Facebook deconstructed

I’ve been active on Facebook for a couple of years. It’s taken about that long to figure out what it’s good for and what it’s not (for me). Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’ve been pretty active on FB; something she considers an almost utter waste of time. She uses it primarily to see what the “kids” are up to, including our own and our friends’. In fairness though, in order to really understand FB, you have to be very active on it for at least a couple of years in order to discover its real strengths and weaknesses. Here’s my assessment of these:

Strengths:

  1. The most significant is the daily news feed from sites I’ve “Liked”. These include news sources such as The Economist, The Lancet, The New Republic, Slate, etc., as well as hobby related sites such as Gear Patrol, TED Talks, The Daily Meal, etc. Working at my desk most of the day as I do, it’s pretty easy to check the FB feed with a flick of the finger on my Mac desktop. I immediately see the latest news and interest posts from sites that I have selected as relevant. In essence, FB becomes a fully customizable personalized news feed that updates constantly. Brilliant.
  2. The second wonderful use of FB is keeping up with kids and friends. I’ve never felt that it replaces personal contact via phone or in person, rather, it enhances these by making them more meaningful if you already know what they’ve been up to and can ask more salient questions when ear-to-ear or face-to-face.

Weaknesses:

I’ve frequently been engaged in lengthy discussions about a variety of topics, some superficial, and others much more profound. FB works OK for the former, but very badly for the latter, where body language, tone of voice, etc., are all absent and can easily lead to misunderstandings. Also, the presence of “trolls” who enter the conversation with personal insults, makes the entire experience unpleasant. Plus you can spend a whole lot of time and not really arrive at any conclusions or change of position on either side of the debate. This time element can be very significant.

New strategy:

I will continue using FB for its strengths and maybe even the occasional casual discussion. I will no longer engage in lengthy debates that really don’t serve much purpose, bring out the trolls and waste time. Overall though, I must say I like FB, especially when used appropriately and to its strengths.

The dangers of virtuality

I have spent 20 years building my consulting firm. It is entirely composed of intellectual property (IP) built on 40 years of experience; the first three in a clinical setting, seventeen as a corporate manager, and the last twenty in my own business with several partners and associates.

The entire repository of this lifetime of work resides on a number of hard drives; one on my desktop, a second in the form of Apple’s Time Capsule, and another on a portable device squirrelled away in my safe deposit box at the bank, updated a few times a year.

I also use a remote cloud-based backup server, Carbonite, which updates and backs up all my files every night.

This IP is in the form of documents, presentations, templates, etc., as well as tens of thousands of emails to and from clients and colleagues. Above and beyond my IP, my repository also includes, on a personal note, some 20,000 photos; a lifetime of photographic memories.

I tell you all this because the recent push by every tech equipment maker to move everything into the “Cloud” scares the shit out of me. True, it is very convenient to have everything in one remote place easily accessible from any location. Yes, I believe the various vendors take safeguards to protect not only access to the data (how’s the working for ‘ya Target?) but also the data itself through multiple copies at different locations (maybe). But, I’m pretty sure none of this is for my benefit in the end. In fact, it’s all about creating a constant revenue stream for the vendors by renting something that I could just as easily own, i.e. storage. It’s like leaving your tires at the dealership for a fee every time you change over from Summer to Winter.

Millions of people the world over use Gmail or other “free” email services. Google just introduced Inbox, a new email service with a more modern interface. Nice. But where are my emails? With Google. If I fail to pay my monthly storage fee (once I’ve exceeded the limited “free’ amount) oops, sorry Mr. Steve, “No money, no honey” as the hookers used to say on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.

So I use Gmail and other cloud storage for access from remote places; yes, it’s pretty handy. But I also make sure that the core of all my work is safely stored on multiple devices that I own, can touch and see.

Unforeseen reaction to the iPhone 6 Plus

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I just got my new iPhone 6 Plus. I love it. My iPad3 has already been passed down to my wife, who passed down her iPad2 to my son, who sold his iPad1. This is the natural order of things. I am iPad FREE, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “And….loving it”. The iPhone 6 Plus is just the right size for me. Big enough for easy reading of books and magazines, small enough as a phone. Apple’s decision to finally enter the phablet market is obviously paying off as the iPhone 6 is breaking all sales records; quite the achievement for a company with a constant string of new “records” with every product it launches.

So much for the good stuff. As usual, in every silver lining, there is a cloud. I brought my iPhone 6 Plus to a workshop in Quebec City earlier this week. Everyone who saw it immediately reacted the same way: “Oh, is that the new Samsung Note?”. Yup…after paying $1200 for the jewel of smartphones…everyone thinks it’s a Samsung. Good thing I’m not attached to status! :-)

And this is funny: The first thing everyone does when they ask to handle it, is flip it on its side and see if it’s bent. The power of the internet!

