A Facebook cautionary tale

facebook-no-apto-para-padresI think that most everybody has a love-hate relationship with Facebook, undoubtedly the world’s most popular social network. Gosh, a major movie has been made about it! But in amid the positive utility value of keeping in touch with friends and family near and far, it just seems like day after day, Facebook just gets more skeevy.

Some time ago, I worked on a list of what I called the “Axioms of the Internet.” Since I’m reorganizing my file library, I’m sure it’s somewhere. The first of my Axioms was this: There is no such thing as Internet privacy. Yep, Internet privacy joins the list of oxymoronsjumbo shrimpmilitary intelligence, a just war, or a genuine imitation.

A link was shared by a connection of mine on the site (who’s also a friend and colleague of mine) about the latest Facebook scam: those pages that share current Internet memes, random questions, or a post that tugs at one’s hartstrings. It all seems benign and harmless, right? Don’t bet on it. (George Takei’s page, however, is an exception.)
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Linux Chronicles: Dell Latitude XT2

It might seem difficult getting your new Dell Latitude XT2 to work with Ubuntu; however, taken one step at a time, it’s pretty easy.

My Dell Latitude XT2I got a new computer the other day. Well, that’s a partial truth — it’s a machine that’s new to me. (The machine was shipped to its original customer in February 2010.) It’s a Dell Latitude XT2, a notebook computer that converts into a tablet PC with a resistive touchscreen. It came with a neat little stylus that works quite well for being a pressure-activated screen!

I bought the machine from Dell Financial Services’ Direct Sales unit for cheap. With shipping and a one-year warranty, I only spent about $500. By comparison, when the machine was shipped new in 2010, the street retail price started just under $2,000! It was a good purchase for me because as I’m starting to run more and more errands for my consulting, sometimes schlepping around an iPad alone just doesn’t cut it. There are times when it’s important to have a full computer. As I do a lot of commuting by bicycle and public transportation, I also don’t want my MacBook Pro to suffer the wear and tear of my commute…or worse, get damaged or destroyed if I were to get in an accident. The XT2 was a small purchase that, although I’d be sad to destroy or damage this machine, I can afford to purchase a replacement should I need to.

Enough philosophy: let’s get to running Ubuntu on this machine. The machine came shipped with Windows Vista but that was the first thing to go. I replaced it with Ubuntu 12.04.2, codenamed Precise Pangolin within minutes of turning it on for the first time just to make sure that it worked well. I read through several online guides about how to make this machine work and although the steps seemed daunting, I found that they were largely unnecessary and not needed. In simple terms, my steps were this:

  1. Ensure that the system OS is up to date with the latest standard Ubuntu kernel
  2. Update the system’s BIOS to the latest version (at this writing, it’s version A12)
  3. Check the system BIOS to see what wireless cards are enabled or disabled
  4. Install the Magick Rotation utility
  5. Have a lot of fun!

If you’re interested in my steps that I took in greater detail, I’ll go through them. Do note that most all of this is done from the terminal so your typing accuracy has to be spot on. Your results, although they should be like mine, may vary: please make a backup of your data before embarking on this journey (and don’t blame me if anything bad happens!).

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Living post-password

Passwords are a façade of Internet security. Learn how to live post-password.

passwordPasswords and passphrases. I hate them.

Yes, I used the ‘h’ word. Passwords and passphrases give people the illusion of safety and security when they are one of the easiest things to crack. I cringe when I come across major banks whose login mechanisms are weaker than, say, Facebook’s mechanisms.

I’ll admit that the inspiration for this post came back in November after reading the story of Mat Honan in WIRED Magazine. The article’s linked but I’ll summarize: Mr. Honan had his entire digital life wiped away because a hacker could defeat his email account password.

Do I have your attention? Good. Because for the next few paragraphs, I’ll showcase some alternatives and addition to passwords and some questions that you need to ask yourself about your own computing practices. Continue reading “Living post-password”

Creative Computing I: Linux on Netbooks

Computing in K-12 educational environments takes creativity especially when resources are scarce.

