Wikipedia … oh dear!

I’ve known for a long time – in fact ever since my Librarian colleagues brought it to my attention and advised me to use it with great care – that Wikipedia was, and is, not a reliable source for information. Along with the myth of “just google it” to get information on almost anything … and then not subsequently and consciously make a decision on whether the search results returned were reliable, or even the best, the other myth has been “just look it up on wikipedia”.
I’ve subscribed to this myth – quite literally – donating regularly when asked, thinking that a collective is, and was, a good way to collect and curate information – harnessing the power, enthusiasm and knowledge of the crowd to plant, weed and publish articles. Whilst I realised that it could NEVER be an authoritative reference source, I accepted it as a good, quick and easy way of looking things up. My online dictionary/encyclopedia. Not any more.
I’ve written about why this came to my attention on my other blog – “Just thoughts …” in this article – “Well this is fascinating, and very disturbing …” but I thought it important to bring it to your attention on this blog as well. The issue is that reputable professionals are being targeted by anonymous “editors” on Wikipedia and having entries about them taken down.
As I understand it – and please add to my knowledge if incomplete or incorrect – the way Wikipedia works is that once you’ve established the right to create an entry – a page – that article can be modified through voting up or down proposed changes. Beyond that however it would appear that if you have a privileged position – obtained it would seem solely by virtue of the amount of your activity – you can propose deletion of any other entry, and then it’s up to others to vote to keep an article, or indeed support the deletion. It is therefore very easy to co-ordinate an attack on a Wikipedia page to have it removed. In the case of an individual, if they didn’t create the page for themselves, no reference will be made to the person targeted, they do not have any rights to object, they may not even know the page written about them is under discussion for deletion. They can cease to exist on Wikipedia!!!
So we have an extension to our world of fake news; that is the deletion of truth. What is the world coming to!
 

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

Creating your own online magazine

I am a creature of routine. I used to listen to Today on Radio 4 when I got up in the morning; now because I can’t stand the egos being pushed into my ears, I have a much more peaceful and indeed useful start to the day – after I’ve scanned The Guardian (online), BBC News (online) and Wales Online websites, and checked my email and other social media such as Google+ (alas – soon to be no more), WhatsApp, Twitter and less frequently than I used to – Facebook.
I’ll start at the beginning and describe what I do to curate my interests, my daily internet workflow. The jumping-off point is to check my RSS Feeds using Feedly. What is an RSS Feed I hear some of you say? Well it’s a signal from a website that new content has been posted on a website. So if there are a number of sites that you are interested in, you can get an alert with an extract of content sent to you by what is called a RSS Feed, which you can then pick-up and read in full using a RSS Reader. Now the favoured Reader for a long-time was Reader (from Google) – but as is their wont, Google “sunsetted” it. That is they killed it off. Fortunately a really good alternative came to the rescue in Feedly. Every time I come across a website I want to follow, I add it to my Feedly and, as long as a RSS Feed can be setup for the site, place it in a category for the feed (eg photography, or IT) so that my stream of reading is organised to some level. I could stop there, after all I’ve got the link to the webpage, it’s stored in a category and I can go back and read it anytime I’m online. However, what if I just want to scan quickly the content, and go back to it later, or what if I want to read it online? That’s where Pocket comes in.
If I see an article in Feedly that I want to read later, or even archive, I add it to my Pocket, giving it some tags to help me find it later. I do both of these tasks on a smartphone, or tablet, it’s much easier than using a desktop/laptop as there are good apps which work together for both Feedly and Pocket. Once in Pocket, the article, stripped of everything that is irrelevant, can be read offline – once it’s sync’d the content from the web to your device – or alternatively you can click on a button to read the original article online.
But then occasionally, I come across some content that I want to share more widely – to the Thought grazing community for instance; and for this I use Flipboard which is a really easy way of creating an online magazine; made up of articles (perhaps with comments added) which you found interesting. From my Pocket app, I just click on the Share button and select <Share via …> and chose Flipboard. On Flipboard I’ve created a couple of “magazines”, so I chose which one I want to “publish” the article to, and perhaps write a comment about the article; and then Post it. That’s all there is to it, but what do you need to do to replicate my workflow and produce something like this …
View my Flipboard Magazine.

