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 3: Apps – an Introduction

The Galaxy S4, like other smartphones, runs apps. What is an app? App is short for application, which is the current terminology for computer program. In other words, it’s a set of digital instructions that your device can understand and execute, to perform a specific task. A device can be anything from the smallest watch-like gizmo that you wear on your wrist, to the giant mainframe computer that helps keep the space station in orbit, to everything else in between.

For the consumer, “app” generally refers to an app that you can call up by touching an icon (that small square picture) on your phone or tablet screen (or on your computer if it has touch-capability). The human-phone interface on Android devices is very heavily driven by apps. Some comments:

  • Tapping an icon on a phone is roughly equivalent to clicking on an item using a mouse on a PC.
  • Tap the Phone icon to activate the app to make a call, pick up a call, etc. Apps also control your contact list, email, calendars, etc.
  • Your Internet browser is an app – since Android is Google, you get the Chrome app with your initial setup, but you can download apps for other browsers
  • From your start screen, you tap an icon called Apps to access most of the apps on your phone
  • To change phone settings, including selecting a wi-fi network, you tap the Settings app
  • You can download additional apps to your phone – within the apps list, you click the down-arrow to get to already-downloaded apps
  • Android Apps to download are available in the Play Store – many of these are free. Stores, restaurants, TV channels, etc., have their own apps. Installation on your device is part of the download process.
  • The cameras, and the gallery of pictures, are also activated by apps. If you want to put pictures on Instagram, a popular photo site, you have to download the app for that.
  • Holding down the button just beneath the screen, lightly for a few seconds, brings up the list of apps that are currently running. Tap “Close All’ to immediately reduce clutter.

Do note that this barely scratches the subject of apps – in general, there are many more apps for an Android device than there are for a PC. Specific apps as appropriate will be discussed in further chapters of this topic.