My Facebook Experiment: Week One Breakdown

I mentioned awhile back that I planned to try using Facebook for a week. That week is now up, and the results are in. I stuck to my rule of updating my status at least once a day as well as commenting on statuses from three different people for seven days.

Here’s the breakdown.

My own statuses received 24 likes from 14 different people. Of those people, I met 5 people in high school (including one of my high school teachers), 3 from college, and 3 from NaNo. The remaining 3 are from other areas of life. I already follow 5 of these people on Twitter, meaning they probably knew about my crossposting shenanigans. These statuses also received a total of five comments from two different people (my high school French teacher and one of my good friends from high school).

I commented on statuses from blank different people. This came up to 4 people from high school, 9 people from college, 5 people from NaNo, and 2 people I know from somewhere else entirely. I follow only two of these people on Twitter. (Well, three, but the third isn’t very active.) But I did do a better job of interacting with folks I don’t already follow. One person from college also noticed I was on Facebook and commented on that. I need to get back to her about meeting up again. (Note to self: DO THAT.)

I crossposted a few of these status updates (or variations of them) from Twitter. Let’s see what happened.

(I can embed tweets. Neat.)

This tweet got one retweet and three favorites. No replies according to my Twitter analytics, though I do remember someone replying to me about sprinkles. On Facebook, the same status received five likes and no comments.

Have another notable update:

On Twitter: three retweets and ten favorites, along with a reply and (according to Twitter’s analytics) two clicks to view to individual tweet. On Facebook: four likes, zero comments.

And another set of Twitter updates that turned into one Facebook status:

This tweet got four replies, three favorites, and zero retweets.

This tweet alone got seven replies, one favorite, and five clicks to view the full tweet or photo.

Funnily, the Facebook version of these two tweets is where I got my first comment–three comments from one person and two from me in reply. Two people also happened to like this post.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing is that my Twitter following is much bigger than that of Facebook. I have somewhere around 350 Facebook friends and over 18001 Twitter followers. There is some overlap in the two groups, but not that much.

A few things I’ve gathered from this experiment:

1. My Twitter following is very heavy on books, writing, and general nerdery. Facebook, not so much. Sure, there’s some general nerdery on Facebook, but there are many more shared things, “What X are you?” quizzes, and photos (particularly of kids). Dear gods, the kids. I’m pretty sure I added multiple people from high school whose occupations are “Babyname’s Mommy”. Gag. But that’s a separate post entirely.

2. Likes are the currency for Facebook. For Twitter, I measure how amusing I am by a combination of replies, favorites, and retweets.

3. Because I’m not normally a regular Facebook user, my updates don’t show up in many people’s feeds. Compare that to Twitter and its unfiltered feed. Your tweet appears in everyone’s feeds, but not everyone on Twitter is there constantly like I am, meaning many people check in on the last few tweets and ignore what happened a long time ago. This is partly due to Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, which determines which posts to show a user by how much they’ve interacted, This means a more popular post is more likely to show up in your feed than one from someone who updates every few months. I far prefer the unfiltered Twitter feed, even if it does feel crowded sometimes. Still, I know I’m getting all the signal and all the noise on Twitter, compared to Facebook where I get some signal, a lot of noise, and am potentially missing out on more signal for whatever reason.

4. And the big one for me: Facebook is much more difficult to skim than Twitter is. Sharing someone else’s update and uploading a photo each take up nearly an entire screen. And when that’s the bulk of the updates, I can’t skim or find the important-to-me updates effectively.

Will I continue with Facebook? I’m not sure. Less of Facebook is relevant to my interests than Twitter is, and fewer of Facebook’s interests are relevant to mine. And that’s not even getting started on Facebook’s technical practices.

But seriously, Facebook, let me hide all those kid photos and quizzes. I don’t care which of the seven dwarves I am2.

1Seriously, people, I’m not that interesting.

2Dopey, if anyone’s wondering. My high school’s French club put on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves one year, and I played Dopey. Yep.


My quest for a less annoying web experience

We take in so much information that it’s impossible to sort through everything and process the information that’s most important. This fact is complicated by content creators and reporters trying to get all their information out and making us process all that information.

Regular people aren’t exempt in wanting to share what we have to say–we just don’t usually do it with a corporate bent. We spout out what we’re doing, thoughts on current events, and our dreams and aspirations. We share a small piece of our complex lives with others; whether we do this to keep in touch with friends, get a reaction, or something else entirely is up to us.

