Facebook and your friends

It is great fun to use Facebook and yet do you know what they are doing with your information? They recently enhanced their service with “Like” (a part of their Social plugins program) which Facebook is touting as a great way to share even more with your friends However, it also could end up letting you share even more than you thought.

This sharing works as you log into Facebook and then browse to a “member” site, one that has signed up with Facebook’s “Like” program. Upon your first visit to a member site, Pandora for example, you might see a notice from Facebook, a blue notice at the top of your web browser similar to “Hi Bill. Pandora is using Facebook to personalize your experience.” If you don’t click no then you can share bits of that site, in effect your interest in that site or story/item on that site, with friends on Facebook. You might think that clicking the X button to close that alert would be saying “No” but you would be wrong. You can opt out of that sharing with your friends, but your public Facebook information can still be shared by your friends to these partner sites unless you block the application. In other words, you are opted in through a subtle misuse of the “Close” icon. You will see a small bar at the top of your browser with the little blue “f” icon for Facebook to indicate that you are still logged into Facebook and sharing information. You would have to log out of Facebook to stop your sharing, but all that you have shared is still there for others to see.

Just think of the fun that can happen if your significant other switches your Panora station to something so not you and all your Facebook friends are asking you about your sudden interest in Pat Benatar.

You can control how information is shared with your friends, the rest of the world, or kept private, says Facebook. The frustrating thing is that if Facebook wanted to really help you manage your privacy settings they would make it much easier. According to a recent article in the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/12/business/facebook-privacy.html] you would have to check “50 settings with more than 170 options” to set all of the various privacy settings. And, you would have to master options like “Friends of Friends” and “Friends and Networks” to avoid letting some bits of information out to more than your friends.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has changed information sharing policies without offering a clear way out. And, for those of us who still think that what we do at different sites doesn’t always have to hang out in public, should understand that Mr. Zuckerberg,, CEO of Facebook, has said:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.


Furthermore, your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, Friends List, and all the pages you subscribe to are now publicly available information on Facebook.

By the time this article gets out, Facebook may well have pulled back a bit its information sharing policy, but don’t count on it staying that way for ever.

Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options


From Facebook’s Help Center

Social plugins and instant personalization


Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over


Three fingers to terminate pesky programs

There are times when a program freezes, either on a Mac or a PC, when nothing seems to work and most people reach for the power button and push it for five or so seconds to turn off the computer (or they will pull the power cord, and the battery if the computer is a laptop.) There is another way, and it can also help you kill or terminate what might otherwise be those malicious and frustrating fake antivirus programs that are going around and “attacking” Windows computers in the past few months.

“Control-Alt-Delete” is the secret in Windows to bring up the Windows Task Manager in Windows XP or a list in Windows Vista or 7 from which you can click on Start Task Manager.  Press those three keys at the same time and then release to start this process. When Task Manager opens, click on the Applications tab and there you should see a list of running programs, some which might have Not Responding in the Status column. To stop a program, click on its name and then look for and click on the End Task button in the lower right corner of the screen.

What makes this a great security tool is that whenever you have something pop open on your computer, for example one of those fake antivirus programs that increasingly come through Web searches, you can end them without clicking on what is the fake X close button in the upper right corner. Just get used to opening the Windows Task Manager before you really need it.

“Command-Option-Escape” is the secret in OS X land. Although fake antivirus programs don’t yet bother the Mac, there still are times when the spinning beach ball indicates a frozen program and pressing those three keys at the same time will open a Force Quit Applications window. Click to select the program or application that is not responding and then click on the Force Quit button in the lower right corner. This way you don’t have to press and hold the power button until the whole computer shuts off.

Totally unrelated, but I should let people know that I don’t use the Apple keyboard and mouse on my Mac. I needed a more ergonomic solution and Macs can use any USB keyboard and/or mouse or trackball. You might have to re-label some of those shortcut keys for the keyboard but it is nice to have that curved keyboard that allows me to type without wrist pain. If you do pick out a trackball as a change from a regular mouse, try some different ones before rejecting all of them, I had to try a few different models before finding that I liked the Logitech Marble Mouse.

iPad mania

April 3rd is the day the rest of us may experience what could be either a laptop screen without a keyboard or just an iPhone on steroids. So, what can the iPad really be?

Although I am not one of those blessed with time and access to play with one of the prototypes, I did get excited at the announcement. My first thought, what a great thing to have on the coffee table at a party. During any argument, you could look up the real answer, or find out the titles of the last three movies by that actress whose last name you can’t remember. Then I thought, how cool would it be for quiet writing in a coffee shop without having to be hidden or scrunched over a laptop with the lid up, hiding from the rest of the table and shop. But, wait, how clean will the “keyboard” stay, after all it is just “glass” that I can wipe off (actually it is something with “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating,” so finger prints won’t really stick around.) It has to be an improvement over the food crumbs that I shake out of my keyboard each month.  And, I could doodle on it, right? Read books, watch movies (you say it is a small screen?, my kids already watch movies on iPods without complaint.) listen to music, handle email, plan my day … It really seems like those pads in Star Trek, giving the hint of what might come, like the ones in Avatar.

