Meep Meep

August 19, 2010

Adjusting Facebook Privacy

Filed under: Facebook — meepmeep @ 9:09 pm +0000
By default, Facebook categorizes people into two lists: “friends” and “everyone” (everyone else other than “friends” — the general public).  You can control, what each of these lists can access in your profile, via the maze that is Facebook’s privacy settings (more on this later).  Facebook has this nice feature where you can create additional friend lists, where you can assign individual friends to one or more of these lists.  This is useful, because each friend list can be given permission (or denied permission) to access different parts of your profile.  In addition, you can individually control which friend list can view a given status update; for example, if you want, you can restrict some status updates to be viewable only by a select few, but other updates can be viewed by all of your friends.

As an example, here are the lists that I currently have (this is just an example — I’m not necessarily recommending that people do this):

  • “family” — all of my family and trusted friends are in this list.  They get to see virtually everything in my profile. This includes status updates with locations of where I am and where I’ve been (“places”, basically).
  • “inner” — Everyone in “family” is in this list, plus a few others.  These get to see almost the same things as “family”, except that they don’t get to see status updates with locations.  I have everyone in “family” in this list, because most Facebook clients only allow you to specify a single list when specifying who can see a status update; they don’t allow you to specify “family” and “inner”.
  • “friends” — All other friends.  These don’t get to see my address, along with a couple of other things, although they do get to see my google voice phone number and email addresses.  I don’t mind giving out my google voice number because I can always turn on call screening and blacklist a problem phone number.
  • “other” — This is a special “exclusion” list. When allowing friends to view parts of my profile, I often allow “friends” but exclude people in “other”.  I have very few people in this list (in fact, I think I have only one person there).  Basically, I accepted someone as a friend, and I have absolutely no idea who they are.  I think they’re a friend of other friends, but I’m not sure; it might be just some person trying to friend themselves to everyone in a stranger’s friend list.  I probably shouldn’t have accepted them, but I did.  They get to see a little more than the general public, but really not much more.
So, the first step in Facebook privacy controls is to create additional friend lists, and assign your friends to one or more lists, depending on how much access you want to give them.  Note that you don’t have to assign a friend to a list; if you don’t, they fall into the default “friends” list.

To create a new friends list:
  1. Go to “Account–>Edit Friends” (“Account” is in the upper-right-hand corner in the FB web interface).
  2. In the left-hand column, under “Lists”, you’ll see “Friends”; click on that.
  3. Your list of friends will appear.  At the top of the list, you’ll see the button, “Create New List”.  Click on that to create a list and add friends to it.  Note that, after you’ve created a list, you can later add additional friends to one or more lists using the “Add to List” button at the far right of their name.
Once you’ve organized your friends, you now get to delve into the nastiness that is Facebook privacy.  There are at least four separate and different areas from which privacy is controlled; to get to three of them, use “Account–>Privacy Settings”.

From here, the first area is under, “Basic Directory Information” — click on “View Settings”.  For me, I’ve only restricted the bottom three (“education/work”, “current city/hometown”, and “interests/other”).  For these, I choose “Customize” for the privacy setting, and then “Make this visible to” everyone in “friends” but “hide this from” everyone in “other”.  This gets shown as “Friends only; Except: Others”.  I should probably restrict the viewing of my friends list, but I currently don’t.

The second area is under, “Sharing on Facebook”, and I chose “Custom” for that.  There is a link at the bottom of the table, called “Customize Settings”.  Once you click on that, you can set permissions for all sorts of things.  For me, most of them are set to the same custom setting as above: “Friends only; Except: Others”.  I do have my birthday restricted to myself only, but only because I’m paranoid (and hate having my birthday celebrated).  NOTE: Facebook just added some new settings related to the new Places feature, and you need to change them, because the defaults can cause nasty privacy issues.  Here’s how:
The third area is under, “Applications and Websites”; click on the “Edit your settings” link just below that. From here, you’ll probably want to uncheck or disable just about everything.

The fouth area is the photo albums.  The easiest way to set the privacy for albums is by:
  1. Click on “Profile” at the upper-right.
  2. Click on the “Photos” tab.
  3. Just above your photo albums, you’ll see a link called, “Album Privacy”.  Click on it.
  4. Now, you can adjust the permissions of which list can access which album.  Note that permissions are controlled at the album level; you can’t specify permissions for each individual picture.
There is a free iPhone app for changing your privacy settings:
I don’t think it yet supports the new “Places” feature, and so you should probably use the above link for that.

Update August 23, 2010: you should also configure Facebook to tell you whenever a “new” PC/Mac or device accesses your account. This can be useful for being notified if your account gets hacked. To find out how, see here:

Note that you do need to logout and log back into Facebook, for all of your devices, in order to register them.


