If One Child Can Be Saved…

The gruesome and senseless murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell in Blacksburg, VA

This may seem strange coming from me – this piece is about this recent murder apparently committed by two teenage Virginia Tech engineering students – our condolences go out to Nicole’s family, friends, etc. Aside from being a Virginia resident for nearly 30 years now, why does this particular killing hit home for me? Judy and I have no children. We were both pretty well-behaved during both our early and our late teens. Neither of us has ever been victims of violent crime, much less committed any.

I’ve taught several Personal Computer Skills classes for Henrico County Adult Education – this is why this case really matters to me. Security is one of the major topics covered in this course. One of the things I stress is that parents should treat their kid’s use of electronic devices as if the kid is using the phone, sending “snail mail”, etc. – if you wouldn’t want the kid to meet the other party in person, try your best to not let the kid communicate with them on anything electronic. I’m not blaming anyone here – kids can be very sneaky and crafty. It will come out in the trials how Nicole got acquainted with her killers, what the back-stories were, etc., but we already know social media was definitely involved.

13-year-olds often have strange crushes – it’s a normal part of growing up, and Nicole went through some horrendous medical conditions when she was little. People of all ages are using all manner of social media to communicate – it only took hours to figure out that Nicole and the scum that stabbed her to death were communicating that way. What really makes want to puke is the conduct of the killers. He was a star athlete in high school. VA Tech doesn’t exactly admit stupid people into their engineering program. Some screws are seriously loose here. He’s been charged with first-degree murder, she as an accessory before and after – this may be upgraded to capital murder for both if they planned Nicole’s killing to silence her. At least, they caught them- he may have been on his way to being the next Ted Bundy, and she Eileen Wournos.

Some things obviously fell through the cracks, and should come out in the trials and/or plea agreements (which will probably happen so that the killers avoid the death penalty). Did Nicole’s parents pay too little attention to her? Did the killers know each other prior to attending Tech? Was there a failure of the app companies in their security processes? Did Nicole’s school do too little when the friend supposedly warned them of the relationship with the killer? Did anybody, students, faculty, etc, at Tech notice any strange behavior in the killers?

I hope that aside from providing justice for Nicole’s family, that  we can enjoy social media and somehow use it as a tool to help people with mental-health issues. I’m on my soapbox now – our politicians have been way too silent – maybe because no gun was involved, or they are incapable of saying anything without being partisan. We need a permanent nonpartisan blue-ribbon commission of educators, clergy, mental health professionals, politicians, law enforcement members, business leaders, etc. to take a look at this issue. Va. state senator Creigh Deeds would be a great choice to head this commission, due to the personal tragedy involving his son, his legislative experience, and Virginia’s proximity to Washington.

This is going to be a tough one, folks. I hope some of the people running for President will take a serious look at mental health in the US, but don’t hold your breath…

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Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 11: Instagram, and Bad Security Assumptions

Insta-what? In Chapter 9, I began to mention Instagram, which is not someone’s idea of a quickie breakfast food. It is a photo-handling app, which gives you a lot of photo editing and sharing options – too many to list here, but have fun exploring. The service was recently bought by Facebook.

Why the funny name? Instagraph may have made more sense, but that name was apparently taken. Anyway, per the developers, the name Instagram comes from “instant camera” and “telegram”.

After you’ve done your profile setup and added some followers & followees, when you first click on the app, the Home Screen looks something like this:

Instagram Home Screen

The controls at screen bottom are as follows:

  • House – Home Screen
  • Magnifying Glass – Search
  • Circle in Square – Access the camera
  • Heart – Activity
  • Person – All about you

Clicking on the Person brings up your personal stuff (see the screen shot below), including all the pictures that you’ve posted, and your profile information. To add or change your profile picture, you tap the profile picture itself (or a placeholder if you don’t have one yet) for a menu of photo options. Otherwise, you click the Edit Your Profile button, or the three vertical dots at upper-right for more options.

