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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Much Too Good For Anyone Else


The Big Trip Up Yonder by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is a light and quick read, easily able to finish in under 20 minutes. Vonnegut, who passed away in 2007, is better known for writing the novels Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five.

Set in a future where aging is no longer a concern, thanks to the invention of something called anti-gerasone, Earth faces an overpopulation problem. New York City had sprawled to Connecticut and personal privacy is a memory, cherished by those who had ever experienced it. Vonnegut returns to this concept years later with his story "2 B R 0 2 B".

This story opens with a cranky Gramps Ford watching a news broadcast in his living room, which is crowded by his extended family. The family - which includes almost a dozen couples - is not visiting, they all share the apartment with Gramps.

Gramps is preparing for "The big trip up yonder",  nearing the end of his life at 172 years of age, and the family is jockeying for Gramps' favour and special mention in his will. That "favourite" seems to change every week, and Gramps' will changes right along with it.

Lou, Gramps' grandson, ends up in the doghouse, and out of the will. ...For the eleventh time.

While some compete for Gramps' attention and try to better their position on Gramps' imposed pecking order, one of their number conspires against Gramps.

Lou catches Morty, his great-grand-nephew, diluting Gramps' anti-gerasone with water from the bathroom tap. Lou can't risk telling Gramps about this, as his status in the group was already at risk. He dare not chance losing any more ground to the vultures.

Lou concocts a plan to enter the bathroom and secretly dump out the diluted anti-gerasone and refill the large bottle from many smaller full-strength bottles. As Lou finished emptying the bottle, there was a knock at the door. It was Gramps. Lou tried to hurry up the process of the bottle emptying by shaking it, lost his grip on the bottle and dropped the bottle on the floor, smashing it to pieces.

Everyone including Lou expected Gramps to blow his top. Gramps simply instructed Lou to clean up his mess and locked himself in his room. Lou spent an anxious and sleepless night worrying about what Gramps would do.

Morning came, and Lou and his wife Emerald (Em) shuffled to the kitchen for breakfast, and when that was complete, Lou set about the task that belonged to the most recently disowned - preparing and serving Gramps his breakfast in bed.

Em decides to join him in his task and the two of them go to serve Gramps his breakfast. They pause at the bedroom door and knock. The knock goes unanswered. A second knock swings the door open - to an empty room!

What happened to Gramps? How does the family respond to Gramps' sudden disappearance? Read the short story and find out. The conclusion and the brief commentary it raises on the effects of overpopulation are well worth the read.

Originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction from January 1954, no evidence has been found of a copyright renewal on the work so it is assumed to be in the Public Domain.

I read the book from Feedbooks and listened to the Librivox recording of the short story, read by Gregg Margarite, both linked below.

Download the ePub at Feedbooks

Download the Project Gutenberg version at the Internet Archive

Listen to the short story:
- Read by Gregg Margarite (1957-2012) at Librivox (Time: 23:11)
- Read by jerryB at Librivox (Time: 23:03)
- Read by Clay Readnour at Librivox (Time: 20:46)
- Read by Phil Chenevert at Librivox (Time: 27:10)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vintage Cookbooks


If you ever wanted to be able to cook like your grandmother, Vintage Cookbooks is the perfect site for you.

It's amazing how many old cookbooks and recipes have been scanned and made available online. At Vintage Cookbooks, many of them are easily available by period and topic, all in one convenient place.

I was impressed with the site owner's devotion to this project which, after reading her words, seems massive. 

Researching material for this site, I came across oodles of websites listing online vintage cookbooks in public domain. Besides Archive.org and GoogleBooks, which have the most original images in their digital book collections, there is Gutenberg.org. However, Gutenberg only has book text transcriptions, or else hybrids, where illustrations are scanned and placed with text transcriptions.

I only intended to wander around the site for about fifteen minutes or so ended up spending an hour or two getting lost in all the links, almost all of which are fully functional. The sheer variety of content is impressive. It's easy to find things by period or date. and there are sections organized by interest as well, such as Childrens Cookery, Home and Garden, Ethnic or Other Languages.

As I wanted this to be as "authentic" as possible, I only included books with actual images for this site. However, these other online cookbooks, though only in text-transcription, are still good. Several of the following sites contain links to transcripts of books printed before the 1700s, even as early as the 1400s. To allow the reader access to these books I didn't include, here are links to websites I came across, whether they included authentic cookbook images or text-only transcriptions: Historic Cookbooks Online, Historical Culinary and Brewing Documents Online, and, as previously mentioned, Gutenberg.org.

