On Google+ Netiquette

Having recently deleted my Facebook account, I hardly took time to realise how most of my networking would now take place on Google+ — which is how I preferred it in the first place. And the main reason I chose to switch, is exactly for reasons I have explained before in my four-part series of articles on Google+.

[T]oday, though, as I was scrolling through my Google+ stream, a thread I had conversed in, with Olav Folland ((Take a look at his I am project. It’s a masterpiece in conceptual photography!)), Mark Rodriguez and few other great guys, came to mind. In the pith, it turned out to focus on how certain etiquettes cannot be forced; so I decided to round-up a few that I could think of, similar to my older article on 16 ethics on Twitter. Right now, the list is short, but I expect it to grow with time (and the Google+ user base.) If you have your own etiquettes, feel free to suggest them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!

1. The +1 button is no less than a comment

I have noticed how an increasing number of people have been commenting things like Cool! or Awesome or LOL or Funny and so on. While this is all very generous, my suggestion is not to comment unless you are really adding something to the conversation, have so much to praise that you have to spill out words effectively by commenting or you are the OP. In all other cases, cool, awesome, LOL, funny are effectively equal to a simple +1.

The +1 button saves time, both the OP’s and the commentor’s and is generally received with no less enthusiasm than a comment. So if you can gesture a neat +1, don’t bother commenting; it works both ways!

2. Use the notification button sparingly

Google+ brings forth a new concept in the form of its notify option where you can ring a bell on somebody’s profile to let them know about the post you just made.

But everybody knows bells are noisy, so use them sparingly. People with a large following are the most likely prey to this unchecked notification spree many people go on. As Tracy Crawford pointed out, if even a hundredth of her followers notified her once a month, “it would be far too many!” ((She has about 14,900 followers as of the time of this posting, so that would mean 149 notifications every month; almost 5 a day.))

Notification has its uses in times such as conversing in groups when notifying participants will prevent them from having the thread drowned in their stream by bringing their attention to it. But overuse of this for lame reasons such as just trying it out or to garner attention to one’s self is almost unforgivable–not to mention annoying if overdone. This isn’t Facebook, you have an open option not to force everything on everybody, so make the most of it; yet, minimise notifications even to concerned circles unless you can thoroughly justify what you did.

So the next time you think of notifying somebody, think again is it’s really (really) necessary. If it is, go ahead,; and if it is not, have pity on the other party.

3. To (re)share or credit?

It’s one thing to share somebody’s post; it is an entirely different thing to give credit to them. Well, they put it up, you better give them credit!

Of course, the original poster is notified of the share when you share it, but there are some things to keep in mind. Especially when you and the OP have followers in common, sharing soon after the OP shared it is pointless. It just appears in everybody’s stream multiple times. Added to this, if a post has already been shared several times, you can be sure it would have reached a large number of Googlers (and improved its chances of appearing in Google Search!)

Courtesy, Blogger Buzz

The alternative is to give credit: this can be as a comment to their post, a separate update voicing your views (if they are numerous enough and go deep enough to be worth a read.) Even adding a simple adjective and +Mentioning them will make a visible difference.

4. The Circle Formula

Another major difference (and a great one, if I may add) is Google’s abolition of the You follow me, I’ll follow you attitude that really took nobody anywhere on other social networks.

When you circle somebody, do it genuinely, not fervently hoping they will circle back. However, when somebody circles you, take a look at their profile. You can never tell when an interesting person is around you until you endeavour to find out. But the point is that you can do it in the comfort of knowing there is no compulsion to circle anybody back. Unlike most other social networks, following on Google+ is not mutual and this allows for better connection between people.

The attention herders from point #2 above are present here too. One can find them strolling Google+ with rather useless comments to make, but make it often enough that you read their name over and over again until you decide to check their profile — or something to that effect. You get the point.

5.Hangouts

I think hangouts are where netiquette turns into etiquette, another fine example of how the Google+ formula reflects real life closer than ever.

