Keep the Social in Social Networking

Stop wasting time chasing likes and accumulating followers and “friends.”

Twitter LogoToday, my friend Andy started a job at Twitter.

Andy and I met a little over seven years ago on Twitter. He, in fact, was the first person I followed there.

Back in those days, Twitter was only a year or so old and no one really “got it” yet. Actually, I don’t even think the folks who made Twitter got it. They promoted it as a “microblogging” platform, a place to share very brief comments with others. Did they ever dream that it would become what it has become? A valuable and timely source of news and information? The world’s “water cooler” for chatting, venting, and sharing?

This morning, when Andy announced that he was tweeting from Twitter’s U.K. headquarters, I realized that not only had we met on Twitter, but that Twitter had become a source of our livelihoods. Andy works at Twitter now, so he’s on their payroll. And I’ve written courses for Lynda.com about Twitter, so I get royalties for sharing my Twitter knowledge.

Funny how that worked out, no?

The Frustration of Facebook

Facebook LogoI really don’t like Facebook, but like so many of my friends, I find myself drawn to it. It has so much potential to be a truly valuable social networking service and enough of my friends understand that to make it worth visiting.

But at the same time, I find it immensely frustrating, mostly because of the number of people who just don’t seem to get it. I let some of that frustration out the other day after reading a post by one of my friends — coincidentally, someone else I met on Twitter — that proved how little she understood the “social” aspect of social networking.

She’d shared a humorous photo that had made the rounds at least two weeks before, presenting it as if it were something new. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much except for three things: (1) she considers herself a social networking “expert,” (2) her accompanying commentary clearly indicated she thought she was so clever for finding and sharing the image, and (3) I know she’s friends with at least one of the people who’d shared the photo when it made its original rounds so she should have seen it when the rest of us did. It’s this last point that bothered me most: she obviously wasn’t looking at anything that the rest of us shared. She was just posting whatever she found.

And posting and posting. Dozens of Facebook status updates with links and images every day, about half of which I’d already seen days or weeks before.

For some reason, Friday’s post was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I posted a status update that said:

If some people would READ their Facebook timeline as much as they POST to it, they’d discover that about 50% of what they post as new and novel was shared by their friends on Facebook 2 weeks ago. #JustSaying #FunnyThenNotNow

I know I wasn’t completely off-base because 12 people “liked” it. That’s slightly above average for a status update that doesn’t include a photo. (More on that in a moment.) But one of my friends commented to say, “Wow…that’s kind of mean.” And another one added, “New, novel, Facebook all in one thought? Oxymoron there fly lady. Think it’s vacation time. Don’t pack the cranky pants.”

And that’s when I realized I needed a break from Facebook. So I pretty much took the weekend off.

Chasing Likes, Follows, and Friends

I began to realize a few years ago that a lot of people were using social media as a way to stroke their personal or business egos. (Hell, it’s a lot easier than blogging, which actually requires you to come up with original content.) I think that realization hit me when I heard about Klout. That’s a social media monitoring service that tells you how “influential” you are. Your Klout score is a number and apparently a lot of people who should have more important things to think about think their Klout score is vitally important.

I’m not sure how you build up your Klout score. I’m not sure because I don’t care. I don’t have the faintest idea of what mine is. From the way people talk, I suspect it has to do with how many Twitter followers and Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections you have and how many Google+ users — yes, there really are some — have you in their circles. It probably also takes into consideration things like retweets, likes, and shares — at least it should.

Stop Hijacking Tweets!

One of my pet peeves with certain Twitter users is the way they retweet content by copying and pasting tweets instead of using Twitter’s built-in retweet feature. What they’re doing is hijacking content. Even if the author’s name appears in the tweet (usually after RT), the hijacker’s account is the one that appears when it’s subsequently properly retweeted by others. It’s like taking credit for someone else’s comment or link or photo.

It’s a slime bag way to use Twitter for self-promotion.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about and want to learn, read this.

