Tag Archives: mobile

The Lesser Evil of Selfie Sticks

I’ve known about portrait distance for a while, and often thought that was a downside of using fixed-lens phone cameras for portraits. To frame someone’s face in a phone you have to either zoom (losing detail) or hold it close enough that the viewing angles distort the face. I prefer using my phone for long shots and using a camera with an optical zoom for portraits.

Unexpected consequence: Selfies are now a major source of young people’s self-image…which is distorted, leading them to feel worse about themselves and even seek out plastic surgery.

The researchers looked specifically at selfies taken from 12 inches away — a common distance for someone snapping a selfie without the assistance of a selfie stick. In a selfie taken from that distance, men’s noses appear 30 percent wider and women’s noses appear 29 percent wider than they actually are.

I think we can all agree that selfie sticks are a lesser evil than unnecessary cosmetic surgery!

Update: From the Facebook comments, here’s a link to a series of portraits taken at distances ranging from 2 meters down to 20 cm, demonstrating how different your face looks at each distance.

More on Facebook Re-Engagement: Accidental Post by SMS!

Facebook, like Twitter, has offered post-by-SMS for ages. That’s how you posted from your phone in the days before everyone had smartphones, before the mobile site was reliable, and before the app launched. And even after those options were widely available, it still takes a lot less bandwidth if all you want to do is post a short status.

Anyway, people are running into problems with it because…

  1. Facebook sends two-factor authentication-by-SMS from the same shortcode.
  2. They’ve has started sending re-engagement notices* via SMS to people who only wanted to use SMS for 2FA, not notifications.
  3. Hardly anyone remembers that Facebook does post-by-SMS.
  4. Everyone’s used SMS bots that react to “STOP” commands.

Replies to those re-engagement notices are going to the number used for post-by-SMS, so people are accidentally posting “STOP” (and the occasional more angry statement) to their profiles.


Update (Feb 19): Facebook plans to deprecate post-by-SMS as a result of this fiasco. I wonder if they plan on keeping SMS notices for people who don’t want the app but do want alerts? ‘Cause removing that could also be a sneaky way of pushing holdouts to use the Facebook app instead of the mobile website + SMS notifications. (Hmm, can websites send notifications in iOS yet?)

*Facebook has always let you choose to get notices by SMS. Again, in the pre-app days, it was the only way you could get mobile notifications. Even now, if you don’t want to run the app on your phone for privacy or other reasons, but you do want notices for replies such, it’s a good fallback. But it sounds like Facebook has started sending extra notices as part of their win-back messaging.

Android Oreo Won’t Stop Vibrating

I finally discovered why my phone has been vibrating on most incoming messages since upgrading to Android Oreo, even when sound is on: It’s now a per-conversation setting, so even though I have Messenger set to sound only, that only applies to new senders. I had to go through my saved text messages and turn vibrate off in every. single. saved. conversation.

Deleting a conversation also makes it use the default setting the next time that person sends a message, so if you don’t want to save the existing texts, deleting them is faster.

Not terribly convenient, Google.

Of course, that only fixes it for Messenger.

Notification settings are per-app now, and it seems Oreo assumes you want it to vibrate along with the ringtone unless the app turns it off. And of course not all of them let you turn off vibration independently from sound. They haven’t needed to until now, after all.

Ironically, this includes Chrome. I’m trying out Mastodon (find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social for general conversation and @kelsonv@photog.social for photos), and for now I’m using the embedded Chrome app. And I can’t fine-tune the notifications because Google’s own flagship browser doesn’t include the options it needs on the new version of their OS! 🤦

It’s amazing more email accounts weren’t hacked back in the 2000s

At a tech training session, I wanted to get access to some of my class-related email on the training computer. But I didn’t want to log into my primary email on an open network, or on someone else’s computer at all. I have no idea what they’re logging, whether they’re doing SSL inspection, whether there’s a keylogger on it — probably not, but who knows?

Heck, I didn’t even want to use my own device on the hotel Wi-Fi without a VPN, and that was at least secured by WPA2! (then again…)

I ended up forwarding the extra class materials to a disposable email account and logging into that one. No risk to other accounts if it got sniffed, at any level.

But I remembered how we all used to get at email when traveling back in the early 2000s, before smartphones, and before every laptop and every Starbucks had Wi-Fi:

Internet Cafes.

We’d walk into a storefront and rent time on one of their computers. Then we’d go to our webmail site and type in our primary email login and password over plain, unsecured HTTP without TLS.

I’d never do that today. Admittedly, I wouldn’t need to in most cases — I can access my email wirelessly from a device I own that I carry in my pocket. (Whether that’s a good thing remains up for debate.)

But more importantly, we know how easy it is for someone to break into that sort of setup. Even if your own devices are clean, someone else’s computer might have malware or keyloggers or a bogus SSL cert authority on their browser to let them intercept HTTPS traffic. An HTTP website is wide open, no matter whose device you use. And an open network is easy to spoof.

So these days it’s defense in depth: If it needs a password, it had better be running on HTTPS. If I don’t trust the network, I use a VPN. And I really don’t want to enter my login info on somebody else’s device.

Not impressed with the Google Assistant

I’ve had the “Google Assistant” on my phone for a few weeks now. Since I don’t use the always-on voice activation, this means it’s pushing extra notifications based on what it thinks I want/can use. Fortunately it doesn’t do audio alerts, so it’s a lot less intrusive than it could be. I figured I’d give it a try and see if it turned out to be useful (or creepy).

The alerts I’ve gotten fall into the following categories:

  • Estimated commute time based on current traffic. This would be more useful if it wasn’t based on the freeway, which I never use to get to or from work because it’s such a pain. Though on a trip to San Francisco, it popped up transit delays, which would have been helpful if I’d actually been going anywhere beyond walking distance that day.
  • Weather changes. This is kind of useful, but I have a widget to show the same info.
  • Hours and offers for stores I have just left. At least three times, I’ve walked around a grocery store or Target for 30-40 minutes, consulting my shopping list on my phone all the way, and it has popped up with info when I load up the car. What’s the point of that?
  • Potentially useful information for someplace nearby, but that I’m not going to. I work near an airport, and it’s repeatedly sent me the terminal layout. (The one time I actually went to the airport, I was already on a shuttle to the remote terminal — which isn’t on that map, incidentally — before it sent me that one. Better than the return trip, though, when it sent me a map after I’d boarded the plane.) Once it tried to help me with a mall restaurant while I was at a different restaurant. Another time it sent me info about a hotel I had driven past.
  • News articles about Trump. As if they’re hard to find. No further info in the notice, just “There is a new article about President Trump.” (Or something along those lines — I don’t recall the exact phrasing.)
  • Premiere dates for two TV shows that I watch. This one impressed me, since it correctly picked out two of three returning shows that I watch, and has not tried to plug anything else. It makes me wonder what it’s mined to figure that out, but I’m impressed it caught the nuance of which two DC/CW shows I watch. (OK, Flash is easy, but it somehow figured out that I was interested in Supergirl but not Arrow or Legends of Tomorrow.)

At this point, I think the experiment has run its course. The only category that’s been consistently useful is the TV premiere schedule… and that only comes up a couple of times a year.