Posts Tagged 'twitter'

If you want smart kids, show them your smartphone

A couple of hours ago, I finished putting my four-year-old to bed. Like most kids of her age, she likes to prolong bedtime as long as possible, knowing Daddy’s a bit of a soft touch. So, after several stories and songs, she starts with the questions. Tonight’s opening gambit was: “Daddy, what does a mosquito look like?” (She’d earlier heard me say I was bitten by one the other night.) I tell her it’s a bit like a fly, only with a smaller body, longer legs and a needle for a mouth, which it uses to suck your blood. “Can I see a picture of one on your phone?” I whip out my iPhone and call up a picture of a mosquito on Google Images. “How do they bite you?” she asks.

“Would you like to see a video of a mosquito biting someone?” She squeals an excited “yes”. I pop up the YouTube app and search for ‘mosquito biting’. Sure enough, I find a video of a mosquito perched on someone’s finger biting them and then flying off. I show her, pointing out what’s happening in lurid detail and explaining in a toddler-friendly way why they do it, how you can repel them and how you can treat their bites. The Q&A continues for ten minutes or so, with me able to answer all her questions instantly with real-time multimedia accompaniment. We touch on malaria in Africa, mosquito nets, antihistamine and immunisation, at which point – curiosity satisfied for the night – she settles down.

I don’t mind being suckered into prolonging bedtime for a few minutes when she is clearly not only learning things, but more importantly learning *how* to learn things, in a way that’s both accessible and fun. She knows the difference between Google, Wikipedia and YouTube, and which on-screen icons to press to call them up, even though she cannot yet read or write. She knows I can show her a map of anywhere, instantly, and ‘fly’ over the satellite-photographed terrain of Google Earth. She knows she can look at her friends’ houses on Google Streetview and deftly navigates the 3D scenes on the phone’s touchscreen. In a few years, she will learn that she can learn even more by connecting to people all over the world on social networks such as Twitter.

Our night-time discussions over the weeks have ranged from art to astrophysics, animals to animation, geography to geopolitics, biology to ballet. She knows there’s a device in Daddy’s pocket that can show her almost anything she imagines and help satisfy any curiosity. It encourages her to ask more questions and to learn even more. Yes, she also knows she can watch ‘Charlie and Lola’ and other CBeebies favourites on BBC iPlayer, or play Disney Flying Fairies. Often I let her. Entertainment and play are equally important to a child’s mental, physical and social development as education – and, indeed, they are not mutually exclusive. But TV and computer games take their natural place among the myriad playtime diversions of painting, Play-Doh, make-believe, music, dancing, toys and rough-and-tumble with her 23-month-old brother (who, incidentally, is also able to manipulate my iPhone fairly deftly – his current favourite apps are Dice, Snozzle, MooBox and Brian Eno’s visual music generator Bloom).

There are those who think introducing such young children to computers, the Internet and mobile phones is horrific, that it somehow ‘spoils’ them, that the ‘instant gratification’ enabled by new technology is a curse of our modern age, that we are bringing up a generation of helpless, tech-fixated drones. They are mistaken. With appropriate parental guidance, the web in your pocket is your kids’ gateway to all of the world’s knowledge, achievement, creativity, aspiration and inspiration.

Will those who grow up with this technology take it for granted? Of course. We, on the other hand, should not. Because – as long as we steer children in a way that stimulates both their curiosity and confidence – today’s technology can help bring about a future where human beings are not only better informed, but better equipped to meet the huge social and environmental challenges facing the planet.

*    *     *

As a footnote, when I read earlier today that the UK Government had backtracked on proposals to teach social networking in the classroom following an outcry from the technologically illiterate and tabloid tub-thumpers, it saddened me. For without proper education and guidance, the potential of new technologies to enrich people’s lives will be realised only by the few, not the many. And *not* giving people the skills to find things out for themselves is far more likely to result in the kind of drone-like, socially disengaged population that the ill-informed Luddites rail against so passionately.

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See friends’ Facebook statuses on your Twitter timeline

(…and selectively update your own Facebook status from Twitter)


So, you have all these old mates, school chums, far-flung family members and former colleagues using Facebook who definitely don’t share your geeky proclivities. You’d like to keep up-to-date with what they’re up to, and let them know what you’re doing, but you don’t want to have to visit the godawful spam-bucket that is Facebook. You want their Facebook status updates to hit your Twitter timeline as they update (or soon after), right? And at the same time, it would be useful to be able to update your Facebook status selectively from Twitter, so (for example) Auntie Mabel can see when you’re drinking a quadruple espresso but isn’t sent into a headspin by all your unfathomable @replies, hashtags and RTs.

Well here are a couple of workarounds that will stop you needing to visit Facebook ever again (except perhaps for the odd game of Scrabble). The first lets you see your friends’ Facebook status updates (within about a half-an-hour of them updating) as separate tweets on your Twitter-friends timeline, all without compromising their privacy (or, indeed, Fb’s privacy policy). I’m sure I’m not the first to figure this out, and there are no doubt other ways to do it, but this works well for me…

