Social Fixer Takes the Politics Out of Facebook

Those of you who have had quite enough of the incessant politically motivated posts that your friends insist on cluttering up Facebook with, day after day, may want to check out Social Fixer. It is the new name for the browser extension that was once called “Better Facebook”, and that was created by Matt Kruse.

I can immediately see how Social Fixer would be a handy little thing to add to your Facebook experience. It has custom filters that you can use to setup keywords that will be matched with any and all posts. It will automatically “take action on those posts”.

If it finds posts that match your keywords, you will see a tab appear that lets you know that there are some unwanted posts lurking. It will tell you how many of them are waiting. This allows you to ignore the political posts until you are ready to deal with them. Or, you can have Social Fixer hide those posts all together, so you never, ever, have to encounter them at all.

The Social Fixer website has an excellent “How To” that will walk you through how to set it up. Somewhere in there it suggests that you select keyword like: “Republican” “Democrat” “Romney” “Obama” and “Politic” in order to get rid of the political stuff on Facebook. Those of you who live outside of the United States can use Social Fixer to get rid of the political posts that come from your American Facebook friends from now through November.

I think it is very important to be an informed voter. I enjoy reading news articles from sources like Reuters, CNN, The New York Times, and NPR that are about politics. Personally, I find the politically related things that many people are posting on Facebook to be sorely in need of a fact-checker, and frequently mean-spirited.

The comments left on these types of posts are vitriolic and emphasize the commenter’s lack of education. It’s enough to have made me lose my faith in humanity, and is a large part of the reason that I have deleted my Facebook account.

Oddly enough, I first learned about Social Fixer a few hours before I quit Facebook, when one of my very intelligent friends posted something about it on her Facebook page. For me, it was too late. However, Social Fixer might be exactly what you need to keep your Facebook experience a pleasant one as this volatile political season continues.

World Leaders In Their Underpants

North Korea's Kim Jong-un

I’m generally not a big fan of politicians. There’s too many of them, they’re overpaid and they get their job through a blind popularity contest. At least with X-Factor and Pop Idol, the contestants have to show what they’re skilled at before we vote for them.

So it was with much glee that I came across World Leaders in their Underpants which literally strips politicians, dictators and royalty to their underwear. Created by cartoonist Nick Hilditch, he’s drawing his way through the world’s countries and now has over 120 of the world’s most powerful people in their smalls. All in the best possible taste of course. Regrettably, he’s not yet disrobed either the USA’s President or the UK’s Prime Minister so you’ll have to sign up to Nick’s RSS feed, follow @understates or like on Facebook to await their arrival. I’m told by Nick that Iraq is next.

The perfect antidote to Newsweek, Time and The Economist!

Picture courtesy of Nick Hilditch.

VPN Usage On The Rise Where Internet Surveillance Increases

Young Swedes Going Covert On Internet With VPNs

As lawmakers across the globe attempt to pin down a wriggling Internet with rules aimed at stemming file sharing between users (but, curiously, increasing file sharing between governments and corporations), among other things, there appears to be a growing movement towards purchased privacy by the Internet community – particularly the younger folks.

TorrentFreak shared a study this week done by a research group from Lund University in Sweden showing a significant increase in the number of 15 to 25 year-olds buying and using VPN (virtual private network) services – some 40% more since late 2009.

As TorrentFreak points out, Sweden’s Internet community faces a unique strain of web surveillance with its spacious bandwidth and status as homebase to The Pirate Bay – the leading location on the Internet for getting things for free. That puts a lot of eyes on the Internet users of Sweden and, according to Lund University’s Cybernorms research group, 700,000 Swedes are paying for VPN services designed to hinder access to – and surveillance of – their online activities.

Compared to 500,000 Swedes using VPNs in 2009, the demographic pushing the nearly 30% increase in users looking to limit snooping on their web behaviors are young people in the 15 to 25 year-old age bracket. That demo comprises 15% of the total and is up by about 10% from 2009.

It’s not hard to see the pattern. As surveillance (by governments and private entities like Facebook and Google and other Internet entities) continues to heighten under the guise of hunting for file sharers, the technology to prevent such snooping will not only get better, but more people will be willing to shell out a few bucks for it.

If interested in learning more about VPNs, TorrentFreak put together a great list of which VPN providers actually do what they claim, and which ones don’t.

Image: VPN Net from BigStockPhoto.com

Neil deGrasse Tyson Testifies to Congress on Behalf of NASA

Earlier this month our favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson,  went before Congress to plead his case  for NASA.  In recent years the budget for NASA has been slashed mercilessly by the folks down in Washington DC, all many of whom have little to no clue about science and technology.

