Recently in Social Media Category

In late April Canon released a new point-and-shoot camera, the PowerShot N. I pre-ordered it from Amazon.com (where I now see that it's temporarily out of stock) based primarily on two features described in a preview article: an 8:1 optical zoom, and built-in WiFi. It didn't hurt that the camera is about 20% smaller than my all-time favorite P&S, Canon's workhorse PowerShot S95 (which has been replaced by the S110), and came with a price just under $300.

Photo of cameraAfter a too-lengthy wait, the camera arrived and I've been using it for a couple of weeks. It's taken some getting used to, thanks to some design decisions made by Canon's engineers (or are they engineering decisions made by their designers?). If you look closely at the photo, you'll see a silver ring with three notches encircling the lens. That's the zoom control; twist it one way to zoom in and the other to zoom out. Another ring that protrudes past the zoom ring - it's difficult to discern from the photo - is the shutter release. You press that ring from either the top or bottom to take the photo.

These unusual controls are designed to give you more flexibility in camera position, in order to take advantage of the flip-up LED screen that covers the entire back of the camera. It's easier to hold the camera at a low angle and take photos than it would be with conventional shutter and zoom buttons. I haven't had a lot of reasons to try that out yet, and while it may indeed be a helpful design feature, I've also had some accidental snaps while I get accustomed to the layout.

Photo quality is good, especially outdoors. Flash photos leave something to be desired; the flash isn't much more powerful than in a smartphone. That's a compromise that comes with such a tiny form factor. Don't expect to use the 8x zoom to get details from across a dark room.

The camera takes full 1080p HD video and provides the welcome ability to snap a still photo while recording video without interrupting the movie. It also offers a super-slo-mo, 120 frames-per-second video recording capability (but only for short recordings) that provides some pretty amazing results.

It's said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and from that perspective, the N is a good choice due to its combination of small size and innovative features, especially if you want to share photos on-the-go via Facebook or Twitter. Being able to take high quality photos and HD video (better than you can get on your phone) and then use your phone to put them on social media is a hard-to-resist capability.
We've got a lot of ground to cover today, kiddies, so try to keep up.



Spraffl Logo
What the internet needs is way more anonymity...said no one, ever. OK, that's not entirely true, as the creators of Spraffl obviously feel that personalization in social media is overrated, and have created an iPhone app (Android coming soon) that will allow the posting of anonymous observations anywhere, anytime, and about any subject. Think of it as the ultimate playground for trolls.

Or maybe not. Even the Spraffl guys are apparently a little gunshy about all this freedom, and have built in a process whereby the community can get you kicked off the service for posting stuff that offends or just annoys someone else. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong with that?

So, when I first heard about Spraff, I'm like, well, what's the point...who wants to get involved with something like that? Turns out that I sort of do. I downloaded the app as an experiment and - whaddayaknow? - it's a little addictive (albeit more than a little weird). Here's my first Spraff (side note: is there an unwritten rule that social media posts must have silly names?):

My first spraff

Because Spraffl shows a map of the locations of all spraffs, I could tell that my post was the first one in Midland (albeit not the first one in West Texas; there's apparently at least one spraffer in Lamesa, of all places). I could also ascertain that it was one of the first ten in the entire state of Texas, so I've go that going for me...you know, in case the service ever gains Twitter-like stature.

But, you see the problem with being an early adopter, don't you? I just blew my anonymity, or at least my assumption of invisibility, because now any posting from Midland will be attributed to me, at least until some critical mass of users is reached. The app attaches a location to each post, so your anonymity doesn't extend to geography unless you disable Location Services, which in turns cripples the app.

So, what's my prediction for the success of Spraffl? I give it about a 1% chance of success, as it seems designed to fill a hole that few fear falling into. But don't tell anyone I said that; I value my anonymity.



I posted the following photo on Facebook but have been asked to blog it as well. We've had several sightings of foxes in our neighborhood recently, and last week our next door neighbor glanced out her window and saw this little guy napping in the back yard. She said there was a second one who may have either been a lookout or responsible for finding dinner, because he didn't hang around much. 

Photo - Sleeping fox

Foxes have always been a fixture around Midland, and not just on the outskirts of town, where we live. Some people fear them, but they don't pose any danger, other than minor rabies outbreaks, and those are no worse than your run-of-the-mill zombie attacks. We do have friends who claim that foxes were responsible for the hollowed out shells where their back yard turtles once lived, so there is that.