January 21, 2009

MobileMe Alternatives

Filed under: iPhone — meepmeep @ 10:21 pm +0000

Update: Feb 2009: Google has released Google Sync for the iPhone.

These days, a number of people seem to be looking for MobileMe “alternatives” or “replacements”.  While I still think MobileMe is worth it for many people, I thought I’d summarize some of the websites that provide bits and pieces of “MobileMe-like” functionality.  While MobileMe provides an easy-to-use, “one-stop-shopping” site that bundles various useful features together, many of these features can be found in free, lower-cost, or reduced functionality forms, if you’re willing to do a little work and/or possibly go through some pain. (more…)

January 14, 2009

Selective Push Email for the iPhone

Filed under: iPhone — meepmeep @ 1:31 am +0000

Push email is a great idea: instead of wasting power, periodically checking for new email, new email is pushed out to the iPhone as soon as it is sent.  You get longer battery life, and you get faster notification of email.  However, if you get any significant amount of mail, one of the first problems that you may encounter is that the iPhone constantly beeps/buzzes.  You have new mail!  You have new mail!  You have new mail!

For example, much of my email is non-urgent mail: newsletters, mail from mailing lists and special interest groups, etc., etc..  I don’t need to be interrupted for these, but that’s what push email does: I get interrupted for each and every email that I receive.

Fortunately, there is a way to get push email only for selected email, although it does require an intermediate-level of computer expertise.  The basic idea is to have two email accounts: a main email account, which autoforwards select urgent/important email, and a push email account, to cause the iPhone to beep/buzz.  The one big requirement here is that the main email account must support server-side email filtering, and the filtering must also support email forwarding (more on both of these, later).  It works like this:

How a message is handled for selective push email

How a message is handled for selective push email

Let’s say that your Significant Other sends a message to your main email account.  This is the account that you will use for all of your email correspondence; you will read all of your email using this account, and you will send all of your messages from it, too.  Once received, the filter rules on your main email account will then look at the received message, and decide whether or not to autoforward a copy of the message to your push email account.  Messages that are not deemed urgent/important will simply sit in your main email account, waiting for you to read them, and you will not be interrupted by your iPhone.  Messages that are deemed urgent/important will still remain in your main email account, but the filter rules will also autoforward a copy to your push email account, which will cause your iPhone to beep/buzz.  Since the message is from your Significant Other, the server-side filter rules will autoforward it to your push email account, and your iPhone will beep/buzz.

Note that the push email account is only used to make the iPhone beep/buzz.  It’s not used for reading/sending email, and so you’d just periodically delete all mail in the push email account.  The only real downsides of this approach are that the unread messages here will show up in the iPhone’s “unread messages” count, and that you periodically have to delete the push account messages.


August 22, 2008

Bookmarks for the Disorganized

Filed under: Evernote — meepmeep @ 6:54 pm +0000

These days, bookmarks and tagging seem to be all the rage in the Firefox world.  Mozilla recently announced the winners of the Extend Firefox 3 contest, and lifehacker has an article on that.  Four of the 13 are bookmark- or tagging-related.  While these are certainly useful to many people, they’re probably much less useful to those of us who are disorganized.

To properly use bookmarks, they must be correctly organized into bookmark folders and be tagged with the appropriate keywords.  As you add more bookmarks, you must continually sort them into the proper folder and insure that you’re consistently using the correct tags.

As for me, I have a hard time doing this.  While I can make an initial stab at sorting my bookmarks into various and sundry folders, it’s hard to keep up with new bookmarks.  I tend to bookmark, and bookmark, and bookmark.  After a long while, I have a daunting pile of bookmarks that dares me to organize it.

Tags add another whole new dimension of work for me.  I also use, as it’s a great way of sharing links between browsers.  The problem that I eventually had with is that you have to be religiously consistent with tagging.  Sometimes, I’d leave off a tag when tagging a URL, or I’d add another useless tag.  My account has nearly 1300 bookmarks, and around 370 tags.  Too many of these tags have only one bookmark associated with it.  That’s not good.

Another problem that I have with is that it turned into the “great bookmark black hole” for me.  I’d put bookmarks into it, and I could never find them again.  All too often, when I searched for a bookmark, I could never find the bookmark, because the keywords I used didn’t appear in the tags, the URL or the bookmark title (they would appear in the web page, but doesn’t record that).  I generally don’t use the “notes” field because it’s too much work for me to maintain.  Searching was also not as fast as I’d like, although it’s fast enough for many people.