There’s a small problem. Not everyone we know is on every site we’re also on. Not all my college friends are on Twitter. I’m not on Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram, and I hardly ever check Facebook. Most of these sites encourage you to share your content elsewhere, both as a way for you to share with your friends and for that site to get more users. This is all fine and good until users start autoposting all their content to other sites and you can tell–their feed is full of obviously autoposted and and and links with little context or thought as to whether anyone on the other site is interested. Without that context I’m very unlikely to figure out why I should click, so I don’t. There’s a lot more out there to read.

I saw a lot of this on my Twitter feed, so I took advantage of Tweetdeck and did what the client was built for. I filtered those autoposts out. They were easy to spot: more and more sites own short URLs in an attempt to ease sharing in a character-limited environment.

Over time I saw more and more things that annoyed me for other reasons. Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy annoyed me with their listicles, clickbait titles, and low quality articles like “20 Facts That Will Blow Your Mind” or “14 Things Only Other Math Nerds Will Understand”. So I filtered the words Buzzfeed and Upworthy out of my Tweetdeck client.

There are other things that I’d like to see less of as well, as well as other areas of personal content curation that I wanted to explore. So I installed the Rather browser extension. You might have already heard of it–it’s the generalized Unbaby extension. Rather lets you filter by topic and suggests some topics to get you started; some suggestions included politics (yes), babies (for Facebook, very yes), pregnancy (dear Baty yes), and current events. Once you select a topic, you can add or remove keywords and URLs for Rather to filter. Rather also appears to support some regular expressions, though I haven’t tested their full extent yet.

While Rather does filter out some things well, it’s limited by the words we use to describe our updates. One example that still stands out is one Twitter friend saying we should vote that day to be Friday. Since “vote” was a political keyword, Rather showed this as blocked content by its own keywords, even though this update had nothing to do with politics. Since Rather shows who made the update, I deduced that the person who wrote it probably wasn’t talking politics, so I unhid it.

“Vote” isn’t the only term that can have multiple meanings. “Aww” is another one, this one showing up in the kids/babies category. But “aww” can also apply to cute animals, and I’m all about cute animals showing up in my feeds. Without mentioning in the update text whether the photo is of a kid or an animal, I’m still left to my own devices, especially since many folks will just use the kid’s (or animal’s) name instead of saying the photo contains a baby.

Even taken alone, this is a very interesting problem: how can we use existing content to predict future content? That is, if we know someone has posted a lot about kids, can we use that to predict whether that “aww” is about their kid or their dog? It sounds like something for Facebook to work on since they already have so much data.


How far can we go with filtering things out? Most notably, search engines filter your results as an attempt to show you relevant results quickly. Websites track you so they can show you material more relevant to your interests. We tend to like and share things we agree on, and this data is used to show you more things you can like and share (and probably agree with). The result is a filter bubble, not just for your search results, but for how you consume the web–which shows in large part how you see the world around you.

That’s just for the filtering others do for you. What about your self-filtering? There are plenty of reasons for self-filtering that are outside the scope of this post–for example, filtering something traumatic to you. There are also the things we choose to filter just because we don’t like them. I’m guilty of this; I hide posts from Mashable and Buzzfeed and all those autoposts from Facebook and Foursquare and Tumblr.

But what about filtering out terms just because you don’t want to see them? Babies and pregnancy would be among them for me, if such a thing could be accomplished. And it’s not just babies; let’s be honest, sometimes I don’t want to read about politics. While most of the people I follow online (on Twitter, anyway) are similarly minded to me, we still disagree on things. Filtering out those things based on context would mean missing out on potential new points of view that could expand your worldview. This gets us caught in the same filter bubble the web is putting us in.

So should we filter our own content online, or do it more than we already do? I don’t know. While there are some great uses for filtering your own online feeds, doing so is far from perfect. I just don’t want to miss out on something new because I chose not to see something related to it.


Adventures in Password Management

In my last post I mentioned the Heartbleed bug that affected much of the web’s traffic. Over the past week I’ve been busy changing my passwords for my various accounts scattered across the web.

First observation: I have a LOT of online accounts. While I’m usually good at remembering if I have an account with a site once on that site, I’m not so good at sitting down and remembering every single site I have. Compound this with my being online for well over ten years, inactive accounts, old accounts that are registered to an inactive email, and this problem quickly becomes a big one.

Second: Password security practices highly recommend using a unique password for each site, one that can’t be easily guessed. I don’t know about you, but I’m terrible at coming up with a unique password for the many sites I use on a regular basis. Off the top of my head I can think of Gmail (x4), NaNoWriMo, Twitter, this site, Wikiwrimo, my webhost, Github, Reddit, Grooveshark, Pandora,, Faceburger (okay, this is more like rarely), my banks, my student loan site, my various utilities sites, Amazon, Goodreads, Steepster, … And that’s just scratching the surface. I definitely used the same password on some of those sites because I can’t remember that many passwords. A few folks I know have some success with the xkcd password style, and I’ve used that style a few times, but I’ve never managed to use different ones across a large number of sites.

