Facebook Free

Google and Facebook are not good for the planet.

It really is as simple as that. Climate Change and Surveillance Capitalism are the two most important issues of our time.

The scariest part is that a single individual can’t really do much about it. That makes it hard to effect change. In the same way that littering once won’t destroy the ocean, scrolling your instagram feed doesn’t have any real effect on its own.

But I don’t want my kids to reside in a world destroyed by pollution, or have to sneak around in an Orwellian nightmare. I figure that if we can all pitch-in for a Plastic-Free July, then we can do the same for a Facebook-Free August.

Here’s how I removed the ever-watching eyes of Facebook and Google from my life:

Phone: I use an iPhone. Apple have a strong track record on privacy, built-in hardware encryption, and incentives aligned with keeping your data private. Android captures every little detail about your life and send it to be processed and stored indefinitely in the cloud.

Browser: I prefer Safari, but many also like Firefox. Since I’m on Mac, Safari has some great native features which I find it hard to live without.

Search: DuckDuckGo is an easy winner here. No search saving. No hidden trackers. No filter-bubble. On your phone, just go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine > DuckDuckGo, and you’re done.

Email: I use FastMail, but many also like ProtonMail. These are paid services, but then, so are reusable shopping bags. Gmail reads your emails and uses them to influence what you see online.

Social Groups: I’ve been Facebook free for a long time, and I don’t miss it. When more people are willing to be a squeaky wheel when it comes to Facebook’s “groups” feature, we’ll see alternatives become more mainstream. You can use Reddit for news and advice on specific topics. Discord is another great alternative, for communities with real-time chat.

Social Sharing: Again, this is something you can probably live without. Send photos directly to family members in an email, blog post, or iMessage. For sharing great photography, try VSCO. For beautiful video, try Vimeo. Or for inspiring digital art and design, I love Dribbble. For longer form content, create a self-hosted WordPress blog (I love Flywheel for this).

Video: There aren’t any great alternatives to YouTube. My solution was to repurpose the time I would have spent consuming video content, and use that time to be creative, instead. If you absolutely can’t live without YouTube, you can always visit it anonymously (no account needed to watch videos), and use your browser bookmarks to save your favourite channels.

Chat: iMessage is great for those with iPhones. Outside of that, consider starting a Slack or Discord for your friends – my friends have a Slack with channels for our favourite topics like VR, robotics, books, and lego.

Calendar, Contacts, Notes: I love Apple’s Calendar, Contacts, and Notes apps, with (encrypted) iCloud syncing.

Maps: Google Maps isn’t as far ahead of Apple Maps as it used to be. I’ve been using Apple Maps as my daily driver for years with barely a hitch. The Israeli startup Waze is lots of fun, but unfortunately it’s owned by Google.

News: Reddit is good here, but not as good as a variety of reliable local news. In Australia, SBS + ABC is a good combo if you can overlook a bias to the left.

Docs: Leaving Google Docs was the last and hardest step for me. Thankfully, I found Quip – which has great collaboration features, which is most of what I’m looking for. I’ve also used Apple’s Pages / Keynote / Numbers trio which have a collaborative editing feature – even in browser!

Cloud Storage: I bought a NAS, and I sync my important files to it using Synology’s CloudStation Drive app. This way, all my data is stored locally, but accessible from anywhere in the world. It’s an expensive alternative to Cloud Storage, but when you have as many photos as we do, it actually works out cheaper after about 2 years. iCloud Drive is another great option.

Video Chat: For 1:1 calls, I always prefer FaceTime if possible. Zoom is also fantastic.


Bonus: Here are some other tools I use to keep me safe and private online:

Ads: I block ads and trackers using 1Blocker (on both Mac and iOS). This only works with Safari, but it’s super-fast, efficient, and effective.

DNS: In Australia, ISP’s store all of your DNS queries, so it’s important to switch your ISP from the default. Cloudflare offer a much faster, private, and free alternative, which is so easy to setup that everyone should be using it.

VPN: I found a good deal with NordVPN, and quite like their software for Mac. Many also like ProtonVPN, which would be a great combo with a ProtonMail account.

Joining a video chat from VR

My team at work has a weekly call, codenamed “Strategy Sync”, where we chit-chat and play a few rounds of Rocket League. This week, I joined the call from the metaverse via Bigscreen, which allowed me to beam my colleagues onto a giant screen in my virtual lounge room.

The best part was, they could see me, too! Well, my virtual avatar anyway. Here’s how I set it up.

What you’ll need

How to use Bigscreen camera as a webcam

  1. Install OBS Studio and OBS-VirtualCam
  2. Launch Bigscreen
  3. In the Bigscreen menu, select Tools > Camera > Capture Mode
  4. Launch OBS Studio, and select Tools > Virtual Cam
  5. Turn on Horizontal Flip, and press Start
  6. Launch your video chat application (I used Zoom), and select OBS as your webcam

Back in Virtual Reality, you should see your Bigscreen environment, and a selfie stick camera. This camera is now be your virtual web cam!

