Fri, 10 Sep 2010
Linux and Facebook
Saw an interesting post on Planet Ubuntu about whether
Debian needs to be on Facebook.
Obviously a lot of people who like Linux are on Facebook, but when a large portion of the developed world is on there that's
inevitable. Not that it means they are getting useful information about Linux. Whoever owns the Debian page is doing nothing with
it. I've found it common that certain pages can have thousands or more people 'liking' them, but there's no involvement.
That said, there are many people for whom Facebook is the main thing they use on-line. They can see what their friends are
up to and get updates from bands or other things they 'like' with none of that messy email or RSS stuff.
I'm on Facebook because enough people I know are on there to make it useful. I can reach them via it, e.g. with interesting
links or automatically when I upload music I've made. They can respond there if they want without having to register on yet another site.
I don't think Facebook is perfect by a long shot. Lots of things about it annoy me and I think people who mostly use it are missing out on a lot,
but for now I'll exploit it for all it can give me.
There are people working on more open alternatives suck as Diaspora, but a social site
is of limited use without a critical mass of users and it's going to take a lot to get people to move away from Facebook.
identi.ca is big enough to be useful, but I still use Twitter to reach others.
Wed, 18 Aug 2010
Getting Pretty Gnarly
I've written several times previously about encryption. I've had a
public key for several
years now, but haven't used it too much. It's been signed by lots of people, giving
it fairly good provenance. I sign the occasional email, but there are few people
I would send anything encrypted. At Herts LUG
last week a friend of a friend came along, partly to do some keysigning. I was not
well organised and didn't manage to print off my whole key signature, so I'm not sure
he's going to sign mine, but I signed his and emailed it back to him.
Part of the reason I've not been encrypting or signing is due to problems getting this
working in Kmail. Since I did my recent fresh install
it hadn't been working, but it is now thanks to some help I got from
Ubuntu Stack Exchange,
a welcome addition to the Q&A network. I still feel that encryption is still a bit technical for
the average user. If it's not used correctly then will be getting a false sense of security.
Encryption would be used more if integrated into more of the email tools people use.
I didn't realise that Gmail had
with signature verification last year, but it doesn't look like they decided to keep it. That's a shame, as
is the end of development of FireGPG,
a browser plug-in I looked at a while back. We all rely on encryption to secure financial transactions on
the internet, but few seem interested in the possibilities of secure communication and the ability to
verify their identity. I wonder if the growth of Facebook and other systems is moving people away from
conventional email. I know that spam could put me off if I was starting now.
Back at Herts LUG, we had an interesting demonstration by Malc of installing Sidux
using the latest GRUB facilities to boot an ISO image directly from a hard drive. It didn't all quite work, but
the principle was proved. He made it hard for himself by using an ancient PC that wouldn't boot from anything
other than a floppy. I also had my first hands-on with an iPad. A slick device, but not one I'm desperate for.
You read more on the owner's experiences on his 'flog'.
Thu, 05 Aug 2010
The internet is full of all sorts of servies that can make our digital lives easier.
One problem is just finding out which exist that are actually useful. Here's a couple I've
started using lately.
I've got loads of passwords for all the different sites I use. I've tried various apps
on my PDAs and phones so that I can have them with me. These store them encrypted with a
master password. The KeePass file
format is supported by apps on just about any platform. I've used the same file on
Windows Mobile, Linux and Android. This still leaves you having to look up the passwords
each time you need them and type them in. I recently read about
LastPass which does a similar thing, but stores the
encrypted file on-line and allows access via browser plug-ins. I've been using it
for a few weeks and it's great. It encourages you to use more secure passwords as
you don't need to remember them or trust them to your browser, which generally stores them
unencrypted. I'm not using it for critical things like banking.
Since my recent hard drive crash I'm thinking more about backup. The main things I lost
are some recent photos and a few documents. The rest was on a USB hard drive. I needed
something that would automate the backing up of new and updated files. I'd been using
Ubuntu One, but the KDE support was a little lacking
and so it didn't get the most recent files. I recovered some files from it.
Dropbox offers a very similar service, with very
similar price plans, but has support for more platforms, including Android.
The free option gives you 2GB, but you can get more by inviting others to join and
by playing with some of the facilities. I only really need a few GB. The 50GB for $10/month
is a bit expensive for my needs. It seems Dropbox and Ubuntu both use Amazon's S3 storage,
so I expect they control the cost. I would hope to see prices drop. Anyway, Dropbox
silently gets on with backing up my files and even keeps old versions in case I mess something
up. If you want to try it then please consider using
this link that will get us both
an extra 250MB.
