chief, there was no wide-scale rioting by Republicans and Conservatives. (Remember how just before he got elected that he was on the way to "fundamentally transforming the United States of America", a country he obviously did not love?) Now leftists will riot — I mean, engage in mostly peaceful protests — for any alleged reason.

Leftists have been increasingly active in suppressing Republicans and Conservatives through harassment, intimidation, outright violence, lying about history [4] — and even witches casting spells [5], [6]. Biden and Harris want to eliminate the tax cuts that the Trump administration enacted [7], and  Biden desires to take away religious freedoms, defying the US Constitution [8]. (He even referred to our Creator as a "thing" [9].) Many of us believe that leftists resort to these tactics as well as massive election fraud [10] because they cannot honestly win the hearts and minds of the majority of the American people. So they lie, cheat, and steal.

Since leftists under the excuse of the Marxist Black Lives Matter[11] and the anarchist Antifa (Biden says it's "an idea", which is false [12]) are burning and looting. BLM and other leftists are anti-police [13], which is no surprise because they spoil murder, arson, looting and so on in the name of "justice". Come on, man! Cries of "justice" are just malarkey. Did you ever notice that Biden and other leftist politicians do not condemn violent "protests"?

This election has definite spiritual components.

With this background, it should come as no surprise that leftists are expected to be even more violent after the election. I reckon some of it will be under the guise of celebration, but if Donald J. Trump and Republicans have the landslide victory that many of use are expecting, we could be having category five-type rioting. Businesses are boarding up like people who are under hurricane and cyclone warnings [14], [15], [16], [17]. What these mindless thugs will have to learn the hard way is that many of us will shoot back.

What if the leftists win? Mayhaps we will see, for once, Republicans rioting out of frustration at how leftists will finish destroying the country. I have to admit that my faith in God's providence and plan falters sometimes, but we all need to remember what we've been told in the Bible [18]. Not only do we have fear of expected violence by leftist snowflakes, but they are on record as desiring to reeducate or even eradicate Trump supporters [19]. 

We have to keep our constitutional republic and support the laws of the land. While many of us expect victory, there is no excuse for complacency. We have to vote — and pray. Pray a lot. God's will be done, and may he have mercy on us. And Republicans? Provided we do win, don't betray us like country-club Republicans have done in the past. Otherwise, the left will gain power until the reign of the Antichrist.

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