This is a big problem and it’s not going to get any better.

Enter a password manager.

I’ve known about password managers for a long time but never got around to using one. There were several problems with using a password manager, I thought.

* I use multiple computers regularly and need to sync those passwords across multiple accounts.
* I have a smartphone and an iPod touch and need to sync my passwords to those devices.
* I have Linux computers, so any option would need to be usable on a Linux box
* Ideally this solution would be free of cost as well as open source software.
* Also, I want a pony.

After a little investigating, it turns out that KeePass satisfies all those requirements.

“But wait,” I can hear anyone who clicked that link say. “KeePass looks like it’s just for Windows. What are you on about?”

The original software is just for Windows, but there are contributed packages for just about everything under the sun, including Android and iOS apps and various Linux packages. Perfect. I installed the Arch package, created a database with a long password I can remember, and got to work changing my passwords. Each entry in KeePass is for a separate account, and you can make notes for things like security questions, enter your username, and generate passwords based on almost any parameter you desire. KeePass also has an extensive plugin system that can integrate with Firefox and Chrome, generate xkcd-style passwords, and much more.

Once I got into the password changing flow, I saw a lot of notifications on my phone saying account action was required. My (Android) phone detected that I had changed my Gmail password and told me to change it on the phone. This shouldn’t be a problem, I thought. I’ll just go the Play Store, install KeePassDroid, and… oh. I couldn’t do anything in the Play Store on my phone because my password was wrong/old. Fine. I tried installing the app from the Play Store on my computer. The Play Store said it would install the app shortly… after I updated my password on my phone. Crap.

In the end, I wound up typing my new gibberish-filled password on my phone. That’s not an experience I want to repeat. This allowed me to install KeePassDroid so I could upload my password database online, then download it again. Like KeePass you have to decrypt the database with your master password. KeePassDroid also lets you copy a password to your clipboard so you can paste it into a password field when you’re visiting a site or app. The password is removed from your clipboard a few minutes later. This worked well for my uses. Oh, and I could delete my online upload of the file so it wouldn’t sit around online permanently.

I haven’t tested KeePass on another computer yet, but it should work similarly with the small wrinkle that Fedora has a package for KeePassX instead of KeePass. So far this method of password management is working well for me. I may change some of my most commonly used passwords to xkcd-style memorable ones just in case I find myself using someone else’s computer. But beyond that, I have to remember only my computer logins, SSH key passphrases, master password, root password, and Dropbox password (for uploading that file). That’s not so bad, and I can probably un-remember some of those.

Get yourself a password manager. Doesn’t matter which one; just get one. You won’t regret it.


Every #wrimosagainsttheeatingofsushi related hashtag I’ve tweeted (and a few I haven’t)

A long time ago, a couple of Twitter followers and I were discussing a movement to prevent the eating of me–that is, because my nickname is Sushi and that also happens to be a food. We eventually came up with #wrimosagainsttheeatingofsushi. In the years since, the #wrimosagainsttheeatingofsushi movement has grown, as well as the #wrimosfortheeatingofsushi movement. But more and more semi-related hashtags have cropped up, almost all of them taking the form #___[for/against]the____ingof______.

I’ve tried to search Twitter for them, but online searches don’t usually handle fill-in-the-blank searches very well. Or at all, really. But that’s okay.

You hovered for the alt text, didn't you? Don't worry, I did too when previewing this.
(Image credit: xkcd)

I know (some) regular expressions.

What’s a regular expression?

A regular expression (or regex) is a pattern that matches something. You can think of a word as a regular expression when you search for something–whether you’re searching online or for a file on your computer. Most of your results are going to match the word(s) you type in. But what if you want only the first and last words of your search phrase to match? Or in my case, only certain words within a hashtag to match?

That’s where regular expressions come in.

Here’s a tutorial if you’d like to dig deeper.

But knowing regular expressions doesn’t do me much good if I don’t have a way to search with them. This is why grep exists.

grep is just plain awesome

Grep is amazing. It searches your plaintext files and shows you the results. You can also search across multiple files at once, which makes grep very powerful. I can figure out which novel I wrote that one awesome line in or when I used some made up word in chat… or find Twitter hashtags since grep supports regular expressions.

Sound cool? Good because we’re going to have some greppy fun.

The last tool: the Twitter archive

This is the easiest step. Twitter lets you download a full archive of your tweets from your site settings, so I downloaded mine and unzipped the files to my Backup directory.

