Three reasons your Facebook account keeps sending me spam

So, I’ve always wanted to write a “best practices” style post for users of the popular social networking website, Facebook. The blast of fame that Facebook has experienced has expectedly drawn the lowest scum of the earth, spammers. Thankfully and for the most part, Facebook’s engineers have tried to combat that by actively encouraging users reporting of spammy profiles, etc. They also have a powerful ally in their privacy permissions which can be very daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, you might think it’s the next best thing since the the redesign. 😛

So, in my years of using Facebook, I’m very proud to say that I have NEVER been hacked/tricked into using a sketchy app or have my wall/profile hijacked. I’ll delve into the reasons why my account has been relatively secure so far, but here’s why I *think* your facebook account won’t stop spamming others:

  1. Number 1 is the biggest culprit of all: Facebook applications. Do you realize that enabling Facebook applications without tweaking certain privacy settings means the apps developer has access to a LOT of information about you? Don’t believe me. Take this quiz to see for yourself what Facebook apps know about you AND your friends, courtesy of the ACLU. There are a bunch of things that applications can do including posting to your profile. If you enabled a sketchy app, guess what it can do? Post all sorts of NSFW or embarassing links on your profile. Please if you are a serial quiz taker, you need to check your Applications Settings STAT and remove any apps you’re done with.
  2. Number 2 is one that’s not very publicized, but I suspect is a biggie based on what I’ve experienced: Friends from Hell. Not your true friends of course, but my rule of thumb is: if I don’t know you (by that I mean, interact with you either in person or online), I won’t approve you no matter how many friends we have in common. I almost wish I’d started a study of the number of suspicious friend requests I’ve had and taken note of the people he’s managed to friend in order to back up my big suspicion that a prevalent route of “infection” is through approving friends that aren’t really your friends. Then again, there’s a certain percentage of facebook users who aren’t very discerning about whom they friend. Remember that being online is partly about social networking so please interact with a hefty dose of suspicion.
  3. Number 3 is a newbie mistake and often rectified quickly: enabling Facebook to update all your friends with every update/sneeze/breakup/makeup that happens to you. For simplicity’s sake, if you’re on Facebook to reconnect with friends or family, all you really need to let everyone know about your business is: status updates, photos of you/you+friends/pets. Anything else: video, notes, external applications need to be scrutinized before you let them appear in your news feed.

These are the 3 biggest things (or pet peeves) about Facebook.com users and I hope that this post will, at least, cause any current offenders to re-think their ways. 😛

Recommendations for a seamless migration to Windows 7

I’ve been using Windows 7 for over a week now and it feels very familiar, but much faster and more stable than Windows Vista SP2. Some have opined that Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been and I have to agree reluctantly. Without knowing all the facts, it appears that they had to ship something and Vista was it. Their slogan for Vista was “The WOW starts NOW” and if you’ve read several screeds about Vista’s failures, you can appreciate the irony of that slogan.

However, I can appreciate the fact that Microsoft has a difficult task of ensuring that their operating systems are operable with a wide variety of devices that are on the market. I respect a company that fosters an ecosystem where several mini-industries can prosper (e.g. for pretty much any computer part, there is a company that makes a replacement item). In any case, here’s what I did to ensure that I didn’t suffer any data loss or traumatic events:

  1. Step 1: Decide if you’re going to do an in-place upgrade versus a clean installation. I agonized over this decision because
    • I didn’t want to waste time reinstalling all my precious applications and
    • I wasn’t sure I would be able to re-download the installation files for my programs.

    . So, I made sure that the most important applications were accounted for i.e. I had either the install disks or the executable files. If you rely on “warez”, I can’t help you with that. I would recommend a clean installation because I believe in pouring new wine into a new bag or so that bible verse goes. 🙂

  2. Step 2: Create a disc image of your computer using either Acronis True Image 2010 or Norton Ghost (those are the two heavyweights in the field of computer backups). If you can’t afford either, consider using the built-in Windows Complete PC backup. Don’t forget there’s a different between doing a complete PC backup versus backing up files (when using the free Windows PC backup software for Vista). You will NOT be able to retrieve individual files/folders if you do a complete PC backup through Windows Complete PC backup. With disc images created by Acronis, you can extract individual files/folders from whole disk images if you wish to do so. I went slightly overboard by having my entire computer backed up via
    • Carbonite (or Mozy or whatever online backup service you use. It can even be a simple file/folder sharing utility like Dropbox)
    • on 2 external hard drives plus
    • having my work-related files on my thumbdrive as well

    . It pays to be slightly paranoid sometimes.*side note* Carbonite is planning on releasing a final Windows 7 compatible version once Windows 7 is out in stores.

  3. Step 3: don’t do this at 11pm at night. Allow
    • ~ 2hrs for backing up your files or your entire computer
    • ~ 2hrs for installing the new operating system and any updates (which, depending on your internet speed, may take longer than budgeted)
    • <li.~ 2 hrs re-installing your must-have programs. I recommend checking online to make sure you have the most recent version of whatever favorite program you have

    • Reboot your computer after each major installation e.g. after installing programs like Microsoft Office 2007, Visual Studio 2008 or Express, antivirus programs, internet security suites, firewall programs and pretty much any programs that explicitly inform you that you need to reboot for changes to take place, or utlities that integrate with Windows Explorer or the shell.
  4. Step 4: please make sure your computer has enough battery juice AND is plugged into an AC outlet or UPS. More often than note, your computer will install updates from Microsoft during the course of your upgrade. Please don’t leave your computer alone because you will need to help your computer through prompts or license acceptance check points. You must NOT let your computer ‘die’ on you (for lack of power) while upgrading your computer otherwise you’re in for a day or so of lost man hours. Have your system restore disks beside you just incase. In case you were wondering, I DID have my system restore disks beside me in the event that things went south.