Confessions of a tablet hater

I was going to title this “Confessions of an iPad hater” but I realized that it’s not the iPad I dislike but the entire tablet format.

A tablet is neither phone nor laptop. Almost impossible to type anything beyond a brief note or email; can’t read more than 2-3 pages of an iBook before getting a headache; and little stability on a desk or airplane tray. Pretty big for listening to music. Not bad for watching movies. Despite having an iPad, I find myself using the iPhone for most of the tasks the iPad is supposed to be good for.

I bought a MacBook Air with a 13 inch screen for presentations. I like it. Not much more weight than my iPad and it still fits in my small Tumi briefcase. I’ve ordered the iPhone Plus “phablet” and am hoping that will take over the video and reading roles of the iPad. Then the iPad goes to my wife or #1 Son as Charley Chan used to say.

Bye bye Google Chrome

I don’t know if it’s part of a larger competitive strategy to discourage those on competitive technology platforms, but I’ve noticed that both Microsoft and Google’s products are not quite as friendly on Macs as they are on PC’s and Androids. I’ve been on Google Chrome for Mac for about a year and it has become very glitchy through its various “upgrades” over that time.

Most recently, YouTube videos launch or don’t launch with no apparent and discoverable rationale. This last week, when I print a web page, only half the page prints, whereas if I do the same on Safari, the whole page prints. Weird stuff like that. So today I took the plunge and switched to Safari. If you’re going to drink the Apple Kool-Aid, you might as well finish the last crystals at the bottom of the glass.

For the record, I’m not a big Safari fan; I find the “minimalist” approach to toolbars somewhat stressful on my 61 year old eyes and fingers. I’ve ordered the iPhone 6 Plus and all my friends are critical about the large size. Hey, I’ve got big hands and ever worsening eyes, I’ll manage!

Air Canada thieves!

Last week I was scheduled for a flight to Halifax that wound up being cancelled because the client wanted to reschedule the meeting. I cancelled my Air Canada reservation which resulted in a $500 credit on my account. If you want to use the credit, you must contact Air Canada reservations via phone since the credit cannot be applied if you make a new booking on-line (why not?).

I waited a little over an hour for the Customer Service rep. While I waited, I was assaulted by a barrage of ads, most related to some award AC had won as Best Airline in North America from some industry shill paid to select a winner. You be the judge.

I went on line and found a new fare for $818 taxes in. Trouble is, the CSR couldn’t see the same fares on her screen even if she went to the same site that I was viewing. Best fare she could come up with was $999 taxes in, an almost $200 premium over what I could book directly. What a neat trick. Force people to redeem their credit notes through Customer Service and pick their pockets to the tune of $200 of THEIR OWN MONEY. Talk about double-dipping.

No recourse. The CSR said there was an email address I could complain to. Here’s what I did. Yup, you’re right, I took it up the tailpipe!

 

Dirty air

The Economist just published a list of the cities with the dirtiest air in the world’s largest economies. But that’s nothing, until you look at the source database from the World Health Organization, which I managed to find for download here. Find your city and compare it to others. I was staggered to find Montreal as Canada’s most polluted city, despite being global leaders in hydro power. The USA has pretty good air quality in just about every city including the giants of NY, and LA.

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Lies and deception transcend the internet

It’s bad enough trusting the information you see on the internet, but when the last bastions of integrity begin to fall, where do you turn? The answer apparently is: Nowhere! Scientific peer-reviewed journals are [were] one such place, but it seems that even these have become corrupted. From The Scientist, an article about the sudden shift in editorial policy at one prestigious cardiology journal:

The Canadian scientific journal Experimental & Clinical Cardiology used to publish well-founded studies in the field and was widely read within the cardiology community. But since being sold and moved offshore in 2013, the journal is now publishing anything submitted along with a fee of $1,200, packaging spurious studies as serious scientific papers.

I wrote this in response to the question, why do people do this stuff?

A friend of mine is a journalist. He worked for many years for some major newspapers. He also worked early in his career for one of rags that post outrageous “news”, e.g., alien babies, man trapped in abandoned department store revolving door for 7 years, etc. He told me that the smartest people he ever met were at this phoney news outlet. In his words: “They got a real kick out of seeing how far they could bend the truth and still have people believe it”. I think that’s a good chunk of it today, plus the crazies and the worst of all, the true believers, i.e., those who are so clear-headed in their self-evident truth that they feel the end justifies the means.

Probably most important is: Money and influence. I realized this reading a FaceBook post on the purported benefits of Himalayan sea salt. At first it seemed a joke, but the passion of the believers in this stuff made me curious so I did a search, only to uncover hundreds of web sites selling the stuff, backed up by loads of spurious claims and “science” to back them up. It turns out there’s big money in stupid!

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