I need hardly go into the decencies in hangouts: a web camera is not the sole requirement in a hangout. You also need a bucketload of respect and a tub full of politeness, among other things you ought to know by now. There is of course the social dictum, ‘Don’t talk when you have to listen;’ Or perhaps it says you should not talk over somebody else? Such manners we involuntarily adopt in daily life go a long way in making a hangout worth everybody’s time.

6. Huddle selectively

Just because you know calling many people will increase your chances of getting a positive reply, it does not mean you should randomly invite you 500-strong circle to a huddle.

If sharing posts is to selective circles, huddling goes twice the distance. When an Android and/or iPhone user decides to start huddling with the people in his circle, he is literally calling everybody for a casual conversation that often turns out to be aimlessly wandering with too many people saying too many things, picturing a different end. It helps to tailor your huddle to select people, all of whom you know would be really interested in the issue at hand.

Remember that a huddle is not a soapbox speech where one talks and the others have the option of disregarding them. A huddle is where people have accepted invitations to a group chat, so make their chat — like in all other aspects so far — worthwhile.

7. Scrutinise your shares

This is not so much a netiquette as it is something you ought to give time to. In short, avoid ridiculous talking cats (and cats playing pianos) and animated GIFs of any species.

Share things that you would enjoy reading/seeing if somebody else shared it and it came on your stream. It’s like that old rule of “do not do what you would not want done to you.” The point of Google+ is that a different, and even mature, community has formed around it which welcomes everybody so long as they know how to conduct themselves well. While on Google+ make sure you use, rather than abuse, the network’s features; and make double sure that you are not doing anything without the intention of enriching others’ streams.

Behave.

Now these seven points are not the only unanimously agreed rules of netiquette on Google+, but they are a start. Personally, I think it is a list worth building so if you have your own views (or are opposed to any of the the seven already put up here) share it below!

For more on improving your Google+ experience, you might want to read my series on Google+. You can also join me on Google+.

10 people to follow on Twitter and add value to your stream

Twitter is here to stay. Many spoke of how Google+ may be a threat to Twitter–or words to that effect–but my own belief is that Twitter is something along entirely different lines and Google+ has nothing to do with it. With this in mind, I can safely state that Twitter is the only other social network I am active in, besides Google+, and if you have not tasted the network much or, like thousands of others, have created an account you probably do not even remember, I strongly suggest you go back start becoming active.

Ready?

This list I have built up is of ten of those who have added value to my Twitter stream and to yours too if you will start following them. While this can serve as a starting point to people who are new to Twitter, it is also a checklist for the others to make sure they are not missing out on some great stuff by not following these awesome people.

Needless to say, I follow all of them. But let us not spend too much time on chatter; head over to the list ((If you cannot see the images above, the list includes these people: Marsha Collier,  Alexis Madrigal, Jeff Elder, Ed Yong, Maria Popova, Phil Plait, Michael Merced, Tilly Blyth, Robert Reibold and Andrew Cohen.))below (which is in no particular order.)

Before you jump in, click here to start following me on Twitter if you like!

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Guide to buying a digital point and shoot camera

Or, how I bought a great camera and how you can too!

There are way too many p&s cameras out there in the market and almost everybody seems to portray their products as more worthy a buy than another. But how much can we bend before we break?

I faced the same problem when I was contemplating on which camera to buy, and after a few weeks’ repeated consideration which required quite a lot of endurance, I finally ordered one. But I learned an extensive lot in the process: terms I never new existed, stuff I never knew mattered and more stuff I never knew meant nothing. And most importantly, what one’s itinerary ought to be on the map of confusion that is the market of cameras. So this is my two cents on what you ought to consider when you buy the next digital camera. Rest assured I have covered everything there is in this brief, yet informative, guide filled with all you need to know. Plus my own experience from a few days ago!

Is what I have now not good enough?

Perhaps the first question one needs to ask themselves is whether they need  a digital camera at all. A few good reasons you can convince yourself is because the images are output digitally, which means they are easier to handle and you do not have to wait for an entire reel of film to run out before you develop it (if you really like to hold it physically.)
That said, and if you already have a digital camera or a mode of shooting digitally  (I had my smartphone) do you need a new one? Again, a few good reasons might be that you need better picture quality than your lousy phone can give you, or maybe you want to pursue photography as a mainstream hobby and cannot afford (or do not want) a dSLR, so a p&s is a better option. Or maybe you have got better with photography and want to explore a world where your camera allows a tad more of those envious manual settings than can make or break an image—and only you are to blame. But it is fun nonetheless.

