Armchair aviators, Facebook and #hashtags

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. I want to fly radio-controlled airplanes but do not have the space. Might drones be a good option?

A. I loved flying model planes when I was a kid. Unable to afford radio-controlled models, I made do with the small gas-powered models that flew on the end of a string. Of course, those were the days when kids played with lawn darts and home glassblowing kits.

Today’s drones exchange explosive liquid fuel for the comparative safety of battery power. And since drones hover like a helicopter, they can be used when space is limited. So the short answer is yes, drones can be used practically everywhere.

However (there is always “however” when dealing with untethered flying objects), space is not the only consideration. Once again the technology of what is possible has leapfrogged legal and cultural norms, so much so that drones find themselves at the heart of many controversies.

The place to start is to research the rules governing drones, which are formally called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The FAA requires that anyone age 13 or older must register as a drone operator at Flying them outdoors means navigating a patchwork of rules and regulations depending on where you live, but a healthy dose of common sense is necessary as well.

The next step is to find a drone you can afford. My advice is to start small and simple, both as a way to flatten out the learning curve and to protect your budget. Most drones aren’t easily repairable, yet all of them are very easy to crash. You can have plenty of fun with starter models like the under-$50 Syma X11 or Hubsan X4.

Some inexpensive models even sport cameras. Learn to fly it indoors, then move outside on a calm day. As your flying skills improve, you can transition to larger, more complex aircraft.

Q. One of my friends posts things on Facebook I’d rather not see. Can I turn them off?

A. When you first open Facebook, most likely you see the News Feed. This list of items is generated automatically with criteria known only to Facebook. Everyone’s News Feed is unique, and while some things cannot be changed, you do have choices.

There was a time when the only way to change the News Feed was to “unfriend” someone. That still might be an option. Unfortunately, quietly unfriending someone can sometimes cause more friction than it cures.

The small menu that appears as an icon at the top right of each post is your new best friend. This menu permits you to fine tune the News Feed to better reflect your taste.

The most limited option is to “Hide This Post,” which will immediately remove it from your News Feed. Facebook will attempt to keep similar items from appearing in the future. As a side note, there is also a choice to turn off notifications for a post, which is useful to pare down the volume of message alerts.

The other option is probably the most useful for your situation: Unfollow , which is not the same thing as unfriend. When you unfollow someone, you remain friends, but you no longer see their posts in your News Feed.

Q. Sometimes I see words or phrases that begin with a # symbol. What is going on?

A. Alas, words like that are called hashtags. Hashtags first appeared on Twitter, moved to many other sites, and now they show up everywhere, even TV broadcasts. Hashtags stitch together the fabric of social networks. They allow anyone to turn #anyseriesofletters into a tag. In addition to a literal meaning, hashtags can also convey emphasis much the same way as bold and italicized text.

Hashtags are most commonly used on social networking services to express a connection to an event or an object. Typically one person coins a hashtag, and other people begin to use it on their posts. When the use grows beyond a certain point, the hashtag becomes a trend, which is simply a topic receiving a great deal of attention at the moment. Instagram and Twitter make the heaviest use of hashtags, and their apps are optimized to use them.

I use hashtags to follow news events. If something newsworthy occurs just about anywhere, you can expect that photos of it with appropriate hashtags will appear on Twitter or Instagram almost instantly. To get a sense of how they work, search anywhere for #blizzard2016 or #superbowl50.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at

Wander the Web (Bob's picks):

Jabberwocky Vaccine

Some days the Web reads like a Tower of Babel on steroids. Torrents of words slosh past one another as we attempt to explain our point of view to a few billion other souls out there all trying to do the same thing. Fortunately, we can borrow the tools debaters and philosophers have used for centuries to sort out the difference between sense and nonsense: logical fallacies. The idea behind the site is that once you know what a logical fallacy is, the better equipped you are to avoid them and to spot them when they are directed toward you. From slippery slopes to the middle ground, this small site is a useful roadmap for critical thinkers and babel worshippers alike.

Planet Earth’s Greatest Hits

In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began a project to catalog the most noteworthy places on earth. I’m certain you know some of these already, if only by name – The Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu. Over time, the list has grown to over 1000 locations, and it reflects the beauty of nature and the epic expanse of human history. The UNESCO World Heritage website is home to the list, which is an excellent venue to discover new places to explore.

Mr. Grey Explains It All

This video collection humorously explores such diverse questions as the origin of Daylight Savings Time or how elections really work. C.G.P. Grey, a former physics teacher who has taken his passion for quirky geography and unusual history to a broad audience via YouTube, is a skilled storyteller who focuses a bright light on ideas that percolate through the culture like background noise but are rarely explained. The delivery is fast and full of rich detail, while the short format is a perfect way to spend a few minutes.

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at

Rendered 06/13/2024 09:37