One of the big initiatives that I worked on at/for Arizona School for the Arts was the creation and standardization of mobile computer labs (MCLs for short) around the campus. The centerpiece of this initiative is a fleet of fifty MacBooks — more on that in another post. Predating those MacBooks is a collection of about thirty netbooks, or sub-notebooks: computers that are inexpensive but are woefully underpowered. On a good day, the netbooks could barely run Windows. On a bad day, they just didn’t work.

Ubuntu on NetbooksWhile it’s the dream of many in the faculty as well as the school’s administration to replace those netbooks with MacBooks, that’s a pipe dream that won’t happen. The least expensive Mac notebook is $1,000; it’d be foolish to spend that money. We’ve got these netbooks so let’s make them work better. Seeing how Windows is too bloated for the limited processing power of these machines, I thought of experimenting with a different operating system on these machines: Ubuntu Linux, a free/libre operating system.

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Rainy day quick hit: Google Maps for iOS

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

iPhone App StoreQuick two-sentence post for a rainy evening in the desert…

You know that it says something about the quality of Apple’s native mapping application when, not quite twenty-four hours after its release, Google Maps for iOS (well, iPhone/iPod touch at the moment) is the number 1 rated free application for download.

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

Monday Quick Hit: Facebook Photo Sync

Be in control with what info your apps have from your phone. Privacy is possible but it will take a little work.

Facebook_iconFacebook is at it again with a new (unhelpful and unwanted!) feature in their new version of their iOS and Android app. The app automatically uploads photos that you’ve taken on your smartphone or tablet. Given Facebook’s propensity to mine its users data, this feature has serious privacy implications that you should consider before you opt in to the service. (Yes, Facebook is making you opt in to a new feature, not opt out after they’ve rolled it out!)

This tutorial only covers iOS 6, since those are the devices that I have. If anyone could help out with Android instructions, that would be great.

There are two ways to approach this. The first one is to disable the feature from within the Facebook app. There are numerous posts out there that outline how to do this but the best one that I have found is from the Sophos “Naked Security” blog. The post outlines many privacy implications of this new service (which I hope you’ll read in its entirety!) but I’ll share a few highlights here:

2. If you enable the feature, your last 20 photographs and every subsequent photo you take, will be automatically uploaded in the background to a private Facebook album. So you may want to check what photos you have already taken first.

6. Automatic uploading of every photo you take means every photo you take. Yes, including the ones you took for that guy you’re flirting with, or the one you snapped of that part of your body you can’t quite see properly with a mirror. Furthermore, if someone takes a photograph of you without your permission it will be automatically uploaded to Facebook – you may demand that they delete the photo off their phone, but will it also have been removed from their private Facebook album?

7. Every photograph synced from your phone will be able to be mined for information by Facebook. Photos taken on mobile devices can include meta data such as the location where the photo was taken – and this could be used to determine where you are, and help Facebook display localised advertising. Furthermore, Facebook could integrate its facial recognition technology with Photo Sync, analyse your photos to see whose faces it recognises and automatically tag their names. Over time a comprehensive database of where you have been, and who with, is built up.

8. You are no longer in charge of what photos you upload to Facebook. In the past, you could decide what images you uploaded to the social network, and which pictures it could analyse for its own purposes. Now, all photos – good and bad – will be available to Facebook. That doesn’t mean anyone apart from you and Facebook’s servers will be able to see them, but there’s clearly a reduction in your level of control. [source, emphasis mine]

So now, take control. You can certainly not opt in to the feature from the Facebook app. Or, you can do what I did and disable Facebook’s access to my photos entirely. If I need to upload a photo to Facebook, I can use the native iOS 6 uploader and not have to go into the Facebook app. Here’s how to disable Facebook’s access to your iOS pictures completely:

On your iOS 6 device, tap Settings and scroll down (up?) to Privacy. It’s in the third grouping, right below General and Sounds. Once you’re in the Privacy menu, tap Photos. It should be the penultimate item in the first grouping. Finally, move the slider for Facebook from ON to OFF. Facebook will no longer be able to access your photos.

