Facebook’s wretched application platform

facebook-logo During 2007, Facebook released an API (Application Programming Interface) that allows third party developers to create “applications” that run within Facebook, accessible by Facebook users and that have the ability to interact with Facebook accounts. Unfortunately, in contrast to Apple’s iPhone App Store, Facebook place little restriction on what sort of application can be developed and they care even less about the quality of such applications. As a result, these days the average Facebook “news feed” is a cluttered malaise of lame and pointless messages from third party applications that Facebook users have added to their profiles. It was quite simply the worst decision Facebook have ever made and remains so to this day, in my opinion.

I now as a matter of course hide these applications whenever they appear in my news feed, because they are almost 100% of the time always absolute garbage. It’s come to my attention recently that I now have quite an extensive list of applications in my “hide list”, just one short of a hundred in fact:

  1. All About Me
  2. Are You A Top Or Bottom?
  3. Are You Gay?
  4. Are you just ONE in a 1 MILLION?
  5. Bejeweled Blitz
  6. Bouncing Balls
  7. Daily Horoscope
  8. FarmVille
  9. Friends For Sale!
  10. Gem Blitz
  11. Get To Know Me
  12. Hottest Person Contest
  13. How average is my life?
  14. How Big is your Penis?
  15. How Common is your name?
  16. How Dateable are you
  17. How Dirty is your mind?
  18. How girly are you?
  19. How Good Are U At Gay Sex
  20. How good are YOU in bed?
  21. How good is your Grammar?
  22. How good is your medical knowledge?
  23. How Jewish are You?
  24. How long would you survive in the ghetto?
  25. How many Sex Partners will you have?
  26. How MEAN are you?
  27. How Retarded are You?
  28. How Sexy are you?
  29. How Sexy is your Zodiac Sign?
  30. How will you DIE!?
  31. If you’re single, take this quiz.
  32. iHeart
  33. Jewel Puzzle
  34. Know-It-All Trivia
  35. Likeness
  36. LivingSocial
  37. Lollipop
  38. Meaning Behind Your Name!
  39. MindJolt Games
  40. My Aquarium
  41. My Polls
  42. Nicest Person Contest
  43. Plastic, Nerd, Jock, Emo, Loner, Popular, or Normal?
  44. Polls
  45. Reign of Vampires
  46. Roller Coaster Kingdom
  47. Send Your Friends a HAPPY THOUGHT!
  48. Send Your Friends a Slap on the butt!
  49. Sorority Sisters
  50. Super Slot Machines
  51. Superhero City
  52. Tango Head Masher 3000
  53. Tattoodle
  54. Test your english
  55. Texas HoldEm Poker
  57. The London Underground Test
  58. The Official Michael Jackson Quiz
  59. What “Periodic Element” are you?
  60. What % Gay are you?
  61. What animal is your spirit guide?
  62. what coulor looks good on u?
  63. What do Your Eyes Say About You?
  64. What does your Eye Color reveal about you?
  65. What Era Should You Time Travel To?
  66. What is the name of the man you’ll marry?
  67. What is your Dream House?
  68. What is your patronus?
  69. What Kind of Gay Are you?
  70. What kind of heart are you?
  71. What Michael Jackson Song are You?
  72. what part of manchester are YOU really from?
  73. What Psychiatric Disorder do you have?
  74. What role will you play in the Apocalypse?
  75. What Tattoo Should You Get?
  76. What type of Flight Attendant are you?
  77. What type of gay are you?
  78. What will your Son’s name be?
  79. What’s Your Best Quality?
  80. What’s your geek level?
  81. What’s your Maturity Level?
  82. What’s your old lady name?
  83. What’s your true choir personality?
  84. Where in Stockport are you from?
  85. Which ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ character are you?
  86. Which “Spaced” character are you?
  87. Which Airline are you?
  88. Which color is your aura?
  89. Which Friends Character are you?
  90. Which Gilligan’s Island Character are you?
  91. Which Muppet are you?
  92. Which of your Chakras is most open?
  93. which part of Salford are you from? INIT
  94. Which Tube line are you?
  95. Who is your lifetime match?
  96. who loves you?
  97. Who would be your celebrity boyfriend?
  98. You’re sooo Good Looking
  99. Your Tarot Card Reading

This list in all likelihood represents only a tiny fraction of all the lame applications available on Facebook. They’re just not necessary, any of them.

