Saturday, November 19, 2011

Effective use of Twitter for organizations

I just attended a workshop by an organization I'm a member of, where they rolled out Twitter with great hoopla.  A few things arose which informed me that this organization still doesn't understand social media, so I thought I'd put down some tips for organizations who want to get into this "new" (yes, that's sarcasm) means of communicating.

You can't control the conversation!

Social media is, by definition, participatory.  The whole "Web 2.0" schtick is about user-generated content.  This is crucial for organizations to understand, because it has several implications.  In the old days you'd have a staff person craft a head-honcho-approved press release, and you'd send it off to the newspapers.  The newspapers would then, if interested, take your carefully crafted press release and judiciously quote from it, perhaps contact your organization for further information, and in the end publish a relatively neutral piece based on the facts and without any particularly strong bias.  All very clean; no mess, no debate.

The old days are behind us.  Anything your organization does or produces for public consumption is entirely up for grabs.  People on Twitter, Facebook, and any of dozens of other social media sites will take your fancy press release and dissect it mercilessly.  They will quote from it, but not judiciously.  The quotes will be sound bites taken out of context not to illustrate a point, but to further the argument being made by the person using the quote.  There will be wide-ranging debate and conversation, and most of the debate participants will be completely uninformed and ignorant of your issues.  Ridiculously strong biases and polarized views will be presented.  Politeness will be the exception, not the norm.

The "dissenting opinions" that used to upset you will be soon be regarded as quaint, civil, polite conversations that you'll fondly recall and wish you were still dealing with.  Misinformation will run rampant.


You can't Censor the conversation!

In case you haven't clued in yet, you can't censor the conversation any more than you can control it.  If you think that censuring your members or employees for publicly expressing their views is going to fly, then you're still stuck in the old days.  There are numerous cases where organizations censuring people for online expression has turned into a public relations nightmare.

Here in Canada, people have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.  That right is not limited by their employment or association membership.  In a democratic free country, it's in fact not limited by much at all, as it should be.  Unless the people expressing themselves hold some sort of official spokesperson capacity in your organization, you can't control what they say (nor should you try).  Even if they do, they have a right to express themselves as personal individuals.  So suck it up.  Trying to censure people who write unflattering things about you is a fool's game.  It makes you look bad and shows that you're out of step with modern technology.  Simply respond with consistent messaging.

What social media has done is to give everyday people a voice.  You can no longer expect your company or organization to operate in a vacuum where you're not subject to any scrutiny or criticism.

So if you can't stifle free expression by censoring the conversation, what can you do?  First of all, if you're being criticized online, you need to engage in some introspection.  None of us are perfect, and chances are if you're the target of criticism, then at least some of it is justified.  Try to set aside your emotional reaction to what may be crudely expressed criticism, and parse out the key points being made against your organization.  This will lead to a rational, effective response.

For items where the critic is correct, swallow your pride and make the necessary changes.  You'll get kudos for making a change, instead of more criticism for defending a flawed status quo.  If the critic is making valid points but you have specific reasons for doing things a certain way, explain yourself.  Social media is about communications and interaction.  You'll be respected for explaining why certain positions were taken, but you'll be reviled if you simply try to silence someone or keep secrets.  Similarly, if there is misinformation or factual inaccuracies, correct them.  Do it politely.  Heavy-handedness won't fly in social media.  In social media, everyone's voice is equal.


You can't manipulate the conversation!

Okay, you can manipulate the conversation, and people have and do.  But when that manipulation is uncovered (don't be naive, it will be uncovered), it's bad for your organization's image.  So don't do it.

Newbie mistakes with social media generally take the form of shallow Twitter spam.  While an individual may tweet about watering their plants and other inconsequential things, an organization should avoid doing so.  Twitter, just like any other medium of communications, should be part of an overall communications strategy.

