Why I’m back on Facebook

December 18, 2012

Just over six months ago, I deleted my Facebook account. Since then, the following good things have happened:

But I’ve missed out on these things:

  • My sister’s kids were unwell, and I didn’t find out about it for a few weeks
  • One of my best friends from Uni has moved to the USA with his family, and I didn’t find out about it until I got his Christmas card
  • My son’s now using Facebook regularly

Keeping up with the friends and family I don’t see on a regular basis is getting harder, and I feel the pain of those weakened relationships. So I’ve decided to return to Facebook, but with new personal ground rules:

  • Twitter is for me to spout inconsequential, transient crap in 140 characters.
  • LinkedIn records my professional relationships.
  • Yammer‘s where I go for informal chit-chat with friends and colleagues from Red Gate.
  • Facebook is for friends and family who I don’t otherwise get to see regularly.

Furthermore, I’m only going to use Facebook via the mobile app, rather than staying logged in, in the browser, all the time. This is an attempt to limit the amount of mineable, sellable data that Facebook collect about me. They are still bastards, after all.

Cambridge Bank Holiday Weather

August 27, 2012

Beautiful, brilliant white elephants

June 12, 2012

I’m in New York for the week. My morning walk to the confence took me past USS Intrepid, and two of their exhibits – Space Shuttle Enterprise, and Concorde. Two beautiful, brilliant, white elephants.


It’s time to sort out your passwords

June 8, 2012

I’ve been improving the way I manage my passwords recently. In light of the recent LinkedIn Password Snafu, I thought I’d share my approach.

What’s broken?

  • Using a weak password. When something like LinkedIn’s data breach occurs, your password will be the first to be cracked.
  • Using the same password for each site. If I were a hacker, I’d be trying each one of the LinkedIn passwords against gmail, facebook, yahoo. Your entire online security only becomes as strong as its weakest link.
  • Using an obvious system. If you were being targeted, and your LinkedIn password were “L1nk3dIn” or “linkedin%hb2″, I can start to work out what the password on other sites might be.

What should I do?

Use a unique, strong, non-systematic password for each site or service. Duh.

Except… I forgot my postcode the other day. I can’t hold all that in my head. So, instead:

Use a password manager

I’m a big fan of Lastpass. Forget trying to remember all of these passwords. Just create and remember one absolute beaut of a password, and then use Lastpass or an equivalent to generate and manage strong, unique passwords for all of your sites. As one of my colleagues said: “I don’t even know my gmail password any more”.

Start by downloading the Lastpass extension for the web browser on your main computer. It’ll create an account for you, and import all of the saved passwords from your browser. It’ll analyse the strength of your passwords, and you can then start working your way through your most important websites, changing the passwords to strong ones generated by Lastpass. The great thing is – you only need to remember one password – your Lastpass password.

Then simply install the Lastpass extension on all of your other computers. Log in to Lastpass on each, and all of your new strong passwords are available everywhere.

The whole process will take you between half an hour and an hour, and yes, it’s a pain in the backside. But you only need to do it once. So JFDI.

Lastpass has mobile clients for most devices, although they require a premium account to use them ($12/year).

Level Up

Use two-factor authentication to secure both your Lastpass and your gmail accounts. This uses the Google Authenticator app which provides a PIN which changes every few seconds. This means that someone needs both your Lastpass or gmail accounts and your phone to break into your accounts. I no longer use Facebook, but when I did, I set it up to text me a PIN whenever I logged into it from a new device.

What’s Left?

Lastpass works well with web-based passwords, but you can’t use it with computer system logins, like your work or university Windows or UNIX accounts. You’ll need to create and maintain a strong password for those – Lastpass can create and store them, but can’t automatically fill in the details for you when you log in.

You’ll need to choose whether to continue to save passwords in your browser, but you should never do this on a computer you share with other people. You’ll also need to decide whether to save your Lastpass password on your computer. Although you’ll still get protection against someone hacking remotely, you’re vulnerable if someone steals your computer.


Maybe. But since I bit the bullet and moved, it’s now no slower for me to log in to web systems than it was before. Only this time, whenever LinkedIn or last.fm expose passwords, I can quickly change them, reasonably confident that nothing else is affected.


Tales from Simpler Times

June 4, 2012

Nessa has been collecting classic Ladybird books for Danny and Rory. These gentle tales, with their simple, bright illustrations were real favourites from both of our childhoods, and it’s been lovely to see the kids enjoying them too. Let’s take a look.


“The Sly Fox and the Little Red Hen” was first published in 1966.


Brilliant. Danny’s just turned three; Rory’s nearly one; these will be perfect.


We join the story as it nears its conclusion:

“Then the sly young fox opened the bag, over the pot of boiling water. The big stones fell into the water with a very big splash.”

Cool. Wonder how it’s going to resolve itself?


“The boiling water splashed all over the sly young fox and his mother. They were both killed at once.”


On the upside – it was a quick death. We can see this from the detailed illustration. Fur still steaming.


Oh it’s OK. The little red hen walks away unscathed. Nature’s way has been bucked. Be about your business. Nothing to see here.


Maybe “Chicken Licken” will be different?


“So Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey followed Foxy Loxy. Foxy Loxy led them straight into his den, where his wife and their little foxes were waiting for their dinners.”

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…


“Then the foxes at Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey for their dinners. So Chicken Licken never found the King to tell him that he thought the sky was falling down.”

That’s some dark, dark stuff right there.

I think this one’s in the bag

May 30, 2012



“Why I deleted my Facebook account”

May 21, 2012

There are 40,600 Google search results which match this search term. Here’s the forty-thousand, six hundred and first.