Screenshot_2015-10-26-22-11-18

Now for the bad security assumption. Just because Company A owns Company B does NOT imply that the security on apps owned by Company A automatically transfer to apps owned by Company B. In particular, your Facebook security does not transfer over to Instagram! Like most of you, I have Friends security on Facebook, so I assumed I had Followers security on Instagram. Wrong – the “assume” = “ass” of “u” and “me” rule applies here. Found that out when someone I know who was not following me saw a picture that was intended for followers only.

To change this, you must make your Instagram account Private to limit to followers and people you approve. You do this by clicking on the three vertical dots to bring up the Options screen, then swiping the Private Account button to the right – here’s the Before and After:

Screenshot_2015-10-26-22-11-33Screenshot_2015-10-26-22-11-54

Hope you enjoy Instagram, and again, please note the security differences between Instagram and Facebook.

Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 10: Done with High School – Off to Collage!

If you use the Internet a lot, you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures that include other pictures – these are collages. Yup, there’s an app for that – in fact, there are several apps – after testing out a few, I chose Photo Grid (as usual, unless I specify otherwise in these posts, I am featuring free apps, so I put up with the ads). Note that this creates square pictures (see the previous Blog entry, Chapter 9, for why this is advantageous):

The initial Photo Grid screen looks like this:

Photo Grid Initial Screen

I chose the Grid option because I will be creating a collage with more than one picture. The picture selection screen appears – I chose four pictures (only three show on this screen shot, but you can scroll the list and the fourth selection is hidden):

Screenshot_2015-07-20-01-15-36

I then clicked Next, which created the initial collage, which showed all four pictures in a 2×2 square array. I clicked Layout to choose a layout – they give you about twenty of them – I chose a slanted box layout. By selecting each picture within the collage, I moved and zoomed-in/out the individual pictures, and got the following:

Screenshot_2015-07-20-01-21-44

I clicked Background to choose a background color or design – I chose grass-green. I chose Border to choose a scalloped border. Finally, I clicked Save to create the final collage for posting to social media:

Screenshot_2015-07-20-01-24-57

Now, you can get straight A’s in collage!

Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 9: Square Crops

I’m not talking about oddly-shaped fruits and vegetables here.

I am talking about preparing photos and other pictures for use in many of today’s apps.

I’m not sure where the idea that pictures posted on the Internet needed to be perfect squares – but – as Twitter and Facebook became more popular, so did the square pictures  (Twitter in general, Facebook for the visible part of your profile). Then came phone and tablet apps such as Instagram (which only produces square pictures), and square was cool!

What to do? Digital cameras, in-phones and stand-alone, generally take rectangular photos. One solution is to paste your picture onto a larger square background (there are apps to do this, which I may address in a later chapter). Otherwise, you can get rid of some of the picture by cropping, which is the process via an app of selecting a shape, positioning the shape on top of the picture, then getting rid of everything that does not appear within the shape. For our purposes, we will use a square.

Now it’s time to crop. There are many ways to crop a picture. Every photo-handling app on the PC can do this. Instagram forces you to crop as the first step of preparing a photo for posting. You can also edit and crop from the Gallery and other apps on an Android device.

Let’s get started – here is a screenshot of the original photo I am using as an example, and a shot as I prepare to enter Instagram:


I then went into Instagram – the Crop function occurs first – you can position the cropping square as desired. I didn’t like the size of the crop, so I zoomed in a bit – the shots below show an original crop area and the zoomed crop area:

Screenshot_2015-07-05-15-57-45 Screenshot_2015-07-05-15-58-29

I skipped the other Instagram functions and posted the following:

Screenshot_2015-07-05-15-58-42 Screenshot_2015-07-05-23-38-48

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my crops – I had a lot of fun doing this!

Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 8: Shoot the Screen!

No – I am NOT suggesting that you go Elvis on your computers and other devices, although the temptation is sometimes there.