As a result, to some people it becomes vitally important to accumulate followers, friends, connections, and circlers (or whatever Google+ calls the people who supposedly monitor your activity). And it’s equally important to post new content on the social networks with the ultimate goal of attracting attention to pump up that Klout score. So lots of these people post all kinds of things all day long.

I guess they figure that if you throw enough crap at a wall, some of it’s gotta stick.

Or maybe they just assume that everyone who follows them on social media does it they way they do: a quick glance a few times a week to see what others are saying. They figure that if they post a ton of stuff, something will be seen. So they go after quantity and not quality.

Of course, there are dozens of “viral” websites cropping up every day to provide content that’ll get social networkers the likes and shares they crave. Any site with the word “viral” or “share” in its name exists solely for that purpose. They have staffs who comb the web for interesting or amusing content and repackage it on their sites surrounded by dozens of ads. They write headlines designed to hook bored readers and drag them in. You’ve seen them: “This second grader’s revenge against Common Core math will make your day” and “Bella Thorne Suffers “Major Wardrobe Malfunction” at Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards: Picture.”

Quote List
How many of these do you see on Facebook every day? Too many, I’ll bet.

Then there are the lists: “16 Alarming Airline Secrets That Will Change How You Feel About Flying.” Or the simpler lists that just appear in images.

And the inspirational quotes, superimposed over (often inappropriate) photos.

Love Mom
I didn’t share this. What does that really mean? That I don’t love my mother? Or that I don’t want to clutter up my friends’ news feeds with idiotic crap?

And the short stories of friendship or love or faith — that end with a statement implying that you’re uncaring S.O.B. if you don’t share it with everyone you know on Facebook.

This is the (mostly) crap people are “sharing” in search of likes and shares and retweets. And the people who share this (mostly) crap don’t understand that they are being manipulated into promoting websites that have hijacked content solely so the hijacker sites can get hits and maximize ad revenue.

And Facebook doesn’t help matters. Instead of showing me everything that the people I follow post on their own timelines — like Twitter does quite faithfully — it uses some mystery algorithm to determine what appears, what order to put it in, and how many times to show it. So I wind up missing half the content posted by the people who tend to share interesting stuff and get stuck looking at a lot of crap because my friends happened to comment on one of their friends’ mindless drivel.

Social Is More than Sharing

It’s all about likes and retweets and favorites. Apparently, that’s what most people want. It’s a good thing, too. Because most people can’t be bothered to participate any more than with a simple click on an icon indicating their approval.

Deep discussion is rare. Very rare. I’m fortunate that I follow a few interesting and thoughtful people and they follow me. I’m fortunate to get the few exchanges of comments and ideas that I get. I know that now.

But it still frustrates me.

How can something be social when there’s no real interaction between people? I post a photo, 20 people click a like button. Is that a real “social” activity? (Tip: Updates with photos are far more likely to get “likes” than those without.)

I share a link to an article Hobby Lobby trying to use a claim of “conscientious objection” to avoid providing health care to employees that includes birth control coverage and I don’t get a single comment. Is it possible that no one has anything to say about this?

(And don’t get me started on the people who do comment based on an article’s headline but obviously haven’t read the article.)

Maybe the problem is what I expect from social media. I expect a two-way exchange. I expect civil discourse, conversation to carry an idea forward or sideways or simply expand it.

That’s why I got hooked on Twitter so quickly — I was building relationships with people there. These people were keeping me company throughout my work day, when I was stuck in a home office in front of a computer. They were there when I needed a break. They were my water cooler companions.

There were plenty of two-way exchanges. I was even meeting Twitter friends in the flesh — I remain very good friends with more than a few.

To me, that’s what social networking is all about: making and communicating with friends.

It’s social.

Real People, Real Friendships

Andy lives in the U.K. I’ve never met him in person; I’ve never even spoken to him on the phone or on Skype. Yet I know that he’s a techie, he loves Lego, and he’s been through a divorce. He’s someone I can communicate with every day, the guy I can find at the “water cooler” and exchange links, comments, and gripes with.

