Debugging Problems with Chrome Extensions (and One You Can’t Live Without!)

I’ve had some niggling problems with my Chromium installation on Ubuntu 10.10, and just never got around to fixing them. Now I’ve not only fixed the one I most wanted to fix, but I also fixed others as well.

Before I discuss the solution… the problems.

The first problem I’ve had is that I couldn’t look at any of the pictures of Android phone displays in the Android Market. I could see them and click on them, but nothing would happen. Similarly, I could click on “more” to see more of the description, but nothing would happen.

Second major problem was with Mint: the “details” bar in the transaction list was off, and the current transaction highlight was also off: decidedly not conducive to reading or getting things done.

I knew that at least some of these problems had to do with extensions because the pages worked when the extensions were off. The quickest way to turn off all extensions in Chrome (assuming a default installation) isn’t to restart in safe mode or to disable extensions one by one – or even to use an extension to turn all the extension off: the quickest way is to use Incognito Mode. Simply copy the URL and paste it into an Incognito window and watch what happens.

To narrow it down further, I turned to another extension: One Click Extensions Manager. Between this and Incognito Mode, the amount of debugging time saved is just tremendous!

Using the One Click Extensions Manager, I turned off all extensions, then started enabling them one at a time. Before I knew it, my problems were resolved.

The problem with the Market turned out to be caused by a bug in Droid Code. I found this out by turning the extensions back on one by one. Turns out that this bug has been mentioned in the reviews; I just never saw it. Unfortunately, I use Droid Code all the time – however, I replaced it with the QR Code Generator for Android Market and now things work again.

After resolving the problem with the Android Market, I thought I’d do a Google search to find the problem with Mint.com. The problem with Mint turned out to have to do with the Orbvious Interest extension, an extension that provides quick access to Read-It-Later. Turned out there was a bug report (or two!) about this very problem.

Using One Click Extensions Manager made enabling and disabling extensions a one-click process: once the list of extensions is open, a single click will either enable/disable it (left-click) or uninstall it (right-click). It’s unbelievable until you try it: disabling in the Google Extensions Manager is a very slow process.

A side benefit to all of this is I got to clean out some of my extensions: I do tend to collect them willy-nilly (oh, the shame of it!).

Oracle Sues Google Over Java on Android

Oracle – now having purchased Sun – has sued Google over their custom Java virtual machine for the Android mobile platform. In doing so, Oracle has sent reverberations throughout the open source and Java communities.

Google took the Java APIs and enhanced and changed them – then created a virtual machine (called Dalvik) which runs a custom format executable. This was part of the Android software when it was introduced in November 2007, and there were many complaints about Google’s treatment of Java – including complaints from Sun itself. Google’s response at the time to Sun’s complaints was:

Google and the other members of the Open Handset Alliance are working to help solve fragmentation and supporting the developer community by creating Android, a mobile platform that responds to the needs of the developers, has the backing of industry leaders, and will be available as open source under a nonrestrictive license.

To break that statement down, Google was saying:

  • The Open Handset Alliance (not the Java Community Process or JCP) should be the Java stewards for mobile Java.
  • Android (and Android Java) responds to the needs of the developers.
  • Android is backed by industry.
  • Android is available as open source.
  • Android is available under a nonrestrictive license.
  • Java 2 Mobile Edition (J2ME) has none of these capabilities.

Don’t miss the fact that Google created the Open Handset Alliance at the same time, and serves mainly as a source for Android – though it has in recent days been seen as useless by some.

Sun (now Oracle) has had a mobile version of Java (known as J2ME) since before Android existed – but Google bypassed it (and the Java Community Process or JCP) when it created its own JVM. Dalvik executables, in fact, are created from Java binaries, thus involving Java itself in the process of creation and development.

It appears that Google’s Android Java implementation was a direct attack on the JCP and on J2ME. To use J2ME, Google would have had to license it, as it was not available under a license that would have allowed commercial closed-source development: it was under the GPL, but without the classpath exemption that the J2SE had. Because of this lack of the classpath exemption, any development on the standard J2ME platform would have to be released as source code under the GPL.

This action by Oracle fits perfectly into its public persona: consider that Sun’s Chief Open-Source Officer, Simon Phipps, was not even offered a position at Oracle at all. He is or was on the advisory boards for OpenSolaris, OpenJDK, and OpenSparc. Other distinguished Sun engineers have left, including Kohsuke Kawaguchi (chief developer of Hudson), Charles Nutter and Thomas Enobo (both lead developers of JRuby), Tim Bray (Director of Web Technologies – which includes Java and JRuby), and James Gosling (creator of Java). It is notable that all of these people except Simon Phipps are luminaries in the Java realm at Sun. It is as if the Java engineers left wholesale once Oracle was about to take over.

Coverage of the lawsuit has been extensive. Stephen Shankland over at CNet has a story about why Oracle may have chosen to sue. Stephen O’Grady over at RedMonk may have one of the best in-depth analyses of this conflict out there. Groklaw has committed to following the lawsuit through the courts, and has an excellent introductory piece on the lawsuit. Steven Vaughn-Nichols suggests that this lawsuit is only the beginning, and that JBoss, Apache Jakarta, and the JCP better watch out (though I disagree).