When using any device, be it a computer, tablet, phone, etc., instances will arise when you want to capture the entire contents of what is currently on the screen, and save it as a picture file. This is generally called a screen shot. The picture can then be emailed, included in other documents, etc.

On both the Galaxy S4 phone and Galaxy Tab4 tablet (and probably on other Android devices of this vintage), you do the following:

  • Navigate to the desired screen
  • Simultaneously press the Home and Power keys (location of these will depend on the device) – a white border will flash, and the device will make an old-fashioned camera click sound
  • The picture will be saved in the Gallery app in the Screenshots album (this can be a bit disconcerting since you need to keep in mind that you are looking at a screenshot and not what is currently appearing on the device itself)
  • Share the resulting pictures as desired – for this example, I put a screenshot in the cloud on OneDrive so that I can copy it to my PC later
  • Give the cloud app some time to sync (it took about five minutes in this example) – upon looking at the file directory, I discovered that the screenshots are saved as PNG files, a very common picture format.

Here is a sample result, from the Twitter app on the phone!

Screenshot example

Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 7: Take One Tablet and Begin the Purple Reign

We finally purchased the tablet – we got a 10.1-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab4, running the Android operating system, just like my phone. In addition, we purchased a purple-magenta (Judy’s choice) Logitech wireless combination keyboard and case. I decided to stay with Android due to the fact that I really like the way Android works on the phone.

The first thing I did was to charge up both the tablet and the keyboard.

The next thing I did was download copies of the manuals for both the tablet and the keyboard. Per the tablet manual, I ran the setup wizard, which took me through a gajillion steps to initialize the tablet and register it with Samsung and Google (Android is a Google product). Then some Android updates were applied. It then asked me if I wanted to load some essential apps, and install the updated Samsung apps – I did both. Last but not least, it recognized (probably via my Google account) that my phone is also Android, and it was kind enough to install many of my phone apps on the tablet – as well as all of my wi-fi connection choices!

Now it was time to set up the keyboard – again, the manual was very helpful. I turned on Bluetooth (the wireless device-to-device mechanism) on the tablet, turned on the keyboard, and Bluetooth found the keyboard. I then chose the keyboard from the available device list and linked it to the tablet via an authorization number. Voila – it works!

One interesting fact – you cannot use the physical keyboard and the Android on-screen keyboard at the same time.  In other words, if you want to use the on-screen keyboard, you must either turn the physical keyboard off, or remove the tablet from the case.

Ted and Judy’s Android Adventures: Chapter 5: The Rise of the Cloud, and OneDrive

You may have heard of something called “the cloud”. You’ve also probably figured out by now that the cloud generally refers to anywhere on the Internet (a.k.a in cyberspace) where you can store your information, and the apps that allow access to this information. I will be discussing Microsoft’s OneDrive system – similar systems are available from Google, Apple, etc.

OneDrive simulates having an additional disk drive on your PC, but your data is actually kept on the cloud. Microsoft gives you 15 gigabytes of free storage, and you can pay for more if desired.  OneDrive can be accessed via the Windows File Explorer or OneDrive app on your PC, or the OneDrive app on your smartphone – as usual, I will relate this to Android. The OneDrive apps look almost identical on the PC (Windows 8) and the phone.

OneDrive does not care about file type – any file type that can be saved to your computer can be saved to OneDrive. This is useful for keeping your most important files offsite. Nobody requires use of the cloud, however – you always have the option of copying your files to removable media such as a flash drive or DVD, and saving these items in a secure place such as a safe deposit box.

When using OneDrive in Windows File Explorer, you copy and paste to a folder called OneDrive, with the usual subfolder and file lists. Once in a while, you may have to Sync (makes sure files actually get copied to the cloud – can take a couple of hours if doing for first time with a lot of files) – OneDrive system will let you know if all files are up to date.

The Android OneDrive app is great – aside from the usual file functions, if your file happens to be a picture, you can share it to Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Again, the beauty in all this is that OneDrive allows Windows and Android to access the same files!