If your head honcho is making a speech, you don't want one of your staff people tweeting snippets of it every two minutes.  Instead, you want to have the complete text of the speech available online, and tweet that "Head Honcho is making speech about how Social Media Creates Accountability.  Read it here." with a link to the text of the speech.  Yes, it means you'll be making your speech available for criticism and scrutiny, and you'll be held accountable to what you say.  Guess that means you better be sincere and make it good, huh?

Another newbie mistake (or unethical decision, depending on how forgiving you are) is astroturfing.  Astroturfing is creating false hype for an organization, event, etc.  So if we go back to the example of Head Honcho making his speech, and his assistant is tweeting excerpts every two minutes, that's one form of astroturfing.  It's not genuine.  It's a fake conversation.  Now, if members of the audience that aren't closely tied to Head Honcho start tweeting about his speech, and other people start re-tweeting those tweets and replying to them, and people start re-tweeting your (non-astroturfing) tweet with the link to the text or video of Head Honcho's speech, that would be a genuine conversation that had arisen.  Essentially, resist the temptation to make self-serving tweets.  It's unprofessional.


So how do we do it right?

A large part of doing it right is being genuine.  A simple way to start is to use Twitter to disseminate links to press releases and other information.  You want to consistently communicate the image and character of your company or organization.

As you become more comfortable with the online presence you've created, you can begin inviting interaction. Post a question on something, or invite feedback.  Expect that some of the feedback will be negative; few conversations with any substance to them are devoid of disagreement.  Dissenting opinions and negative feedback are part of what makes the conversation genuine.  Take them as an opportunity to clarify information, dig deeper into a topic, or perhaps revisit a stance you've taken.

Build trust by engaging in genuine conversation; don't send out canned responses.  Make sure that the decision-makers in your organization are apprised of the conversations that take place.  If the conversation never leaves your Twitter account and never makes it into a boardroom, then it's simply a crowd-pleasing facade.  If your organization's direction is in part guided by social media, then you're utilizing it at a very high level.

The bad part of social media is not that anyone with an axe to grind can take you to task.  The bad part is that social media is so completely fragmented; Twitter is just one medium of communication, but the social media universe also includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Orkut, Google+, and any of thousands upon thousands of sites where users can interact and discuss things online.  A good strategy is to use various mediums for specific levels or types of conversations, and try to use your various social media outlets to funnel users towards particular places where they can engage in more in-depth conversations (your company's message boards, web site, etc).

Yes, you're right in thinking that social media is a whole lot of work.  It is.  If you're not prepared to deal with it, beat a hasty retreat now.  People will still talk about you online anyway, though.

Can you screw up social media?  Yes, you can.  You can put your foot in your mouth repeatedly, you can disrespect the people who're involved in the conversation, and you can face a backlash if you're dumb enough to try silencing people.  More likely, though, you'll simply just be lost in obscurity on the net.  However, if you're diligent and hard-working, not to mention lucky, you might be able to build some momentum around your brand.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Upgrading to iOS5, so far not impressed...

I'm in the midst of what is apparently the multi-hour upgrade to iOS5 for my iPod touch 3G.  Having figured out that I can play with the iPod while iTunes is apparently locked up on "Restoring iPod apps..." (it's not locked up, just taking forever and not giving any feedback at all!), I've been looking at a bit of what's new.

iCloud.  My reaction... what's the point?  Seriously.  I've been syncing calendar, e-mail, and contacts to Google for a couple years now, so that aspect of iCloud is worthless to me.  And backing up my apps, music, video, etc. to iCloud?  First, Apple is only offering 5 GB of storage for free.  Secondly, I've got a 64 GB iPod that's almost full.  It's going to take forever to upload all my content, and then Apple's gonna want to charge me for it.  No thanks.

I will say that the pull-down notification screen is nice to have.  Looks a lot like the one on my Android phone... for a company that just patented "Slide to Unlock", Apple isn't showing much innovation here...

Anyway, so far iOS5 is underwhelming.  I went into settings and told it not to backup to iCloud, hoping that it would then revert to a traditional sync to my PC.  No such luck.  So I'm still stuck at "Restoring iPod apps..." with no end in sight whatsoever.

