18 April 2012

Giving up Facebook

Giving up Facebook was difficult. I had to face up to the fact that I was thinking about it pretty much whenever I was taking a break.  I started to realize that Facebook took up a fair amount of headspace and time.  Since I don't smoke I don't go outside.  Left with the choice of drinking yet another cup of unhealthy coffee or finding a distraction on my PC I found Facebook curiously addictive.

What did I like about Facebook?   Well I analyzed this carefully and thought about the value proposition.   Ultimately I realized that Facebook offered two things - lots of shallow electronic interactions and meaningless flash animation games.  Since I earn enough to buy a decent PC (or console) and really hot games the games on Facebook offer little.  The only game that meant anything to me was Fairyland and that only because it promised to save the rainforest.  PC games are better without Facebook.  As for meaningless social interaction guess how many Facebook "friends" have tried to get in touch with me since I stopped using Facebook?  That's right... zero.

Facebook's product is your personal information.   It's the ability of Facebook to sell information about you to advertisers.  You are no longer a person, you are a product.  You are Facebook's product.  So in exchange for the "free" services that they offer you willingly divulge your interests, contact details, friends, where you live, where you travel, your political and religious beliefs, and everything inbetween.

And even if Facebook isn't going to capitalize on your willingness to slave yourself out they will sell your details to third parties.  Did you notice the agreement between Facebook and Paypal that allows a one-click purchase system?  How convenient... your money linked directly to your Facebook account.  If you're not scared then you're not a hacker or have any clue what possibility you're giving Facebook by linking your accounts.

So my decision to disable my Facebook account was complicated:   firstly it was interfering with my work productivity by invading my thoughts, secondly it was removing my need for real human interaction, thirdly it was threatening my personal privacy, and lastly it was full of lame people talking about their cats.

Statistically if you give a million monkeys a typewriter and enough time you might expect them to randomly produce the works of Shakespeare.  Facebook is the disproof of this theorem - I really found that my time spent reading Facebook nonsense detracted from the time I had available to read news websites and otherwise improve my understanding of world.  Go check out http://www.failbook.com if you think you can educate yourself on Facebook or otherwise receive valuable informative opinion that will improve your life.

So what was it like?  Well firstly I was a little insulted that none of my Facebook "friends" noticed that I cancelled my account.  I thought about this and realized that Facebook offers a great deal of superficial social interactions.  A Facebook "friend" is meaningless and if one of them disappears there are plenty of other shallow interactions to fill the gap.   Test it for yourself... don't login to Facebook for a few days and see who tries to email or phone you.  You'll discover that Facebook "friends" are a poor substitute for real social interaction.

Then I started craving the various games I had started playing on Facebook.  I suppose it was useful that none of my "neighbours" tried to email me.  The social value was ruined for me when I acknowledged that none of these people were really my friends.  The only game I missed was "Fairyland" which promised to donate money to save the rainforests.  I rationalized that by donating to my church I was actually donating a whole lot more to the planet.... and since playing Fairyland took X hours it was cheaper to donate those dollars directly to the church.

Then I missed Facebook's photo gallery.  So I tried out Tumblr which allows me to upload photos.  So does Flickr.  Picasa doesn't because I use Linux as my operating system.  No problems... Tumblr and Flickr are both more private than Facebook or Google and neither has credit card information.  Failing online storage,  an external USB drive is an affordable backup option.  Plus mine is encrypted with the (free) Truecrypt program which is better than giving Facebook my rights to it.

Rights?  Yes - anything you publish on Facebook belongs to Facebook.  If you put a photo, witty comment or statement, social interaction, or anything on Facebook they can whore it out or use it any which way they want to.  What?  Yes it's true - the fact that you're tagged in a photograph can be used to profile you and target you.   Even if you don't agree to it, if your friends naively agree to have their privacy invaded malicious people can find your details.  Having looked at what an uncertified Facebook developer can do I must tell you that your privacy is history if you play games or use applications on Facebook.

Ultimately although my initial decision to stop using Facebook was because it interfered with work and offered no REAL social interaction my ongoing decision not to use it is because I have to acknowledge that I am not a product.  You can't sell me.  Facebook's chief product is access to the personal details of its users.  It already has the credit card information of millions, the Facebook credit is touted to become it's own currency, it knows where you are, what you're interested in, who your friends are, what clothes you wear, your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, your work history, and so much more.  And it's willing to sell that information to the highest bidder.  You are Facebook's product.  Do you want to be a product?

08 April 2012

Three steps to create a self-signed certificate in Apache for Ubuntu 11.10

It is very simple and quick to create a self-signed certificate on your development machine. Of course you would never use this on a production server because self-signed certificates are vulnerable to man in the middle attacks. 

You will need to make sure that you have the ssl-cert and libapache2-mod-gnutls packages installed.

Step One: Use the ssl-cert package to create a self-signed certificate.  This will create the certificate files in /etc/ssl which is where the Ubuntu default Apache configuration expects to find them.

make-ssl-cert generate-default-snakeoil --force-overwrite

Step Two: Active the SSL module and the default SSL site using the convenience wrappers:

a2enmod ssl
a2ensite default-ssl

Step Three: Restart Apache

service apache2 restart