17 Extensions to help the transition from Firefox to Chrome

I’m finally done with Firefox. When I first started using Firefox, the add-ons were a game-changer & I loved how much extra functionality they added to my day-to-day work.

Today, Chrome dominates the market, is waaay faster, and at the end of 2017 Mozilla is changing the add-on framework so some of the ‘classic’ add-ons I use will cease to work.

The final straw was seeing how fast Chrome way for general browsing and content creation; so much snappier than Firefox. Maybe that’s down to an ageing Firefox user profile.. but, IMO, Chrome is the future.

To ease my transition from Firefox to Chrome I’m using a bunch of extensions that give me the features I’ve grown used to. I thought I’d list out what I’m using so that others might benefit from knowing they’re out there & how useful they can be.

Adblock Plus
Blocks adds. I’d tried uBlock.. but found it breaking a bunch of sites.. so back to this one I’ve used for years in Firefox.

Akamai debug headers
Makes it simple to see what’s happening with websites fronted by the Akamai CDN.

Awesome Screenshot
Full-page screenshots

Cookie Inspector
Enables editing + adding of Cookies (I guess one day the Chrome devs will add this into the core app.. one day).

Downloads Router
Routes certain file types to certain folders. Bit of a faff to set up, but I find it useful for filing downloads into set folders.

Fauxbar
The Chrome omnibar isn’t great for finding URLs I had open hours/days ago (Firefox was brilliant). This sorts out that problem & does a pretty good job at indexing everything nicely.

In addition to that, it gives you a neat menu bar with shortcuts to a whole bunch of things; bookmarks, extensions, apps, options, etc. The configurable tiles for sites is super-handy too.

HostAdmin App
Quick and easy host file editor.. especially useful if you’re using proxy exceptions to speed up access to certain internal sites, and want to be able to configure or toggle the entries easily.

LastPass
Excellent cross-device password manager.

ModHeader
Modify browser headers. Useful for testing things like GeoIP.

Open IE
Adds in a context menu to open the current URL or link in other browsers (IE, Firefox, Opera, etc). Need an external helper program installing in Windows.

Page Monitor
Monitor web pages for changes.. works best when you set the Advanced option to look at a particular part of the page using CSS selectors.

Proxy SwitchyOmega
Set up multiple proxies and easily switch between them via the toolbar button.

SimpleUndoRecents
This will give you a button where you can undo the accidental closing of a tab. (TabMixPlus did something similar in Firefox).

Tampermonkey
Lets you run scripts against web pages each time you load the page.. essentially allowing you to alter the page after it renders. Super handy for removing or adding elements to the page. This extension is the equivalent to Greasemonkey on Firefox.

The Camelizer
Nothing to do with work.. but essential all the same. Lets you see the price history for products on Amazon.. and set alerts for price fluctuations.

Web Developer
Handy tools for developers.

Xmarks Bookmark Sync
Synchronise bookmarks between multiple browsers on multiple PCs.. even has version history in case you delete bookmarks by accident.

 

Honorary mention..

An extension called Postman would have made this list a few months ago.. but it’s moved to a stand-alone application for Windows + Mac. It’s another essential bit of kit for developers; if you’ve not checked it out, go take a look.

MIA…

That covers all but one of the Firefox add-ons I used to use. The one I still miss is Locationbar2, which I simply can’t find an equivalent for in Chrome.

It essentially makes each part of a site’s URL a clickable link.. which is super handy for quickly moving through a site’s structure.

If anyone spots something suitable, hit me up in the comments.

Raspberry Pi Heating Controller – Part 2 – Software Architecture

One of the early design decisions for the Raspberry Pi powered heating controller was to have the Pi secured behind a firewall without direct access to it from the Internet. What I decided to do was have a set of simple PHP web pages on a remote web host that you can access from anywhere, and the Pi control server talks to that web host to send/receive data.

What I didn’t want was for the Pi to run a web server that ends up getting compromised & having the run of my home network.

arch-mode1
The Pi server and remote webspace need to be paired with an access key. Anyone accessing the remote site needs the correct access key to be able to control the system.. and the level of control is limited by the API we’ll put in place.. i.e. remote clients won’t have direct access to your internal network via an open port on your home router.