Tip: When prompted to use iCloud backup, say NO.

iMessage... again, what's the point?  How many messaging apps do I already have?  Do I need another?  Besides, even as much as I like Kik, Skype, Google Talk... SMS text messages are still the only universal standard.

So far, colour me unimpressed by iOS5.  I at least hope that wi-fi iTunes syncing doesn't disappoint me.

Update: After it finally completed (seriously Apple, you let such a terrible upgrade process out into the public?), I was able to try out wi-fi sync.  It works beautifully, and is really the best reason to upgrade to iOS5.

One thing that didn't work so well... a lot of my apps are no longer in their folders, so I'm having to re-arrange my apps again.  Some of the folders seem to have disappeared, with apps being littered throughout the home screens, and other folders were only partially populated.  It does appear that all my apps restored, although I do have about 3.5 GB more free space than when I started...

Summary: Terrible process to upgrade that takes hours, and what you get out of it is an Android-style pull-down notification screen, and wireless syncing.  Those two features make it worth doing, but be prepared for aggravation while you do the upgrade.  Hopefully over time there'll be other niceties that reveal themselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Switched to Wind Mobile... how to Root and Flash an Optimus 2X (G2X).

I switched to Wind Mobile for my cell phone service two days ago. The big news here is the plan I switched to... I was paying $60/month through Koodo ($25 plan, $10 CD/VM/Text add-on, $25 2GB data add-on). I will now be paying $29/month (yes, less than half!) and I'll have unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data. My home phone and Internet are now both through my cell phone.

Incidentally, I actually called Koodo first, to give them a chance to retain me as a customer. They offered me nothing. So, duh, of course they've lost me. I'm better off with Wind, but I probably would've stayed for convenience if Koodo had made me an offer.  That being said, if you don't live in a Wind zone, Koodo's still your best deal for a cell phone at the moment.

So... while the monthly plan is the big news, the big bonus with switching is that I have an incredible new phone, the LG Optimus 2X (which is actually a G2X... more on that in a moment). This phone has a dual-core processor, 4" Gorilla Glass screen, 8 GB internal memory and a microSD slot, 8mp camera that records in full HD... it's quite nice.

While the phone is very good stock, it does come loaded with only Android version 2.2.2. I'm a complete geek, so I needed the latest version (faster, better battery life, more customization, etc).

To save you the blood, sweat, and tears I went through with what should be an easy process, here's a guide to rooting and updating the ROM in your Wind Optimus 2X(G2X):


Rooting

This part is easy. It requires two things: USB Debugging must be checked in Settings-Applications-Development, and you must have a microSD card installed. Then just download and install GingerBreak, run it, and you'll be rooted in a few seconds.  (Just download it in an Android browser, open the file from the browser, and Android will prompt you to install it.)

Install ClockWorkMod Recovery

If you install the ClockworkMod Recovery utility via ROM Manager (installable via Market), then ROM Manager will ask you for your phone model.  This is the part where I'm going to save you from the hell I went through... DO NOT select LG Optimus 2X!  If you do, you end up in a boot loop, staring at the LG logo (not fun!).  You need to select the T-Mobile LG G2X for your model.  It's the same phone in every way that counts, but there's a minor enough difference that you're stuck if you don't know that you're dealing with a G2X instead of a 2X.  Remembering that you've got a G2X, not a 2X, will save you much aggravation.

You're not done, though.  ROM Manager just sets you up with what is essentially a redirect... you'll only be able to launch ClockworkMod from a phone that's booted without problems.  In order to be able to launch ClockworkMod by holding down Power and Volume Down while booting your phone, you need to flash it using One-Click ClockworkMod Recovery Flasher.  It's an easy process, and will save you from thinking you've bricked your phone.  ;-)

Now that you've got ClockworkMod installed, it's easy to switch from one ROM to another.  Just make sure you backup your current ROM first before you do anything!