The files containing the tweets themselves are Javascript files sorted by month. We can grep our way through these. Sweet.

Putting it all together

Let’s put this together and find all the hashtags. Here’s what I did.

[sushi@marigold ~]$ grep -r -E [a-zA-Z]+the[a-zA-Z]+ingof[a-zA-Z]+ ~/Backup/tweets/data/js/tweets > ~/Documents/wrimosforagainst.csv

Let’s break this down.

[sushi@marigold ~]$: This is my hostname. The ~ says I’m sitting in my home directory, which affects things like where I save files. More on this in a minute.

grep -r -E: grep says to use the grep command. -r means to search recursively–that is, to search all the files in that directory. This is important because we want to search multiple files in the same directory. -E is for extended regular expressions, which let me do some of these exciting things to follow.

[a-zA-Z]+: Check for any letter a through z, capitalized or not. The + means to check and see if a letter appears at least once.

the: Exactly what it says. Look for the letters “the” in order, exactly once.

[a-zA-Z]+: Check for any letter a through z, capitalized or not. The + means to check and see if a letter appears at least once.

ingof: Exactly what it says. Look for the letters “ingof” in order, exactly once.

[a-zA-Z]+: Check for any letter a through z, capitalized or not. The + means to check and see if a letter appears at least once.

This is a lot of information. If I had just hit enter here, my screen would have overflowed with hashtags. That’s where the > (greater than) sign comes in. The > means to send the information from this file somewhere. The rest of that command is telling what to name the file and where to save it. In this case I chose to send this information to a comma separated value file, which I can then open with LibreOffice and do whatever I want with it.

A CSV file is basically a spreadsheet in text form, which is what I saved the file as the first time. When you open the file, you can then tell Excel or LibreOffice what to use to separate the values. LibreOffice chose comma and tag and semicolon; I added colon since colons were useful in separating the hashtags from the rest of the data.

Once I opened the CSV file in LibreOffice I sorted the column with the hashtags. This gave me almost exactly what I wanted, as the majority of these hashtags are at the bottom in the w section.

There are a couple of catches to this. Eeach tweet in the Javascript file includes the hashtags as a separate entity from the tweets, as well as what tweet you’re replying to. This means hashtags can show up multiple times. This also means that hashtags used in tweets I replied to can also show up, even if I never used them. This part is doubly useful, but it means that not every spinoff hashtag is here simply because I didn’t reply to all of those tweets.

Here are those hashtags. There are 118 of them in all, and I have only edited to remove duplicates. Happy reading, and happy hashtagging!


My Experience with Google Glass

Google Glass hosted a demo event in Atlanta this weekend. It was a free event open to the public, but RSVPing was strongly encouraged. Since Glass is currently available to a small group of people through the Explorer program and isn’t cheap, the opportunity to try it out before it came out to the public excited me. I couldn’t fill out the RSVP form quickly enough.

The event itself was at the Foundry at Puritan Mill in the West Midtown area of Atlanta, a lovely and huge space with an industrial feel. A host greeted us outside the front door and asked if we were here for Google Glass. We were, and she ushered us in. Another person from the Google event staff handed us a small pamphlet showing off Google Glass and told us it would be about a 20-minute wait. We got in line and waited.

Some Google Glass features

How to use Google Glass

The line consisted primarily of techies who had been waiting for this opportunity for ages filled up the line for the most part, but some folks had just showed up. The person in front of me mentioned Reddit multiple times, and I got the feeling he was overhearing my conversation with the boyperson when I mentioned Reddit and Pokemon and other nerdy things.

We reached the front of this line and checked in at the tables up front. The person behind the computer got my name and noted that yes, I had RSVP’d. After filling out the waiver (which basically said Google could take photos and video and use them in their materials), we found ourselves in another line.

Luckily this line was much more interesting. A Google Glass guide explained the basics of how to use Glass and what it could do. Contrary to what I had previously believed, Glass isn’t just a screen projected in front of your eye; you have to look up to see it, meaning Glass stays out of your way until you need it.

The basic Glass capabilities include:

* taking a photo
* taking video
* Googling content
* asking how to say something
* calling someone (with bluetooth enabled)
* sending content
* sharing content
* getting directions

An Android/iOS app called MyGlass helps you manage and configure your Glass device so you don’t have to do all of it through Glass itself.

And finally, we were in.

Inside the Google Glass demo area

The first stop was to try on a set of Google Glass and get to know their features.

A couple of dudes handing out Google Glass

They explained the basic features, how to use them, and yes, you had to look up to see the Glass screen. (I’m guilty of taking a few minutes to notice this.) I didn’t notice Glass too much behind my ears the way I notice regular glasses.