Of course, you could actually host the ‘remote’ part of this set up on your Pi and use port forwarding; the architecture allows for both types of access. The access key is still needed to control the system, but you’ll be more vulnerable to attacks on your Apache/PHP installation & need to keep up-to-date with software patches to help ensure your system is secure.

arch-mode2

Home Automation Project – Raspberry Pi Heating Controller – Part 1

pi-controlI’m going to build a home automation project which connects a Raspberry Pi to control my central heating. I wasn’t particularly happy ripping out all the existing controls, and wanted to piggyback onto them.. which helps if the Pi ever fails (I’ve still got the old controls to fall back on).

I also didn’t want to mess with the existing heating control board, so bought a duplicate unit (British Gas UP2) from eBay for about £12.. I can perfect the project on that, and install it when I’m ready.

This set of videos goes through each step of the project.. starting off with opening the control board, an overview of what I want to do, and testing out the changes.

Opening up the Control Panel

This was a bit tricky.. it wasn’t quite obvious which plastic clips needed pushing in to pull the board out.. if you were doing this on your actual panel (not an eBay-bought duplicate) then this video should help work out what you need to do to get into it without damaging anything.

 

Project Overview

Next up, I’ll quickly go over what I intend to do to piggyback onto the control board. There’s a project here which did exactly what I wanted to do. He’s not using a PiFace 2 like I intend to use, and he wants to be able to control the hot water as well, but everything else is the same.

 

Safety First – Masking off the High Voltage Area

In this second video, I’ll show how I’m masking off the high voltage area of the board to make it a bit safer when I’m testing things out. Obviously most of the time the board is off, but this helps keep things safer when it is on without the cover.

 

Identifying Solder Points

Luckily this blog gave me a good starting point, but it wasn’t clear where to get the status of the central heating.. I used a multimeter to find a spot which changed voltage when the system was on, and this diagram shows you what I found;

pi-heat-3

Soldering

Since I only needed 4 wires for this project (2 for the switch, and 2 for the system state), I took an old USB cable, cut the ends off, stripped the wires and soldered it to the board without much trouble.

pi-solder

Soldering Complete!

This shows the control board after the soldering has been completed.. it’s pretty simple soldering; the only tricky part was finding the points to connect to for the system state (on/off). I’ve stuck down some of the wires so that they don’t catch or get stuck underneath the control boards buttons.

 

Testing the Wiring

Now that I’ve done the soldering, I’m testing out the wiring.. seeing whether connecting the two wires for the switch turns the central heating on, and when it is on, whether we get voltage on the other two wires to indicate the system state.

 

Controlling from Software

I’ve now hooked it up to the Pi Face 2 board, which can be controlled with a few lines of Python to simulate a button press, and detect the state of the system.

With these basics in place, the rest of the control software can be written to do scheduling, bring in temperature readings, and allow the system to be controlled remotely.

Speed Camera Alerts with Google Maps

After looking a Waze (which has speed camera alerts) I still wanted to carry on using Google Maps, but wanted to get speed/safety camera alerts. I’d also been looking at TomTom Go for Android, which looks like a good app for road warriors, but also does 50 miles for free each month & has offline maps.. handy for getting out of a tight spot when there’s no 3G signal!

There’s actually another app from TomTom specifically for Speed Camera alerts.. it has an ‘overlay’ mode that puts a floating ‘widget’ over the top of *anything* .. so that might just be your homescreen, but can also be Google Maps.. neat!

Google Play Store link

 

nav4

‘Take Me Home’ shortcut for Google Maps

In the older version of Android I used to have a shortcut on my home sceen which would start up Google Maps in navigation mode & take me home. In the newer versions of Android, the ‘Shortcut’ feature seemed to disappear. I’ve tracked down this feature and this is where to find it;

  • Long-press on a free space on your home screen.. this allows you to add Apps | Widgets | Wallpapers
  • Choose ‘Widgets’
  • Scroll along and find ‘Directions’, then fill out the route information.. and that’s it!

Find the ‘Directions’ widget:

nav3

Enter the route info:

nav2

Done!

nav1

My Android App Essentials

After recently moving from an old Samsung Galaxy S3 to LG G3 (which I thought was a bargain at £189), I reviewed the list of apps I had previously installed & made sure they were still relevant to my new phone. I thought it’d be useful to list out the best ones so here’s what I installed (beyond the usual apps like Twitter, iPlayer);