Of all the merry things to catch my eye, The Vintage Receipts Blog highlights recipes from the past and tempts you try them, and I made the Sour-Cream Blueberry Cakes. I'd share the results but it was devoured before I could even take a picture. I'd call that success!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Thanksgiving Cornucopia of Old Time Radio Shows



First off, I apologize to everyone for being late with this week’s post. The flu struck. But I wanted to be sure and get out a nice Thanksgiving offering to all our readers.

The Holiday marathon from November to December often requires a lot of travel. Many people travel to see their friends and family during this time. Sometimes this means that people spend hours stuck at airports or crammed into cars. If you are very unlucky, like those poor people snowbound in Buffalo, New York, a few unpleasant hours can transform into days.

To help turn long hours of boredom into something a bit more festive, I’ve gathered a few of the comedy greats and their Thanksgiving radio shows.


The Jack Benny Radio Show
First up we have The Jack Benny Radio Show. Jack is “widely recognized as one of the leading American entertainers of the 20th century”. He was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, Illinois on February 14, 1894. Jack began playing the violin when he was six years old. By age seventeen, he was “playing violin in local vaudeville theaters for $7.50 a week”. During World War II, Jack joined the Navy and often played his violin to entertain the troops.

During his vaudeville time, a succession of legal protests from other entertainers resulted in a slow name change for Jack. When he performed as Benjamin Kubelsky in a musical duo with a lady pianist, another violinist, Jan Kubelik was afraid his reputation would be damaged. Kubelik sued and Benjamin Kubelsky became Ben K. Benny. As Ben K. Benny, Jack performed a “Fiddle Funology”. But another fiddle and patter performer, Ben Bernie, did not like the similar names and sued. So Ben K. Benny became Jack Benny.

Funny how these long forgotten performers were so worried that Jack’s performances would hurt their reputations.

Eventually Jack Benny made it into the movies and onto radio. In 1932, Jack was invited to a guest spot on Ed Sullivan’s radio show. Jack opened his first radio appearance with:
“This is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause while you say “Who cares?”…”

Later that year, Jack got his own radio program on NBC radio. That lasted until 1948 when his show moved to CBS radio. Jack’s show ran on CBS until 1955.

For our Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Radio Shows, we have Jack Benny’s program from November 19, 1939. Jack’s programs featured a “loose show-within-a-show format, wherein the main characters were playing versions of themselves”. Jack played himself as “a comic, vain, penny-pinching miser”. He was joined by a variety of regulars and semi-regulars including his announcer Don Wilson, singer Dennis Day playing a naïve and rather silly young man, real-life wife Mary Livingstone playing a “Mary Livingstone” character that changed from show to show, band leader Phil Harris, and Eddie Anderson as Jack’s valet and chauffeur Rochester.

This Thanksgiving program centers around Jack’s plans for Thanksgiving dinner, Mary’s Thanksgiving poem, and Jack’s unusually large “turkey”. The program’s sponsor at this time was Jell-O (Jack’s program was so popular and so good at selling Jell-O that when sugar was in short supply during World War II, Jell-O had to stop its commercials on The Jack Benny Show because they could not keep up with consumer demand).

Besides the comic patter between the characters, the show also included a song by Dennis Day and musical selections by Phil Harris’s orchestra. In this program, Dennis sings “I Dream of Genie with the Light Brown Hair” and Jack and company slide in a few jokes about Jack’s hair.


Here’s a few comic bits that struck my fancy:
  • Mary complains about a joke, “That’s one of the oldest jokes in the world.” Jack, who is eternally 39, is appalled, “Mary, jokes happen to be my business. If that was the oldest joke in the world I’d be the first one to know about it.”
  • Phil praises his old painting, “Some day that picture will be hanging in Paris, right next to the Mona Lulu.” Jack is amused, “Well. I’m not gonna even bother to correct that. How do you like that, Mary? The most famous painting of a woman in the world and Phil doesn’t even know her name.” Mary answers, “If she was alive, he’d know her name and phone number.” Benny agrees, “And her address and what’s she’s doing Friday night.”
  • Mary’s Thanksgiving poem is titled “Thanksgiving, You’re a Little Mixed Up, Aren’t You, Kid?” and ends with “What’s the difference? What the heck? The turkey’s the guy that gets it in the neck.”
  • Jack, the cheapest person to ever live, boasts about his turkey, “I’ve got the biggest, fattest, juiciest turkey you ever saw.” Don asks, “Where’d you run over it?”
  • Rochester is worried that Jack’s 65 pound turkey may not really be a turkey, “Every time I go in there, she sticks her head in a bucket of sand.”