The main advantage of a digital camera is that it is handy and cuts out all that acutance jargon most people do not understand (and if you did not know, acutance is what the layman calls sharpness.) Even more of a reason would be those preset modes. But these are misleading, as we will later see.

What my camera would need, as opposed to what it would want

So the two main questions before us would be, what are those elements my camera absolutely cannot do without (in other words, would be a waste of an investment.) And those that will not really matter to me.

Megapixels

For new entrants into the camera market, MPs are everything. But the fact of the matter is that they mean nothing unless coupled with a golden leaf. (I will come to that leaf later.)

Megapixels, roughly translating, tells you how big a picture you can get out of a shot you have just taken. Would it be over 4000 pixels by length and height? (About 14MP.) Or just over 1200 either way? (About 5MP, maxed out.) Or, to take it further, will you be able to print out a three foot by four foot framed photograph without losing detail, introducing noise or (to put it loosely) compromising on quality?

[For the curious mind, MegaPixels really means million. Mega is a prefix used in physics, for instance MegaHertz for frequency, Megametre for a million metres or a thousand kilometers and so on. It is one followed by six zeroes and so 6MP really means your image can have up to 6,000,000 pixels—although cameras always have an option to click a picture in any lower pixel density, such as 5 or 4MP, in the settings menu.]

But even these megapixels mean nothing without our golden leaf

Image Sensors

So the image you have before you is not all fitting the LCD Live View screen? Or are those 30MPs seeming like large pixelated tiles while the guy over at the camera store told you it should be smooth as silk, like pictures from an issue of NatGeo? Blame your image sensor.

These little devices have odd looking measurement styles. If you looked at the specifications of any camera, you would find Image Sensors listed as something like 1/6” or 1/5” or moving to dSLRs, 1/1.2” and so on.

While this seems to make perfect sense to any student of photography or physics, the layman might get lost here. The idea is that the larger the Image Sensor, the better the processing is. Take graphics cards, for example: the larger their memory, the better their output. But in case of the Sensors, when we speak of large, we mean it literally.

Take 1/6” and 1/5” for instance: dividing 1 by 6, we get 0.166”; and dividing 1 by 5 we get 0.2”. Clearly, the second one (two tenths of an inch) is larger than the first. Therefore the second Image Sensor is better.

The further gameplan is this: a very small image sensor, like 1/6”, given an elephantine lot of pixels, like 14MP, will be unjust. The tiny thing will not be able to do a good job and the end result will be a noisy photograph. On the other hand, a 1/5” sensor coupled with a 3MP camera is meaningless because the input image itself is not sufficiently sharp. The right combination of these two is therefore extremely necessary.

My Canon PowerShot has a 14.1MP with a 1/2.3” sensor (about 0.45”) which is a good standard. You can perhaps use that to get an idea as to what MP goes with what sensor.

But why do manufacturers still put in such large MPs into cameras? I think it is a marketing gimmick. More than three-fourths of the consumers out there go by MegaPixels and hardly any of them have even heard of Image Sensors. But now you know.

[For those of you who have at some point of time studied electronics and circuitry, the Image Sensors that are of the Charged Couple Device type are generally better. Others might want to look for the CCD marking like ‘1/4” CCD Image Sensor’ on the device specs.]

And the others

You will be surprised to know these are the only things you absolutely must bother about when buying a digital camera. But there are a few optional things which might be interesting to consider should two or three cameras in your budget end in a tie when comparing their MPs and ISs!

Basically, the two points above are a requirement for all; but those hereafter are either optional or are for people with specific requirements. I have them below in the order of preference:

Image Stability: Nobody keeps their camera perfectly still while shooting (although there are a few tricks I, myself, follow to increase stability manually) so a digital (or preferably, optical) electronic image stabilisation feature is an excellent addition for your money.