Flash a ROM

The G2X is a phone that's officially supported by CyanogenMod.  CyanogenMod is a ROM based on the latest release of the Android operating system (which is open source).  The CyanogenMod developers then tweak it for performance and ensure it runs on various phone models.  Unfortunately, as of this writing, when I flashed CyanogenMod 7 (CM7), neither the stable nor nightly version allowed my 3G data to connect.  Everything else worked fine, just not the essential part.  ;-)  From what I've read, I suspect it's a baseband issue. (Note: The nightly CM7 #197 now works correctly.)

However, there's good news.  There's a CM7 based ROM called EaglesBlood (sorry, I have no control over the bizarre names people come up with) that does work in every way.  The version that worked for me without any issues is EaglesBlood 2.4.  (Note: Your mileage may vary, but EaglesBlood worked perfectly for me for about a day before data quit... thankfully the new CM7 nightly now works.)

Download the EaglesBlood .zip file to the root directory of your SD card as well as the Google apps package, then power down your phone and power up in ClockworkMod Recovery holding Power and Volume Down. Once you're in the recovery screen, you can scroll up and down using your volume up/down buttons, or the menu and home buttons.  To select something, use the Search button.  Assuming you've already got a backup, you'll want to do a Data Wipe/Factory Reset, Cache Wipe, then under Advanced do a Dalvik Cache wipe (there's probably some redundancy in there, but you want to clear out what's on the phone by default).  Then you're going to install a file from .Zip... simply choose your EaglesBlood file and flash it, then do the same thing with the Google apps package.  Once you've done that, reboot the phone.

Congratulations, you're now running an optimized version of Gingerbread 2.3.7!  You'll see a big improvement in performance, battery life, and customizability over the Froyo 2.2.2 which ships with the phone.

Note:  Hopefully everything went smoothly for you... the above was learned through the stressful process of thinking I'd bricked my phone a couple times.  ;-)  However, you flash a new ROM at your own risk.  I think it's pretty hard to permanently brick your phone, but you can set yourself up for a few hours of stress if you screw up.  I DO NOT provide tech support!  If you experience problems, just remember that Google is your friend, and that XDA is the place for all things Android.

Addendum: As of nightly #197, Cyanogenmod is now working correctly with this phone.  Follow the same instructions as above, just substituting the CM7 .zip file.  Cyanogenmod is the leading after-market Android ROM, so it's what I recommend.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Recommended Software

I'm often asked for software recommendations, so I've compiled them here for easy reference.  All of these are free software (in price, and some in licensing as well).

What is Free Software?
Philosophy of the Free Software movement
OpenSource.org
Creative Commons

Browsers:
Firefox
Google Chrome 
Opera (especially recommended if your laptop is tethered to a phone, as the Opera Turbo feature will reduce your data usage)

Recommended Browser Extensions:
Adblock Plus (with Malware and Tracking filters turned on)
Ghostery
HTTPS Everywhere

Office Suite:
LibreOffice - LibreOffice is a complete office suite (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, etc.) produced using a free open source license.  LibreOffice is based on OpenOffice, the differences being that it has a faster development schedule and more advanced features.
Foxit PDF Reader - Views and creates PDF files, and also allows text editing of a PDF (handy for forms).

Video and Music Players:
VLC Video Player - Plays everything.  All codecs built-in.
TuneIn.com - TuneIn Radio. Anything you want to listen to is here.

Computer Security:
Set up Google DNS, install a free anti-virus for real-time scanning, and run the rest intermittently as on-demand backup security.  In Windows 8/10, the built-in Windows Defender anti-virus provides basic protection, for other versions install Microsoft Security Essentials for basic protection.  Alternately, Panda Free Antivirus is also very good.  A lot of security from viruses and malware simply involves using common sense when installing software and not blindly clicking on buttons on websites.

