If I like you less, does that mean I like you more?

I don’t know who or what I like anymore, since Facebook stole my dictionary. And now I’m wondering whether “like”-ing everything I read would actually devalue the currency of my good opinion. Like printing money, sort of. And vice-versa too, really. I mean, if you “like” my link or my post, I now ponder innumerable qualifying questions … How many “like” buttons has Nigel[endnote As it happens, I do have a Facebook friend of said forename. But, Nigel, if you chance to read this, rest assured you are not personally my intended reference point. It’s simply that you happen to share two syllables in common with my generic all-purpose hypothetical persona.] pressed today? Did he like them all as much? Or are some of his “like”s more equal than others?

So here’s my suggestion to Facebook’s cool bureaucratic dudes. They need to hire an actuary or two, to devise a formula to run on the server. The formula would generate a rating of the quality of each “like”. So, for instance, if Nigel’s “like”-ing history is such that he has already “like”d five links, four pictures and seven game high scores in the past twenty minutes, then my chest needn’t swell with too much pride when he “like”s my comment. That’s because his “like”, though not entirely insincere, has more of a mildly-better-than-a-mug-of-lukewarm-international-roast-instant-coffee kind of quality about it. If on the other hand, Nigel has only punched “like” on two other blog posts in the past two days, then I could rest secure in the thought that I sit well above at least an average flat white ristretto on his scale of life’s points of true meaning. That would be very helpful after a hard day.

This proposal is predicated on the assumption that the finite human spirit is capable of emotionally approving a restricted number of ideas daily. So, for instance, if you find my company rather flat this evening, you might consider the possibility that I’ve mentally dispensed my good opinion upon so many worthy thoughts today, that my affective capacity is at present reduced to a level equivalent to the physiological fortitude of a butter lettuce leaf on a 40° day.

I feel that if Facebook’s minions of power would smile kindly upon this my humble plea, the word “like” might remain a player of substance in modern English parlance for at least one more decade.

Be sure your tweets will find you out

Before the commentariat, Christian and other, condemns the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace as a loony fundamentalist bigot, let’s all take a deep breath and consider …

This is the Twitter age, and we’re all still meeting its perils along with its undoubted benefits. Staff and readers of The Age should be especially attuned, given the dismissal last year of an outspoken journalist after a similarly careless post on Twitter, amidst the frenzied online banter occasioned by the ABC’s weekly Q&A program.

If, as one of the anonymous millions, you forget who you are while tweeting in under 140 characters at the speed of light, you should consider yourself lucky merely to see red cheeks in the mirror. The same misfortune bears the sword of instant professional death if you happen to have a very public profile. Catherine Deveny and Jim Wallace make the strangest of bedfellows. But they merely share the doubtful honour of learning a most common lesson before a million judges. Let’s be slow to condemn either.

Let the twitterer without sin cast the first stone.


I’ve got friends again

Even a proud Facebook evictee gets lonely sometimes. Especially when one keeps on discovering more people who’ve signed up in recent months, yea even the most recalcitrant Luddites of one’s acquaintance.

But now I’ve come in from the cold, at least a few steps anyway. Introducing Ning. A friend put me onto this service which is technically a social networking site, and thus in the same genre as Facebook, Myspace and the others. To be sure, Ning comes with many of the standard SN features .. photos, videos, blogs, biographical trivialities, music, event invitations and of course the leporid multiplication of “friends”. However all of that is remarkably forgiveable, as little of it is inescapable.

Ning allows anyone to create their own social network from scratch, with the freedom to make it as public as a street party or so private not even an enterprising 10 year old could hack it. It could have 5000 members you’ve never met, or just you and your dog (if he can remember his password). As the network creator, you get to decide which features it has or doesn’t, and you have a generous variety of themes and colour schemes to choose from. On Ning, you can be a cyber junkie or a digital hermit.

I’ve now set up a Ning network as a communication medium for a group of a dozen or so involved in facilitating and developing Renewal Retreats for pastors and pastoral spouses. It’s proven its worth in a matter of two weeks. Not least, and somewhat remarkably, it satisfies the passions of a techno-addict like me whilst remaining accessible to cyberphobes. This particular network is replete with Luddites for whom a former Google Group made the Iron Maiden seem like a nanny. Even the most reactionary have logged on in meekness.

Sacramental philosophy, anyone?

If you’re confused about which world you’re in, try this one for size: Virtual Holy Communion? at Brownblog ..

But seriously, there is some real wrestling here for leaders in the C21st church. The virtual world is an undeniable reality (now there’s another line for the philosophers … ). And heaven knows, we have some missional challenges ahead of us. Challenging enough reaching spiritually lost people in a physical world. Now we’re talking about finding, reaching and winning them through their avatars in Second Life or some other virtual world.