During the winter months (both of them), we move some of our more delicate plants into the garage for safekeeping. Each year, our garage gets a bit more crowded, and this winter's addition is the Mexican Lime Tree that normally resides on our back porch. I worried a little how it might react to the relative darkness and much cooler weather, even though it was protected from freezing. Well, my worries were apparently groundless:

Photo - Mexican Lime Tree

Can you spot the two limes in the middle? They weren't there when we moved the tree into the garage. (Ignore what looks like a lemon; that's what happens when you let your lime linger too long and fail to harvest it.) If you give the tree a weekly drink and roll it into the sunshine every now and then, it's perfectly content to be a garage-dweller.



I got into a spring cleaning mode last weekend and tidied up the attic and one of our closets. I made some tough decision about getting rid of some old friends, and this was simultaneously one of the easiest and toughest.

Photo - Hypertech Pro 9A housing

This is an underwater housing for a video camera. I purchased it in 1990 or thereabouts for a cool $1,000, back when we were doing a fair amount of scuba diving. It was a 19-pound one trick pony...the only camera it fit was Sony's CCD-V9 8-mm video camera (which was a real workhorse of a camera, but laughably huge and low-quality compared to today's units). It was a chore to lug around, especially through third world airports, and the controls were temperamental. I never really knew whether I'd managed to turn the camera on or not before getting back to the surface, and the battery life was such that you didn't dare turn it on before getting geared up and in the water.

Anyway, our video camera is long gone (I can't even recall what happened to it), and Sony stopped supporting the 8-mm tape format years ago. I racked my brain trying to think of some way to repurpose the housing; I even experimented with taping my iPhone just inside the lens, figuring that was a possible hipsterish steampunkish approach that might just be crazy enough to work. I'll try to post something separately about that experiment; the short story is that it didn't. I finally reached the sad conclusion that technology had rendered this apparatus obsolete, and into the dumpster it went. (If you have a brilliant idea on what I should have done with it instead, please keep it to yourself. Thanks.)



A Houston-based architectural designer (don't ask me how that's different than a plain old architect) has put her creative touches on an old adobe dance hall in Marfa, Texas, and turned it into an unusual home. If you know anything at all about Marfa, you'll know that "unusual" isn't that unusual, but this raises the bar for out-of-the-ordinariness, from a housing perspective.

The interior design is ultra-stark and ultra-hip (pardon the redundancy). While I wouldn't want it as a primary residence, it does scratch a creative urge in a pleasing manner. It has lots of open space - well, there are actually NO interior walls, just movable partitions to create an illusion of privacy - and some pretty funky accessories. But this scene from the "bedroom" really caught my eye.

Photo - Marfa house bedroom

Yes, the bathtub just sits in the middle of the room (I didn't see a photo showing the location of the toilet; I assume we're not talking outhouse here), and those closets act as the rolling partitions I mentioned above. This house is obviously designed for someone who lives alone, or for a childless couple, or for anyone who grew up in a commune in the 60s.

Take a look at this slideshow for additional photos of this rather fascinating design.

Tips for Recognizing Hacked Facebook Messages
September 1, 2012 8:38 PM | Posted in:

Earlier today, I received the following message from a Facebook friend:

Eric,

There's this house i'm interested in. The Company selling it put it up on their online catalogue. Please i need your help, go through it and tell me what you think. Don't want to make any crazy decision.

www.facebook.com/l/MAQHc37TSAQG_1k9-Wamxt74jv4CvhYteFrESiRpC2wT5-Q/xoes.xxmn.com/remax/remax/index.htm

Thanks.

Looks innocuous, doesn't it...just a heartfelt plea for some friendly advice. In actuality, the message was sent from a hacked Facebook account and the link (which in the original message was clickable) no doubt leads to a malware-loading or phishing website. I didn't follow it to find out; feel free to test it yourself and let me know the result.

So, how did I know this message was bogus? After all, it came from a legitimate Facebook friend (whose identity I won't reveal), and it came via Facebook's legitimate message feature.

Let me share the process I went through to determine this was a message with a nefarious intent, and perhaps you'll find it useful in applying critical thinking to your social media activities.

First, I used some common sense to assess the validity of the content of the message itself. I know this friend well enough as a former co-worker to realize that he would never solicit advice from me regarding a new home purchase. He refers to "the Company" and that's a red flag since we haven't been co-workers for more than a decade and as far as I know he doesn't work for the CIA. He's also American, and would never spell "catalogue" that way. In other words, the request didn't pass the sniff test; it just smelled funny.

Then there's the hyperlink. It does contain the word "remax" which is a legitimate realtor...but that term doesn't show up as the primary web address. It's a directory located somewhere within something called xxmn.com, which I've never heard of and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know anything more about.

Given those two warning signs - an out-of-character message containing an obviously bogus hyperlink - I messaged my friend with a warning that his Facebook account may have been hacked, and deleted the message.