The Burns and Allen Show
Our second Thanksgiving radio show stars one of the great duos of comedy: George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen. George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on January 20m 1896. He was the ninth of twelve children. When his father died during the influenza epidemic of 1903, little George went to work to help support his family. By age seven he was working as a syrup maker in a local candy shop and he and his three young co-workers were also singing on street corners as The Pee Wee Quartet. He took the stage name “George Burns” when he started working on stage in vaudeville.

In 1923, George met, and immediately fell in love with, a young Irish Catholic lady named Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen. They launched a comedy partnership that lasted for the rest of their lives. George always valued his wife and partner; he is quoted as having said, “And all of a sudden, the audience realized I had a talent. They were right. I did have a talent - and I was married to her for 38 years”. They stared out with George playing the comic and Gracie the straight man but Gracie, with her high-pitched voice, was getting much more laughs. George switched their roles and he started to play straight man to Gracie’s hilarious “illogical logic”. They married in 1926 and later adopted a daughter and a son.

George and Gracie started their radio careers as comedy relief on bandleader Guy Lombardo’s show. They got their own show on February 15, 1932. At first, their show centered on their flirtation, as they played unmarried singles. But eventually George realized their ratings were slipping and they changed to playing versions of themselves as a married couple who were also stars of their own radio show. After the change, their ratings soared and their show “received and maintained  a Top 10 rating for the rest of its radio life”.

The Burns and Allen Radio Show started out on NBC. In 1949, after 12 years on NBC, George and Gracie, as well as Jack Benny and other radio stars, moved to CBS radio. In 1950, their show moved to CBS television.

George and Gracie’s Thanksgiving radio show from November 17, 1942 is titled the “Hat Box Hostage”. The show was sponsored by Swann’s Soap and begins with George complaining about the family budget. He does not understand how they spend so much money but Gracie quickly explains in her “logical illogic” way. They are visited by one of their regulars, a very depressed postman, and then by their announcer Bill Goodwin. Bill turns the patter between the characters into a Swann’s Soap commercial that fits right into the storyline. Like Jack Benny’s show, there is a song, “When the Lights Go On Again” by singer Jimmy Cash. Then it’s back to the story with Gracie shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. To save money, Gracie buys a live three pound turkey to fatten up themselves. George is not to happy about it and neither is Gracie’s pet duck, Herman. There is another musical number and Bill Goodwin comes back to turn the story into another Swann’s Soap commercial then George and Gracie come up with a solution for their turkey problem.


Here are a few comedy zingers that I enjoyed:
  • George complains that they are spending money for milk for cats when they do not have any cats. Gracie responds, “No, but we have mice.” “Well, I don’t get it,” says George. Gracie gives a “logical illogic” explanation, “Well, if I put bowls of milk all around the house the mice will think we have cats and they’ll be afraid to come out of the hole.”
  •  George talks about how saving money will help the World War II war effort and complains that last year’s turkey was too big, “The turkey we had last year should have had a pilot and bombardier.”
  • When Gracie buys the little turkey, she is worried about its feet, “Oh my! His little feet are chapped. He shouldn’t be running around barefoot in November.”
  • Gracie questions the grocer, “Mr. Meyer, why does he make that funny noise?” “All turkey’s gobble,” responds the grocer. Gracie retorts, “Well then he should eat slower.”
  • George is not impressed with the turkey, “He isn’t very friendly. He looks like he’s thinking of biting my nose off.” Gracie responds, “Well, look what you’re thinking of doing to him!”
  • Herman the duck and the turkey first fight then fall in love. George says, “Get this - love comes to Herman Burns.” A little later, Gracie tells George he can not eat the turkey, “George, I won’t let you touch that turkey. It would be inhuman, that’s what it would be. “What would be inhuman?” asks George. Gracie explains, “To eat our son’s fiancé for Thanksgiving dinner!”