Optical zoom: If you plan to click pictures from afar, the optical zoom feature is a must. My PowerShot has a 4x zoom in its Canon Zoom (full of awesomeness) lens and I find it sufficient for my needs. However, manufacturers add a digital zoom feature to lure innocent consumers. Find the option that lets you throw it out of the window. Digital zoom merely crops, enlarges and wrecks a part of your photograph so much that you would not even want to take credit for it any day.

Battery type: Often the option in cameras is between two battery types: AA dry cells (NiMH) or rechargable Li-ion. (when I say option, I mean cameras come with either; you cannot choose it yourself!)

The advantage with AA batteries is that there is no headache of charging. Most Nikon p&s cameras adhere to this trend. But, from experience I can assure you that if you do not get the rechargeable AA batteries, you will run out of juice soon. And even if you do, they will not last as long as Li-ion built-in batteries. Moreover, recharging makes no difference with the Li-ion batteries!

The Li-ion batteries are similar to phone batteries and nowadays come with the option of charging them in-camera as opposed to using a second charger to charge them. They also have a USB-charging feature that works best with USB 3.0+ and is considerably fast with lower versions.

Flash: Best if placed on the left of the lens (right, if you view the camera from the front.) This allows for free handling of your right hand which operates the shutter button and prevents your fingers obstructing the flash. Also use Through The Lens flash (or TTL for short) sparingly. Of better use would be the fill flash option if your camera has it, because it uses surrounding environment light as a reflector/intensifier to give you a better picture without clumsy flashes and red-eyes.

[As a side note, remember those guys in the middle of the football stadium, flashing away on their cameras? Well, they were wasting their batteries. Flash is useless beyond a maximum of eight to ten feet. Beyond that, it just consumes your battery and makes no difference to the picture. The advice therefore is, learn when not to use your flash. Parenthetically, make sure your camera has the option to turn off flash when it is not required, just like it has an option to get rid of digital zoom.]

Aperture Priority (Av): This is an indispensable semi-manual mode of shooting. If your camera has this and the Shutter Priority mode (we will come to that soon) then it is a one up. In this, one has the option to manually set the aperture size (like f/5, f/2 and so on—my personal favourite is f/8 which I find perfectly suitable to most situations.) This creates, most commonly, a depth of field. I have yet to put up photographs with varying depths of field on my photography website, and I plan to pick up a few of my older shoots and do so soon.

Depth of field is really the amount of your picture in focus (based on relative distances from the lens.) Now follow this closely: a large aperture number means a small aperture opening; a small aperture opening means the amount of light entering your camera is restricted; less light entry implies a greater depth of field where a large number of objects in the scene are in clear focus. This is best for landscapes.

Now doing just the opposite (small aperture number and so on as I explained above) gives us a small depth of field, or all the objects in the scene are not in focus. To be precise, the nearest one (most often the subject) is in focus. This is particularly helpful in macro (shooting up close) or when the viewers’ attention has to be directed to something in particular, regardless of the background (which almost always gets thoroughly blurred.)

I call this a semi-manual mode (actually, quite a few people do) because, while we control the aperture, the remaining details—most interestingly the shutter speed—which we have to set manually in dSLR cameras, is set by the camera itself. In general the formula, quite understandably, is to go in for a slow shutter speed for larger depths of field.

Shutter Priority (Tv): The other important semi-manual mode where you set the shutter speed manually. This is most useful when photographing moving things, like water, over a split second because this gives a surreal effect most commonly found coupled in HDR photographs (High Dynamic Range imaging: those almost artificial looking vivid coloured photographs some people still think are digitally created.)

Automatic mode: I do not have to put this here, because without this, the concept of a digital camera breaks down. If I still have to explain it, it is that evergreen mode some fellows refuse to switch from where the camera does all the work except clicking the shutter button.

Programme mode: This is actually a non-standard semi-manual mode one finds in select cameras which often lets the user make considerable adjustments in hue, tone, saturation, white balance, contrast, brightness, exposure, ISO and so on. (ISO is the International Organisation for Standardisation which used to set the standards for reel films; but the term has remained in use even for digital cameras and simply suggest what reel quality/standard the particular shot is going to be equivalent to if you were using a film-camera in its place.