However, it's not exactly that simple. Instead of replying via email to the message I received from Facebook, I went to my own Facebook account, clicked on the Friends link, found the sender's link, went to his Facebook wall, and messaged him from there. Why? Because, out of an abundance of caution, I was avoiding the possibility that the real danger of that message was not necessarily in the bogus hyperlink it contained, but in the email itself.  For all I knew, someone was spoofing Facebook's email address and my replying to it would have opened me up to additional harrassment. (I'm being a bit overdramatic in this regard, because it was actually pretty simple to confirm that the email was sent legitimately through the Facebook messaging system. If you don't know how to do this, use the circuitous-but-safe route I just described.)

I think Facebook has gone a long way in closing security holes, but there's one that will never disappear completely: the lax/uninformed/non-cautious user. As long as bad guys can access legitimate user accounts, they'll continue to generate social media malfeasance. So, use a strong password (you do what that means, don't you?) and change it regularly and don't put it on a sticky note on your monitor and don't let your kids login into your account. We'll all be happier as result.
When's the last time you surfed the web? (OK, when's the last time you even heard that term?) My guess is that it's been a long while, and that you're now fidgeting on Facebook or whatever the operative phrase might be for wasting time online.

I know I've blogged about the effect Facebook has had on blogging - it's generally stifled blogging except for those bloggers who blog about the effect Facebook has had on their blogging - but I've also decided that it's probably responsible for fewer people being more adventurous in their exploration of the web. Whether this is factually supported is not the point, because I'm doing less web surfing, and I'm sure I represent the overall potential web surfing audience.

Seriously, though, do you spend time anymore simply following random links on random sites to see where they lead? It's been a few years since I've done that, and I believe a big reason is that blogs are dying out...and blogs were the best source of links to new and unusual websites.

I'm sure that in terms of absolute numbers there are still a gazillion quirky, intriguing, cutting-edge and/or insightful websites being maintained by people with no other agenda than investing time and effort in something they love. But we've settled into a comfortable routine via Facebook and it's hard to make the time or summon the effort to go looking for those sites. I suspect that the collective "we" spends 90%+ of our online time on an aggregate of about a hundred or so news, sports, or social media websites.

I'm part of the problem (if, indeed, this can be termed a problem), because I rarely post links to other sites anymore. I'm not sure why that is or what I should do about it, but as soon as I check my Wall, I'll give it some more thought and get back to you.

Restoring the historical archives
January 25, 2011 2:27 PM | Posted in: ,

When I redesigned and "re-purposed" the Fire Ant Gazette in mid-2009, I deleted all posts dating back to inception - November, 2002. While I don't remember the exact number of articles I'd posted during that seven year period, I think it was around 3,800, and I felt that most of them would not be missed.

Lately, however, I've been feeling a bit nostalgic and have been selectively restoring some of those old posts. I wanted primarily to restore some of the book reviews I've done over the years (check the Reading & Writing archive category to find those that I deemed worthy of re-introducing), but I also ran across some additional "notable" posts, including:

My biggest regret is that I couldn't import the many comments from readers that accompanied most of these posts (Abbye's post had more than fifty, left by kind-hearted, sympathetic folks).

This process has also been a reminder of why I started blogging in the first place, and the terrible mistake I made when I decided for reasons that are no longer clear to me (or sane, for that matter) that I was going to start over and do it in a format and in a style that didn't encourage feedback. I forgot how much fun we had.

I think the best days of the Gazette are gone and can't be recovered. Too many things have changed in the way we use the web and social media, and I apparently no longer have the discipline - or, perhaps, the skill - to foment discussions like we had in "the good old days." Eh, it is what it is, right?

But, for whatever it's worth, this exercise has rekindled an enthusiasm for the Gazette, and I hope that I can bring some increased energy to these virtual pages. Who knows? Maybe this Facebook fad will blow over and blogs will become the next big thing. ;-)
Matt Saxton is the Midland Reporter Telegram's news editor and he regularly authors a column. Today's column documents what he calls a virus that attacked his computer and wreaked havoc with his Facebook account. He makes a specific point that he uses a Mac, and that the virus accessed his Keychain account, which is the Mac operating system's program for protecting and managing sensitive data like passwords.

Color me skeptical.

The hacking of Facebook accounts is a practice that's been around as long as Facebook itself, and the popularity of the service makes it a juicy target for phishers and producers of malware. Often, the hacked account has been broken into using data stolen from another website; here's an example of where a Christian dating service website was compromised and the data obtained thereby led to hacking of multiple Facebook accounts owned by those who had registered on the dating site.

In other cases, the Facebook account itself is the initial target, and the unwary user is tricked into giving up his or her login information via a phishing attack. There was an outbreak of this sort last year; Fast Company provides a FAQ explaining what was involved.