Curating the web
Step 1 – create a Feedly account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – select websites you want to get an RSS feed from [see above, or read What is an RSS feed?]
Step 3 – check periodically to see what has “popped-up” in your feed reader.
Saving for another day, or for off-line reading (bookmarking+)
Step 1 – create a Pocket account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – save to Pocket from your browser (perhaps using a browser extension), or from a sharing icon in Feedly
Step 3 – tag your articles, and read at your leisure, or when you want to
Creating a magazine to share with others
Step 1 – create a Flipboard account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – create a Magazine within your Flipboard account, and decide whether to make it Private or Public
Step 3 – add articles to your magazine from your Pocket app (as described above) , or from your web browser
Good luck!

iPhone Battery Replacement

I was in conversation the other day with someone who was complaining about the short battery life of their iPhone. I remembered that I’d put an alert in my calendar for later this year to take my 6s, and Jenny’s SE down to the Apple Store to get a battery replacement under their “special offer” scheme.
This came about as a result of them changing the way the operating system (iOS) worked on older models – slowing them down – to retain battery life. This caused a bit of a stink at the time, and so Apple responded with a replacement programme that means a replacement battery would cost £25, as opposed to £79, through 2018.
Apple also issued an advisory note to tell users a little bit more about how batteries would cease to work at full performance in this note which also explained how you could manage performance – which is of course what they should have done before they implemented it in the background without telling anyone. This article tells you how you can monitor and manage your battery health.
So … if you have one of the affected models (iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus) you should consider taking advantage of the Battery Replacement Offer, but for a few people with a 6S, it could be a free replacement.
The Apple Store calls …

"Just google it …"

Something I’ve only just recently become aware of is that people don’t know the difference between Google and an internet browser. Now this is a spectacular success for Google (the company) and drives their revenues up a lot, but means that users are potentially missing out on a lot in terms of their internet experience so this short note attempts to address that balance, albeit in a very small way!

How did this come about? Well principally because Google introduced an app for the iPhone and other smartphones and tablets called (unsurprisingly) … Google. It presents in a nice easy to use interface a way of searching for information on the internet – that is how Google started after all, which is how they also managed to corner the term for searching the internet – “just google it”. [You don’t hear many people saying – “just bing it”, or “just yahoo! it” – in fact in the case of the latter they just gave up and decided to use the Google search engine and ditch their own one.] So … at a stroke, new users to digital devices thought that the way to connect to the internet was through their “Google” app.
No, no – there is another way that presents you with so many other possibilities and no, no – you don’t have to restrict yourself to using just Google as your search tool. [In an earlier post I described some experiments with using DuckDuckGo and other search engines and I will return to that subject at another time.] So … what might you use?
Well even using Google’s Chrome browser is better than using the Google app on your smartphone or tablet. It probably uses the same software  “under the hood” based on Google’s Open Source Chromium code base but it does offer the possibility of adding extensions, and allowing the use of alternative search engines.
But what else could you use? On my iOS (Apple mobile devices) I tend to use Apple’s Safari browser. On my desktop/laptop I tend to use Chrome, or Firefox (another Open Source project) from the Mozilla Foundation. Then there’s Microsoft’s Edge – supplied with Windows, or Opera (a lean,  clean browsing machine), or I could be really radical and use something like Brave (and I am) which doesn’t track my browsing history … but I’ll leave that for another day, and for another post.
For today, the message is simple … don’t use the Google app as your main internet browser, just use it if you want to for simple searches. Find a browser you like and use that … and maybe even choose which search engine to use, it doesn’t need to be Google – I’m using Chrome with DuckDuckGo as I write this. You won’t regret making a change to your internet browsing/searching experience – believe me!
 