Here are some screen captures from my iPhone:

Online privacy takes a little creativity and a lot of knowledge. Sometimes, being proactive is the best thing to be.

Happy Monday.

Quick post on iOS 6

…in which we make the obligatory iOS 6 initial thoughts post.

iOS 6 icon (credit: Apple)To nobody’s surprise, Apple (at its WWDC keynote address) formally announced the next major edition of their mobile operating system, iOS 6. The big features added to iOS 6 include Siri support on the new iPad, a new Apple maps app (iMaps?), OS-level Facebook sharing, an app called Passbook, and a few other things.

The news is generally welcome. The verdict is still out on whether the new Apple Maps app will have transit directions. As to be expected, very few sources are reporting on this. Some places say yes, many many places are silent. Of course, the fallback will be using Google Maps in the browser.

Another feature that is very welcome is the addition of per-account signatures for each of your email addresses. And, for educational use, I’m welcoming the new Guided Access feature, which will enable device administrators (e.g. parents or teachers) to lock down their device so only one app may run.

A theme that emerged at today’s WWDC keynote — and made very evident by the launch of the latest MacBook Pro (you know, the one with the Retina Display) — was that it’s time to look forward in technology and leave some technologies behind. If you have the first iPad, you won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 6. Likewise, only the fourth generation of iPod touch will be the only iPod touch that can get the iOS 6 upgrade. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are also upgradeable…and so is the iPhone 3GS, announced at WWDC three years ago.

iOS 6 upgradeable devices (credit: apple.com)

As I usually say: “Interesting, interesting…”

iOS 6 and transit maps?

…in which we wonder about Apple’s new mapping application.

On Monday, Apple is set to release the sixth major version of iOS, its mobile operating software. Normally, however, changes are a good thing and each new version of iOS has been better than the last.

One of the big stories that’s flying around in this weekend before iOS 6 is formally announced is that Apple is dropping from Google Maps in favor of using its own mapping solution. Apple and Google have been trading punches lately and Apple has purchased several mapping companies. Of course, these are all rumors and we won’t know for sure until Monday morning. But if the rumors are true, then I’m sure that Apple will call their new mapping application “amazing,” “revolutionary,” “magical,” and other synonyms.

But, will it really be that?

I’m sure that it will be aesthetically pleasing. And that the graphics will be great. But one of the best features of Google Maps — and the big reason why I use it — is that Google Maps offers transit directions. You see, I don’t have a car. The option for me to get reliable directions to get from Point A to Point B via transit, as in the screen capture on the right, is absolutely mission-critical.

The other problem, at least for Phoenix, is that Valley Metro is very protective of their transit schedules. It took several years after Google Transit’s launch before one could plan transit trips here in Phoenix. If there is a transit feature in Apple’s new maps, what data will be there? I highly doubt that Phoenix’s will be there at launch.

Thankfully, we can still access Google Maps via the browser. But a native app was so much better. Ah, there’s something to be said about restricting an ecosystem.

IPv6: The Future is Forever

…in which we celebrate the launch of IPv6. The future is here and the future is forever!

Tomorrow marks the official turning on of the next generation of the Internet, IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). To many people, you shouldn’t notice anything. Nor should you really be concerned with anything. Being on IPv6 isn’t much of a bragging right (unless you’re a nerd/geek/computer scientist).

Why should you care about IPv6? In this video below, from Google, Vint Cerf (one of the co-creators of the Internet) explains it all. Under the current system, IPv4, there are just under 4.3 billion IP addresses available. (Think of an IP address as a telephone number or as a house address. When you go to a website, like edwardjensen.net, you’re going to a server that hosts edwardjensen.net. It’s reached by an IP address, which is 69.163.150.126.)

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Uwjt32NvVA

Happy IPv6 World Launch Day!