The Abbott and Costello Radio Program
Our final Thanksgiving radio program is the Abbott and Costello Radio Program from November 25, 1943. William (Bud) Abbott and Lou Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) were “an American comedy duo whose work in radio, film, and television made them one of the most popular teams in the history of comedy”.

Abbott and Costello began their comedy partnership in vaudeville in 1929. Abbott played straight man to Costello’s “bumbling, wisecracking man-child”. In 1938, they were signed for a series of appearances on Kate Smith’s radio show. They were a big hit with their vaudeville routines. In 1940, they did a summer replacement radio show for Fred Allen’s show. On October 8, 1942, Abbott and Costello launched their own radio show sponsored by Camel Cigarettes on NBC radio. In 1947, their radio show moved to ABC radio and where they also did a Saturday morning children’s radio show, The Abbott and Costello Children’s Show, featuring a little girl vocalist and a little boy announcer.

Abbott and Costello’s regular radio program featured many guest stars. On this Thanksgiving program, the guest star was actress Jane Wyman. Abbott wants to have Thanksgiving dinner at Costello’s house and he wants Costello to cook his pet turkey Ingrid. Costello is appalled and so is the turkey who makes a break for freedom. Like our other two radio programs, Abbott and Costello’s program has breaks for musical numbers, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”, and songs, “Shoo Shoo, Baby”. And there are commercials for Camel Cigarettes sprinkled throughout.


Here are a few funny bits from the show:
  • Abbott claims he will not be hosting Thanksgiving dinner, “I’ll get no turkey at my house.” Costello has an idea, “OK, make it duck.” “Duck?” “Yeah,” Costello explains, “Duck, You know. That’s chicken with snow shoes on.”
  • Abbott claims he only eats the finest cuisine with the “snotty set” and Costello is not quite good enough, “Why, I couldn’t even ask my butler to serve you for dinner.” Costello misunderstands, “Serve ME for dinner? What kinda people come to your house? Cannibals?” “No, no, no, no,” assures Abbott. Costello is still suspicious, “Dracula? Frankenstein?”
  • Costello complains about a lady, “When she sucks a lemon, the lemon makes a face.”
  • Abbott talks with Jane Wyman, “I suppose you think he’s a perfect idiot?” “Oh, no,” responds Jane, “None of us are perfect.”


All three of our radio programs have been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. All three of these recordings can be downloaded or listened to online at the Internet Archive. All three are crisp and clear and very funny. Especially keep your ears open for a guest appearance of Bugs Bunny on the Abbott and Costello Radio Program. And the quackings of Herman Burns the Duck on the Burns and Allen Show is hilarious. Enjoy!

Please click this link to listen to / or download the Jack Benny Radio Show for November 19, 1939: Jack Buys an Ostrich for Thanksgiving.

Pease click this link to listen to / or download the Burns and Allen Show for November 17, 1942: Hat Box Hostage.

Please click this link to listen to / or download the Abbott and Costello Radio Program for November 25, 1943: Turkey Dinner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No Free Lunch: What Does Google and Facebook Know About You?


Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Spotify, all these "free" sites and services aren't always without cost. In other articles on this blog we talk about how much Google and other companies know about you by tracking what you do online. ...but, how much exactly DO they know about you?

Have you ever noticed that Facebook or Google ads seem uncannily related to your own interests? There's a reason for that. Their advertisers are categorized and pay for premium positioning. For example, with Christmas coming up, New Line Cinema would pay Facebook a higher rate to drop ads for their Hobbit box set on the Facebook pages of anyone who included The Hobbit in their list of favourite movies. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Google


Google builds a profile of each of its users. Google collects the data from various sources it controls, such as its search engine, Gmail, YouTube, GoogleDocs, Google+ and Maps. Once you're loggged into your Google account, the data collecting begins.

Google uses all the information it can get to do what is referred to as "data mining" - a concept that has been around for some time. An example of data mining is found with store loyalty programs - those point cards that you carry around to eventually earn enough points to save five bucks on a purchase. The cards enable the stores to track your purchases. Data mining comes into play by taking known data and inferring things from it. For example, if your shopping patterns change to where you're suddenly buying diapers and baby products, the inference is that you have a new family and you may be looking to settle down into a house and move out of your apartment rental, so your name will be placed on a cold-call list for a mortgage broker.

Google can also use this information to target their advertising. If you visit a credit card's web site, you will instantly see ads for CapitalOne or MasterCard.