  • ASTRO – For managing files
  • Avast Mobile Security – I use this on all my PCs so adding it to the phone makes sense
  • Barcode Scanner – Primarily for scanning QR Codes
  • BT SmartTalk – Make VoIP calls using my landline pricing structure
  • BT Wi-fi – Connect free to any BT wifi access points
  • Chrome – Better than the stock browser
  • Evernote – We have this on our family phones for keeping notes.. often taking pictures of letters before binning them
  • FreeOTP – An alternative to Google Authenticator
  • MightyText – Receive and send texts from my desktop PC
  • MX Player – Plays any media you can think of
  • National Rail – Train info
  • Network Scanner – Handy for tracking down the IP of devices on my home network
  • Nights Keeper – Set sound profiles based on day/time.. basically turns the sound off at night UPDATE: Replaced by Timerific
  • Photos – Google photos.. enabling easy backup to the cloud
  • Pixlr – Quick and easy image editing on the move
  • Podkicker – Download and listen to podcasts
  • Rewards – Take short surveys to get small amounts of cash to spend in the Google Play Store
  • SwiftKey Keyboard – Better than most stock keyboards
  • System Tuner – Handy for debugging apps
  • Timeriffic – When I was having variable success with Wifi Timer on my LG G3, I found this worked perfectly and could also replace Nights Keeper
  • tinyCam Monitor – Connect to various IP cameras
  • Twilight – Adjust the blue light emissions on the phone’s screen after it’s dark outside
  • Unified Remote – Helps control my HTPC if I need to use a mouse/keyboard
  • Wifi Analyser – Looks at what wifi access points are in range
  • Wifi Timer – Switch of wifi based on time of day.. i.e. switch it off at night + when I’m at work UPDATE: Replaced by Timerific due to problems getting it to work all the time on the LG G3
  • World Clock – Handy when I’m travelling; has a widget to put on my homescreen

Controlling Power Sockets using a Raspberry Pi

The subwoofer we had in our home cinema setup died a few weeks ago, so I did my research and found a nice replacement. The only thing I didn’t spot was the fact it never goes into standby if there’s no signal (unlike the old one). I tried using some eco plugs which turn off peripherals when the TV was turned off.. but it learns the TV remote signals, and completely turns the TV off as well.. meaning that you have to hit the power button twice to turn the TV back on; that doesn’t work well with the Harmony all-in-one remote we use.

What I decided to do was buy an Energenie socket, which can be switched on/off wirelessly from a Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with 2 sockets and a transmitter to attach to the GPIO headers on the Pi, and costs about £20.

In my subwoofer scenario I basically want it switched on when the TV is on, and off when the TV is off. The TV has a Chromecast plugged into it which is visible on my local network. If you’ve got a Smart TV on your network, maybe that’ll be visible in the same way. So when the TV/Chromecast appear on the network, we know to switch on the power socket.

energeniesockets

Here’s the small Energenie transmitter attached to the GPIO headers on my B+.. it’s pretty tiny and the case I’ve got still fits over the top. Notice the small hole where you can attach an aerial.. if you want extra range, then you’ll need to solder one on.. I added a 135mm wire, since the range I got out of it just wasn’t enough to get from the dining room cupboard to the living room.

energeniepi

 

To put this together, we can use the Raspberry Pi Network Spy code I wrote in my previous blog posts on element14;

Raspberry Pi Network Spy – Part 1 – Initial Setup + d/b Schema
Raspberry Pi Network Spy – Part 2 – D/b Setup + PHP for the scanner

All we need is a new PHP page that’ll call one of the functions we’ve already written.. we need a list of the MAC addresses that are currently visible on the network, then check whether the Chromecast is there. Once we know whether the TV/Chromecast is on or off, we then call a Python script that will turn the Energenie socket on/off.

Here’s the PHP;

arp-chromecast.php

The Python script could follow the Energenie example script, but there’s actually an even more simple Python package which I’ve used in this project. To install it I did the following;

sudo apt-get install python-pip
sudo pip install energenie

Then I wrote this helper Python script (which we’ll call from PHP) that accepts a couple of parameters, like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number];

callenergenie.py

from energenie import switch_on, switch_off
import sys

if len(sys.argv)==1:
print ‘Please specify arguments like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number]’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py on 1’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py off 2′
else:
on_or_off = sys.argv[1]
which_switch = int(sys.argv[2])

if (on_or_off==’on’):
print ‘Switching on ‘, which_switch
switch_on(which_switch)

if (on_or_off==’off’):
print ‘Switching off ‘, which_switch
switch_off(which_switch)

Now that we’ve written the PHP & Python, all we need to do is run the PHP every minute to scan the network and do the switching. We’ll do this using another cron job;

crontab -e

*/1 * * * * sudo /usr/bin/php /var/www/arp-chromecast.php