For comparison, I only use two applications (in addition to the standard Facebook applications such as Photos, Video, etc):

  1. Twitter – allows me to update my Facebook status via Twitter
  2. Friendwheel – generates a visual representation of the links between you and your friends, but without posting garbage to your wall (and thus other peoples’ news feeds).

That’s it, and I could easily live without the second one. The first one is however genuinely useful and to not use it would simply create more work for me updating social networking sites.

The madness has to stop some day.

Update 14/09/2009: It would seem that Facebook are finally listening with the launch of Facebook Lite, a version of Facebook designed for slower computers and low bandwidth Internet connections. One of its best features is that it does not include Facebook applications anywhere. You cannot access them and they do not show up in the news feed. Result! Now all that’s needed is to have that as an option on the full version of the site. Also, my list of hidden applications is now over 120 long.


Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s controversial release

_45204807_megra226b_ap I am completely torn over the highly contentious decision to release on compassionate grounds Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, otherwise known as the “Lockerbie Bomber”, convicted in 2001 for the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie terrorist atrocity. al-Megrahi was the only person ever to be brought to justice for the outrage and has always denied any involvement. Whether this is true or not is not important.

The Scottish Justice Minister responsible for the decision faced a terrible dilemma. On one hand he had a reponsibility to uphold Scottish law regarding the release of terminally ill prisoners, regardless of the nature, scale or notoriety of their crimes. On the other hand he was under immense and almost unbearable pressure from the United States and the bereaved families of the victims. The UK government’s position on the matter is at this point unknown but it is widely believed that it will condemn the decision when parliament is recalled.

Of course, at the end of the day, while the United States is entitled to express an opinion on the matter, they had no control nor should they have expected to have any control over what happened to al-Megrahi. This was a crime that was committed on UK soil and so from start to finish had to be dealt with using the UK and Scottish justice systems, regardless of the predominant nationality of the victims. One might also argue that the United States has no right to comment on the situation since it was largely the United States’ foreign policy which created the motivation for the attack in the first place. Just saying, like.

_46240802_tripoli2 The reaction of the Libyan government and public on the arrival of al-Megrahi in Tripoli after his release was absolutely abhorrent, however, regardless of whether or not he is truly guilty of the crimes for which he has been convicted. It was made very clear by both the UK and US governments that it would be inappropriate and very bad for diplomatic relations should Libya allow a “hero’s welcome” to take place, which it did anyway. It was distasteful and wrong and I believe that Colonel al-Gaddafi should and will suffer for it in some way. Indeed, a royal visit to the country is already being reconsidered.

Assuming for a minute that he is guilty, and I have to have enough faith in the UK justice system to believe that he is, I think it highly unlikely and therefore highly unfair that he was the only person brought to justice over an atrocity which quite clearly required the involvement of more than just one person. The investigation into the incident should have been more wide reaching and should have brought more people to justice. For this reason it is valid to argue that al-Megrahi has been made a “scapegoat” for the attack, with the world’s anger and rage focussed solely on him. But this does not mean that somehow the laws of the country in which he was brought to justice and imprisoned did not apply to him. He was entitled to apply for and be granted release from prison on compassionate grounds just like any other prisoner in the UK. If we start making exceptions where do we stop? Where do we draw the line before the rights of prisoners become meaningless?

So I really don’t know what to think, it’s a difficult one. As a citizen of this country I feel I have to stand behind and have faith in its justice system, but at the same time I can appreciate the outrage and grief suffered by the families of the victims over what was the world’s worst terrorist atrocity before 9/11. Certainly, having salt rubbed into their wounds by the rapturous reception he received in Tripoli was both unnecessary and cruel and thoroughly undeserved, regardless of the decision to release him.


Broadband advice

photo-routerI am often asked by friends and family about which broadband service to buy and time and again my honest advice is ignored in favour of price and/or offers. Recently, certain amongst my friends have come-a-cropper as a result of this and have learnt their lesson, so I have decided to impart my advice to everyone, officially.

