Friday, 31 August 2012

Facebook Social Media Dangers

The trend today is for everyone to set up a social-media presence with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Google+ and others. Unknowingly, people are uploading way too much information about their private lives. Compounding the problem, often many of the sites have poor security settings by default or revert to poor security settings at each "upgrade" of the service. As more of these sites become "monetized" in order to become profitable, your information is being shared with 3rd parties. It is important to realize how to protect yourself and ensure that your "social media" presence does not become a liability that you may regret for years to come.

Facebook Privacy and Security Issues

Many people have a Facebook presence. Unfortunately, it becomes a place where they share everything about their status, location, family photos and so on. There are privacy settings to ensure you do not announce your birthday and location, and share photos to the entire Facebook community, such as friends-of-friends or the public. That means that a friend of a friend can access your information. All you need is one "friend" of yours who is overly "promiscuous" in accepting Facebook friend requests (which may be from fake or scam accounts) and they now have a way of looking into the photos you intended for your immediate friends and family.

Do you really want pictures of your children on the internet, available for anyone to see? Or your trip to the Caribbean dressed in your bikini, or sipping an alcoholic beverage on a cruise looking a bit wasted? You have to ask yourself whether that is an image you want there forever. Facebook has not been transparent when it comes to photo-management after deletion. Only recently we found out they have kept your photos for years after you "deleted" them, so that anyone who had the original URL to the photo could still view it, even though it wasn't on your page anymore.

Facebook liability also relies on your "friends" privacy. If they are not careful they can share with you Facebook apps (some of which invade your privacy even more), or they may tag you in photos that they take (which you do not approve of them uploading), or they may wish you Happy Birthday by posting a big fat message to your Wall, after you tried so hard to not publicize it. Therefore, your entire privacy on Facebook is really only as good as it's weakest link which happens to be your other Facebook friends.

Security Breaches

Security leaks have occurred on all of the popular social-media websites. LinkedIn had a hacker that was able to steal millions of usernames and passwords recently. Facebook apps are common that try to convince you to share access to all of your private information. Even "phishing" attacks try to convince you to sign in to Facebook or Twitter because somebody posted something "that you have to see if negative about you", in order to entice you to disclose your login/password information to a fake site. It all seems innocent at first. Why would anyone want access to your Facebook or Twitter account? However, often these are used to penetrate further into your online identify and breach more and more vital accounts, including email and banking. It can also be used to socially-engineer attacks on your friends... like "help please sent me money, I am stuck in the airport and lost my wallet".

Monetization and Increasing Privacy Invasion

As most of these start-ups become public for-profit companies, there is increasing pressure by shareholders to "monetize" or build a profitable business from the social-media content. Facebook, Twitter and others are using your information (which is the only asset they "own" and can generate revenue from) to share with 3rd parties in order to direct advertisements or other information to specific users, hoping they will see it and purchase their products. Industries are notorious for invading your privacy first, asking questions later. It often takes lobby groups and lawsuits to instigate "Codes of Conduct" to force ethical changes on Wall Street. When there are billions to be made from your information, there is no rule that won't be broken and then covered up.

Twitter and Photo Location

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are some of the most popular smartphone apps available. Because smartphones contain GPS, many of these apps now allow you to "tag" an image with your GPS coordinate (geotagging). This is a useful feature in some cases, however it can be a disaster when using it for social media sites. Wikitude is a geolocation-centric "augmented reality" browser, displaying information based on it's proximity to your location, including Instagram and Twitter postings. With a simple browse in Wikitude, you can find all the Twitter users and Instagram users in your vicinity. Run into any residential neighbourhood and you will find countless teenagers using their smartphone to tweet profanities, messages to boyfriends, relationship issues, pictures of themselves "hanging out" or in the bathroom showing off a new outfit, and so on. This is all because they have location-settings of their smartphone apps set to ON, which embeds their location within their social information. 