The other thing I've been playing with is Google's
Chrome/Chromium browser. I've been using Firefox
since it first appeared as Firebird, but fancied a change. Chrome seems to do all I need.
There are a fair number of plug-ins for things like mouse gestures, LastPass, delicious
and other things I use. I'm sure Firefox will develop further, so I'll be keeping an eye on
that. Brownsers are one of the easier apps to move between as there's so little local data,
I don't use much in the way of local bookmarks.
I was disappointed to hear that
Google are dropping Wave.
I've played with it a few times and could see uses for it. In the last week or so
I've been using it for real to plan a trip with some friends from the
Six String Bliss forum. There are not too many
tools that would allow us all to easily update a common 'document' that includes maps
etc. Some listed here,
but I have yet to try any of them.
This is my first post in a couple of months. I need to find time to write and a topic
that justifies it. I hope my loyal reader has not been too bored.
Fri, 11 Jun 2010
Now that I have a phone that is capable of doing usable internet I've been considering how I would use it
away from wifi. I don't make many calls or send many texts, so I get by with a PAYG account with Virgin that
costs me a couple of quid each month. This allows me to use up to 25MB of data for 30p each day, but the next
MB after that costs £2! That seems ridiculously excessive. There's an alternative of paying £5/month for 1GB,
but I'd probably only use it for a couple of days each month. Basically I'm generally by a PC at work or home or
I'm driving. When I'm out with the family I'm not too bothered about checking email and microblogs, That said,
there will be times when I want to use those services or upload a photo. I would expect that I could send a
load of emails etc with my 25MB. It would be cheaper than sending more than 3 texts a day. I just need to checking
how much data I would get through in a typical day with various apps pinging the net. I may have to disable some.
So I've been looking at options for my Android phone that will prevent me being hit with silly charges.
suggested some free applications that look possible. I'll be trying out
3G Watchdog. I've put a
an Android Q&A site. I like the Stack Overflow system for building up a
When I'm on my home or work wifi, then I have practically unlimited data. I need that on my phone in order to
download various podcasts with Google Listen. I'm probably not going
to use streaming audio or Google's satnav system on the move.
Looking back I've been through using acoustic couplers (school Teletype), various modems (on Amiga and PC) then
various speeds of cable modem from 512kb up to my current 20Mb. There's been a progression from simple text, through
static images to HD video and decent quality streamed audio. We seem to find ways to fill the available bandwidth.
There's talk of 100Mb and higher speeds coming in a few years, but are already in some countries like Korea.
I'm not sure what you would use that for.
On another front, I keep playing with various services that might enhance my web site. The
Disqus comments work well. I thought I'd try
Google Friend Connect as I'm a bit of a Google addict.
itself across the bottom of the page. My html skills are very limited and I suspect I've just not got the right code
in there. Can someone have a look and make some suggestions? Thanks.
Sun, 28 Feb 2010
I'm a big fan of on-line communities. The ability to form a group of like-minded people who may
never have met and who may live in different countries is a wonderful tool. I've joined loads of forums
and social sites over the last few years. Most forums are fairly limited in their social functions. You may
be able to mark certain people as friends and send them private messages, but the overall population will be
limited to those interested in the topics discussed there.
I think that the first proper social site I joined was Multiply. I liked their
focus on sharing stuff with friends and family rather than talking to the whole world. The way you can restrict access
to any item is the best I've seen, but it hasn't taken off in a big way. I got a few people on there and it has
proved useful. Much later I gave in to Facebook as there were lots of people I know there. There are just so many things I
don't like about it, but I can see why those are part of why people find it attractive. It's a real walled garden that
protects you from the wider internet. They do set very low thresholds for forming new communities (groups), but those I
have joined do not seem to be used much. People join and then do nothing to contribute. Facebook Pages can act like
RSS feeds to keep you updated on your favourite band or other organisation. I just prefer more open technologies that
don't tie you to a single site.
I've also joined other networks like Twitter, identi.ca (the Free Twitter), Friendfeed and now Google's Buzz. They
all offer the ability to communicate and have mostly been useful to me. I've been suffering from duplication due to people
posting to multiple services to reach the largest audience and so have been cutting back on my connections. I've dropped
those on Facebook who just posted their Twitter updates and those on Twitter who I had followed at some point, but did not
converse with and who were not posting anything I really needed. I'm following a few extra people on Buzz as it doesn't
demand immediate attention like the microblogs. Buzz needs more ways to filter and priorities updates. Being able to group
people would be good. I do this with Google Reader so that I can read posts on a given topic.