First, there are four simple DO NOTs:

  1. Do not order BT Broadband.
  2. Do not order Sky Internet.
  3. Do not order Virgin Media Internet.
  4. Do not order broadband from your mobile phone operator.

I don’t care how cheap these services are or whether or not they’re bundled with anything else. They’re bundled and/or cheap for a reason and with broadband it very much is a case of you get what you pay for. That’s the harsh honest truth. If you want a fast, reliable and un-crippled Internet connection then you’re going to have to stump up a bit on your monthlies.

Once this is established, this is my definitive, boilerplate, standard advice:

  1. Buy this router. That one. Not a cheaper one, that one. No, you cannot use your existing BT Internet, Sky Internet or Virgin Media router.
  2. Order this service, or this one (the “Pro” version) if you download lots of movies or use iPlayer (and similar) frequently.

This isn’t the cheapest router in the world, nor are they the cheapest ADSL services in the world, but there’s a very good reason for that. They work. All the time. You get what you pay for. It really is not worth trying to save what amounts to a matter of a few pounds per month for what is nowadays an essential service.

You are of course free to ignore either or both of these, but do so at your peril and if you get into difficulties with your broadband service having ignored one or both then I at no point want to hear about it.

I would also take this opportunity to point out that whilst Wifi is a useful technology, you should not leave yourself dependent on it. Most wireless networks work fine, but at the end of the day there is no substitute for eight strands of copper. There is a plethora of variables that can affect the performance of a wireless network, so if your Internet connection is critical, use a cable.



Windows 7

290px-Windows_7 Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, has been released to manufacturing following a successful release candidate. Windows 7 really is what Windows Vista should have been in the first place.

Although I’ve been ensconced in the OS X and Linux world for some years now, I installed the last release candidate in a virtual machine and had a play with it the other week and I have to say that I’m reasonably impressed. Microsoft may have finally got their act together over their historically and notoriously awful operating system.

Windows Vista was a terrible embarrassment to Microsoft. Although Windows XP was long in the tooth, it was, once patched up with all the necessary service packs and software updates, a stable, useable and relatively lean operating system; a workhorse that served most of the world’s desktop computing needs. Windows Vista, on the other hand, was an absolutely awful replacement for it, burdening users with stiff system requirements and features that were unnecessary, awkward and to an extent crippling with regards to day to day usability. Because of this, uptake of Windows Vista was poor at best, people simply preferred Windows XP. Manufacturers started to offer “downgrade” options on new PCs, which is frankly absurd. Microsoft had to extend XP’s sales cutoff dates over and over again due to the demand.

In reality, Windows 7 is not much more than a giant service pack on top of Windows Vista rather than an entirely new operating system. But it’s a wide-reaching service pack that puts all the wrongs right and it is important that Microsoft give it a new name/major version number in order that it can be distanced from its abominable predecessor.

overview_hero20090608 Parallels can be drawn between Windows Vista/Windows 7 and Mac OS X Leopard/Snow Leopard, the latter being Apple’s forthcoming major operating system update which promises refinement on the existing operating system rather than any new features. Most notably it will halve the disk space requirements due to Apple dropping PPC support and thus an end to the need for huge universal binaries.

However, the two operating systems continue to differ greatly when it comes to price. Apple will charge $29 for a single Snow Leopard upgrade, whilst Microsoft will want $219 for an upgrade from Vista. That price is for the “Ultimate” version, which I’m using for comparison because Apple doesn’t have all this “Home, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate” nonsense, they just have one version with everything included. It’s a staggering price difference, Microsoft want nearly eight times what Apple want. In this regard, Microsoft haven’t learnt anything.

As good as Windows 7 is, it’s not going to tempt me away from the Mac OS X world. There are various reasons for this. Firstly, it’s a little bit “too little, too late” from Microsoft for me, but mostly it’s because I feel much more “at home” with OS X due to its UNIX underpinnings. It’s not even about the Apple hardware that makes me a “fanboy” in this regard; I would gladly run OS X on any old black box given the ability. The fact that Apple’s hardware is nice and shiny is simply a bonus.