Tyson makes his case by pointing out the obvious ties between NASA and everyday technology, much of which has stemmed from NASA and military technology.  He eloquently talks of the lack of science education and new engineers and scientists in today’s United States and points out that many of today’s aging generation of scientists got their start and motivation during the 50’s and 60’s space race.

The full eight minute video has been posted to YouTube and can also be seen below.  If you aren’t familiar with Tyson, he is the head of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s Museum of Natural History and is also the host of NOVA on PBS.  If you agree with his arguments then contact your local representative and make your voice heard now before it’s too late.

If You Live In or Visit Hawaii Your Rights are Being Threatened

  The Bill of Rights The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”- 4th Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

What would you say if your state decided that your ISP had to keep records of all the Web sites you went too? That they had to keep records of both Internet protocol address and domain names of all sites that you visited and they had to keep them for a minimum of two years. That is what is being proposed in the Hawaiian State Legislation under H.B. 2288, which states that Internet destination history information and the subscriber’s information, such as name and address must be saved for no less than two years. I know what some of you are saying I don’t care if the government knows what Web sites I visit I have nothing to hide, or if you aren’t doing anything wrong what’s the problem.

Do you currently belong to any political or social organization like the Tea Party  and do you visit supporting Web sites a lot.  How would you feel if the government started investigating the Tea Party and started looking for information on its members. Now how do you feel about the legislation. Let’s take this to the real world, what if the government required the local retail stores to keep a record of every book you bought, every magazine article you read, the talk radio you listen too, the clubs you joined, the people you associated with, now how do you feel. If you are like me you are saying to yourself that’s none of the government business, well this legislation does exactly that only in the virtual world.

Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu is a lead sponsor of the bill and a similar bill is being introduced in the Hawaii Senate. The bills are being introduced at the behest of Representative Kimberly Marcos Pine, who is in the middle of a dispute with a web designer Eric Ryan, who launched KymPineLsACrook.com and who says she owes him money. Her email was also hacked last summer, at the same time an article was written in the Hawaii Reporter about the dispute.  Because of these incidents Rep Pine has advocated tougher cyber laws. Those who support the legislation say that this type of law is necessary to “to protect people of Hawaii from these attacks and give prosecutors the tools to ensure justice is served for victims.” Unfortunately for the supporters of this bill, that is not how the law works in the United States, you can’t gather information on a large group of people in hopes that you may capture a few bad apples.

If the constitutionality of the bill is not enough there is also the question of what the Internet Provider can do with the information while they hold it. The bill says nothing about how the data should be stored or if it needs to be encrypted. There is no prohibition against the Internet Companies selling the information to anyone including advertiser or insurance agencies. So if you don’t care about the government having the information, how about your insurance company. The police aren’t even required to get a court order to view the information of anyone who uses a computer in Hawaii. This legislation would not only apply to Hawaiian residents but it would also apply to the 6 million tourist who visit the state each year. Which mean coffee shops, hotels, bookstore or anyone else with a public wi-fi would have sweeping requirements and cost put upon them.

We all want the bad guy to be caught and stopped, but not if it means giving up our rights and freedoms. Although SOPA and PIPA were stopped last week in the U.S. Congress, the fight over our rights and freedoms on the Internet is on going, it has simply moved to state legislation, we all need to remain vigilant.

US Senate takes on 4G Providers

4g coverage map

Three US Senators have introduced a new bill aimed at getting the FUD out of today’s 4G coverage mess.  The “Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act” will attempt to do something that providers have done their best to avoid – state plain facts about their coverage and it’s speeds in their advertisements.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn introduced the act today.  It stems from the mess that came when providers began advertising 4G networks that don’t technically meet actual 4G standards.  To get a great technical breakdown of what real 4G is, and what many wireless companies (AT&T and T-Mobile for instance) are actually using (referred to as near-4G) head over to the article on Wikipedia.

The new bill would require providers to guarantee a minimum speed, provide real coverage area maps, and specify the technology being used.  It also would cover network reliability and pricing.  Finally, it allows the FCC to oversee the speeds of top carriers and provide comparison tests that users can look at when deciding which carrier they should enter into a contract with.

A similar bill passed the House of Representatives back in June of this year.  Expect it to be a harder sell in the Senate, where telecom lobbyists are sure to put up a tremendous fight.

Britain’s Broadband Bust

The British Government has confessed that it doesn’t have sufficient money to meet the deadline of 2012 for a 2Mb/s broadband universal service.   This commitment had been made by the previous government but was reconfirmed by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, only last month in his speech at the Hospital Club in London.  He further said, “Our goal is simple: within this parliament (2015)  we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe.”

However, speaking at the Broadband Delivery UK conference yesterday, Mr Hunt admitted that there was insufficient funding in place for these commitments and was pushing back the deadline for the 2Mb/s universal service to 2015 with no deadline for the superfast broadband.   Only £175 million had been set aside as surplus from the Digitial Switchover project.

