Sunday, May 30, 2010

Of Gardens and Gnomes

After all the concern about privacy and Facebook, which are two topics that will appear in future blogs. I thought I'd change a few things and lighten up for this weekend. The last weekend of May deserves something light, after all the summer is only a couple of weeks away and that's the time we all can start to relax, at least that is the hope.

So Gardens. Yes, the time of planting has arrived and I have over the past month and a bit taken the spade to the ground and done some turning of soil and adding fresh compost and topsoil to the work. I've also expanded the little garden to include a third bed a little further down the back.

As of now, most things are planted. I still have to add a few zucchini plants, for the upcoming chocolate zucchini cake which will be made, although I do have some hybrid One Ball Zucchinis starting to show. We're not sure if they can be used.

I'll give you a report of how its growing from time to time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Blink or a Wink?

I entitled my last blog "And Facebook Blinked", they heard all the complaints and the fact a number of early adopters were now opting out, and some quite high profile individuals as well. So today there was a press conference and the co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced sweeping changes to the privacy setting for the site. He announced the changes in his blog.

He announced what the default of Facebook will be:
While many users have called for Facebook to change its default privacy settings to an entirely opted-out model, Zuckerberg explained that the company has chosen not to do so. "When people are able to share more, that leads to a world that's more open and connected," said the Facebook co-founder. "People want to share information, and they're best able to do that when they have control over what they share."

However, as Zuckerberg noted, the company has strong opinions about how sharing on the Web should be done. So the default settings will allow status updates, photos, and posts to be shared with everyone and photos you're tagged in, your religious and political view, and your birthday to be seen by friends of friends, while personal contact information will be kept private unless you alter that setting.

You know in a way I have no problem with their philosophy of openness and sharing beyond just family and friends. The difficulty is that did everyone understand that when they signed on, or did they simply expect everything they possted to be shared only with those who were on their friends list. To quote Stother Martin, "what we got here is a failure to communicate".

Perhaps the most important is the first change:
First, we've built one simple control to set who can see the content you post. In a couple of clicks, you can set the content you've posted to be open to everyone, friends of your friends or just your friends.

This control will also apply to settings in new products we launch going forward. So if you decide to share your content with friends only, then we will set future settings to friends only as well. This means you won't have to worry about new settings in the future.

This single control makes it easier to set who can see all your content at once, but you can still use all of the same granular controls we've offered if you'd like.

I should point out to you the article: "A Bill of Rights for Facebook Users". Here is what we should expect of Facebook when it comes to our material.

Overall, it seems people are generally pleased with the steps taken by Facebook.

I think no one would have challenges with Facebook's desire to make money and to consider our information as the source of monetization. After all, what company doesn't? After all, all those surveys we do, every magazine and newspaper we subscribe to sells their mailing list to companies that produce goods and services which would appeal to the demographics of the subscriber. You will often see such notifications on your notices of subscription. However there needs to be a strong opt-out ability and it should be simple and found without much of a search of the website. We need it easy because we don't have time to go through a long and complicated document to explain what we need to do.

Another good point from all this, it seems Mark listened. I suppose one a lot of this could be dismissed as the results of a very young person not fully understanding all he is doing. If this is so, then he needs a mentor, to help him with his myopic view of privacy and the changing of the terms of service.

If anything, hopefully he will realize that he must tread carefully when it comes to our privacy.

By the way, for the record I plan to stay with Facebook. So look me up.

Monday, May 24, 2010

And Facebook Blinked

It's all over the news today, Mark Zuckerberg, the now complete defensive Founder of Facebook wrote an article in the Washington Post today. His article expressed his desire to keep the user experience a wonderful thing on facebook.
Six years ago, we built Facebook around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that's more open and connected is a better world. These are still our core principles today

To him, its all about people connecting and sharing their lives with their friends and reconnecting with family and friends. In all, laudable.

The complaints, the fact that the service lost some very high profile individuals has struck a nerve, plus the online unrest that was both mounted and I suspect growing, caused Mark to look again at his creation.

He has decided one of the issues was privacy and that there is a need to simply the privacy settings on Facebook:
We have heard the feedback. There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services. We are working hard to make these changes available as soon as possible. We hope you'll be pleased with the result of our work and, as always, we'll be eager to get your feedback.