Google Public DNS
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware
Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit
Panda Free Antivirus
F-Secure Online Virus Scanner and Cleaner

Computer Privacy:
VeraCrypt - Encrypts your hard drive.
StartPage - Secure, privacy-enhanced Google search.
CyberGhostVPN - encrypt and anonymize your Internet connection.
Tor Browser Bundle - Makes your Internet traffic private and untraceable.
StickyPassword - Password manager.
LastPass - Online password manager.
Clipperz - Online anonymous password management.
GuerillaMail - provides disposable temporarily-valid e-mail addresses to avoid spam.
Signal Private Messenger - Encryption for your phone.

Computer Performance:
Classic Shell - restores the Start button to Windows 8.
Glary Utilities
CCleaner

Cloud Storage:
DropBox
Box.net
Google Drive
OneDrive

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reiki Attunements and Training

As one studies Reiki, the necessity of and type of attunement becomes a prominent issue.  There are three main issues: whether an attunement must be done in person or whether it can be done via distance or by watching a video; whether distance attunements are valid "traditional" Reiki, and whether training must be received in-person to become part of a Reiki association and become an accredited practitioner.

I'll begin by describing what I believe an attunement is.  Reiki is acknowledged to be universal life energy that is present in and permeates all things (just like chi, prana, the Tao), and a Reiki attunement is intended to align a student with that energy so they can be a conduit for Reiki.  An attunement is only a small part of Reiki training, though.  Reiki precepts, hand positions, techniques, and so forth must be learned as well.

So what does an attunement look like?  Well, it looks like this (search "reiki attunement" on YouTube for more).  Essentially, it's a guided meditation to introduce a student to meditation, energy work, and using intent.  Since Reiki is a spiritual and mental discipline, such "attunements" are a very good idea, especially for people without any complementary background.  An attunement can be repeated as many times as desired; Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, used to do attunements on his students every time he worked with them.  They were the same process each time (called reiju) and didn't differ with one's degree of Reiki training.

So, on to the issues... I'll start with whether distance attunements are valid traditional Reiki.  The easy answer to that is that no, they're not traditional, but then again, very very very very little of modern-day Reiki is traditional either.  As mentioned earlier, Usui's reiju didn't differ from degree to degree, as modern-day attunements do.  Nor did Mikao Usui work with chakras, prana, Angels, crystals, Tibetan or Egyptian symbols (Mikao Usui was Japanese...), spirit guides, and so forth.  Even the hand positions of modern-day Reiki have changed dramatically (following the chakras, as opposed to five original positions all around the head).

So do distant attunements work?  I'd say yes, though quality may vary, as is no doubt true in person (I've linked to what I think is a good one above).  According to the theory of what Reiki energy is and how it works (especially given that Reiki II teaches distance healing), and since the attunement is really a guided meditation to help the student feel the energy themselves, there's really no logical reason a distant attunement can't work.

Of course, for people making buckets of money off Reiki training classes (it's typically about $1,000.00 to train up to Reiki Master/Teacher), the conclusion that distant attunements are perfectly valid hits them directly in the pocketbook.  So let's talk about Reiki training.  Quite frankly, in the Internet age, the concept that training must be received in person is an anachronism; you can complete university degrees through online learning, after all.  Books and information are widely available, distance attunements are available, and people can practice their hand positions and techniques on themselves, friends, family, animals, and by attending local Reiki Circles.  All for free or very low cost.

The main issue is quality control and assurance that students have actually done the learning, rather than becoming "Instant Reiki Masters".  For individuals practicing Reiki on their own for no profit (on self, friends, family, etc.) we can simply hope that these people will continually learn more, hope that they're discerning in what they read and believe, and take responsibility as a community to mentor them and guide them towards good material and to lead by example.  One Reiki author refers in the second paragraph of her first chapter to 12 source planets that originally colonized the earth (yes, this is in fact the plot of Battlestar Galactica!)... let's make sure new people get guided to more credible sources such as The Reiki Sourcebook.