Recently, awareness of  this feature became popularized by a website which scanned Twitter for messages with the word "home" and location data, to bring attention to the fact that people are unknowingly telling the entire world where they live. Many Instagram photos share their location and you can use services to display all photos within your neighbourhood. This is a major concern especially due to possible sexual predators, stalkers and other criminals who can use this type of social media to their advantage. An answer to this could come from a form of GPS "blurring" which would randomize or add a "fudge-factor" to all GPS coordinates from social-media sites. That way, if you are in a residential neighbourhood, your location cannot be pinpointed down to the nearest meter but instead within 100 meters which could overlap a dozen or more houses.

Tools for Thieves

Some people post Facebook updates when they are on vacation. They will even post photos. If they have location GPS set to on, their photos will be tagged and you will see they are presently in another part of the world enjoying their vacation. However, their older photos (which are also easily viewed within their account) may also have location data mapping to their home. Thieves could then see that a person is away on vacation and using this information, track back to their home and go on a rampage. Online phonebooks can be used to do searches for persons and return a specific address, so if the Facebook user is using their real name as a username (which is often the case) it becomes relatively easy to track them down, stake out their house for a few days while viewing their status online, and find the opportune moment to break in.

How to Protect Yourself

1. Turn location information OFF for all apps on your smartphone
2. Do not post photos of yourself, your children or friends
    - Do post photos of inanimate objects, scenery, gardens, animals
    - Do post links to things that may be interesting to you
3. Do not update your status to indicate you are away or on vacation
    - If you do share this, share it after you get home
    - Share photos of scenery and where you've been, but not with you in it
    - If you share photos of you, make sure you are fully clothed
4. Do not tweet anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear
    - Avoid profanities
    - Avoid anything controversial
5. Keep it professional
    - If you have hobbies or interests, post information on that
    - Be sure it is nothing you could be embarrassed about

For example, my blog contains mostly high-tech related news. I am a hobbyist Blackberry developer and tech-tinkerer. I do garden a bit for fun as well, and have composed music. My entire social-media presence is geared towards:

1. Sharing my music
2. Technical/electronics hobbyist news
3.  Gardening photos

I avoid as much as possible sharing photos that have identifiable faces or people. I have set my Facebook privacy settings to be as restrictive as possible. I have all of my location settings OFF. All of these hobbies are something I would gladly talk about to children or grandmothers. None are an embarrassment. In fact, I am proud of my hobbies. My professional life is distinctly separate but I have no problems if my clients and people I work for see my Facebook, Twitter postings, Youtube videos and listen to my music. If this information was printed in tomorrows newspaper, I wouldn't care and probably nobody else would either.

Rules to live by: Make sure your online presence can stand up to scrutiny if you decide to run for an election, and wouldn't mind sharing with people of all ages, races and political persuasions. If at all in doubt, don't even bother with social-media. It is a mine-field both personally and for business use which has to be carefully navigated.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Apple vs Samsung vs RIM

The jury has made a verdict. Samsung was found guilty and faces paying $1 billion to Apple. This is the cost of doing business. While the two companies share many more billions in a supplier relationship, this is merely a small price to pay for Samsung having made an enormous fortune otherwise on their phones in the past few years. If they had paid licensing fees that Apple demanded originally, it would have cost them billions as well. So Samsung took a bet, profited well and now Apple's lawyers have caught up with them. Still not a bad business decision, as Samsung likely saved this way rather than paying licensing fees to Apple over the years.

Now, many had called the entire patent system regarding technology and user interfaces a joke. The patent system is broken, and in the USA they are granting patents with broad interpretations. Keep in mind Apple won on it's own turf, but around the world they have not had as great a success against Samsung and other rivals.