This targeting technique ends up creating what is called the "filter bubble" that shows up in both ads and search results served up from Google. For example, if Google's profile has you pegged as a Liberal, and you search for "Barack Obama" you will get results that are largely friendly to the President. If Google has decided that you're a Fox News viewer, you'll get all the conspiracy theory stories and nonsense up front in your search results. What should be an open source of information becomes an echo chamber as the more information Google collects, the narrower your view of the Internet becomes.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Google will happily show you what kind of information it has on you:

You can see how Google targets their ads toward your browsing experience here: https://www.google.com/ads/preferences/

Google also keeps a record of everything you've ever searched for. ...Yes, everything. To see what Google has on record for your search terms, https://history.google.com

Many Android mobile devices send GPS information such as location, direction and speed of travel and so on. All of this is recorded as well. To see what Google has recorded for your previous locations, https://maps.google.com/locationhistory

Google also records data about every device that is used to access your Google account and you can see what Google has on your whereabouts here; https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity

Many apps and browser extensions can access your data. To see a list of all the apps that can access your own data and change their security settings here: https://security.google.com/settings/security/permissions

If you wanted to collect all that Google has collected about you, https://www.google.com/settings/takeout will produce that report for you.

Google's tracking and data storage is why we recommend search engines like Ixquick or DuckDuckGo 

Facebook


Facebook is making an estimated $10 billion a year off of its users' personal information. What, you think they did this for free? In just the 2nd fiscal quarter of 2014 they made $2.8 billion.

So what does Facebook know about you?

In a nutshell, everything. Like Google, Facebook creates a profile on each and every one of its users, but unlike Google, its profiles aren't based on educated guesses and extrapolation techniques. YOU tell it everything.

When you filled out your profile, you gave Facebook data like your favourite books, bands, movies, the high school you attended, all kinds of information used to build better predictive models and networks for more precise targeted content. This info also makes for better building blocks for creating a more narrow and impervious "filter bubble". 

How can I find out what data Facebook has collected?

  1. In Facebook, click on the "padlock" icon and select "See More Settings" at the bottom of the list.
  2. Select the "General" settings.
  3. Click on the "Download a copy of your Facebook data" link at the bottom of the screen.
  4. You will be taken to a new screen, click the "Start My Archive" button to download a Zip file that contains all of the data that Facebook has collected. You will be asked for your Facebook password in order to begin the download.



What can I expect to find in the Zip file? Here's the list where Facebook freely tells you what information they're collecting:

  • Any information you added to the About section of your Timeline like relationships, work, education, where you live and more. It includes any updates or changes you made in the past and what is currently in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Account Status History - The dates when your account was reactivated, deactivated, disabled or deleted.
  • Active Sessions - All stored active sessions, including date, time, device, IP address, machine cookie and browser information.
  • Ads Clicked - Dates, times and titles of ads clicked (limited retention period).
  • Address - Your current address or any past addresses you had on your account.
  • Ad Topics - A list of topics that you may be targeted against based on your stated likes, interests and other data you put in your Timeline.
  • Alternate Name - Any alternate names you have on your account (ex: a maiden name or a nickname).
  • Apps - All of the apps you have added.
  • Birthday Visibility - How your birthday appears on your Timeline.
  • Chat - A history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat (a complete history is available directly from your messages inbox).
  • Check-ins - The places you’ve checked into.
  • Connections - The people who have liked your Page or Place, RSVPed to your event, installed your app or checked in to your advertised place within 24 hours of viewing or clicking on an ad or Sponsored Story.
  • Credit Cards - If you make purchases on Facebook (ex: in apps) and have given Facebook your credit card number.
  • Currency - Your preferred currency on Facebook. If you use Facebook Payments, this will be used to display prices and charge your credit cards.
  • Current City - The city you added to the About section of your Timeline.
  • Date of Birth - The date you added to Birthday in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Deleted Friends - People you’ve removed as friends.
  • Education - Any information you added to Education field in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Emails - Email addresses added to your account (even those you may have removed).
  • Events - Events you’ve joined or been invited to.
  • Facial Recognition Data - A unique number based on a comparison of the photos you're tagged in. We use this data to help others tag you in photos.
  • Family - Friends you’ve indicated are family members.
  • Favorite Quotes - Information you’ve added to the Favorite Quotes section of the About section of your Timeline.
  • Followers - A list of people who follow you.
  • Following - A list of people you follow.
  • Friend Requests - Pending sent and received friend requests.
  • Friends - A list of your friends.
  • Gender - The gender you added to the About section of your Timeline.
  • Groups - A list of groups you belong to on Facebook.
  • Hidden from News Feed - Any friends, apps or pages you’ve hidden from your News Feed.
  • Hometown - The place you added to hometown in the About section of your Timeline.
  • IP Addresses - A list of IP addresses where you’ve logged into your Facebook account (won’t include all historical IP addresses as they are deleted according to a retention schedule).
  • Last Location - The last location associated with an update.
  • Likes on Others' Posts - Posts, photos or other content you’ve liked.
  • Likes on Your Posts from others - Likes on your own posts, photos or other content.
  • Likes on Other Sites - Likes you’ve made on sites off of Facebook.
  • Linked Accounts - A list of the accounts you've linked to your Facebook account.
  • Locale - The language you've selected to use Facebook in.
  • Logins - IP address, date and time associated with logins to your Facebook account.
  • Logouts - IP address, date and time associated with logouts from your Facebook account.
  • Messages - Messages you’ve sent and received on Facebook. Note, if you've deleted a message it won't be included in your download as it has been deleted from your account.
  • Name - The name on your Facebook account.
  • Name Changes - Any changes you’ve made to the original name you used when you signed up for Facebook.
  • Networks - Networks (affiliations with schools or workplaces) that you belong to on Facebook.
  • Notes - Any notes you’ve written and published to your account.
  • Notification Settings - A list of all your notification preferences and whether you have email and text enabled or disabled for each.
  • Pages You Admin - A list of pages you admin.
  • Pending Friend Requests - Pending sent and received friend requests.
  • Phone Numbers - Mobile phone numbers you’ve added to your account, including verified mobile numbers you've added for security purposes.
  • Photos - Photos you’ve uploaded to your account.
  • Photos Metadata - Any metadata that is transmitted with your uploaded photos. (this includes things like geostamps)
  • Physical Tokens - Badges you’ve added to your account.
  • Pokes - A list of who’s poked you and who you’ve poked. Poke content from our mobile poke app is not included because it's only available for a brief period of time. After the recipient has viewed the content it's permanently deleted from our systems.
  • Political Views - Any information you added to Political Views in the About section of Timeline.
  • Posts by You - Anything you posted to your own Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates.
  • Posts by Others - Anything posted to your Timeline by someone else, like wall posts or links shared on your Timeline by friends.
  • Posts to Others - Anything you posted to someone else’s Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates.
  • Privacy Settings - Your privacy settings.
  • Recent Activities - Actions you’ve taken and interactions you’ve recently had.
  • Registration Date - The date you joined Facebook.
  • Religious Views - The current information you added to Religious Views in the About section of your Timeline. - Removed Friends - People you’ve removed as friends.
  • Screen Names - The screen names you’ve added to your account, and the service they’re associated with. You can also see if they’re hidden or visible on your account.
  • Searches - Searches you’ve made on Facebook.
  • Shares - Content (ex: a news article) you've shared with others on Facebook using the Share button or link.
  • Spoken Languages - The languages you added to Spoken Languages in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Status Updates - Any status updates you’ve posted.
  • Work - Any current information you’ve added to Work in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Vanity URL - Your Facebook URL (ex: username or vanity for your account).
  • Videos - Videos you’ve posted to your Timeline.

Here's the page where Facebook tells you what it collects: https://www.facebook.com/help/405183566203254

What is the significance of some of this data? Well, let's take two fairly innocuous pieces of data - your Family, and Photos. In "Family" you've probably identified your mother, or probably some cousins. From this information someone can easily discover your mother's maiden name. In your pictures, you probably have a photo album that includes pictures of your pets. What are two very common security questions that people set up as their test question for when they forget a password to something? What is your mother's maiden name, and What is the name of your first pet.

Here's another security risk, and this one's a little more direct. By collecting your login and logoff times, a profile can be assembled of when you're most likely to be online - for a hacker, this means when you're most vulnerable to an attack.

You can see the problem this might create. Other ways this data can be used is if a company or lobbyist group or government wants to target a group - let's say everyone who has more than three links to marijuana legalization groups or pages. You may get added to someone's watch list. Or let's say something a little more sinister, like you suddenly switch your Facebook religious affiliation to Muslim from Christian and start frequently searching for airline seat sales to Syria, you might start pinging on someone's radar.