Technophile though I am, I haven’t even entered Second Life, and wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know whether to regard such a prospect as a massive distraction from the “real” world where I could face a real encounter with my real wife who thinks I’m real-ly too distracted from real-ity already, or whether to welcome it as a gospel frontier just waiting for one such as I to answer the call …

Hope for the drowning

Here’s one piece of good news for anyone drowning in unsolicited bulk e-mail messages (“spam”, in other words). And from what I can tell “anyone” is everyone these days. Jeff Hendrickson of Hendrickson Software Components has just made the reporting feature of his great software “Purify” free.

Now I’m not a software reviewer or anything half so lofty. In fact I’m not even a geek. (Well, not professionally anyway. And I have zilch formal training in anything IT). But those who know me probably won’t be surprised to learn that I make a habit of researching – from a lay perspective – whatever mac software I can find that serves whatever purpose I’m currently pursuing. So I do my share of googling on such things, and I even hang out with the big boys (who are probably half my age) on the occasional techno forum. I just scan the page for posts written in English, as distinct from that incomprehensible babble the geeks such as my two sons use all day long. As far as I’m concerned, a script is something I’d take to the pharmacy, and perl is something my wife might employ when she knits. So you get the idea …

Well courtesy of my dedication (my wife would say ‘obsession’), I’ve identified a number of useful applications which I’ve used frequently for some time and even contributed constructively to their development. In fact I’ve made so many posts on one particular forum that the server has automatically appended the term “Guru” to my profile. Rather a giggle for someone who wouldn’t know an API from a gigabit. Anyway, one such application happens to be this piece of antispam software, “Purify”. It is to spam what the fabled Dutch boy’s finger in the dyke was to rather a lot of water. It aims to stem the tide of spam to one’s e-mail inbox by a combination of various filtering processes, and automated reporting of spam messages to internet ISPs and other online services through which the spam passes on its merry way to torment the innocent.

My relationship with Purify began several years ago with two of its predecessors (SpamX and Em@ilCRX), which Purify has since superseded. Having concluded that my bank account was large enough, my life social enough, my skin smooth enough, my drugs cheap enough, my degrees high enough, my timepieces worth enough, my software digital enough, my wife attractive enough, my equipment functional enough, my anatomy beyond enhancement, and Nigeria far enough – I set my fingers to work seeking to reduce the volume of kind offers being received. I eventually settled on SpamX, due to a combination of features, price and Jeff’s personal responsiveness. Admittedly all these things take a bit of techno fiddle to set up; but once that’s done, it largely just does its filtering in the background while you play solitaire or maybe do some work.

I’m not being paid a cent to say this. But I can truthfully testify that Purify has reduced the amount of spam I receive by at least two-thirds, sometimes more. In fact I get the odd day with literally none at all. A full license for Purify costs all of US$30, which I think is a steal for what it does. But the latest development is what has prompted me to write my first ever software review. Jeff has now made it possible to download Purify and use it for nothing, if all you want is the spam reporting feature. So in other words, it’s now free if you don’t want the other features. The filtering is brilliant for reducing the number of spam messages that wind up in your inbox; but the reporting function is the one that actually contributes to reducing the volume that gets sent to you (and other people) in the first place.

I’ve got to know Jeff well enough (in the cyber sense) to be able to confidently say that this is not any kind of money-driven tactic. Jeff is someone who’s sincerely personally committed to effectively fighting the huge blight which spam is to the whole online community. It’s a credit to him that he has made this a free service. The more people using it the better for everyone (except the spammers).  I recommend it without hesitation, and encourage you to try it. I’ll gladly lend what assistance I can in my techno-challenged way to anyone wanting to set up Purify. But you really don’t need me, because Jeff will respond very promptly if you contact him direct.

Oh, and whilst I endeavour always to keep myself unstained by the knowledge of any evil, I can report that Purify is available for Windoze too. Happy reporting!

Defaced and loving it

It’s now about 3 months since I was promoted to the rank of Permanent Facebook Evictee. This was achieved some 6 weeks after an initial reprieve, allowing my return to Facebook following my account being disabled. (Thus attaining the rank of Provisional Social Pariah.) Part I of the story may be read here. Here are some things I’ve learned as a now hardened Facebook persona non grata:

  • there’s a growing community of Facebook evictees gathering on various online forums, at least for mutual solace .. and in some cases to strategise (e.g. class actions against Facebook’s faceless overlords). I don’t imagine this community will quite become a pretender to Facebook’s social empire; but it is growing apace.
  • being a Facebook evictee offers a potential for public notoriety, possibly greater than one could hope for as a compliant Facebooker. I’m slowly acquiring a fan base of varied ages, desperate for interviews (autograph requests I’m sure are a matter of time), and expressing a sense of forbidden privilege merely to be associated with me, to sit near me, to hear the story of my wickedness, or to be a distant friend of one of my Gen-Y offspring. Is this, I wonder, what it’s like to be a member of the Honoured Society? (And should I buy a violin case?)
  • post-Facebook life is blessedly joyous and free. Without the distraction of an exponentially lengthening list of events, quizzes, games, notes, groups, doubtful associates, status updates, gossip, relationship intrigues, virtual plants, pokes, pixely photos, and heaven knows what … I now have time for what truly matters (such as playing solitaire, googling about potential ailments, and keeping up with Twitter (that last refuge of the recalcitrant sociopath)).