Of course the mea culpea has been met with some skepticism. Rob Pegoraro has some serious questions about the sincerity of the apology and whether or not this is truly a change of heart for the company.

If I can go back to the Zuckerberg article, he declares or articulates the guiding principles of Facebook:
Here are the principles under which Facebook operates:

-- You have control over how your information is shared.

-- We do not share your personal information with people or services you don't want.

-- We do not give advertisers access to your personal information.

-- We do not and never will sell any of your information to anyone.

-- We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone.

So is this all a good thing, or will it just be some window dressing and the company will continue to act as it will to make itself profitable.

I think the bellwether will be the privacy settings, if they are simple to understand, find and change then it will be a positive sign. If there is more smoke and mirrors then the apology will have meant nothing.

Some people complain how Facebook changes everything. I suppose the company has the right to do what it does, after all, no company talks to me when they want to make a change, why should Facebook be different. I think the reason is clear, Facebook is different, we are not simply the consumer, we are the creators. Facebook exists and is able to thrive because we who use it provide the material that makes it a success. Every photograph, video, update makes us not simply the consumer but the stakeholder of the company. It exists because we use it. If anything this uprise makes it clear and it should inform the company that it can't mess with the stakeholders.

There's a few things as well, Facebook should not see the material uploaded as "their's", it isn't. Forget the legal mumbo-jumbo, its not Facebook, it belongs to the person who uploaded. Again, don't mess with the stakeholders. Should a person leave, everything gets wiped out. The material uploaded, photographs, videos and messages should all disappear.

Just a couple of more things:
The Register is reporting some more video smutware coming along. If you see the words 'distracting' 'beach' 'babes', don't click.

Take control of your privacy settings on Facebook. You have that right.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Quit Facebook(?) Day

The news is out, May31st is the day people are supposed to delete their Facebook accounts. This is being done because the people who operate Facebook are not to be trusted with our confidence. Our privacy has been compromised again and again. If its not our photographs and uploaded media content being used for advertisements, it's the bugs that allow us to read the chats of those on our friends list. Then there is the rather unclear instructions on how to change our privacy defaults, or the very fact that Facebook has decided to make 'public', not 'private'. As well, there was that incident early on when the company did wholesales changes and turned the defaults back to public.

Couple this with the fact the founder, Mark Zuckerberg has had a few incidents of ethical faux pas, you can understand why people are beginning to lose faith with the company. In fact Mr. Zuckerberg is involved in an investigation into securities fraud, always a good thing to be involved in.

There is one page that gives 10 reasons to leave Facebook. As you read, there is a sense that the problem with Facebook is that the founder commenced it while still in University and he neglect to attend any of those Ethics classes he should have attended. If you read the book "The Accidental Billionaires", you get an understand of some of the issues which are truly haunting the people behind Facebook. Yes he did screw people over and he has paid for it and I suggest he will pay for it in the near future. I hope that this will be part of a lesson he does need to learn. It is without reason one word used in the subtitle is 'betrayal'. If you haven't read the book, go look for it at your local library and read it.

One of the issues facing any one attempting to organize the leaving is that it seems the statistics are against you, one newspaper pegs the number of visits at over 1/2 a billion. That a huge mass of people. I believe what should be rememebered and someone should remind Mark of this fact; Facebook is popular right now, but if something better should come along- just consider My Space. It was once thought unbeatable, but it has lost a lot of people and publicity.

I want to say, I'm not going to join the boycott. I have a few reasons, first of all, it is a good way and place to keep up to date with family and friends. It's also a good way to share media with family and friends. As both groups get spread out over this fair Dominion, it's the way to keep in track with everybody. As for privacy, I think Leo Laporte, who by the way, has left Facebook, said it best, consider everything you post on facebook and public and only post that material that is public. Don't post material that is either embarassing or could be used in a court of law. If it is illegal, it could end up in a court of law. Understand it for what it is, a means of keeping in touch. If you are worried about privacy, learn all you can about Facebook's privacy setting and put everything to the place you feel comfortable with, and stick with them.