From when Google introduced Android and its associated virtual machine, Dalvik, Stefano Mazzochi had one of the most complete explanations of what Google was doing and its implications.

Google Apps Downtime Report: Perfect Example?

On 24 February 2010, the Google App Engine suffered an outage as an entire data center lost power. The Engine was down for two hours as staff worked feverishly to fix problems after power came back up.

Google released a detailed downtime report which has been called a near-perfect example of a good report. Data Center Knowledge summarized the event well in an article; they have also spoken with Google previously about how they handle outages.

Google also kept people apprised of what was happening during the outage as well.

Google’s handling of a data center outage stands in stark contrast with the handling of a 6 March 2010 outage at Datacom in Melbourne, Australia. The story is just incredible. The data center’s managing director said there was absolutely no outage; customers, the company’s network operations center (NOC), and the press all disagreed – and backed it up with pictures.

Some people seemed upset that pictures were taken inside the data center and published on the Internet and in the press (now cellphones have to be dropped off at the door) – yet, this is what a whistleblower does. If this event had been handled differently, no doubt Datacom would have been better off.

Energy Star Program for Data Centers

The EPA announced that they are expanding the Energy Star Program to include data centers; the measurements are expected to be finalized in June 2010.

The EPA is hoping that the new Energy Star rating for data centers will become a selling point for data centers. The new rating is based largely (but not completely) on the PUE (or Power Usage Effectiveness). William Kosik wrote an article in the September 2007 issue of Engineered Systems Magazine that explains PUE quite well and in detail.

Google talks about their efforts for power-efficient computing in their data centers in some depth; it’s very interesting.

IBM also announced just recently that they are building a new data center in Research Triangle Park where they will test effect of various temperature levels in the data center – and will cool it with outside air as well.

This is definitely an exciting time for data center power research; seems that there is something new every day.

Google v. China: More Updates

Microsoft, as was mentioned before, is not going to pull out of China and has actually spoken up against Google’s stance. Ballmer called their stand against censorship an irrational business decision.

In fact, Google founder Sergei Brin (born in Moscow in the USSR) has long championed against working in China, encountering resistance from Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The Independent details some of Brin’s history and his difficulties with Google’s work in China.

Microsoft’s take appears to resonate with Google’s CEO. It appears to also echo the political stand that favors “engagement” with oppressive regimes over the principled rejection of any oppression. Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer, and Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie have all rejected pulling out of China.

In contrast, Twitter cofounder and CEO Evan Williams elaborated at the World Economic Forum on Twitter’s plans to make the service less prone to censorship such as has been attempted in China and Iran. In fact, on 9 December 2009, a Chinese lawyer was jailed briefly for teaching about Twitter and how to use it.

What makes this interesting is the far-reaching impact that Google’s hack and response is having. Politicians are talking about stands against China; diplomats are reconsidering US-Chinese relations; companies are reconsidering their Chinese operations; security specialists are considering new computer security implications; and some are worrying about their Chinese jobs. Censorship is being discussed like never before.

One organization dedicated to freedom of the press around the world is Reporters Sans Frontieres (www.rsf.org). RSF has an extensive section about China, as well as other countries. They have also published a guide for cyber-dissidents as well.

Google v. China: the Saga Continues

Last Thursday, 21 January 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against Internet censorship and stated that the United States would take a stronger stance against Internet censorship; Chinese censorship was referenced several times in the speech. Both ComputerWorld and CNet had articles covering her speech.

During the speech, Secretary Clinton urged US companies to push back against censorship.

What is interesting is this: while the focus is currently on China, they are not the only one; in particular, Australia seems to be favoring censorship. A lot of European countries have censorship as well.

For its part, China responded angrily against Clinton’s comments. China said that the US position elaborated by Clinton could harm US-China relations. China also denied having anything to do with the attack on Google or other companies.

Computer security specialist Bruce Schneier published an essay on CNN.com talking about the security weaknesses inherent in backdoor access systems, using the Google hack as an example. John Mark Walker contests Bruce’s facts in an article on OStatic, stating that it was not a backdoor at all, but rather something much less sinister – a product used by Google to assist in responding to warrants.

Earlier, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft would remain in China, and would not pull out of that market.

Google has also delayed the release of their new phone, the Nexus One, into the Chinese market.

Google’s research into the hack now suggests that Google China insiders may have assisted. Attackers also used instant messaging to try to get Google employees to click on links to malware. After compromising one account, the attackers would send a link to all buddies from that account, hoping that someone would click.

Chinese human rights web sites reported this week that they had been attacked; while unproven, they suspect the Chinese authorities. One of the organizations stated that attacks come during “sensitive times” in China, such as the current Google-China flap.

UPDATE: There is also some suspicion (though no proof) that the Chinese were responsible for attacking three US oil companies in 2008 according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor discussed in an article in ComputerWorld.