I call this a non-standard mode because there is no single definition for this mode in the marketplace. There are even manufacturers who merge this with the automatic mode, disregard it or call the Auto mode as the Programme mode.

Internal and expandable memory: The standard internal memory for a camera nowadays is around 30 to 50 MB. Sufficient for a couple of good quality pictures, insufficient for videos. Anything lesser is bad value for money, although not a prime concern because, whether we wish to or not, buying a digital camera always means buying a memory card along with it!

Make sure you get good option to expand the memory of up to at least 4GB. This optimum amount makes sure your older photos do not get buried if you do not have the habit of regularly formatting your card and clicking tonnes of pictures and experimenting. While this is unanimous industrial standard, some cameras sway away from this rule. And you need to stay out of their path.

Panorama and Movie modes: Useful to most, and an added up to some, these give you the option of shooting films (often up to half an hour) and taking a series of pictures spanning 360 degrees. While some cameras allow you to stitch the panorama in-camera, others require a provided software package.

Pre-set modes and effects: If all the three we saw above were semi-manual modes, these pre-set modes are fully automatic. Examples include landscape, portrait, face-priority, smile/wink detection, night, fireshow, discrete, copy and a number of others. These need not all be in all cameras, but it would be a good criteria to look into before buying a camera merely as good value for your money.

Along with this are effects, such as sepia, black&white, vivid colour, red-eye reduction and so on. And additional features such as locking select pictures, cropping them and so on.

Good luck buying a camera!

Tat is quite all I have to say at the moment! Bookmark this and do keep coming back to this post because I might just keep making additions and changes (which I will clearly mark as and ‘update.’)  And if you have questions, do get in touch with me and I will do as much as I can to help.

Good luck buying that envious new camera!

Think before you tweet: 16 ethics on Twitter

CNBC’s blog, flopping out, gave me the ‘think before you tweet.’ Given that Twitter is fast becoming the ultimate source of information exchange online, it is not surprising if you find yourself one day following President Obama or Gaddafi or the guy in the corner of your street… or even me! The important thing to know in such times is that as tweeters we have certain unspoken of, yet unanimously accepted, set of rules—or rather ethics—to keep up to. But how many of us actually do that? Below I have listed few that I could think of and you are most welcome to add to them as you please.

  1. Tweets are read by others so if you don’t want even one of them to know what you think of an international political crisis, there is no point in sharing it with the others.
  2. Nobody wants to know what you dined on so please do not take the trouble of tweeting that you are at such a restaurant, eating such a dish and paying so much for it.
  3. Tweet what other will benefit from and not the fact that a coin has two faces. How many of them do not actually know that? I doubt they would find themselves on Twitter even accidentally.
  4. Tweeting is not letter writing so do not say thank you through tweets. Or hello or good-bye or any such courtesy for that matter, unless it is so important that it will surge your tweeting community ahead in some manner. Use Direct Messages if it is really necessary.
  5. Re-tweets are not to exchange pleasantries and neither are mentions. <Celebrity’s name here> re-tweet me! It would mean a lot to me! Of course it would, but how useful would you be as part of an active tweeting community which actually has serious tweeters? (Yes, such tweeters do exist.)
  6. Not knowing when to tweet can help you lose your job. ’Nuff said.
  7. A simple rule of thumb that can take you a long way, safely, is do not tweet anything you would not actually want to tell your followers to their face.
  8. Twitter is not a backyard for your musings so stop thinking aloud on twitter.
  9. Stop marketing your product or self on Twitter because, if you have not already bothered to read through it, one of the first terms you agree to when joining Twitter goes so: [You will not] sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to Twitter or Twitter Content to any third-party without prior written approval from Twitter.
  10. Just because the term Twitter stemmed from meaning ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,it does not mean you can tweet useless collections of words.
  11. Stop trying to create trends by hash-tagging every word in your tweet. If it is worth it, it will become a trend with no help from your part.
  12. Do not converse on Twitter or cuss around because, while Twitter is not a chat room, it is not any more private than a humungous ball everybody in the world attends.
  13. Direct Messages are not cheap marketing solutions so stop asking people to buy your product or get a membership with your company. Say thanks for following instead or, better yet, do not send Direct Messages unless you know that person and are sure you will not be wasting their time sending such private messages.
  14. Nobody need follow you back. Get it out of your head that someone needs to follow you because you followed them. It is not a favour they owe you, nor an action you ought to expect. Remember that you followed them out of your own free will and not with them holding a gun to your head. You wanted to read their tweets, and they are glad to share it. If they do not want to read yours, stop forcing them and—childishly—stop unfollowing them!
  15. Twitter is not all about followers rather about quality tweets. It is better to have ten followers and thousand quality, useful tweets rather than thousand followers and ten rotten tweets.
  16. Twitter account monitoring softwares play spoil sport because they are only interested in followers. Automatically following tweeters and unfollowing them if they do not follow you back is lame. See my 14th point. And if you are on Twitter for followers, you would be better of taking my advice and deleting your account. You will then do many people a great favour.