A discussion elsewhere was inspired by a friend who doesn't like using social sites as he feels they expose too much
personal information to potential or actual bots that could pull together all sorts of data about us and draw conclusions
about our movements, relationships and activities. I'm not as paranoid as him, but I do limit the amount of personal
data I release. I don't talk much about family and usually only mention friends who are active on-line anyway. Others
are posting every little detail of their lives on Facebook and Twitter. Either they don't care about the risks or just
don't consider them. I don't really know how real the risks of identity theft are that you hear about in the press.
I've played with semantic technologies like FOAF that make it very simple to harvest personal details, but also limited
details of names, locations and dates there. It would be great to be able to build your address book from publicly
published data, but it's likely to be abused. That said, I know people who have put their personal telephone numbers
on web sites and not suffered from abuse.
I wanted to write more about how I was rationalising my networks, but I still haven't worked out the details. I don't
follow hundreds of people, but I'm trying to keep the flood of incoming updates to manageable levels. I don't want to spend
all my time reading them. I've got other things I want to do, like making music. I've been doing a few experiments with my
guitar and uploading them to SoundCloud.
Fri, 12 Feb 2010
The internets have been 'buzzing' (sorry) this week with talk about Google's latest
product, Buzz. I seemed to get it straight away as it
doesn't require invitations as Wave still does. It appears as an extra folder in Gmail.
There you can post status messages that can include links and images. You can 'connect'
various types of sites that you have in your Google Profile and then updates on those will also
appear in your stream. People can then comment on them there and you can follow those people
to see their updates.
As many people have been saying this is very like FriendFeed.
That does almost exactly what I describe above, but has a few more features. You can opt out
of certain parts of a person's feed, e.g. if you don't want to see their Youtube favourites.
You can also create a 'virtual friend' in case someone you know doesn't join FriendFeed, but you
still want to aggregate their various feeds. Plus you can create a group based around a set of people
and allow others to subscribe to that group. FriendFeed does some removal of duplicates so you
don't have to see when someone posts the same item to multiple sites.
I've used FriendFeed for a while and like it, but not many friends have joined. I can still use
it to keep up with things and have it as a gadget on my iGoogle page. Facebook bought the site recently,
but I've not seen any signs of integration yet.
Facebook is still the big player and is reaching a much wider audience than anything else. Smiles were
raised at the ignorance of some Facebook users when they ended up on the wrong site and
couldn't log in.
Facebook aims to be usable by anyone and wants to be a safe walled garden for them so they don't have to
go anywhere else. Features like Pages act like RSS so users can get all their news without leaving the garden.
I use some of these features, but stay away from all the silly games and useless applications. I think
Facebook lowers the barriers for non-technical people to build communities.
A common meme amongst all of the above is the Like button so show you enjoyed an item, whatever that may
mean. I don't see a Dislike button. You can also comment using all of them, but some people, including
my friend Wulf don't like
the way this divides the comments across multiple sites. I'd also prefer comments on my blog posts to be on
my site. Maybe we need a standard that allows comments on aggregating sites to feed back to the original post.
Part of the reason I started using Disqus comments was to get more control
over my comments and to track those I make on other sites, but it's not that widely used.
I'm reserving judgement on Buzz for now as it's very early days. I do like Google products and use a lot of them.
If they can get the integration right and satisfy the various demands for privacy then it has potential. I don't know
if this means that Wave is being dropped as it doesn't seem to have evolved much since the launch.
Wed, 16 Dec 2009
by Benjamin Ellis prompted
me to think about how dependent I am on Google for my daily use of the internet.