UPDATE: Over at the Register, an article points out that the attack (which had been suggested as uniquely Chinese in origin) appears to be much older and more widely known than previously acknowledged. This means that the proof that China was the actual culprit becomes weaker.

Why I Use Google Chrome

Recently there was an article in Web Worker Daily about the release of Firefox 3.6 – and why the writer won’t give up Google Chrome.

A while ago, I found that Firefox would not render a particular page I needed desperately – but Google Chrome did (and on Linux, no less).

I also like the way that Google Chrome has the fastest (or one of the fastest) Javascript engines: so much of the “cloud” applications are based on Javascript, whether its Google Reader, Zoho Office, or whatever. A few cloud applications rely on Flash or on Java, but not many compared to Javascript.

Another thing that I like is that in Google Chrome the tabs can be manipulated, moved around, and even pulled out of windows or moved into new windows.

I’ve been using Google Chrome for several weeks now, and love it. Many of the things that I liked ar e available as bookmarklets (which is normally Javascript): Passpack and Clippable for instance.

Google Moves to ext4 Filesystem

Michael Rubin announced that internally Google had decided to move from ext2 to ext4 after careful consideration of ext4, IBM’s JFS, and SGI’s XFS.

Along with this, Google hired Theodore T’so, the man behind ext2 and ext4 to help with the migration.

The decision came down to between XFS and ext4, and the easier migration to ext4 was the deciding factor for Google. I am partial to XFS – it’s older and is perhaps more stable – but ext4 should be good as well.

I switched to OpenSUSE at one time because they offered XFS and Red Hat did not – and converted a Red Hat 7.1 install to XFS as well. Never had any problems with either installation at all.

Google Hacked by Chinese Government

This news has been developing all week, with extensive coverage: the technology media picked it up first, but so did the law media and the mainstream media.

Google announced that it (and an estimated 33 other companies) had been attacked by sources in the Chinese government and that GMail accounts of Chinese dissidents had been targeted. Many companies refuse to specify whether they were, in fact, attacked by China (including Yahoo and Symantec). Also attacked were Dow Chemical, Northrup Grumman, and Juniper Networks, as well as an attack against Gibson Hoffman & Pancione, the law firm prosecuting a lawsuit against China for code theft involving an Internet filter.

In response to the attack, Google said that it would seek to provide uncensored results on google.cn (Google’s Chinese search engine) and that it would pull out of China if it could not – shutting down their Chinese offices entirely.

The US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, stated that she would be lodging a formal complaint this week.

The attack against Google has been picked apart; a zero-day exploit in Internet Explorer was the method. The method was covered at CNET and is described in detail by McAfee’s CTO, George Kurtz, in a blog post. The blog Praetorian Prefect has a description and video of the attack in action.

Another aspect of the attack is that the surveillance tools were in fact, compromised, providing easy access to a lot of data. This was covered by Timothy Lee over at the Freedom to Tinker blog.

Not all accept the fact that Google would pull out of China because of human rights issues; at the French blog Transnets by Francis Pisani at Le Monde, there is a two-part article (Google Power/1 and Google Power/2, in French) about the unanswered questions behind Google’s possible removal from China.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took note; there is an article about the unanswered questions related to the events, including commentary and links.

Several countries have been recommending that their citizens not use Internet Explorer; specifically, Le Monde has an article (in French) that the countries of Germany and France are suggesting that their citizens use other browsers.

Media coverage has been extensive. Elinor Mills over at CNET has a complete FAQ, as well as a video description of what happened. The New York Times is also covering the story.

Google Enters Free DNS Fray

Now it seems that OpenDNS has some serious competition: Google announced their Google Public DNS service just days ago. The founder of OpenDNS, Dave Ulevitch, responded to Google’s announcement in his blog.

Several things stand out between OpenDNS and Google DNS:

  • Google DNS does not misuse NXDOMAIN responses. That is, when you try to resolve an entry that does not exist, you get a “no domain found” response: OpenDNS sends you to their search page.
  • Google DNS supports IPv6.
  • Google DNS implements a wide array of security tools to mitigate attacks against DNS servers.
  • Google will (probably) not redirect valid DNS entries to its own servers.

There has already been some speed testing that shows that, at least in India, the response from Google DNS is much faster than OpenDNS.

CNET had a nice write-up (in the DeepTech blog by Stephen Shankland) on Google’s DNS offering and what it means.

It also appears that the privacy concerns that have cropped up with OpenDNS may not be a concern with Google’s Public DNS (and ironically so). Over at the Slight Paranoia blog by Christopher Soghoian, he wrote a piece about their privacy policy – and received a nice response directly from Dave Ulevitch (the founder of OpenDNS).

Over at The Scream!, there is a forum posting that describes some of this in detail – including the redirection of google.com to google.navigation.opendns.com. The Wikipedia entry on OpenDNS also addresses some of these issues, none of which appear to exist in Google’s Public DNS.

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