Glass itself is made of titanium and can be bent; this was the first thing I tested. You can probably drop Glass and not break it, but I wouldn’t advise it. You can adjust the display so it’s closer to or farther away from your eye. The button at the top right side of Glass is an instant camera button, and I found it was faster than saying, “OK Glass, take a picture.”

The standard Glass doesn’t come with lenses, but it can be fitted with prescription lenses. Glass also comes in several frames and colors.

Pics or it didn't happen: Me in Google Glass (the first set)

One thing I did find difficult was navigating back and forth between things I wanted to do within Glass. This is something that time and practice can improve. My default behavior when getting a new gadget or program is to declare a holiday and play with it for a day or so, learning all its configurations so I can use it in the best way possible. That’s not possible in a quick demo session.

But I still mastered some functions, like taking a photo and video and searching. Swiping through search results was a little more time consuming since I liked teasing Glass with weird searches like “why you shouldn’t eat sushi”.

No one rushed us through the demo, so I tried everything out at my leisure. I didn’t take all day, though; there were other stations to visit.

The second Glass station included Word Lens, a third-party app that would translate whatever you were looking at. There were signs in German, Italian, Portuguese, and English. All you had to do to translate was look at the sign, say “OK Glass, translate this”, and select the original and destination language. I found this the most impressive feature of everything I saw yesterday; watching the letters form foreign words while maintaining the same font was nothing short of magic. Imagine traveling to another country with Glass; between these signs and the standard translation feature, you would have a much easier time getting around.

Unfortunately I had trouble translating the English “Welcome” sign to other languages. Since the other signs translated fine, this may be a bug in the app. I reported it to the folks running the booth after a few tries and moved on.

Me in a different colored Google Glass

My next stop was the music station. Google Glass can come with earbuds so you can play music within Glass. This can be music in your own collection or music from the Play all-access store, something I didn’t know existed until yesterday. I just said “OK Glass, listen to” followed by the name of the artist or song. This didn’t work too well to my advantage, but then again, I tested the store with its selection.

It did have Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain”, which came up as the first result. I tapped once to play the song, and immediately the song started playing in my ears. Another tap paused the song.

Eventually I got tired of messing with the music.

The demo session also included a photo booth. Participants could try on any pair of Google Glass, get their photo taken, and share it online. They also received a physical photo. I jumped into the short line and chose a frame. A minute later a Google event person was taking my photo and I was sharing it on Twitter.

Google Glass frames

Me at the Google Glass Photo Booth

I also got a look at the various Google Glass prototypes along the far wall:

Google Glass Prototype One Google Glass Prototype Two

Google Glass Prototype Three Google Glass Prototype Four

Google Glass prototype five

You can’t tell too well with the last one, but that’s a phone attached to the glasses.

After that there wasn’t too much left for me to do; I took their exit survey and received a Google Glass poster. Sadly I didn’t get to chat with any of the developers about what they had planned, as they had already left. But I filled out the exit survey and chatted with the staff for a little bit before eating some of the free food (which was excellent, by the way) and heading out with lots of opinions on new technology.

The Short Version

That’s what you came here for, right?

Google Glass is very good at what the event guide described to us in the beginning: “hands-free, heads-up”. That is, a smartphone and tablet weren’t taking up precious hand space and you weren’t burying your head in it while you were out exploring life. I can see how Glass would be valuable to a lot of people: capturing moments instantly without having to whip out a camera, directions right in front of your face without looking down at a map or phone or GPS, satisfying your curiosity without digging for your phone and searching for something, sharing the moments you care about even more quickly.

As for using Glass in my own life, I’m not sure. It’s an excellent product, absolutely. But I couldn’t get used to looking up and seeing the Glass screen. It takes time to get used to, but I found myself physically tilting my head to see the screen.

There’s also the consideration that using many of Glass’s features requires saying them out loud. This is where a smartphone wins for me. The smartphone lets you type, giving you some level of anonymity to the world around you. With Glass, much like a phone call, anyone around you is going to hear what you’re up to. This brings up some questions on how not to be a jerk (glasshole?) with Glass and what the social conventions for Glass will become.

Despite all these considerations, I’ve still signed up for the Explorer waitlist. If a space opens up and Google invites me in, I’d get a chance to buy one for $1500. Considering I don’t usually have that much money to spend on a gadget I might not love and use daily, I may or may not dive in.

None of this is to say Google Glass is bad. Quite the contrary–Glass is modern, well-made, and it makes me feel like I’m wearing something from a futuristic scifi work. Check it out if you get a chance.