Now a few things Facebook could do; the first is, damage control and serious damage control. Right now people are losing trust and the company must prove that it is now going to take privacy serious. Second, appoint a CEO, that is a Chief Ethics Officer who will go through all the new strategies and warn the company of the dangers if they screw with people again.

In the Privacy settings, put a 'Save Changes' button at the bottom of the page, so that when people are done changing the settings, they click it have the assurance its being done. If its not there, people might get rather suspicious. Right now, Facebook can't afford to alienate or get people suspicious.

Don't be so cavalier with the attitude towards privacy, people still care about privacy. Even though Mark Zuckerberg may think privacy is dead and buried, a lot of people disagree. Then there are those IM exchanges when Zuckerberg gives his opinion of people who trust him. Listen, Facebook can disappear overnight. To ensure that doesn't happen, it needs to be aboveboard in its deal with its clientèle and give them respect.

As for the Quit Facebook Day, I doubt there will be many, even if there is a couple of hundred thousand, it will pale with the numbers of people still using it. However, remove the smug look, see this as a wake up call, a wake up to do better.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Linux Distro with a cool minty Flavour

Since Katrina arrived last year with her personal effects and Isabelle, her desktop computer has been sitting in her room, languishing. It has been ignored and not been allowed to fulfil it's intended life mission as a computer. The problem has been its operating system. It has Windows XP Professional on it, not that its a bad OS, in fact there are a number of positive strengths to it. The problem was the installation process, it wasn't quite right and since someone else did it, there were a number of issues.

So it sat.

Now, if you know me, a unfulfilled computer means one thing and one thing only:

Linux. In particular, Ubuntu. You know I have installed and used Ubuntu, both on a desktop and a laptop. In fact I have installed Ubuntu on the main desktop, turning it into a dual boot computer. I must admit I haven't done the installation on the new Dell for two reasons. One, its still under warranty and I don't want to mess that up. The second point has to do with iTunes, because Steve Jobs doesn't want to expand iTunes to the Linux community. Oh yes, sure, MacOS is based upon Unix, but Linux, forget it, blasted proprietary closed system.

Right, so much for my bit of a rant. I thought of installing Ubuntu on the machine since I am used to it, but I recalled that Katrina once complained about Ubuntu. I don't know why, it's wonderful and works right off the disc. I had thought of installing Kubuntu, but I'm not a great fan of KDE. However, as I thought about it, Kubuntu was becoming the system to install, at least so I thought.

Then I found Peppermint.

I found it and installed it and its working. One of the problems Katrina had was the loss of sound, not any more. There is sound on her computer. The only problem is with her DVD-ROM drive. It's very sketchy, something I'm going to work at over the next little while. There's a fix out there and I shall find it.

What can I say about Peppermint. First of all, it is based upon Ubuntu and Linux Mint. So it is part of the Ubuntu family, with a few differences.

All the articles I've read discuss the same points and in particular the point as to its speed of booting. It is a slim and trim distro, just at about 400 MB to download for the .iso. To compare it, Ubuntu is now over 700MB for the latest release. So now it broken the 'available on one CD disc'. Yes Ubuntu is now a real hog. Tragic I know. It is light and fast. It is also not brown, which is the main color of Ubuntu. It is also very much a distro that depends on the Cloud. The reason for the small size is the fact that many of the apps are not installed but are available on the web. Instead of Open Office, it uses Google Doc. As well, instead of GIMP it Photo Editor by Plixr. It is cloud based and I think this is both its strength and its weakness.

Let me explain by the weakness. To access the Office programs you need a google account. This means Google gets to know more about you. Also, Google Doc may not be the best Office alternative out there, personally I use Zoho.

Its strength is the fact that much of the apps are web based. The developers behind Peppermint use Mozilla Prism, which means specific sites can run directly on the desktop, out of the browser. You can access the Doc directly as well as gmail, Facebook, YouTube and other goodies. With this the age of social networking, if it gets you to these sites quicker, the better for many people.

Even though it speaks much of the cloud, it's not like Chrome OS, which is totally cloud based, this is a typical Linux distro and one can install applications to the hard drive. The advantage, because the main apps are web based, then you can have it on a smaller hard drive and have room for more programs. It is light weight, so it can run on older computers.