All this is to say that there are multiple ways to compromise a Facebook account that have nothing to do with the user's computer, and that don't involve viruses. Also, while the Mac OS is not immune to viruses, I can find no documentation of a verified successful attack by a virus on Keychain. Even in the example cited above - the phishing attack that affected Macs as well as Windows machines - it was theorized that the offending script was web-based, and not running locally on the computers themselves. If Matt has indeed suffered such an attack, he needs to report it to Apple because it's groundbreaking news.

I'm skeptical about the claim of a successful Keychain attack for at least one additional reason: if you were able to steal someone's list of usernames and passwords for all their personal and financial accounts, would your only exploit be to mess around in Facebook? Of course, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the hacker(s) knew that accessing things like bank accounts could land them serious jail time, whereas the hijacking of a Facebook account probably carries few consequences, so perhaps I shouldn't read too much into that. But it does seem odd that the only manifestation of a Keychain break-in would be related to Facebook (and I certainly don't mean to minimize the importance of Facebook to any given user).

Granted, Matt doesn't write a technology column and he may have left out details or avoided specific terminology that he deemed irrelevant to the overall story, which was how his personal and social life was affected by the loss of an important social media account. I'd be interested in hearing more details about how he came to the conclusion that the attack was virus-based.

The takeaway from this is pretty simple and commonsense. Don't respond to emails or click links from people you don't know, and be skeptical of those you do know. Don't send out your username/password via unknown WiFi networks. Periodically change your passwords.

And, still, be skeptical of claims of viruses that affect Macs. ;-)

My Twitter Unfollow Rules
October 9, 2009 9:26 PM | Posted in:

I follow about half as many people on Twitter as follow me. Given the extremely small numbers in both categories, that's not a declaration that merits any significant reaction. Frankly, I'm not too interested in increasing either number, and I've occasionally taken steps to decrease one of those number by unfollowing people.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I view following someone as extending an invitation for that person to step through the doorway and into my home - and I have certain standards of behavior I expect for any guest in my home, just as I would expect to conform to a host's standards when I visit him or her.

So, here are my "rules" (OK, they're actually guidelines, but I do enforce them pretty rigorously) for deciding when to unfollow someone, in 140 characters or less.

  1. If you're uninteresting, I'm not interested. If I haven't click on one of your links in 3 months, or you haven't made me laugh/think, adios.

  2. If you routinely use profanity, you obviously aren't a good steward of your 140 characters. Buy a thesaurus, then try again.

  3. I have a few hot buttons. You can push 1 with impunity, but hit more than that & you're history. What are they? You don't need to know*.

  4. This doesn't happen often, but I unfollowed someone for using a vulgarity to refer to a woman. It's all about respect & they lost mine.

  5. People who routinely ignore the 140 character rule & write until they use up their space & expect me to go looking for the rest. Buh-bye.

  6. If I haven't subscribed to your blog's RSS feed, why do you think I'm interested in reading your tweets advertising posts? Hint: I'm not.
OK, I think those cover the most egregious violations of my personal guidelines. If I once followed you but I'm not any longer, it's because you crossed one or more of these lines. Doesn't make you a bad person, just not someone to whom I want to dedicate a portion of my monitor's real estate.

*I'm not trying to be obnoxious. You shouldn't be altering your natural style or personal beliefs to conform to mine. I wouldn't do that for you.

Woofer is for Wimps
August 25, 2009 10:42 PM | Posted in: ,

The Twitterverse is abuzz about Woofer, the tongue-in-cheek "macroblogging" service that so closely resembles Twitter as to make IP lawyers walk funny, and which requires a minimum of 1,400 characters (vs. Twitter's 140 character maximum).

Most of the woofs thus far seem to be either randomly typed characters, or passages from famous books, like Moby Dick or the Bible. This tells me that people just aren't trying, because 1,400 characters is child's play for a blogger. For example, the first two paragraphs of this post (including this sentence) accounts for 655 characters, or 46.8% of what's necessary to woof it. (And, yes, I did have to iterate the character count a couple of times so I could get the actual numbers using Word's Properties feature. And if you include the rest of this paragraph, you're up to 60%.)

Now, I realized that actual writing has been rather rare at the Gazette lately, as I've tended to substitute one picture for, well, you know...a bunch of words. And I am beginning to worry a bit that Twitter is siphoning off what little creativity I had in the first place to apply to this here blog-like thing. So perhaps it's good that Woofer has come along, if only as a reminder that, sometimes, 140 characters isn't enough.

Or, it's a good reminder that using more than 140 characters for some things is a huge waste of pixels.

With that, I've achieved woofability. So, adieu.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Social Media category.

Science is the previous category.

Society & Culture is the next category.

Archives Index