Facebook privacy concerns tend to centre around inadvertent exposure of your content and your activity. New features like the News Feed and Timeline produce a flurry of blog posts, and posting on the site itself – with people complaining about the effect of the new functionality, and seeking ways to turn it off.

These concerns miss the point.

If this was the problem, I’d still have a Facebook account. I understand that I need to manage my privacy settings, and also that once my content (and comments) are out there, I can’t rely on being able to control them. That’s part of the trade-off we all make when we use social media.

I like this article:


but point 1 (I am not the sum of my data) is only half of the story. Increasingly, I am the sum of my online activity. And having an interest in marketing at a technology company, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I see just how much data about people can be provided by Facebook. And if you write an app… wow.

It comes down to data mining.

Let’s say I hand you a photo album full of pictures of strangers and asked you to flick through it. If I tracked how long you spent looking at each photo, where your eyes go, which photos you returned to – and did this with a large number of people, I bet I could start to draw some inferences about your sexual orientation and your personal preferences for physical characteristics.

Let’s say I watch over your shoulder as you’re reading a newspaper at which articles you skim; which you read in depth; which you skip. I bet I could start to draw some inferences about your political sympathies, your general awareness and your intelligence.

Who you hang out with. Which of your friends you really like. Whose comments you jump on and whose you dismiss. Whether you read the news or play a game when you go to the toilet.

No one person knows as much about you as this – not even you. But whenever you’re using Facebook – or increasingly, just using a web browser with Facebook logged in – this data is being collected by one organisation. Imagine the effectiveness of an advert which was targeted at you, and customised for you, taking all of these things into account. Would you want an advertiser to know all of these things about you?

And that’s just people selling stuff. What about political targeting? What about the equivalent of phone hacking?

Think that’s far-fetched? Why do you think Facebook, which doesn’t charge a penny to its users, is worth $100Bn?


dd-wrt pptp vpn bandwidth

March 2, 2012

Earlier today, I received a comment from @RyanMeray on twitter, and on my blog post PPTP VPN, dd-wrt and private DNS resolution. Ryan’s transfer bandwidth across the VPN is 150Kbps, despite having upstream bandwidth of 4Mbps – and he wondered what my experience was.

I’d not noticed things being slow, but I hadn’t ever checked. I don’t know what work’s upstream bandwidth is these days, but I’m on a contended 50Mbps cable service at home and I wondered whether I could max out the CPU on the router (which I’ve now upgraded to a Cisco Linksys E3000).

My domestic upstream and downstream bandwidth:

Try broadband speed test
I started a large file transfer from work to home, and then hopped to dd-wrt’s bandwidth monitoring page:

a fairly steady 2Mbps.

dd-wrt’s router status page showed CPU utilisation:

maxing out at 50%.

The CPU is a 480MHz Broadcom chip, which is reasonably fast – but is the same chip as Ryan’s ASUS RT-N16. So it seems unlikely that this is what’s causing his VPN bandwidth to be clipped to 150Kbps. I’d be interested in gathering more data – so if you’re using the dd-wrt pptp client, please comment with your maximum throughput, router model, CPU speed and CPU utilisation. Thanks!

Augmented Reality just blew my mind – a great insight into colour blindness

December 13, 2011

I’ve been excited by the potential of Augmented Reality since Ben Adderson (blog | twitter) first showed me Layar a couple of years ago. The sort of heads-up experience we’ve seen in the movies and the military has become available – with the added bonus of location awareness. The creative use of this technology has kicked up a gear recently but an article I chanced upon via twitter this evening has just blown my mind.

I am colour blind, as were my mum and my aunt. Although I’m aware that I can’t differentiate between certain colours as easily as other people, it’s always been very difficult to describe the experience to anyone else. I’ve been trying for thirty years, and never really come close.

Until now.

The article considers whether Van Gogh was colour blind by simulating his paintings through the eyes of someone with the condition. Fascinating stuff. But it also mentions the author’s iPhone app, Chromatic Vision Simulator. It’s an Augmented Reality app which shows a view of the colour blind world. To give you some idea of how it works, here are some views around my kitchen. The top image is unprocessed, and the bottom image is close to what I see – in other words, to me, the two images look the same.





I’m delighted because I now have a tool to explain my colour experience. And my wife now really gets why I’m no good at matching colours…

Thanks to Kazunori Asada ( blog | twitter ) for this fantastic technology.

Super-fast email address shortcuts with iOS 5

December 8, 2011

I’m using my iPhone more and more as a primary means of Internet access. This also means I’m typing my email address on my phone, more and more frequently. There are two problems with this: it’s slow and difficult to type, and autocorrect makes things even more difficult – it knows I’m “Gareth” so if I start typing “gareth@”, I get corrected to “Gareth@”.

Fortunately, the new shortcuts feature in iOS 5 can make autocorrect work for, rather than against you.

To set this up, go to Settings -> General

20111208-220037.jpgHit Add New Shortcut…


For “Phrase“, add your email address, and for “Shortcut“, choose a short word. It’s best to start this with consonants – something which isn’t going to clash with a normal word. I’ve used my initials, followed by “gm” for “gmail”.


Do this for all of your email addresses.


From now on, typing your shortcut will prompt you to replace it your chosen email address. Press space to accept, or hit the cross to cancel the substitution. You’ve reduced the number of keystrokes required to four, using just the home keyboard, improving your speed and accuracy. Hurray!


The only niggle is iOS auto-capitalisation. Usually, a text field will force the keyboard into upper-case. This will force your email address to begin with a capital letter too. To prevent this from happening, you need to remember to hit shift before you type your shortcut.


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