1. Friends’ Facebook status updates to Twitter:

  • Log out of your usual Twitter account (henceforth called ‘yourname’) and create a new account, which we’ll call here ‘yourfbfriends’. (You will need to use a separate email address from the one you used to create your original twitter account.)
  • Go into settings and check the box ‘protect my updates’ – this will ensure your friends’ updates can only be seen by you, and not by any Bot, Dick and Spammer.
  • Upload an avatar if you want one, then save settings and log out.
  • Log into Facebook and grab the RSS feed URL of your friends’ status updates. (To find it click on the “Friends” tab – then in the left-hand navigation pane you’ll see a link to “Friends’ Status Feed” under the heading “Subscribe”.)
  • Go to www.twitterfeed.com and create a new account. (You will need an OpenID to do this. There are instructions on the site about how to obtain one, or a new one if you are already using Twitterfeed with an existing Twitter account.)
  • Enter the Twitter username and password of your newly-created yourfbfriends Twitter account.
  • Enter the Facebook Friends’ Status Feed URL into the feed box.
  • Verify the Twitter account and feed URL are valid by clicking where indicated.
  • Use the drop-down menus to set up Twitterfeed. (I get it to check the feed every 30 mins, include up to 5 items, and to show both ‘title and description’.)
  • Save settings and log out of Twitterfeed.
  • Log back in to your normal Twitter account (yourname) and request to follow the new protected account you created (yourfbfriends).
  • Log out of yourname and back into yourfbfriends.
  • Accept yourname’s request to follow yourfbfriends then log out of yourfbfriends and back into yourname.

That’s it – except remember not to accept any other requests to follow yourfbfriends. After all, you don’t want to let any casual tweet-scanning criminals know that your Auntie Mabel’s just remembered she left her front door unlocked when she left the house this morning, now do you?

2. Update your Facebook status selectively via Twitter:

This has been fairly widely covered, but I’ll run through it here again for good measure. If you tick the standard Twitter-Facebook ‘Allow Twitter to update my status…’ permission box, your Facebook status will be crudely updated by *every* tweet you send, which can be confusing and annoying for your non-geeky Facebook friends.

Instead, find and install the Facebook application Twittersync and go to the settings page. Set it up to filter your tweets as required, then it will only update your Facebook status with your selected tweets.  You can use regex if you want to get clever about it, but I simply put an ‘@’ in the “‘Filter tweets containing” box. That automatically filters out any tweets containing @replies or references to other twitter usernames. If I then want to filter out other geeky tweets, I simply make sure I stick an ‘@’ character in them somewhere.

If you’re at FOWA London…

…on 9th and 10th October, come and say hi if you see me.  I’ll be the balding, shaven-haired lummox with the overstuffed brown backpack, SLR round his neck, a very large black coffee balanced precariously on his knee while attempting to tweet on his iPhone (at least, for as long as the battery holds out, which it won’t unless I can grab some juice). Oh, and I’m @jimjar, if anyone wants to tweet me rather than risk having hot coffee clumsily spilled over them.

Anyway, now the move’s done and dusted, and my son George has passed through the merciless-sleep-depriving stage, I should have more time and energy for blogging/podcasting than in recent months. And I’m expecting FOWA to give me plenty to ponder and pontificate about. But what I like best about the event is that it gives me the chance to connect with lots of interesting, smart, creative, tech-savvy people brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. So don’t be shy – come and say hi. You can even have one of my cool Moo minicards (which feature, variously, my 3-year-old daughter’s “art”, a friend’s fluffy white cat in shades and Wordles of Lessig and Lennon.

Twittourette: Profane Outbursts on Twitter

What the f$%~ing c^%$ are you doing? Tracking the most profane tweets… and it turns out the twitterverse can be a very sweary place. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am not averse to a bit of profanity every now and then. Okay, at times swearing is juvenile, unneccessary, abusive and unfunny. But it can often be cathartic, creative, concise and clever, too.  So, I put together a Yahoo Pipe to seek out the sweariest tweets (those using multiple expletives) and set up a Weebly page to display the results (though you can also subscribe to the feed). Turns out it’s also a useful way to see what’s really riling folks right now. Link [Edit, Feb 2011: the site seems to have stopped working due to the fact I was using a third-party Twitter search service that’s no longer active. I may update it someday.]

The Blognoscenti – A Geek Ode: “We twitter and flitter from Barcamp to FOWA…”

We twitter and flitter from Barcamp to Fowa,
A hive-mind of hackers and Mac-packing geeks;
Our lappies and APIs are portals to power,
For these ones aren’t zeroes or whackos and freaks.

We’re makers, reshapers of base-board connections,
With open intention, invention and verve,
Posting and coasting in countless directions,
Paving the wave that’s creating the curve.

We’re reading O’Reillys on jailbroken iPhones,
Talking of Tedsters and web two-point-O;
Spreading and threading like underground rhizomes
Growing the future – for we’re in the know.

Link to MP3 file

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Twitter tracking: your very own, cuddly Echelon system

I’ll blog more about FOWA shortly. I was struggling with a fluey baby and toddler last week, so didn’t get a chance to finish wriiting about what was one of the most interesting conferences I’ve attended for some years. In the meantime, I wanted to mention Twitter’s new tracking feature, which is a blast. Send ‘Track [keyword]’ and you’ll start receiving any public tweets which contain that keyword. It’s a bit like having your own personal, take-anywhere Echelon system (except without the sinister, Orwellian overtones). Among other things, I’ve been tracking ‘FOWA’, ‘rumours’ and a certain four-letter obscenity beginning with C. Not many interesting rumours, but perhaps tracking the US spelling too would throw up more tweets (d’oh! – only just thought of that). FOWA is certainly cropping up a fair bit, especially since organiser Carsonified started putting up MP3s of the presentations. And tracking the C-word has yielded at least one tweet that begs to become the title of a short story: “My twin is a C***!”


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