 
 

I've now had an introduction to the SBOD

Now I’ve been uber-charitable about Apple and their MacOS, but yesterday and today I was introduced to the Spinning Beachball of Death which froze me out of doing anything on my iMac whilst I trawled the internet (on another machine) trying to find out what could be wrong.
I’d not left the machine on, in sleep mode, and yet it just crawled through boot and sign-in until it basically gave up the ghost when it got to the Desktop. What could it be?
Obviously it was probably a hardware problem … wasn’t it? Well a bit of Cmd + R work, running disk utility showed everything was in fine fettle, many re-boots later things seemed to be improving, but not all was right. What could it be? Try logging-in to another account on the same machine I thought. Well I had one, but it wasn’t an Admin account, but it was worth a try. This seemed to be much better so I was now thinking about Corruption of the User Profile and the need to Restore from a Time Machine backup … maybe. But then, out of the blue, all seemed to be well again … until this morning, when the SBOD returned.
This time I knew it was likely to be something to do with my User Profile, so I setup a new Admin account once I managed to get to the screen that allowed me to do that. Logged out, and then logged into the new account and, as I hoped, the login screamed through. I set up the machine and right at the end I was told that my Paragon NTFS for Mac (which allows me to read Windows files) needed to be updated as it was not optimal for my version of MacOS (High Sierra, 10.13.6). The penny dropped! This software wasn’t installed on my MacBook Pro. This piece of software was interfering with Finder on the iMac in some way to slow everything down. Quickly into System Preferences then, disable the NTFS for Mac driver, and re-boot. All seems to be well. Some hard lessons learnt and a lot of time wasted.
The lessons learnt?

  1. Have a spare Admin account on your machine so that you can check your user profile
  2. Disable, or Uninstall any software that you’re not using because inevitably it will go out of sync with something else
  3. Make sure that you know how to start your machine in a number of different ways to check for faults – I had to print out a cheat sheet to do this
  4. Make sure you have an up-to-date backup … just in case; I did, so that was my last option, and I’d have been OK … I think!

 

ICE – that's In Case of Emergency

Recent discussion in U3A has been on what role a Group Convenor should have in case of emergency. It’s a difficult one, I haven’t fully resolved in my mind what responsibility I should have – I think it’s one that’s worth discussing. Should I, can I request that information be lodged with me? Should the group member provide it to a membership record on a database system that the Convenor can access? Or, should – and this is the purpose of this post – the individual take the responsibility upon themselves. This can be done by either carrying a card – this one is used by The Ramblers – there are many providers of this sort of card, eg ICEcard, or should we use the facilities on our Smartphones which allow access without unlocking the phone from the Home screen.

How much do you know about computer fraud?


Recently in a U3A meeting we discussed Computer Fraud. We often do, or so it seems. If it’s not fraud, it’s security online, or scams and what’s done with our data … but more about that later!!!

This short post is just to alert people to a simple, short quiz (or test) that has been produced in conjunction with the UK Government to help people recognise fraudulent activity.

Go to this website, satisfy yourself it’s genuine and is a government backed initiative. According to the Daily Mail – so it must be true – only 9% of people taking a test were able to accurately recognise all the scams and false messages, that despite a claim that 80% felt that they were able to recognise a fraudulent message.

Decisions, decisions … Adobe Lightroom

A couple of U3A members have expressed an interest in purchasing Lightroom. It’s a confusing time in the Adobe world at the moment and the window for purchasing a stand-alone desktop version of the software (Version 6) is possibly closing, possibly … I don’t know!!

Adobe wants its users to move on to a Subscription-based Photography Plan which includes access and use of Photoshop as well as Lightroom, or alternatively a new Lightroom Creative Cloud Plan that is cloud-based with loads of cloud-storage and access to just Lightroom.