Have you thought of more such Twitter ethics? Share them below!

To commemorate my short tryst with the study of our Universe, I decided to compile a set of seven of

To commemorate my short tryst with the study of our Universe, I decided to compile a set of seven of the best photographs available, each describing one of seven phenomenon/bodies that have eluded physicists or struck them as remarkable.

In order, we have,

  1. Neutrinos (Super-K Neutrino Observatory)
  2. Wormholes
  3. Black Holes (‘Black Holes ain’t so black!’ courtesy Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time)
  4. Supernovae (Eye Supernova)
  5. Saturn’s Rings
  6. Nebulae (Horse Head Nebula)
  7. Galaxies

Five reasons why my driving streak will end in twenty days!

It was hard to come up with the fifth reason, but the first four being rather spontaneous give me sufficient reason to justify my cause! (And you cannot change my mind!) 

  1. You don’t make mistakes while driving. While it is true that mistakes teach you, it is an impractical belief insofar as certain things like driving or flying a plane are concerned. One ought to be prepared enough before attempting a task and when they believe they are so prepared and yet falter, they might as well face the facts: they are no good at it. Or, to be easy on them, they are not cut for it. The point is, when driving, there is no room or mistakes.
  2. You cannot gage. It surprises me to what extent driving is based on blind gaging. When you cannot gage, and you cannot give reasons for being unable to do so, you might as well keep yourself off the driver’s seat. That is for people gifted with the ability to gage their way around the world!
  3. The brakes do not hold. So you are turning, then you are shifting gears and there is a wide pathway through which you need to manoeuver the car and yet you slam into the side wall. What were you supposed to be doing? Braking. You were, but the brakes do not hold. Nobody believes you because they are busy coming up with dramatically innovative ways to say ‘I told you so!’
  4. You overestimate yourself. And underestimate others. I try to keep my mouth shut, but words spill out. Who does not know you need to take the handbrake off before starting the car? If you forget a thing as simple as that, you might consider driving to be beyond your capabilities. If you find the car veering out o your control, or if you find you forgot to take the handbrake off, stop thinking you can drive, because you cannot!
  5. Driving is harmful. The fact is almost as old as the legends of the ice ages themselves: walk, jog, run and you can stay healthy. Drive—or ride—and you are, firstly, a threat to the environment, secondly, helping empty our non-renewable resources and thirdly—if all the above points also apply to you—a threat to everybody on the road, which is roughly quarter of the earth’s population.

My driving classes have only just begun. But when they end, my driving streak also ends. To satisfy your curiosity, I will by no means cease to empty our resources for I will still ride!

Driving is an art with more elements than meets the eye. And when you falter, you are not good enough and you might leave the job—and lecturing about road safety!—to others good at it.

They say everybody makes mistakes, that everybody experienced collision while learning. It is part of the learning process. But some people set themselves a sharper learning curve and there is no place for collisions in mine. (Indeed the only place I come across collisions is in safe Physics!) But you doing all that does not make you any different.

Like I said, there is no point pursuing this further. My driving classes end in twenty days (but you might have figured that out already!) And roadworthy people may rest assured that I will not join their league with more than two wheels under my mercy!

Voila!