So what does that have to do with RIM? Well we are nearing the release of BB10 and Blackberry is bringing a fresh new look to the mobile computing device. I am happy that RIM has differentiated itself and hope it remains that way. The alpha device does unfortunately look a bit too much like an iPhone, so I hope they bring something new like they did with the Playbook and the active bezel which allows various gestures. Phones have all started to turn into iPhone clones anyways. Then again, how many shapes of phone can you produce with existing non-bendable technology based on square/rectangular pixels?

I look forward to innovative fresh new designs and user interfaces over the next few years. Blackberry is in a position to redefine itself and with QNX-powered phones and TAT-inspired interfaces, we can begin to see some new ideas. Windows 8 also gives us a fresh look over the multitude of Android interfaces with numerous dessert-named versions (confusing to many), and the iPhone's overly-simple and rather bland interface (it is getting a bit stale now and needs a good shake-up as well).

The new BB10 alpha looks a bit like all the other full-screen all-touch phones. In my opinion, a bit too much like iPhone and numerous Android phones out there. I hope they bring the Torch design as it has a unique look and feel and gives us a nice keyboard to interact with. The all-touch Blackberry Storm was a complete bomb, but likely due to the clickable-screen. However, the Playbook brings us a very functional touch-enabled bezel which let's you swipe in menus, keyboard, close folders, and so on.

What I would like to see is a BB10 all-touch similar to the Playbook with some kind of bezel, perhaps with back-illuminated buttons if needed in the traditional bottom-row found under most Blackberry screens that would only light up upon touch. Obviously the bezel would take away from the screen size but can be made small enough to still look good (and different from other phones).

For the physical keyboard BB10 device, a Torch-like device would be ideal. As much as I like the current line of Bold and Curve phones with their always-visible keyboards, they take away from the size of the screen. A slider seems to be the best of both worlds and provides us with that much-loved large screen format that is dominating the market and made Apple's iPhone so successful.

We live in exciting times for mobile technology and I look forward to seeing what is coming up! I am hoping that RIM uses this opportunity to stand out from the crowd and impress!

(Send from my Blackberry Torch 9810)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Playbook vs. iPad Mini

Ok, so by now we've all seen the iPad mini rumours. The question is, does this new iPad pose as huge a threat to the 7" tablet space as everyone believes? Is Apple going to change face and dump the iPad onto the market with their untold billions and not make a profit, in order to make money later with their content revenue stream (iTunes?).

We know that Google and Amazon are following that model and some other vendors also are dumping their tablets simply to lock users into a particular ecosystem. Will the iPad mini kill all other tablets? Apple could price it so aggressively to do that. However, we assume that people will rush to buy one that perhaps wanted an iPad but couldn't previously afford it.

The cost of a regular iPad has been in the $499 range for a while. The old one, which eventually will be discontinued, is currently at $399. The iPad mini will likely come in at $299 at the very least, if not the mid-$300's. I doubt there will be a 3G/4G version. It will likely be only Wifi but who knows.

This makes the iPad more than all the other mainstream 7" tablets, which for now are at the $200 entry-point. For that money, though, you are biting into a piece of Apple's ecosystem and that has been the main selling-point. Just how important is it to have access to iTunes vs. Android vs. Amazon vs. Blackberry App World? The market has already shown it's preference.

It will all boil down to the costs and numbers of people out there still looking for a tablet but did not feel the need to pay $400-500 for one. The lower end of the market, already populated with tons of cheap Android tablets, has been available for some time. Is there an unmet need for an iOS tablet to live in this space?

Most people who already have tablets would not be running out to buy another tablet, even if it was an iPad mini. People who do not have a tablet may feel the urge to hop into the Apple ecosystem at a lower price-point. This is not necessarily cannibalizing their iPad 10" sales, or is it? Perhaps parents with a regular iPad want to buy their children something smaller and cheaper so they leave their larger tablet alone!

One thing is for sure. With iPad mini coming, if rumours are to be believed, the 7" tablet space is about to get more interesting and competitive, which is good for consumers. I for one will not be rushing out to buy another tablet any time soon. I have my Blackberry Playbook which serves my needs well.