Now, I want to emphasize that is a great service.  Used properly, it’s wonderful, and many people love it.  Unfortunately, for me, I’m too disorganzed to use it properly.

Computers are supposed to make life easier.  I shouldn’t have to spend time on mundane tasks such as organizing bookmarks.

That’s where Evernote comes in.

Evernote is a program designed to save notes — in text or picture form.  While it’s not designed as a replacement for bookmarks, it has a number of features that make it attractive:

  • You can save part or “all” of a web page into a note, and the web page URL is automatically recorded.  (Although I say, “all”, it doesn’t quite get everything.  Evernote records most of the text, but the formatting is often lost.)
  • If the bookmarked page goes away, you can still have the important web page text available (assuming that you copied it into Evernote).
  • You can easily synchronize between multiple PCs and Macs.  Your notes are also accessible via a web browser.
  • When you synchronize, everything gets mirrored into a local database.  You don’t need an internet connection to view and search your notes.
  • With a local database, searching is fast.
  • Evernote can even search for text in images.
  • An iPhone client exists, although it does not mirror notes locally.  With the iPhone, you need an internet connection to access your web-based notes.
  • If you still want to use “bookmark folders”, you can organize notes into different “notebooks”.  However, you don’t get hierarchical folders with this, as you can’t put a notebook inside of a notebook.
  • You can still use tags, if you’re feeling brave.

The big advantage here is that you can easily copy the important parts of a web page into a note, and Evernote takes care of automatically recording the URL for you.  You generally no longer have to tag URLs (but the feature is there, if you still want to do that), because the web page text acts as tags.  You don’t care if words like “the”, “and”, or “you” get indexed, because you’ll probably never search for them.  Instead, you’re going to search for the real keywords, like “bookmark” or “iPhone”, which should be, hopefully, part of the web page text.  This makes searching really easy, and, if you should find yourself without an internet connection, you can still view the important text.

These days, I no longer bookmark.  Instead, I blindly copy large chunks of web pages into Evernote (the entire web page article, if I can manage it).  Not only does this make it easy to search, but it also gives me a copy of the important text/images, if the page goes away, or if I happen to be somewhere without an internet connection.  Once I find the note I want, there’s a little icon for me to click, to bring me back to the original web page.

Side notes:

  • Evernote is free, as long as you don’t upload/synchronize more than 40MB of data per month (synchronization is done via Evernote’s servers).  If you go over the limit, you won’t be able to synchronize until the next 30-day cycle.  While this is enough for many people, it won’t be enough for others (it wasn’t, for me).  If you need to synchronize more than 40MB/month, you can upgrade to a premium account for $5/month or $45/year.  With a premium account, your limit is increased to 500MB/month.
  • The free Evernote accounts are synchronized using an unencrypted link.  If you’re simply recording public web page text, this generally isn’t a problem.  However, if you want the synchronization to be done via SSL, you have to upgrade to a paid, premium account.

Now, Evernote isn’t a 100% replacement for bookmarks.  Although I no longer use the pull-down bookmark menu, I do put frequently-used bookmarks onto a toolbar.  If I use a bookmark frequently, there’s no real need for me to put it into Evernote.

Also, some people may find that they’ll still want to organize notes into notebooks, and tag them.  While blindly dumping notes into Evernote is great for searching, you have to remember that a note/bookmark is there before you can search for them.

For example, when I first started using Evernote, I copied over as many of my link as possible.  While going through this long list, I encountered bookmarks that I’d totally forgotten about.  These were interesting bookmarks, and I’d completely forgotten that they were there.  Being able to search is all well and good, but, if I don’t know that something is there, I can’t search for it.

That’s where notebooks and tags come in.  If I just blindly dump notes into one notebook, it’s hard to browse them.  However, if I use multiple notebooks and tags, I have some semblance of a chance to encounter long-lost interesting notes.  This does, of course, require maintenance.  Right now, I’m trying to use as few notebooks/tags as possible:

  • The vast majority of notes go into a generic “my notebook”.
  • Some of the more interesting notes go into various “interesting” notebooks (as few as possible).  These exist only so that I can find interesting stuff by browsing, later.
  • New notes are automatically put into a default notebook called “Unfiled”, so that I can easily see how large the daunting pile is.  Fortunately, the majority of these get dumped into the generic notebook, and so sorting is simplified.
  • I use very few tags.  The few tags I use happen to be tags that have little or nothing to do with the note text, such as “To do” (basically, to-do notes) or “Wishlist” (things that I’d like to buy someday).

For more information, see the Evernote home page at (check out the YouTube video introduction).  It was also recently featured on G4’s Attack of the Show (via the Evernote blog).

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