But, I didn’t order one on March 12th, why not? Well, I like to keep at least a few things open at the same time, the iPad does not seem to multitask which isn’t a surprise as the iPhone doesn’t either. (There are rumors that the next version of the iPhone/iPad operating system might handle multitasking.) There is no camera on this pad, meaning I can not make a video call to the parents, for example. No USB connector, but what would I want that for? Oh, I might want to print out something, some pages from an ebook, an email, a receipt from a web site, hmmm, not quite the everyday basic laptop replacement I am searching for. And, I would have to buy another data plan for this device, currently AT&T is the only US cellular carrier covering the data needs of the iPad.

So, I guess I am not an early adopter, helping to figure out what this can do. But, I am sure that imaginative engineers will come up with something, just as they have figured out how to add microscope capabilities to camera-equipped cellphones so that these nearly ubiquitous devices can be used in remote or rural areas for blood testing.

Apple iPad, http://www.apple.com/ipad/

NY Times article on cellphone as microscope, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/business/08novel.html

Passwords, where to keep them

You have to have passwords on the internet, for email, banking, online purchasing, even those sites that require you to register and sign in just to see more information. Everyone says not to use the same login and password for all those places, but there are very few people who can actually remember all of the different combinations of different logins and random passwords that the security experts suggest you have. The reason to not use the same login and password for banking and facebook, for example, is that if someone could figure out or steal your facebook login name and password, they could try it on all of the major bank sites, just to see if it would work, knowing that many people do use the same logins across many different sites.

The trick is to somehow store those passwords so that you can get to them when you need them. And, you should use differing login names and passwords that are not easy to guess. Which means that one of the answers is to use a computer program to store and even suggest strong and different passwords. Research using 32 million passwords exposed in a recent “break in” revealed that one of the most common passwords is “123456” and that many people use common dictionary words, people and pet names, and adjacent keys on the keyboard.

KeePass and Roboforms (Windows) and 1Password (Macintosh) are software options that let you store your passwords for different sites, and will also suggest strong and random passwords. A useful feature is that they can suggest passwords that are “memorable”, passwords that look like snippets of English, making it easier to remember and type. Each of these programs can also fill in your credentials on websites and even print out your passwords.

Of course, one of the easiest storage methods is still a small note card in your wallet. Most of us know how to “secure” our wallets and if you only write down the passwords, and can remember (with the help of some code maybe) which password is used where, you really are much more safe than when using the same password for all of your logins.

KeePass, http://keepass.info/
Roboforms, http://www.roboform.com/
1Password, http://agilewebsolutions.com/products/1Password

Corners of knowledge

Adobe has fixed some serious security flaws in their PDF Reader, Acrobat Reader, so you should go to http://get.adobe.com/reader/ and follow the steps to update your Acrobat Reader. While you are there, update Adobe Flash Player also, as it has also been updated with security fixes last fall, http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ is the place for that update. Since many sites use Flash, it is one of those things you should update and, so far, that does not happen automatically with either Mac or Windows.

And, to help avoid some of the exploits that exist for silently installing software on your Windows PC, you should avoid using older versions of Internet Explorer for web browsing and especially for searching. Upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer 8 or use the latest version of other web browsers, like Firefox or Opera.

Reading the newer Word files when you don’t have the latest Microsoft Office Suite is easily done if you download and install the Office Compatibility Pack. Before installing this software, make sure you have installed all of the Office updates. To find more, search for “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint File Formats.”

Water in your laptop
If you spill water on your laptop, act fast and to turn off your computer. Take out the battery and put it in a bag of rice (rice seems to work well at absorbing moisture, that’s why it is used in salt shakers.) And, let the computer dry for two days or so. Then, put the battery back in and try to start up your computer. The key is to wait for the laptop to dry out. And, this process is the same to use for cell phones, also.

Static electricity
If your house is dry at this time of year, you are shocking yourself no matter what you touch, then you might want to ground yourself before touching your computer. It is often enough to touch some metal before starting your computer, or touching other electronics in your house. Just remember to do this every time you sit down at your computer.

Free Documentary Films
“At freedocumentaries.org we strongly believe that in order to have a true democracy, there has to be a free flow of easily accessible information. Unfortunately, many important perspectives, opinions, and facts never make it to our televisions or cinemas (you can watch movies in our media category if you want to know why).”

2010 Computer resolutions

  1. Subscribe to podcasts so that you can listen to those radio shows you keep missing.
  2. Back up data, spend less money ahead of time than you will have to after a hard drive crash.
  3. Use less paper and ink, learn to use your printer’s draft mode and figure out if refilled cartridges work as well in your printer. Maybe you should get a laser printer if you print more than 500 pages a month.
  4. Try to watch some TV shows on the computer before the winter Olympics in 2010 so that you know how to do it when you want to watch the ice skating.
  5. Organize your bookmarks/favorites and get rid of the dead ones.
  6. Organize your photos and get rid of the bad ones. And, then back them up.
  7. Add more RAM to your computer and learn to not keep so many programs open at the same time.
  8. Figure out whether you want Google Voice to handle all of your calls with one number and get voice mail emailed to your. It would mean requesting an invite.
  9. Change your passwords, come up with better ones and use something like KeePass for Windows or KeePassX for Mac to record all your passwords.
  10. And, learn some keyboard or mouse shortcuts, just for fun.