Facebook contacts export

Here’s a quick note about how to get your contact list (emails, phone numbers, maybe more) out of Facebook.

Firstly, Facebook doesn’t let you export. So there’s that.

You can connect Yahoo mail, and/or Hotmail to Facebook. There are pretty straightforward tools on the Yahoo and Hotmail sites to do this. Hotmail will also let you connect to Linkedin, if that’s something that you want to do.

Once you have them in Yahoo or Hotmail, you should be able to export them, right? Wrong. As part of the process, Facebook locks the export ability. You can edit every Yahoo contact to remove the Facebook block, but that’s a lot of manual work. And, despite the Yahoo documentation, just adding contacts to a list does not make them exportable.

But you can install Yahoo Mail and Hotmail on your Android phone (I used my Nook Color, but it’s the same idea). The applications will let you sync users to your local contacts.

Once you have local contacts, you can use the built-in export tool to save them as a single-file vcard.

Copy the vcard to your computer, and now you can import (Linux users: Evolution is way better at this than Thunderbird).

I will come back and clean this up soon, but if you need a way, this worked for me.

Facebook: goodbye, and why

Today is the last day to have a Facebook account that’s not updated to the new timeline layout. Tomorrow, they automatically update everyone, which requires some work from the users to keep privacy settings the same. This all sounds pretty unimportant on Facebook’s site, but some of the UK tabloids aren’t so sure.

The way this change has come down has made me think a lot about privacy and social media. While there’s no doubt that Facebook has changed the way we communicate forever, I’ve decided to delete my account. I was a heavy Facebook user, but the more I think and read about it, the more I think I need to spend more time thinking about it. Everyone should think about what Facebook is, what they do, and consider deleting yours too. Here’s how. And here’s why I’m doing it:

The reaction over the ‘upgrade’ to timeline isn’t about the timeline feature at all. It’s that when we release any information on Facebook (or any other site, for that matter) it no longer belongs to us. We don’t pay Facebook, and they have to make money somehow. We’re all giving them something much more valuable than money: data.

Facebook is building a future without any explicit right to privacy. It is all very good if that’s what you want, but you have to understand: if you are not buying a product, you are the product. Someone has to pay for data centres, equipment, staff, and you certainly don’t get a company rumoured to be worth $100 Billion dollars providing a free service with no plan for profit. Novelist Charlie Stross has a thoughtful piece about that on his blog, which I encourage you to read. Suffice it to say that your holiday pictures, ‘like’ buttons, status updates, and other self-published data are the richest marketing and intelligence gathering resource the world has ever seen.

And just in case you have a Facebook account but ‘don’t use it’: you don’t have to have an active Facebook account to have privacy concerns. Just having an account someone can ‘tag’ in pictures, and other reports is bad, as well. They will grow a history of you that you have no control over (even though, frankly, you have no control over what Facebook does with the information you give them, anyway).

I have a friend who thinks that being on Facebook is like being pregnant. Since he’s on it now, he thinks that there’s no point in going back. His data ‘isn’t important’ because it’s self-screened, and he ‘can’t get it back anyway.’ Well, maybe, but maybe not. It’s never to late to start thinking about what you’re doing, and perhaps decide to make a change. You can stop giving data away; turning over mass amounts about yourself, be it to Google (think about it: web searches, IM, email, calendar, phone records, and their own social network — they know all about you), Twitter (yes, they can track you in 140 characters — it’s probably actually easier), or Facebook (the most obviously uncaring of the club, and also the most powerful) is probably unwise, but should we try to do something about it?

I am, at least until I’m done thinking about it. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. You should at least think about what you’re doing, too.

Reading List

An important part of writing is continuing to read. It helps develop style, gives you something to talk about at the pub, and of course it’s fun — otherwise we wouldn’t want to write, would we?

So, I thought to take a minute to share my current reading list with you:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. One of the reasons I got my Kindle was the wealth of free ebooks from ‘the canon’. Skipping the more traditional literature education — completely — I missed the Russian fiction. This is a lovely book, incredibly written, but I’ve been reading it for a year, in bits and bobs, and I would swear that very little has happened — although it has — and that I’ve read a ream of epaper — even though I haven’t. Maybe it’s something to do with the idea of reading Russian fiction. Anyway, get a copy from Gutenberg and see if you agree. I got my for free from Amazon, but it seems like they want to charge you for ‘delivery’ now. Sad, Bezos, sad.

Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain by Matthew Engel. Mr. Engel is a journalist. He loves trains a bit, and so do I. This is his history of and love letter to the British train and rail system. It is lovely, and I have been savouring it for a long time, because I prefer to read it on trains. It is definitely worth a look in.

Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Conflict and Intrigue, Vol. 2: Fables from the Panchatantra, Jatakas, Bidpai, Kalilah and Dimnah and Lights of Canopus by Ramsay Wood. This is Mr. Wood’s second volume of retold tales from the fables of Bidpai. It is accessible, timeless, and lovingly presented. I’ve only had it for a week, but it is the front of my reading list now. Get it before it goes out of print, and check out the first volume: Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Friendship and Betrayal.

Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror! edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. A short story collection that mixes Sherlock with Cthulhu, this is a decent set of one-sitting reads with a couple of absolute gems. I use this as a filler book, for when I’m tired of whatever else I’m reading. Highly recommended, as I burned through half of it in a day, and then realised the great thing about short story collections is that you don’t have to finish them in one movement.

Proven Guilty (Dresden Files 8 ) by Jim Butcher. What can I say about the Dresden Files? They are not the high literature, but are fun, quick, and certainly by book 8 Mr. Butcher’s style is much better. I’m reading on the Kindle, which means when I’m travelling light and don’t want Tolstoy, I’m probably following the exploits of Chicago’s most famous wizard private investigator. Fun, easy, and good if you don’t expect too much.

So, there you have it. What are you reading?


Computers are not magic. Nothing in technology is. Computers are tools that follow the operator’s instructions. Commands can be complex, and underlying code can possibly be send incorrect instructions, but in the end, there is no room for interpretation. Computers cannot ‘get mad’ at you, or have a bad day, or do something that they’re not told to do. Not yet, anyway.

I deal with technical problems every day. Generally, I try to solve them, with methodical and unambiguous techniques that produce quantifiable results. That’s a complicated way of saying I work on a problem until it’s solved and I know why it happened. This is a cornerstone of my entire professional life, and the process is simple. No matter how complex your problem, troubleshooting follows the same steps:

  1. You have a problem. Define it.
  2. Identify the variables (what can change, especially what you can change).
  3. Change one variable
  4. Test. Do you still have the problem? If not, quit, you have solved it.
  5. Change your previous variable back.
  6. Change another variable.
  7. Test.
  8. Repeat until a solution is found. Eventually, you will be rewarded.

Sometimes you get a complicated problem, with interaction between multiple variables. But that’s when your process has to be absolutely methodical and boring. Even if the system is burning down around you — especially if the system is burning down around you — you must stay calm; troubleshooting takes as much time as it takes.

I bring this up because, over the years, I have encountered a staggering number of technical people — engineers, computer scientists, systems and network administrators — who do not manage to be methodical, for one reason or another. Many people in the IT field don’t have a good troubleshooting process, and waste a lot of time and effort as a result — both their own, and that of those they work with (like me). Even if they solve a problem, they won’t know the cause, won’t be able to recreate the problem, cannot come up with a permanent fix, and cannot apply this experience to future problems.

Sometimes these folks are highly pressured and attempt everything they can think of at once. Sometimes they ‘don’t care what the problem is, as long as it’s fixed.’ Many times they simply do not have a background in or experience of problem solving, and also don’t understand what benefits a step-by-step process brings. But a cool head, methodical work habit, and good documentation, combined with sensible precautions (you did back up, right?) will always yield the desired results. Rushing and not knowing why things are working will only lead to problems down the road.

I would like to thank the science teachers I had in California public school, who taught me how to design an experiment at an early age. I’m not sure if it was third grade or seventh, but valid experimental procedure has become my ingrained response to solving technical problems. Without it, I wouldn’t have had a good job in university, wouldn’t have managed a technology career, and would not have the life I lead today. My hat is off to you, my former teachers. Here’s hoping there are still some people out teaching the basics.