The Inquirer writes a positive review and makes this comment on the resource usage:
The team reckons that Peppermint Linux needs only 4GB of hard drive space to install and claims it can run in 192MB of memory. We won't be too surprised if this claim is correct, given that this review clocked Peppermint using just 82Mb of system memory.

On just an evening, I would say my experience is positive, it is light weight, but not a lightweight. One can't dismiss it as a cloud based OS, because while it may have its head in the clouds, it still keeps its feet on the ground.

If you want to bring life to an older computer, give it a try. You will enjoy the experience.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Compost Awareness (Last)Week

I missed this last week. I'm not sure how I did, it must have been not seeing any cards at the gift card section of the Dollar Store. I don't know why there isn't any greeting cards for this holiday. After all, what can be more important then composting.

I suspect most people would think a lot of things, and ask why am I thinking there would be gift cards to celebrate such a thing. I suppose that's a good point, after all what would you put on the card? A picture of dirt, or the inside of a composter. Well, I will admit, the inside of a composter is not the most appealing site, in fact I went to my little compost and took a few photographs of the inside:

I realize you may think 'this is ugly', but what happens in that little space is magical. For from that mass of clippings and food material, comes the wonder of a substance that builds up soil and turns dirt into a medium in which the delights of nature can take place.

One website gives these suggestions as to reasons for composting:
What is compost & composting?

Compost is a dark, crumbly, earthy smelling material that is great for your garden. Composting is the natural breakdown of organic material (kitchen and yard materials) by micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi), insects and worms.
What are the benefits of compost?

Composting is nature's way of recycling. Compost returns nutrients and organic matter to the soil, and feeds beneficial micro-organisms, insects and worms. It improves the texture, oxygen-retaining capabilities and moisture-holding capacity of the soil. Compost is a soil conditioner and a source of fertilizing nutrients. It conditions and improves the overall structure of soils by adding organic matter. Compost contains fertilizing nutrients that are released slowly over time. This can reduce, if not eliminate, the need for chemical fertilizers.

Beyond its benefit to gardens, there's another compelling reason to have some form of composting system in your yard. Putting garden and kitchen material in a compost bin removes these materials from curbside waste collection and saves landfill space. Composting reduces greenhouse gases that are produced when organic material decomposes in a landfill without oxygen.

What became a fascinating study as I worked on this blog, is the number of webpages dealing with the benefits and instructions for composting. Some of them answered the question 'Why Compost?'

I've been composting for a few years now and there's always a great benefit of taking a bunch of kitchen wastes, leaves and grass clippings to something that will benefit the soil and the garden. I'm hoping tomorrow I'll be able to start working on the garden by planting some seeds. I've been preparing the soil, getting some good compost into the ground, both what comes from the composter and some commercial material.

As pointed out by another website:
All organic materials can be broken-down and decomposed, but not at the same speed. composting only the right materials will ensure the highest quality product.

What's great is any and almost everything can go into a composter. If you've been to a Starbucks, you might notice a place to grab some free coffee grounds for the home composter. There is encouragement for composting coffee.

If there is one problem is that some articles want to make it a bit difficult, such as you have to have so much of this material, and so much of that. I guess all i can say to that is, this isn't rocket science, all we're doing is what nature does naturally. Soil is nothing more then the breakdown of organic matter and nature does quite a good job of it. To be honest I did learn a few things and that is I can put shredded paper into the compost. Never thought of that, makes sense and a great way to avoid any threats of identity theft. You really think people are going to stick their hand into a compost pile to look for an address to a credit card statement? I think not. Yet one can compost shredded paper.

Alright, I didn't send anyone a Happy Compost Awareness Week card, perhaps I'll find one next year to send.

All I can say is, get working on that pile.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Canada's Next Governor General

There has been a great deal of attention being given towards the Office of the Governor General. At present, Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean is coming to the end of her term. The discussion in Ottawa is who should be the next Governor General. It seems as if her term shall end and Ms Jean will enter an honourable retirement. Of course, the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff now wants her term extended. He feels she has done a great job and deserves a few more years. Whilt it could be argued she has done a fabulous job representing both the Crown and Canada, his move has perplexed even his supporters. I mean if Chantel Hebert is confused and she's a Liberal fangirl, then there is something weird going on.