These are the Google services I use and some possible replacements:
- Search - Google's flagship service and also the easiest to replace. I use it out of habit, but there are plenty of other search
engines out there. It seems so long since I relied on Yahoo! or Alta Vista. Google have added lots of enhancements to their search
over the years that make it even more useful. I don't know how well the others have kept up
- Gmail - I have Gmail set up to pick up emails from my own domain and to send as if it comes from there. This is convenient for
picking up email at work or on my phone. I don't generally give anyone my Gmail address. I could use the Squirrelmail web interface on the server, but I have to log in each time and it's fairly limited. I used Mail2Web in the past, but not checked it out lately
- Reader - This is my main way of keeping up with news from dozens of sites. I first got into RSS via Newsisfree and then Bloglines, but
moved to Reader once they overcame the initial performance issues. I could revert to the previous sites or run a local application. I like
having my feeds on the web so I can keep up wherever I am
- Google talk - I don't use Gtalk much for chat, due to few contacts and not at all for voice calls, but the client is convenient for telling me when I have incoming email. I've used other Jabber/XMPP servers in the past and could revert to them and use other software, e.g. Psi on Windows, for IM. I use Kopete on Linux
- Calendar - Google's calendar is very neat. It's easy to set up repeating events and you can set up extra calendars to share with others. It also syncs nicely with my phone. I was using the Kontact calendar before, but synchronising that with anything else was tricky. I've not looked at other web calendars lately
- iGoogle - I use this as my home page to pull together the various Google services I use, along with some other news sources and gadgets
for weather, comics and other stuff. Before this I used a Yahoo home page, but that was more limited. I could probably create my own version
on my web server if necessary, but my HTML skills are not brilliant
- Wave - I've not got beyond playing with this. It's not essential yet. It's functions could be replaced by a combination of other tools such
as email, IM and wiki, but nothing combines them like Wave
- Maps - Google Maps were a revelation after using less dynamic sites like Streetmap. It's so quick to navigate and handy for plotting
a route. I'd like to use OpenStreetmap more, but it lacks detail in many areas. Some towns are very well mapped, but that is generally
due to a keen mapper living there. I've added to my area and will continue to do so when I find time
- Youtube - This is hard to replace. There are other video sites, but this is the one most people use. It's full of useless crap, but has lots
of gems. I've made much use of it to see musical performances and for guitar tutorials. Hard to avoid when so many sites embed videos
from there. I've never posted a video there myself. Any I have are generally aimed at friends and family, so get posted on Multiply
- Profile - My Google Profile pulls together links to my many on-line personae. Much of its data was derived from FOAF and XFN
data on my site, so they could replace it, but not as a way for people to find my via Google. It drives the recent social search feature
that lets me search for content from people I know
- Analytics - I use this to check how many (few?) visits this site has had. It's aimed at those hosting Google advertising, so I only use
so will not detect those who have it disabled. I can access full statistics via the web server's logs, but that's a little less user
- Picasa - This photo site is convenient for its tight integration with the software of the same name. I'm starting to use it a bit for pictures
I want to link to from elsewhere, but those could be hosted here. Family pictures which I want to restrict access to go on Multiply as it
has the best privacy controls I've found
- Documents - I have a couple of documents on here for logging things like car fuel economy just so I can update from wherever I am.
These could fairly easily be replaced by other web services or I could just store them on my phone
- Sync - Just after I got my Windows Mobile phone Google added support for ActiveSync. This was very convenient for synchronising
contacts and calendar. I hate having to enter such data manually into multiple devices. I'd prefer a Linux-based phone, but Google are
taking over that niche too with Android
- Orkut - I toyed briefly with this social network, but you have to go where the crowd is. I managed to get a lot of people using Multiply and
still like it, but Facebook has become the default for many. My issues with Facebook could take up a whole other post. For now I use
it to keep up with what friends are doing. I'd prefer to use Friendfeed (owned by Facebook) or an open alternative
- Chrome - I've installed it on one PC, but not used it much. I'm pretty happy with Firefox and its add-ons
There are a few areas of my on-line life that are not dominated by Google. Microblogging is covered by identi.ca and Twitter, links
by Delicious, but I might be tempted if Google offered alternatives with the same coverage if they integrated with their other services.
One of the reason I use so many Google services is the integration between them. It's still limited, but has great potential. It tends to work
less well with services they have bought up rather than developing internally.
So could I give up Google, if only for a limited time? I think I could, but I would probably miss it. I'd love to see all the services I want offered
as open source/protocol options. This would free us from having to use a single provider and even allow us to host them ourselves.
I could host my own microblog (status.net), photos (Gallery), IM (Jabber) and others, but there would be little integration and there's
a fairly high maintenance overhead.
This post was partially composed in a Gmail draft in my lunch hour so I could finish it at home.
Sat, 28 Nov 2009
Sat, 14 Nov 2009
I heard about this 'unconference' from
Steve Lawson. He didn't make it in the end due to pending baby.
I don't normally get to technical conferences as they are generally too expensive for me to fund and
my work don't send me to any. This one had the attractive price of £1.40, although the suggested fee
was higher when it came to booking, but with profits going to charity. I thought it would be an interesting
experience and so took a day off to go down to the Reuters office in Canary Wharf.