There’s a pretty good chance I’ll meet Andy in person in April. He’s coming to Twitter headquarters for some orientation. I’m in the Sacramento area with a wide-open schedule. I’ll work my schedule to meet his.

To me, social networking is social. It’s an exchange of information and ideas — an exchange that works two ways. I’ve built good friendships with the folks who understand that, folks like Andy who see how social networking can truly enrich our lives.

You Can’t Get There from Here

Another Apple Maps fail.

I’m planning a trip to Pullman, WA next Thursday to attend a beekeeping seminar. I got the street address of the college campus building I need to go to in an email message. Under OS X Mavericks, I can point to the address to display a map of its location, like this:

Address in Email

I clicked the Open in Maps link to open the location in the Maps application that comes with Mavericks. Then, because I was curious about how long it would take to make the drive, I clicked the Directions button in Maps. I filled in my current location in the Start box and Maps recognized it as my current location. Then I clicked Directions.

Here’s the result:

Maps Fail

If you can’t read the note on the right, here’s what it says:

Directions Not Available
Directions cannot be found between these locations.

Of course, when I went to Google Maps and plugged the same info in, I got complete directions:

Google Maps

Hello, Apple? How about leaving the mapping to the experts? I never asked for Apple Maps on my phone, iPad, or desktop computer.

The apps you provide with the OS are like tools for getting a specific job done. When you provide tools that don’t work, it’s like reaching for a hammer and having it break when you need to bang in a nail.

What’s Louder? My Helicopter or Car?

I finally take the decibel meter for two rides to find out.

Radio Shack Decibel MeterI don’t know why I own a decibel meter. I just do.

I might have bought it years ago when I tried to stop developers from putting the Hermosa Ranch subdivision at the end of Wickenburg Airport’s runway. (I won that battle even though I lost.) Or I could have gotten it before that. I’m sure it had something to do with aviation because I bought it as a piece of Flying M Air equipment.

In any case, I have one — a Radio Shack model — and recently found it among the electronic junk in my old office. I was very surprised to see that the battery still worked.

Penny w/Ear Plugs
Penny in the passenger seat of the helicopter. These cotton “earplugs” stayed in about 3-1/2 minutes on this flight.

I wanted to see how loud my helicopter was in cruise flight with the doors on. You see, Penny the Tiny Dog often flies with me as a passenger and I simply can’t get any kind of ear protection to stay in place over her ears. I’m worried about hearing damage over the long term. I figured it might be a good idea to see just how loud the helicopter was.

And the answer? The cabin of my 2005 Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter is right around 100 decibels at cruise flight — 110 knots — with all doors on.

That didn’t seem like very much to me.

That got me wondering…how loud was my 2003 Honda S2000 with the top down cruising at about 65 miles per hour? A recent ride with the meter and a friend gave me the answer. Would you believe it’s just about the same? We got readings of 95 to 100 decibels when we kept the meter out of the wind.

No wonder I’m starting to get symptoms of tinitus. Sheesh. Nothing I drive is quiet.

An(other) Apple Maps Fail

This example was so outrageous, I had to share it.

I spent last weekend in California with friends. (Blog post to come, eventually.) On Friday, they needed to take care of business in the Folsom area. We decided to have lunch while we were out.

My friends are not smartphone people, although one of them does have an iPod Touch that she uses with various apps on WiFi. In an effort to show how useful a smartphone could be, I used Apple Maps and my preferred navigation app, MapQuest, to navigate to their primary destination. It worked like a charm.

Google AppAfterwards, I used the Google Search app to perform a voice search (on my iPhone 4; no Siri) for “restaurants serving breakfast in Folsom California.” The app understood me perfectly and displayed a list of results. We decided on the Sutter Street Grill. The entry for the restaurant included its address as a link, as you can see in the screenshot. I tapped the link to view the location in Apple Maps.

Apple Maps ExampleAnd that’s where things got weird. It showed me the location on the map, but no matter how far I zoomed out, I could not see the dot representing our current location. And then I realized that the body of water on the map was a lot bigger than the lake we’d driven by.