For individuals who plan to practice Reiki as a business, though, some sort of externally validated accreditation is often desired.  Unfortunately, current Reiki associations have taken the anachronistic stance that training must have been received in person (and at substantial cost) in order to be accredited by them.  To be honest, I think it's symptomatic of the fact that spirituality and money really shouldn't be mixed; when money changes hands, things become infinitely more complicated.

The Canadian Reiki Association, for example, requires that Level 1 and 2 Reiki training must be at least eight hours long in-person training each, and that Master level be at least twelve hours long.  In addition, applicants must submit practicum/case study forms to demonstrate experience in order to become certified practitioners or teachers.  Most other Reiki associations follow similar guidelines.

In our bureaucratic, capitalist society, I suppose this isn't surprising.  But is there a better model?  I think that the idea of submitting practicum forms to demonstrate experience to become a certified practitioner is a good model.  But to be a mere member and be embraced by the Reiki community, there shouldn't be such exclusionary policies as requiring education to be in-person (typically at large expense).  Instead, part of the certification process should perhaps include a written exam on Reiki knowledge, and/or submission of a video of the applicant conducting a Reiki treatment session.  Given that in-person classes probably vary greatly in quality, a written exam and/or video would ensure quality control just as well as requiring in-person class attendance, without putting a hefty price tag on participation in a spiritual practice.

So, for the dedicated student of Reiki, my advice is that if you're learning lots from a variety of sources, and interacting online and/or through Reiki Circles with other practitioners, then your Reiki training (including distant attunement) is probably as good or better than that received by many who've shelled out hundreds of dollars for in-person training.  As long as your intent is pure, you're already on your way to being a Reiki Master in all the ways that really count.

Reiki resources:
Free Reiki International
Share Reiki International
New Awakening Reiki

Reiki and Pranic Healing treatment impressions...

I recently went to a Holistic Healing and New Age show, and had the opportunity to receive Reiki and Pranic Healing sessions.

The first session was Reiki.  I liked the sign they had on display defining Reiki as "a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing."  Accurate, no outrageous claims, and humble.  Overall, it induced the relaxation effect very well.  I think there were three key aspects to this.  First, you sit down and essentially give yourself permission to relax, plus you're stuck there with no choice but to relax once you've begun.  Second, having another person touching you has a relaxing effect.  Finally, as the hands change positions, it's like a subtle cue to relax that area of the body, so a progressive relaxation happens.

I found the experience very relaxing and reached a deep meditative state quite easily (not a trance-like or hypnotic state, a meditative state where you're still fully aware but very relaxed and with a clear mind).  So I'd say that especially for people who don't meditate on their own, Reiki would be much recommended.  As for healing, we know that stress is very harmful to our bodies, so a practice like Reiki that offers stress release will be helpful whether you believe in energy healing or not.  As for the energy healing aspect, we can't really know for sure if it works, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

So, on to the Pranic healing session.  This one was hands-off, with the practitioner going through a variety of visualizations of manipulating the energy in my aura to cleanse it of impurities.  To watch it, at first glance it looks like the person is just goofily waving their hands around in front of someone.  However, if you watch the animated video on the pranic healing site, it portrays through special effects the energy; this puts the hand movements in context and it no longer looks nearly so weird because you can follow what they're visualizing doing.  Now, I was already nicely relaxed from the Reiki session, so I quickly returned to a meditative state while the pranic healing session was going on.

Being hands-off, I think perhaps I should have kept my eyes open, as seeing what technique the fellow was using at any particular time might have connected me to the process better.  Of course, with eyes open I would have been more engaged mentally and been thinking way too much.  Without the hands touching or being in close proximity, and without hands changing position, I'm inclined to think that Reiki would be better for most people until they've had experience with receiving energy healing.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience.  I'm currently on a research binge... I've read The Reiki Sourcebook, Reiki for Dummies, and tons on the net.  I've also got The Japanese Art of Reiki and Your Hands Can Heal You (the Pranic Healing book) to still read, and I'm working my way through Robert Bourne's New Awakening Reiki books/CDs/videos.