Yes, dear reader, there truly is the possibility of a fulfilling life after that exposure as a keyboard criminal, which undoubtedly awaits us all.

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Confessions of a facebook felon

On 31st December I attempted to log on to my Facebook account, only to get the following message: “Account Disabled
Your account has been disabled by an administrator. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page here.”
“Opportunity for growth and general knowledge enhancement,” I thought. So away I went to trawl Google and the rather extensive and sleep-inducing Facebook terms, conditions etc. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Cyberspace is awash with forum discussions about the experience of having one’s Facebook account disabled – or even worse (some folks have had their entire profile deleted permanently). It seems that Facebook’s administrators have some automated antispam sleuthing software running on their servers. A good idea in principle – and Facebook certainly has its share of spammers to contend with. But unfortunately human intervention in the process seems somewhat limited. So one’s chances of getting a real human response to one’s e-mailed questions about why you’ve been disabled and whether it can be reversed, are not really great. I’ve certainly had no response so far, and it’s clear that this is a common experience.
Also a common experience is being entirely clueless as to what you might possibly have done to breach Facebook’s conditions. The automated messages from head office provide no clues, other than drawing your attention to the terms & conditions, which leaves many of us none the wiser. As someone said on one forum – and I agree – it’s entirely reasonable for the administrators to run such automated sleuthing processes, provided that this is accompanied with prompt and thorough processes for investigating reports of “false positives” (geek-speak for people or messages incorrectly rated as spam, etc.). However this doesn’t seem to be the case, which is considered very bad form and rather unprofessional by people in the IT industry. And in similar vein, there are no warning messages about suspect behaviour etc – just ‘sudden death’ suspension. So what happens (quite frequently it seems) is that Facebook users unknowingly trip a wire that gets them disabled, and then simply stay disabled for days, weeks, months, or permanently. Some people have struck it lucky with some personal communication – which may or may not lead to them having their names cleared and accounts reinstated. Others have ended up receiving a final ruling from the administrators advising them that their accounts will not be reinstated and expressing “regret” that reasons cannot be given. Most just hear nothing at all ever.
There’s one interesting blog article here: 13 Reasons your Facebook account will be disabled . Raises many possible clues, but no answers really. From reading that and similar articles and trying to understand the Facebook terms & conditions, here I think is my best guess as to my punishable crime. And may my profligate confessions stand as a warning to other would-be loose-living felons …
Facebook’s genre is “social networking”. However it seems that it doesn’t pay to be too liberal with one’s socialising, lest one be judged a spammer. A day or two before my account was disabled I thought to myself in a moment of boredom: “I know – I’ll do some social networking on this great social networking site.” So I set about trawling my longterm memory for names of people who were part of my life at various times in the past 40 years or so, and searching them on Facebook. I hasten to add that this didn’t result in wholesale friend requests – I think I may have lodged 3 in an hour – that’s all the “positive sightings” I had. But what did happen was a fair bit of trawling of long lists of old friends and associates with more generic names. So, you know .. you click on several at random, seeking clues … From what I can gather Facebook’s antispam software gets rather suspicious if a user clicks on too many other users’ profiles in a certain space of time (there’s nothing published about what the offending rate is).
So there it is, for what it may be worth. The sad tale of a young man cut off from society and marooned through wanton loose-living. You may or may not ever meet me on Facebook again. Take my sad tale as a solemn warning as to the perils of excessive social networking. Admonish your children and grandchildren with my story. (It’s just a pity you can’t show them what a social felon looks like … ).
Feel free to share this sorry account with others.

Other worlds

As a parent I must agree with Evan Davey and Raymond Hawkes (16/1) who variously highlight the rich creative stimulus that computer gaming offers, together with the primacy of good parenting in moral formation.

However concerns remain, and Christopher Bantick (15/1) raised weighty issues, which warrant a less reactionary response and more thoughtful reflection. For instance, both respondents emphasise the extensive online friendship networks formed through gaming. Very true. But somehow this seems a disturbingly diminished evolution of “friendship”. Bantick emphasised the isolating impact of gaming on family relationships. Our forbears whose experience of open neighbourhood living is a dream to us, would struggle to conceive of “friends” who will realistically never meet.

The question of violence may be well worn, but can’t be dismissed. Much ancient wisdom testifies that a person becomes whatever their mind feasts upon. Non-violent games are the exception rather than the rule, and many young gamers play for several hours most days. If violent movies have contributed to brutal crimes by people who passively watched them, it’s fair to ask what could develop when a person frequents a violent world in which they pull the trigger. Objective research is desperately needed.