Apple Maps ExampleI tapped the arrow beside the location on the map. And that’s when I discovered that the map was showing us a location in New Zealand.

Here’s where I see a problem. I’m in California. The phone knows I’m in California. Yet when I tapped the address, it displayed a location on the other side of the planet.

And no, the location wasn’t incorrect in the link — although the street name does not include the word “historic.” For some reason that I can’t understand, Apple Maps decided to display 811 Sutter Street in Canterbury Seaview, New Zealand, 7,111 miles away, instead of the 811 Sutter Street that was less than 5 miles away.

Come on, Apple. Firing people isn’t going to fix the problem. Let’s get down to business and make this app work right.

By the way…the restaurant was great!

R44 iPhone and iPad Power and Mount

What you need to get the job done — and how I did it.

One of the great things about the R44 is the DC power port located rather conveniently between the two front seats facing backwards. At first glance, it seems as if it would be the perfect accessory for charging any number of devices.

Well, it is — but not without jumping through a few hoops. The trouble is, on a Raven II, that port is connected to the 28v DC power system and puts out 24v to 28v of power. Plug the wrong kind of DC accessory into it and you can fry your device.

Seven Years of Struggle

Like most pilots, I can certainly use that power port to charge any number of devices: cameras, phones, and, most recently, an iPad. And since buying my helicopter more than seven years ago — has it really been that long? — I’ve tried numerous devices to make it work.

I should state right here that I’ve had passengers simply plug car chargers for their phones into that port. They did it without asking me — you know how passengers can be — and I never heard about any harm coming to those phones or the chargers. But not only does the label on the port assure me that it’s 28v, but a call to the Robinson factory confirmed it. I was not about to plug any 12v charger or power cable I owned into it without stepping down the power.

To that end, I purchased a little box that supposedly made any conversion I wanted. I dialed in 24v (which is apparently close enough to 28v to make everyone happy) to 12v, plugged in my devices, and it worked.

Until the day I was warming up the engine with two photographers on board and began to smell burning electronics. (I have a very good sense of smell. I once woke up in the middle of the night smelling smoke. In the morning, I learned that a building about a mile away had burned down overnight. But I digress.) I reached back and felt for the box. It was melting. I pulled the plug, glad that I was still on the ground, and later threw it away.

When I got my Moitek Mount, which has three Kenyon KS-8 gyros, I bought Kenyon’s 28v dual inverter to power two of them. (The third is powered by a battery pack.) To date, that’s the only device-specific power supply I’ve found that accepts 28v input.

Bestek MR-C21ANext came “the turtle.” My friend Don recommended it to me and that’s what he called it. It’s actually a Bestek USB Charger, model C21A. It’s a DC to USB charger that has 4 USB ports. It accepts input of 10v to 30v and supposedly outputs up to 2.1 amps. By that time, that’s what I needed — I had an iPad 2 and was beginning to use it for Foreflight. As the manufacturer advised, however, you should only use one port when charging an iPad. What I discovered is that if I used the iPad in flight, even with just one USB device plugged in, I could not maintain a charge on the iPad. Although it said it was charging, the power was still trickling away. Yes, I was able to stretch the iPad’s use out to 12 hours on a very long cross-country flight, but that’s because I kept shutting it off when I didn’t need to consult it. And it irked me that I couldn’t charge my phone at the same time.

I should mention here that I tried a variety of other solutions for DC to USB. I must have more of these damn devices than anyone on the planet. The turtle worked best — but it didn’t work good enough to make me happy. The others mostly didn’t work at all.

When I bought a new iPad, the problem came to a head. The turtle couldn’t provide enough power to even indicate that the iPad was charging. On a recent day-long charter with several off-airport stops and long waits, my iPad went completely dead. Not acceptable.

Mediabridge to the Rescue!

With another very long cross-country flight ahead of me, I decided to stop screwing around and find a solution that worked flawlessly. So I began a search for a DC to USB charger that could charge both my iPad and my iPhone at the same time.