That’s all for part one of getting a ‘bare-bones’ install of Windows 7 going successfully. Cheers!

Using Habari from a user’s perspective

I’ve been a WordPress user for the longest time. I love the easy out-of-box experience of WordPress. However, I got bored and began wanting to something else that was different from all the content management systems out there. I’ve toyed with Drupal, but there are way too many things to click just to get things done. Then, I heard about Habari again and decided to give it a try.

The installation process is actually faster than the famous 5-minute install of WordPress. Habari’s schtick is about building a solid foundation and letting plugins do the rest of the work. This is good from a developer’s perspective, but cumbersome for a user. I will delve into the reasons which are exactly why I’m struggling a little bit with Habari.

Here are the issues (for me):

1) Habari has 2 main versions: the stable version and there’s trunk version of Habari. The developers, I’m presuming, play with the bleeding edge versions a lot and this is evidenced by the large number of plugins marked ‘-trunk’ under the Plugin directory of the Habari Project.
2) Half the time, plugins I have an interest in using either: don’t work for the version of Habari they are listed for or (ii)work for the ‘bleeding edge’ version instead of the stable version. I know developers like to live dangerously, but I wish there’s be a set of tried & true plugins that will make the experience of using Habari less frustrating. I suspect things are simply being labeled wrongly.
3)For the plugins that do work, there’s no smooth way of finding out if there are upgrades except for browsing manually to the plugin folder on the Habari site or visiting the author’s page. I’d recommend providing a subscription method (which won’t scale if they get bigger) for now so that I can subscribe to updates of plugins I’m interested in.
4)Lastly, a lot of the current themes for Habari that I’ve encountered require plugins to function as intended. I’ll use the Dilection Theme as an example. Currently, this theme requires the following plugins: blogroll, monthly archives and flickrfeed. I was able to get Flickrfeed to work after much guidance from the very helpful developers at the #Habari IRC channel on Freenode. The last two simply cause the plugins.php page to emit a 1-line message about a “fatal error” and I have to manually delete the plugin folder before that message will go away.

I pride myself on having a very little bit of a technical bent, but so far, Habari’s making me feel pretty helpless. However, it’s not all gloom and doom. The Habari Project obviously hopes that competent people will be willing to step up to the plate to develop for the platform. The plugin ecosystem is what will make or break Habari and I truly hope that by this post, more people will be interested in knowing more about Habari and might even get inspired to building themes & plugins! 🙂 In fact, if I visited the #Habari channel on IRC, the chances are very good that I’d stumble into one of the Habari devs and they WOULD talk me through figuring out what the problem with a particular plugin is. That’s just how awesome the Habari developers are. 😀 It’s just that after doing that 3 or 4 times, I worry about being too imposing or that I’m bugging someone.

As a content management system with a somewhat stable assortment of plugins, Habari works great. There are a few design bugs here and there, but I’m mostly happy with it and that’s why I’ve stuck with it thus far. For thiose out there who are wondering what does work with Habari 0.6.2, here are some recommended plugins I’ve got enabled & working on my blog:

  1. Code Squeezer 0.4 is the first plugin I’d recommend you install. It literally allows you to insert any code you like into the header, sidebar or footer. I use the Code Squeezer for squeezing in my Google Analytics tracking code and some super-secret other stuff. 🙂
  2. The Flickr plugin comes with a default install of Habari. It’s a beauty and I highly recommend it if you have a Flickr account. Unlike the built-in Habari media management silo, the Flickr plugin allows you to insert image thumbnails and is configurable! In this post about viewing chkdsk logs, the pictures were uploaded using built-in media management utility in Habari, but it inserts the pictures at the uploaded file size! Not good behaviour at all.
  3. Habari Media Silo: I love that they built media managment into Habari, but right now, it’s rather rudimentary. If I uploaded a huge image file and wanted to insert a resized version of the picture into a post, I can’t do that right now. Yes, I could google for the html code to manually resize the picture myself, but I would recommend that they borrow a page or two from the Flickr plugin’s playbook and provide an option to insert a thumbnail of the picture or a resized version of the picture.
  4. Habari Backup 1.5 by Scott Merrill (thanks to Michael Harris, one of the cool Habari developers for turning me on to this plugin in my post on backing up data). It works as advertised and I’m sleeping much easier at nights. 🙂
  5. Youtube Media Silo – need I say more? It simplifies insertion of my uploaded Youtube videos to my blog and again, it works as advertised!
  6. Smugmug Media Silo – again, excellent plugin for simplifying insertion of my media from my Smugmug account
  7. WordPress Importer – a clear must for people migrating from WordPress to Habari. They are smart to have this feature developed and working because Habari has some WordPress features in terms of the administrative backend layout.

Before I finish, I *have* to commend the Habari developer(s) behind the design of the administrative interface and the default “Charcoal” theme. Go to my front page (Jane Talks Tech!) and you can see how tasteful the greys and text mix together. In composing a post, I love how the focus is on the title bar and the textarea for entering your blog post or page. Any plugins that are enabled are simply available in a row of clickable buttons and they expand very gracefully when clicked. If you are curious about what I’m talking about, take a chance and install Habari. Before moving my tech. blog over to Habari, I installed several test installations of Habari and had a chance to make sure that there were no showstopping hindrances to successfully running my blog with Habari. So far so good. I hope this post will be seen in the light of constructive criticism with which it was meant.

Shoutout of members of the Habari cabal who have helped me on my road to becoming a Habari user (andyc, michaeltwofish, dmondark, mikelietz, lildude, rmullins, ringmaster, and many others in the #Habari channel on the Freenode IRC server! 🙂