I have to say that Reuters looked after us very well with ample food and drink laid on. They have
some nice looking offices with a large room that was used for the conference. I didn't really know
many people there and so plonked myself at a random table. I was expecting to hear a series of talks,
but the format consisted of someone introducing a topic (politics, news etc) and then we discussed it
among those at our table and should post a tweet with our thoughts. At my first table were people from
The Guardian, Reuters, the Open University and other organisations. We had some wide-ranging discussion
around the topic. Later I met up with my former colleague @TiaAzulay
and some new people, including @edent for a different discussion. For the
final topic Tia and I were with @mattbuck_hack and
@alexhughes of @drawnalism
who were drawing the event. You can see the results
here, including one
I made my first appearance on Audioboo elaborating
on a comment I made in the politics discussion.
The day ended with a panel of twitterati luminaries summing up the state of the twittersphere (not sure about
the new language). Common themes from the day were that Twitter is not very representative of the general population
and that there is more to journalism that just reporting what is happening. I think that the simplicity of Twitter
and open alternatives like identi.ca means that they can be used in many ways. The 140
character limitation can be a pain. You can't explain complex topics and so conventional writing on blogs and elsewhere
is still needed.
After the panel people milled around drinking and chatting. I didn't get the names of everyone I met, but I know
I talked to these folk, @paulafeery,
I left with my head buzzing from all the cool discussions I'd
had. I have to plans to start any sort of internet or Twitter-based business, but I do want to play more with
the technology. I just need to find the time.
Sun, 25 Oct 2009
Stuff I'm playing with
I'll admit to being a fan of Google. I use several of their on-line tools including
Gmail, Calendar, Reader and GTalk (mainly as a Jabber client). I keep an eye on
their Labs for their latest developments.
I heard about Wave when it was announced back
in May. It sounded like a combination of email, IM and wiki. It wasn't open to the public
at first. I registered an interest and eventually got an invitation a couple of weeks back.
I thought at first it had come from a friend, but it looks like I was one of the lucky
100,000 who got added. That allowed me to nominate eight others for invitations. Those
mostly went to on-line contacts who I thought could use them.
So far I've only played a little with Wave. A 'wave' is a bit like a persistent IM conversation
that you can add people to or even make public. Anyone can edit any previous post/'blip'.
I see this as useful for brainstorming sessions where a group of people want to produce an
outline specification for a product. You can paste in various content such as images, videos
(from Youtube) and maps as well as some special gadgets. Bots can be written to automate
certain aspects. Simon introduced me to his bot that
translates all updates into 'Swedish', but they could be useful to add links and standardise
Wave could be a useful tool in general if enough people use it. Email has been around for decades
and there are hundreds of applications to use it. That's a lot of inertia to overcome. Personally
I need to use it more in real situations to see how useful it can be.
I Installed Mozilla's Ubiquity ages ago, but hadn't made
a habit of using it. At its simplest if gives you a command line in your browser that lets you perform
operations like search and starting an email based on the page you are viewing or text within it without
having to open more windows/tabs or copy/pasting information. A more intriguing use is to perform all sorts
of changes on a web page such as translation or changing elements. There are various videos that show what
it can do. I was inspired to try it again by this
blog post. I had some problems with the
latest version locking up my whole desktop, but the latest beta is working better. Like Wave it requires a
change in mindset, but could make lots of jobs easier and quicker. This
talk includes Ubiquity, along with some other cool stuff Mozilla is working
Like many people I am a bit lax about making backups. I've got loads of pictures, documents and other data
on the PC that is not stored anywhere else. I've been lucky not to lose much in the past, but a hard drive can
crash at any time or a PC be stolen. I've got some of it on CDs, but have not been rigorous in backing up the latest
data. I have used rdiff-backup to back up to the web server I use,
but that has some issues when the server and client software are on different versions.
Ubuntu introduced Ubuntu One on-line storage service recently. You can have
2GB for free or pay a monthly subscription for 50GB. The free account is enough to store my documents so I've been
trying to get that working. I've installed the client and it worked at first, but has been getting confused when I added
multiple folders. You have to copy data to a specific folder and cannot just use symbolic links. Currently I can't get it
to stay connected to the server or synchronise any files. Perhaps I need to somehow reset the client and start again.
Ubuntu are selling it more as a service for sharing files, but it has potential as an automatic back-up too.
The next version of Ubuntu due out next week has it included as standard, so may work better.
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