That's a lot of data, though. How would one sort through it all? Luckily, Facebook provides you with a tool that allows you to search and sort your own data. It's a feature called "Graph Search" that is the public face of the data mining tool that Facebook uses to provide its clients with the data they're looking for.

Right-clicking the ad's top right corner gives
access to some customization tools.
So, how do you prevent targeted ads and bubbled content? The most effective thing to do is not to volunteer a lot of information about yourself. Everything that you enter ends up tailoring your experience to some extent. Another way is to familiarize yourself with Facebook's customization and privacy options. These change so frequently that it's not practical to offer a step-by-step guide here as it will likely be out of date a few days after publishing. Currently, by right-clicking on the top corner of an ad, or on the down-arrow if it appears in your news feed, presents a link that will allow you to customize the ads that you see. Clicking on an item in your news feed allows you to take a survey to make the News Feed better. And by "better" they mean "more targeted". Switch from Facebook to Ello. I'm sure that Ello will still sell client data, but the "filter bubble" effect will be far less prevalent. Other than that, stop using Google as a search engine. Use search engines like Ixquick or DuckDuckGo instead.

Here's the ironic thing, though. Neither Google nor Facebook invaded your privacy. All the information that Google and Facebook tells you it has on you, you gave it away willingly. Be careful about what you do online. There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

More resources:

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf


Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) is regarded as one of the most exceptional figures of modern literature in the 20th century. She was a novelist, journalist and essayist, who wrote primarily about feminism, homosexuality and mental illness.

Woolf experimented with and developed unusual literary tools including interior monologues, dream-states, free association prose and she abandoned linear narrative. She believed her peers needed to look below the surface and beyond the confines of the restricted representations of men and women.

There is a heavy emphasis on poetic symbols and the role of women in the world of academia. I know a lot of readers, reviewers or critics disparage this particular short story, as the mindless meanderings of a scribe.

Not so quick say I, because what may seem like a drifting of thoughts or a jumble of notes thrown together, is much more than that.

Have you ever been lost in thought? Perhaps caught up in a moment of time and spent unexpected seconds travelling through the winding streets of your own mind. That is the premise of this short tale. It actually gives an interesting insight into the creative mind of Woolf .
Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall
The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.
A train of thoughts set in motion by a mere speck on the wall. Much like the patterns on wallpaper, which seem to dance, twist and change to our own personal tunes. As she stares her focus turns inwards.
How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn't be able to say for certain; because once a thing's done, no one ever knows how it happened.
Her mind wanders to the meaning of life. Questioning existence and the lack of control we have over our lives and those of others, despite thinking and believing the complete opposite.
The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization
Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour.Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard
Her thoughts lead to the inevitable question of 'What about after life?' The following sentence is one, which I believe is indicative of Woolf and her immense literary talent. Her sentences role over the tongue and the mind like the sweetest of sugar.
Why, after all, should one not be born there as one is born here, helpless, speechless, unable to focus one's eyesight, groping at the roots of the grass, at the toes of the Giants?
To begin at the end, as at the beginning. (There ya go I'm being prolific, take note) She then takes a close hard look at herself and lets us take a glance inside.
Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people
for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number
She refers to her own image and the discrepancy between what people perceive, what we want people to see and then the actual reality. The real person hiding inside the shell society expects to be exhibited to them. We are like dispersive prisms and our various reflections are the dispersed lights.

The ending is both ironic and amusing. I will leave that to you to find out. Unexpected and yet just right.

Virginia suffered from frequent bouts of mental illness throughout her life, there are many who believe she may have been bi-polar. It would explain the descent into times of deep depression and manic episodes.

During the early stages of a manic episode sufferers tend be very happy, creative and productive. I think those tendencies are evident in her thought processes and most certainly in her writing.

This piece, for instance is a good example of how her creativity swirls with an intense yet rudderless passion.

One can compare it to a ball in a pinball machine, shooting from top to bottom and side to side. Each contact point represents a single thought, which spirals into a tornado then moves along to the next point of contact and becomes a new direction and thought.

All that energy combined with an intelligent mind, an abundance of literary talent and an astute view of society and the world. No wonder Virginia and her work are so highly regarded.

Free downloads of the above story and more by Virginia Woolf
Download to read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf at the Internet Archive here.
Download to listen to The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf (short story collection nr. 5) at Librivox here.