However, we have seen iPad dominate when faced against similar priced tablets in the $500 range. So if the iPad mini comes in at $299, it may create some pressure on Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy 7 and Amazon Fire. I do not even mention the Blackberry Playbook because we are seeing it on sale now for $150 at some places. It appears to be getting "dumped" already just to clear shelves, and at that price some people are getting it... But even at $150 there is no mad rush.

Apple will use their big marketing dollars to make iPad mini a must-have item. I hope there is room left, beyond all the marketing-hype, for the other tablet-makers to thrive. There are plenty of great apps and tablets besides iPad, despite the number of sales and profit Apple has made.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blackberry Torch 9810 (White Edition) Tear-Down

My friend's white Blackberry Torch 9810 fell in the pool and after she tried unsuccessfully to fix it (with rice) and also bringing it to a cell-phone repair store, it was deemed dead-on-arrival. With no hope in sight, I decided to give it a go. Since we had nothing else to lose, I decided to crack open the phone and visually inspect it. However, I found nothing obviously wrong. While I was at it, I took the opportunity to make a video showing how to open the phone here:

Blackberry Torch 9810 Teardown

After a bit more research, I heard about a technique to use distilled water and then 99% isopropyl alcohol to wash the phone and remove impurities that had dried on from the contaminated water which often short out contacts on the circuit. I will try this technique and report back on whether it succeeds or not. Meanwhile, enjoy these photos showing the parts of the phone in detail.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Solar Panel Fun

I recently began experimenting with solar panels when I saw some apparently cheap "Solar Battery Maintainer" panels at my local hardware store. The function of the panels, which come with a 12V car cigarette lighter-socket adapter and alligator clips, is to maintain the charge level on your car battery if you are gone for a prolonged period of time.

Excited about the prospect of going solar, I picked up 4 of these panels and was ready to start hacking these things together. Much to my disappointment, besides outputing upto 20V the current was almost non-existent. So I opened one up to find the blinking diode and N4007 KDE diode (which is supposed to block reverse battery voltage short-circuiting through the panel) in there, removed it to see if I could use the panel directly but still very little power/current out of it.

Apparently these are the amorphous crystalline silicon form of panel which can be produced more simply but has less power. After speaking with some people on electronics forums it seems the panel is not even sufficiently powerful to reverse the normal current leakage/draw from a car battery. So I returned 2 of them and kept the other 2 hoping that I can use them for something eventually. Beware the cheap solar panels! Do investigate and test them first if possible.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Raspberry Pi on BlackBerry released!

I am pleased to announce that my Raspberry Pi app has arrived for the Blackberry Platform! The app works on all Blackberry phones OS 5 through OS 7, as well as the Blackberry Playbook tablet! Use this app to get quick access to 4 of the top news sources and video feeds on Raspberry Pi! These include the official Raspberry Pi home page, Raspberry Pi Beginners Youtube channel, Adafruit's Raspberry Pi blog, and!

My Raspberry Pi app was created with the same Blackberry App Generator tool that I used to create my own Doctor Braun app. It provided me with a quick way to design, submit and propagate my app completely automatically and in only a few days through Blackberry Appworld. This tool promises to be one of the most exciting ways to publish future apps, especially for non-programmers who are best at creating interesting educational and entertainment content!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mars Rover versus Raspberry Pi

I recently saw some news about the computing power aboard the Curiosity Mars Rover as compared to an iPhone. What struck me and other people who read the article initially was how much less powerful the computer is on the rover, when I believe most of us would have expected a more sophisticated computer on a $2.6 billion dollar NASA mission!

Well, it turns out, there is a reason for this apparent madness! Just for fun, I decided to compare the Curiosity's computer to the Raspberry Pi which I believe is a more fair comparison than the iPhone.