I decided to join the original plan about two years ago, and I hadn’t regretted it (until recently), but it does involve an ongoing commitment of c.£10.10 (currently) per month to allow you to keep editing your photos. If you cancel your subscription you can still access them, but the main editing functions are disabled. On the plus side you are provided with all the updates and new versions of the software whilst you still pay your subscription. As it was the main piece of photo software I used – it was a no-brainer for me back in 2015.
When I moved from Lightroom v.5 back in 2015, I opted for the Adobe Photography (20Gb) Plan Creative Cloud subscription. This is obtained from this link.

However beware. Adobe are pushing the cloud based service, rather than Lightroom as a desktop application, and are confusingly using the name of the old subscription Desktop application – Lightroom CC – to describe the mobile-world, cloud-based version which they are trying to push to the consumer market.

The desktop application is however ALSO part of the Photography Plan and IN MY HUMBLE OPINION this is the one you should be installing if you opt for the Photography Plan. It’s NOW called Lightroom Classic CC. This is the version that I upgraded to in the New Year – you could call it Lightroom 7.
However, as I said at the top of the message; if you just want a standalone, one-off purchase of Lightroom v.6 with a CD, it’s still available from Amazon for instance (also John Lewis, Curry’s and PC World I believe), or from Adobe direct.

Installing the standalone version from Adobe is relatively straightforward. You need to create an AdobeID as part of the process, and then you get a Licence Key. If you want to save c.£6  and NOT have the CD you can get it as a download to install the software – see the links from the Amazon page to get the “ xxx Activation code by email” version.

If you have an earlier version of Lightroom (e.g. v 4 & 5) you can upgrade it from this link and save yourself about 50% on the purchase price of Lightroom v.6, and if you’ve installed the Lightroom CC trial here’s a link if you want to change to Lightroom v.6

Now this is important. Lightroom v.6 will not be upgraded in the future. It is not straightforward to go back to Lightroom 6 from Lightroom Classic CC (v.7) without losing some of the information you’ve applied with that later version. However for the amateur photographer there is plenty in Lightroom 6 and unless you’re thinking of buying some very expensive camera bodies and lenses in the future you probably won’t suffer from just using Lightroom v.6.

Installation assistance for Lightroom 6 is provided here.
If you decide to go down the Creative Cloud subscription route (as I did initially), you should be careful during the installation process, and you may find it useful to follow the assistance provided in this link.

If you want to ask me any questions before making a decision, don’t hesitate to do so, it will be my pleasure to try and answer them. If I can’t answer the question I will point you to a link which I think will answer the question.

So what is my recommendation? This matter has taken up a lot of my time just recently and I’ve agonised over the decision I should make. You can read about my reasoning and the decision I eventually made to probably stay with Lightroom v.6 whilst trying out Lightroom Classic in this blogpost.

Sharing an image (or album) from Google Photos

To finish off this series of posts on using Google Photos, this post complements the email that I sent out to the Cardiff U3A Computer Group which encouraged them to do some “homework” and share a photo stored in Google Photos with me.

This post uses a couple of photos which I took this week of some toadstools that had appeared in our garden after the heavy rains we’ve had this month and which Jenny was worried might be Honey Fungus. I took them to achieve an identification – which I hope I’ve got right!
From my  Google Photos desktop I can see this …

 

… I need to select Create, then Album and click on the photos I want to put in the Album …

 

… and click on Create and give the Album a name …

 

… in this case I’m calling the album “Common Inkcap” and then click on the Tick in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
Now I can Share the album using the ShareShare icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen, and clicking on Get link

… and after clicking on COPY I can email the link to the album to anyone, or if you’re a Google+, Facebook or Twitter user I can share a link to any of those social media sites.

 

At another time, you can change the Sharing options from the More options  Moremenu in the top right hand corner of the screen …

 

… and click on the slider to let others if they have the link to see the album, and you’ll see a screen like this …

 

… and you can choose how others will interact with your album, but that’s for another day.

 

In case you’re interested here’s a link to the album