Let's ignore Iggy for the time being. Who should be the next G-G? Who should be the Queen's Representative in Canada? It is a very important position and certainly gives the office holder a great deal of a profile in the nation and world. There have been a few names, to give a few, Rick Hanson, Wayne Gretzky, Walter Gretzky, of course in Brantford, they give both those names for everything. Even William Shatner has a facebook fan page calling for his nomination.

Now for my opinion. I've thought about it and I think the best candidate for the position is:

Rex Murphy.

I know what some are thinking, "you're kidding, what attributes does he possess?"

Here's my list:

1) he's a journalist, well more of a columnist
2) he's works for the CBC.
Since the last two GG's worked for the CBC, let's keep the precedent going.

3) He's extremely erudite and possesses a great knowledge and uses the English language with great skill.
4) He's run as a candidate in Newfoundland as both a Conservative and Liberal. Thus he appeals to both parties. Plus he thinks Pierre Trudeau should be the greatest Canadian, which will appeal to federalists in Quebec, as well as the latte slurpers in Toronto.
5) On the CBC, he has a popular radio program, which appeals to people outside of the major centres of Canada.
6) He is critical of the Anthropogenic theory of Climate Change, this will make his appeal great in Alberta.
7) As a columist he has a great opinion about the nation and will no doubt let the Prime Minister of the day, a few bits of those opinions.
8) He's a Newfoundlander. As Canada's youngest province, it will mean they have matured and are no longer outsiders. Plus it will quiet the ongoing whining and complaining about everything from Danny Williams.

All in all, he should make a pretty good G-G.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

One Million T Shirts to Africa?

When I first heard about the site and the plan I wasn't sure if it was a joke or not. Although sadly this seems to be the mindset of a lot of aid to Africa, a variation of the theme, "we don't want it, so let's junk if off to Africa" Then again, what is wrong with the plan, we all have tee shirts we don't want, or we don't wear and after all, what Africa really needs is our tee shirts, because that will solve all their problems. I mean, Africa really doesn't need access to clean drinking water or medicine, or peace, it needs tee shirts! Apparently lots and lots of tee shirts.

The rationale on the website goes as follows:
Poverty and disease tend to be commonplace in most African countries. Medical care is lacking, and food runs scarce. The rate at which disease transmission occurs affects the continent at an alarming rate. Since most people cannot afford suitable health care, they are forced to endure living below their means, which includes not having proper nourishment, susceptibility to disease, and deficiencies in combating everyday threats to one’s health.

1MillionShirts cannot solve all the problems that our African neighbors experience, but it can help to provide part of the solution.

The t-shirts provided by 1MillionShirts will give people part of what they need to survive. Your donation of 1 or several t-shirts will not only help people in poverty-stricken areas, but it will also help the environment!

One of the bloggers from the Boston Globe wrote an article entitled: "News Flash: Africans are not shirtless".

So that leaves us with a few thoughts, is this simply a coy or blatant attempt to generate business to the main website. The two people wear tshirts featuring your company for a day and spread the news through social media, or are they sincere albeit misguided.

I wonder if there is a third thought, raising awareness of the needs of the continent and our problem with having too much. Consider some of the news coming from the Africa; the developed world has too many computer and too much computer waste, so why not ship the stuff over the ocean and give it to Africa. After all, they can take it refurbish it and reuse it. Sounds wonderful and then you look behind everything and see mountains of waste.

Or consider what happened off the coast of Somalia. Because there hasn't been an effective government for a few years, a number of countries decided it could dump toxic wastes into the waters, as well as over-fish. After all, nothing can go wrong can it?

Ever hear of Pirates??

Yes whenever the west has decided to use Africa as a dumping ground it has come back to haunt us. To dump 1 million unwanted tshirts, not like it's not happening now, would effectively destroy any local textile industry. How can a local industry compete with free. It can't.

A far better tactic would be to take those dollars and invest it into textile mills and indigenous clothing industries. We are past the day of the hand out, Africa does need aid, but this time real aid. The type of aid Africa needs is this:


This is how Africa gets on the road to wealth and recovery. It does by people helping Africans experience and develop their full potential. The last thing they need is more of our junk.