Gutenberg

The current WordPress editor is a little behind the time. It hasn’t really changed since 2009!

Thankfully, the WordPress community is working on a complete reimagining of content publishing. The Gutenberg project leap-frogs competitors like Squarespace and Medium, giving WordPress users the tools to create vibrant, modern, and engaging content experiences.

I believe Gutenberg has the power to herald in a kind of “Blogging 2.0”, as authors are inspired to build new forms of medium / long-form content, and their audience is excited about interacting with something more than a wall of text.

This is great news for the open and distributed web, which will soon have the opportunity to out-class walled-garden platforms in reader engagement.

I’ve been using the preview version of Gutenberg on this blog for around six months. Although Gutenberg is slated to be included in WordPress core by August, you can start using it today.

AirPods are Normal

On this day, AirPods stopped standing out to me as ugly white ear appendages.

Today, I saw a man walking with a suit, briefcase, and wired headphones, and the wires hanging from his ears struck me as odd. 

Shortly after, I boarded a train in Sydney, where AirPod density was noticeably high. 

I love my AirPods. I’ve been using Apple products since 1993, and these are up there with the original iPod and the colourful iMac range.

Virtual Reality Accessibility

There's a lot of information out there about designing the web for accessibility. Over the last 10 years, the world has learned a lot about how to accommodate a vast diversity of different needs and abilities.

So, when it comes to designing virtual experiences, we don't need to start from scratch. Here's a few things you should consider from a VR Accessibility point of view.

Seated-first design

Like responsive web design, which accounts for the screen size of the user, VR experiences should be responsive to height and posture. Consider audiences who use wheelchairs, are unable to stand for long, or are short (including children).

  • Don't place buttons or interactive elements in hard to reach positions
  • Ensure that NPC eye-gaze includes height, not just direction
  • Include locomotion options which can be done from a seated position

Audio cues

VR experiences shouldn't rely solely on audio cues to grab a user's attention, or require audio in order to complete a task. Not only does this allow your experience to be accessible by hearing impaired people, it also let's users play on mute if they want to.

  • Provide a subtitles option for speech
  • Provide visual indicators where positional audio is used
  • Provide visual cues for success or failure events (e.g. failure to start an engine should be visible as well as audible)

Readability

Current hardware resolutions make it difficult enough to discern text as it is. But as the resolution of VR headsets increases, don't be tempted to reduce font sizes to match resolution. Consider users with a vision impairment that may not be able to make out small text.

  • Recommended font size is 3.45°, or a height of 6.04cm from the distance of one meter
  • The text should be faced perpendicularly to the observer, and rotate around the observer's view
  • Use a line length of 20—40 symbols per line. With bigger fonts, lines should be shorter.

More information on fonts in VR can be found in Volodymyr Kurbatov's article.

Colour

Color blindness or color vision deficiency (CVD) affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide. This means that for every 100 users that visit your website or app, up to 8 people could actually experience the content much differently that you’d expect.

http://blog.usabilla.com/how-to-design-for-color-blindness/

Virtual worlds tend to be visually rich, which often means a much broader range of colour than one would typically see on a website, or even in the real world. With this in mind, strive to ensure that colour isn't used a the only way of displaying contrast.

  • Choose a variety of textures to provide better contrast between visual elements
  • Use both colours and symbols in interface design
  • Avoid "bad" colour combos (e.g. Green + Red, or Blue + Purple) for primary elements

VR is still in it's infancy – we're still learning about what works and what doesn't. As the industry grows, it's important to continue prioritising accessibility, so that our virtual stories, games, environments, and tools can be explored by everyone.

The Next Tech Revolution

When the internet was popularised, the world started asking questions about topics like freedom of access to information, the nature of "digital goods" / "digital ownership", and globalisation.

Now that we're on the cusp of the next technology revolution, I'm excited about more compelling questions entering the zeitgeist.

Virtual Reality is currently being pushed forward by a gaming market (like computing once was). But it won't be long (2019, 2020) before consumer VR starts making its way into every home. All we need is:

  • Standalone headsets (no computer required, coming 2018—2019)
  • Faster wireless communication (5G, coming 2020—2021)
  • Cloud rendering (2018—2019)

Once VR has become popularised, the global conversation will shift to focus on some very interesting questions. What is the nature of reality? Do quantum mechanics prove that we're already living in a simulation? Is consciousness emergent from biology, or something deeper? Does "self" even exist?

At the same time, I hope we see this technology creating new social dynamics, forming new partnerships and friendships, in ways that flat screen communication has never been capable of. 

I don't think we'll recognise the world 5 years from now.


Postscript: One of my earliest VR experiences was sitting in AltSpace and meeting a Rabbi. We discussed the future Halakha (Jewish law) of VR for hours. Is flying around Google Earth considering "travelling" on the Sabbath? Should my avatar wear a kippah? Is my avatar Jewish? Is it permitted to eat virtual pork? These are questions that will have real authoritative answers in the near future.