Mediabridge USB ChargerI found the solution on Amazon.com: the Mediabridge High Output Dual USB Car Charger for iPad and iPhone. This device takes input from 12v to 24v and outputs a total of 3.1 amps: 1 amp on one USB port and 2.1 amps on the other USB port.

Long iPhone/iPad CablesI coupled that with a pair of KHOMO Extra Long USB Sync Cables for iPhone/iPad. These cables are 6 feet long. I needed the length to safely run the cables from the middle of the aircraft to the place I’d mounted my devices. More on that in a moment.

This afternoon, I went out to the helicopter, plugged everything in, and flicked the Master Battery switch. Sure enough, my iPhone and iPad both indicated that they were charging.

Total cost of this power solution: $12.99 + $9.99 = $22.98.

Cockpit Management

Empty Mounts
Here are the two RAM mounts, empty, mounted on the Robinson GPS bar. You can see the tray behind the iPad mount.

Mount with iPad & iPhone
Here are the mounts with the iPhone and iPad installed and turned on. No, the glare isn’t much of an issue in flight. (Overheating in direct sunlight is another story, though.) As you can see, the bar does not interfere with my use of the pedals. Remember, the bar is a Robinson component; not something I whipped up and installed myself.

cable ties
Here are the wire tie pieces I use to keep the wires tidy.

Tidy Wires
I attached the wire ties to the side of the instrument panel with the adhesive pieces. I looped the ties wide enough to pass the end of a USB plug through.

more tidy wires
I did the same along the side of the pilot seat. This keeps the wires from getting tangled in the collective, which would be a serious problem.

Of course, my solution isn’t limited to just the power accessories discussed above. I’m a strong believer in having a tidy cockpit — especially when flying solo or flying long distances. I already have mounts for my iPhone and iPad that keep them within reach without blocking my view of any instrument or what’s outside the cockpit bubble.

My solution has multiple components:

  • A customized version of the GPS mounting bar Robinson offers. Mine was installed by the folks at Helicopters Northwest at Boeing Field in Seattle. It includes the bar and a semi-useful tray that I clip duty sheets onto when I fly. (Before I got the iPad and Foreflight, I used it to display charts or lists of airport frequencies.)
  • A RAM mount for iPad with glare shield clamp. I clamp it to the base of the tray on the bar.
  • A RAM mount for iPhone with U-Bolt Rail mount. A friend of mine customized the U-Bolt mount to remove the U-Bolt and add a plate he made in his shop. A pair of straight bolts attaches it to the bar.
  • A number of adhesive wire tie holders with wire ties. I found these gems in a great little hardware store in Chelan, WA and bought a ton of them.

Let me take a moment to talk about RAM mounts. I love RAM mounts. It’s a component system, so you can mix and match parts. What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow in a different aircraft or with a different device. But RAM has you covered. You just get the pieces you need and use them with other pieces you already have. For example, I already had the custom U-bolt thing for another purpose; I just repurposed it with the iPhone mount. Ditto for the iPad mount; it came with a kneeboard. Mix and match. Well made stuff, too.

So if you think you need to enlighten me on how RAM mounts suck and how what you’re using is so much better, save it. I have a sizable investment in RAM equipment and will not switch now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, I’m not saying that my solution, as outlined here, is “the best.” It’s the best (so far) for me. But it all hinges on the availability of that Robinson GPS bar. It’s not easy to get; for a long time, Robinson wouldn’t sell them. I’m not sure if they’re selling them now. But it’s a great add-on for any Robinson. Rock solid, bolts onto the frame, great platform for any equipment you need handy but out of the way.

I do, however recommend mounting your devices with sturdy but easily removable mounting components affixed to something that won’t vibrate like crazy, is within arm’s reach, and doesn’t block your view of anything.

I ran the wires — including an audio cable so I could listen to music in flight — through the loops I made in the wire ties and made sure they were tight. (I’m thinking of braiding them to keep them all together but haven’t decided if that’s a good idea yet.) I wrapped any excess around the bar over my feet. I can then plug in the devices on both ends.

It’s a temporary solution that is extremely effective in keeping everything neat without any modification to the aircraft.

Works for me.