BT estimated that to equip Britain with superfast broadband will take £2 billion of public money and it has already invested £2.5 billion of its own money  in fibre networks that will reach around 2/3rds of British homes.  The additional money is needed to connect up those for whom it would be currently uneconomic to reach.

This also makes it difficult for the Government to fulfil the digital inclusion promises made on Monday by the UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox.  Announcing the Manifesto for a Networked Nation last Monday, it sets the ambition that everyone of a working age should be online by 2015 and that no-one should retire without web skills.

The Manifesto also estimates that 10 million adults in the UK have never used the internet for reasons of motivation, access and skills.  Nearly 4 million of these 10 million adults are over 65.  Rural and coastal areas have the highest concentrations of over 65s who don’t use the internet.

Considering also that the supporting quango Digital Public Service Unit was closed down before it even got started, it’s no surprise that the Manifesto is looking to industry and charities as well as government to meet the ambitions.

Further, as reported in GNC previously, UK internet users have grown by 2 million in the last year , expecially in the over-50s.  This suggests that the issues of motivation and skills appear to be resolving themselves and that the only restricting problem is that of access to broadband, fast or otherwise…..which the UK Government doesn’t have any money to help with.

Nothing like a bit of joined-up thinking.

British Broadband Tax

In his pre-Budget report, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed that there will be a 6 GBP tax on all households with fixed-line phones in order to setup a fund that will be used to ensure that even the uneconomical parts of the UK will get fast fibre connections.

Note for readers – the incumbent UK Government is Labour, who come from a socialist or left-wing background.  The Opposition is the Conservatives (aka Tories), who come from capitalist or right-wing background.  For a good few years, it was hard to tell which policies came from which party but now the economy is down, they’re reverting to type.

While the aims of the Chancellor may be laudable, I think he’s completely wrong to setup a broadband fund.  All it will do is line the telecommunication companies’ pockets and it’s not as if they’re short of a penny.  In each of 2007 and 2008, one of the major British telecoms companies, BT made 2.5bn GBP (before tax) on 20bn GBP.  Ok, things are bit tighter in 2009 so far but they’re still making millions.

If the past 30 years of technological advancement has taught us anything, the pressure on technology to make things smaller, faster or cheaper has come from competitive pressures, not by throwing subsidies or government money at companies.  These companies ought to be trying to figure out how to make the uneconomic parts of the country into economic parts, by delivering more efficiently or delivering differently.

Around 30% of households are believed to be in this uneconomic category but that’s only for fibre connections – the figures (and Government) totally ignore the possibilities of wireless technologies.  Rather than let the best technology win out – and it’s for the market to choose what “best” means – the fund will be used to connect up with fibre whether it’s appropriate or not.

And even if the property is miles from anywhere why not simply charge the customer the true price of bringing fibre to their home.  That’s what happens for electricity – if you choose to build your house two miles from the nearest electricity line, the utility company will bill you the cost to install the cable to your house.  For a non-essential service to be given this kind of subsidy seems bizarre.

And I’m sure an extra side effect will be increasing numbers of people dropping their landlines in favour of mobiles and VoIP.  I’m definitely thinking harder about it – if I didn’t have ADSL broadband I would have done it years ago.

Obama’s New CIO

Vivek Kundra. The CTO of the District of Columbia has been named the first US Chief Information Officer. Kundra has a proven track record and gets things implemented.

He wants to implement a “stock-market approach to IT project management”. He also looks for the “Adoption of consumer technologies in business”. This includes having a team that tracks IT so they can pownce on a trend.

This is the CIO role in the White house – NOT the CTO. That still is yet to be named. However, with Vivek Kundra working the internals of technology and the CTO working the Politics, this may be a great combination.

Vivek Kundra was a part of Obama’s transition team and designed Recovery.gov.

Using Social Media in the Election

One thing you have to hand to the Obama campaign they knew how to use Social Media effectively during the campaign. The Republicans can learn some lessons from this and so can some companies.

Many of the things the Obama camp did cost them nothing but one of their staffers time to make sure they were engaged. One instance was the utilization of Ustream.tv

As many of you know I have been using Ustream for the live portion of my podcast and while I draw small crowd in the middle of the night. The Obama team would put a live Ustream Channel at ever speaking event he went to and thousands would tune in.

This is just the tip of  the iceberg, they used blog commenters and bloggers effectively to neutralize negative commentary. With a dedicated group of staffers watching blogs they would pounce on sites almost instantly when someone had a negative thing to say and used blogs to essentially blast the competition.

Very effective use of technology was key. It made the McCain campaign look weaker as they did not use the tools that many people of all ages use today to communicate. The next person to run for president is going to have to get their social media game on.

Oh and what both camps missed, political podcasters could have been running ads as well in their podcast as they could have had a new message each day.