Curiosity Rover:
   200 Mhz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Flash Memory

Raspberry Pi:

   700 Mhz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Flash Memory

(I've high-lighted the difference)

So there you have it! While the Raspberry Pi theoretically could power the Curiosity Mars Rover, and with a higher processor speed, it would do little to put a dent in NASA's budget on this project! And there are a number of reasons why the Curiosity's computer, although a bit under-powered by today's standard home technology, is ideally suited for outer-space!

  1. Power requirements:

    • Your average phone or home computer uses quite a bit more power than is readily available to a space-craft which must carry it's own source of power for millions of kilometers of flight, and function for many months or even years. Even solar energy collection at that distance requires a design that looks to optimize power consumption. If you don't need it, there is no sense having it. That is why a 200 Mhz processor will be a better choice and sufficient to do the job.

  2. Radiation, temperature and shock resistance:

    • The chips that we have in our home computers and phones are designed with very small architectures which operate fine within certain temperature ranges and radiation tolerances. Go into outer-space and to the surface of another planet, and you are looking at extreme environmental conditions. Radiation, temperature and shock can all damage chips and therefore the Curiosity's chips must be made especially for space-hardiness. Often this requires a redesign of the chip from the ground-up with different logic circuits and a larger physical architecture (which will reduce the running Mhz speed). Also having less memory, along with these factors, means it is less likely to be damaged or corrupted by the extreme conditions. There is a much smaller production run for these specialized items, making them very expensive.

  3. Programming efficiency:

    • There is no reason to have the type of user-interface "embellishments" that we take for granted on our phones and home computers. The Curiosity needs to control itself efficiently and communicate in the most efficient way possible to home base. That means sending commands back and forth often by code, and no need to drive a display or user-interface of any kind, as no Martian is expected to walk up to the Curiosity and use it (even if it did have a touchscreen). Much of the extra code and processing we have here at home is for the graphical user-interface and all the "pretty-fication" to make life easier for us humans to interact with computers. But the Raspberry Pi, with a fraction of the memory of other computers, can still crunch through a Linux shell as fast as the next box without much trouble with only 256 MB of RAM (while most computers have several GB). Also consider that the Curiosity is built for a very specialized task and programmers have spent an enormous effort to optimize the code because of the need to constrain power use, efficiency and size (while here on Earth we are not constrained and simply just upgrade to a new computer on a regular basis, making tons of electronic trash in the process).

  4. Reliability and proven test-worthiness:

    • There is no reason for NASA to use the "bleeding-edge" of processor technology because they do not require blazing-fast speeds, or to be stuck with a new product which hasn't been proven through the test of time. Curiosity's computers are much more power-efficient, run optimized code, and suited extremely well to a very focused task. Due to all of the previous requirements mentioned, and need for many years to prepare and test for a mission, technology used by NASA probes may be several years older than what we take for granted carrying in our pockets every day.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Embedding Multiple Images for App


Ok, so these are my photos this time. I took them a long time ago when we actually used film in cameras. Being uploads rather than links, I wonder how the app will treat them. Also since they are all before any of the text, I wonder if it will use just the first image as the "title thumbnail" or whether it will have problems with that too!

(Update: The result of this post's test shows only the first image displays in the app. You would have to click on the "See original story" at the bottom of the post in the app to get all of the image content visible when it loads up the full article in the browser. If that is the case, I wonder whether there is a way to control also how much of the text gets displayed).

(Another Update:  So I thought maybe the solution is to embed links to the images and see what happens. At least if it doesn't show it "inline" then the link is available to click and view? Try them above and see).

Ok one more check... make image tag less complicated and see what happens:

Multiple Image Test

This post attempts to answer the question, will the app version of this blog reader (like the "Doctor Braun" app made by Blackberry App Generator) be able to display more than just the "title image" in each blog post? Well I've attached a title image already which shows some thumbnails. I will include several more images and see if they show up in the app. Obviously the web version has no issues, as you can see multiple images.

By the way, these are not my own images. They were found using a Google image search. They appear here below, all centered:


Above should appear 3 images, centered. Now to review the app-displayed version of this page and see whether these additional embedded images show up!

(Follow-up note:   Aha! The app version doesn't display these additional images... Now to debug and find out why that is. Could it be that they have to be all at the beginning of the text, or does the app ignore all future embedded image links?)

Blog Automatically Launches AppWorld

So I've added my app address to my blog in the last post, and now each time I view the blog directly in my phone's browser it launches into AppWorld! Not sure if this is just because it is finding the address near the top of the page, or anywhere on the page. The Blackberry browser seems to scan the page and if it finds an address formatted for Blackberry AppWorld, it seems to direct it.

Fortunately, while the AppWorld app loads, the actual page still loads fully in the browser. However it is truly an annoyance since if I ever put an appworld address anywhere on my blog and want to open the site on my phone, I do not want this to happen. This post is therefore also a test to see if the problem goes away. If not, I will have to remove or obscure the link address somehow so it doesn't do it! Let's see what happens!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Doctor Braun App Now Available!

It was just a matter of 3 days from starting the app creation to submitting it, having it approved, and now available in App World! That is, thanks to the new Blackberry App Generator which makes creating an app extremely easy and requires no programming experience. If you are viewing this page through a browser and haven't yet downloaded the app directly to your blackberry, the link is here:

Download Doctor Braun App for Blackberry

I am getting some strange results, as far as the link above goes. Initially it was not showing up as a link. However, after testing it again it is working on both the phone app and the playbook. However, the image at the bottom of this blog entry is not showing up in the app. Only the first image is showing up. I need to be careful then how many images to put in.

The timeline for creating the app? Well, on Thursday, August 2nd I received an email from Blackberry App Generator saying I have access to the private beta program. I went on the website, created my app by uploading a couple of images (icon and banner logo) and selecting up to 4 resources (feeds, youtube links, twitter, etc) to populate the app with content. By Friday, August 3rd my app already appeared in my Blackberry Vendor Portal account, allowing me to edit some things if needed. Saturday passed, then Sunday night I received notification my app was approved! Awesome!

Next app coming down the pipeline... Raspberry Pi on Blackberry app. I have made all necessary emails to the people involved with the content feeds to grant me permission to use them in the app. They have been extremely supportive and I am happy to make the app available freely. Stay tuned for that one!

Finally, to test out the app and how it handles images, I have decided to link another image to this post and see what happens. I am under the impression that the app will pick out the first image embedded in the post, usually which I include right at the very top as the first entry (which I right-justify). We will find out! Here is a link and image to more about the Blackberry App Generator.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Blackberry Blogging

Today I am learning how to blog from my phone directly. Yes, no computer at all! After a bit of experimenting, I learned that it is best to use HTML mode and upload or attach your image first. I usually set it to right justification.

This post is being written entirely using the phone only. If this works ok and is relatively easy, in the future it will be a lot easier to do! Yay! I can already post twitter messages from the phone, but I have yet to see a dedicated Blogger app for the Blackberry. Such an app wouldn't be needed if I am able to successfully use Blogger's mobile web interface directly!

Ok so there are some glitches. I have to rely on the autosave and then go back to drafts and publish once it is a saved draft!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Blackberry App Generator

I have been invited to use the beta-version of the Blackberry App Generator, and I must say it is really neat! The wizard guides you through the process easily. It is a relatively straight-forward RSS newsfeed reader but has other options including reading other types of blogging sites, linking of YouTube channels, Facebook and photo channels!

Support currently is only for 4 different links. That may not be sufficient for everyone, but for some basic businesses which have a Facebook page, Blog, Twitter or Photo page, it is enough to put all resources under one app!

I have made an app for myself "Doctor Braun" and plan on making another for the Raspberry Pi... making it a truly "Raspberry on a Blackberry" experience (hence the photo tagged to this blog entry).  Stay tuned for some more apps, now that they are so much easier to create!