Google Releases Google Earth VR for HTC Vive

Google has released a free new version of Google Earth on a totally different computing platform: Virtual Reality (VR). Google imaginatively calls it Google Earth VR. Specifically, for now, this version is for the HTC Vive which is the only consumer platform with dedicated 3D controllers for interacting in VR. Download link for GEVR (from the official Steam page). You can watch the Google Earth VR demonstration video from the Google announcement below:

Based on my reviewing it today, Google is taking great advantage of VR with the new version. You can view the Earth, and all its places, in an entirely different perspective. Because, now Google Earth’s 3D content is fully stereoscopic 3D, and immerses you in cities, valleys, mountains, etc. You can use the 3D controller to fly yourself around, or drag the sun to get a different sun angle, or see the stars at night above your chosen landscape or city. Google has chosen to give you a non-human scale, so when you are viewing places like cities – you feel like a giant who can reach out and hug a skyscraper, or give a hug to Half Dome or the Matterhorn. Since the Vive allows you to move around your room, you can literally walk around mountains, canyons, buildings, and more. [EDIT: It is possible to change setting in the menu options so you can feel more human scale sized].

Google starts the program by offering you a basic tour which flies you to several well-known locations on Earth. The first time you experience it, you will probably have a strong “Wow” feeling as the scenery is stereoscopic 3D, and you can look in any direction. I sure had that reaction myself! In addition, Google uses 3D audio and music for the tours. In some places you hear city street sounds, in one you hear the church bells of a nearby cathedral, and in nature shots you might hear some wind or car noises from a nearby highway. It definitely adds to the realism of the scenes.

After the tour, you end up with a full view of the Earth in space (an amazing experience), and are then given tips on using the controllers to drag the Earth, and fly down to see whatever place you like. You can also pop up a menu that gives you choices of other tours, and selections of cities and places you might want to visit. The controls also enable you to take screenshots. One of my favorite features is that you can point the controller at the sun and drag it across the sky, or below the horizon to make the sky switch to night (where you will see the stars and milky way in all its glory).

There’s more to learn about the interfaces than you might first realize. One surprise I got is that if you point at the controller in one of your hands (the one which shows a globe with the current position) with the other controller, the globe grows to a larger version of the Earth with a pin showing your current position. You can then use the other controller to rotate the earth, and point at a rough position on the globe and drop a new pin to fly to that location. This is a very cool feature and immediately reminded me of the scene in the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, that one of the original developers of Google Earth said was originally an inspiration for the first version of our favorite program.

Google Earth VR Controllers selecting location Google Earth VR controllers selecting location

It’s great to see Google finally release something new and exciting for Google Earth. A new version of Google Earth has been rumored for over two years for the desktop/mobile platforms that will be a complete re-write. But, we have yet to see even a test version in the wild for the new Google Earth. So, we are still waiting.

Since I’ve been spending the last year working with VR technologies, I’m particularly glad to see Google Earth for this new exciting immersive platform. They have released the program for the HTC Vive via the Steam gaming platform (the Vive was largely developed by the makers of Steam at Valve Corporation), which is the biggest platform for VR content. Considering the cost for HTC Vive ($800 – not including a beefy PC and graphics card), and it having been released less than a year ago, there are estimated to be fewer than 300,000 Vive owners at this point. Still, for Google to release now is a big statement about the future of VR. I suspect versions for Oculus Rift and Sony Playstation VR, and quite probably for Google’s new Daydream View VR platform.

Some other observations about Google Earth VR:

1) They use a “comfort mode” technique (dwhich you can turn off in the menus) which shrinks your view while you are “flying” in Google Earth. This minimizes your peripheral vision and thereby helps lower visual-induced motion sickness. It’s actually quite effective. I tried turning it off in the menu and definitely felt less comfortable when flying inside VR. Once you stop moving, you get the full 360 panorama back, and you can still swivel your view while flying.

2) If you are looking to buy the Vive, HTC is now bundling Google Earth VR with it. Which is kind of silly when you consider its a free app, so it’s not exactly a value add.

3) An important note is that the Google Earth 3D terrain is simplified in in detail for GEVR compared to what’s available in the desktop version of Google Earth. [EDIT: Turns out GEVR made me realize Google at some point reduced 3D terrain fidelity for some places where formerly they had higher resolution data. After checking the desktop I found both GEVR and desktop GE now have lower resolution in formerly higher resolution locations.]

4) If you are standing in your room with your Vive (as most Vive users do), then you will notice you never are lower than about 50 meters off the ground. If you want to look closer at the ground, you can get your head closer to the ground (where you are standing) and look closer. This might not be obvious at first, so I thought I would mention it.

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition.

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The Walmart Greeter

So I landed my new job as a Walmart greeter (a good way to pass some time and get a few bucks for retirees like me).

My job lasted less than a day.

You probably want to know the story. Everyone does.

Well, about two hours into my first day on the job a very loud, unattractive, mean-acting woman walked into the store with her two kids, yelling obscenities at them all the way through the entrance.

As I had been instructed, I said pleasantly, “Good morning and welcome to Wal-Mart. Nice children you have there. Are they twins?”

The ugly woman stopped yelling, and stopped in her tracks.

“Hell no, they ain’t twins,” she said in the same loud voice, glaring at me. “The oldest one’s 9, and the other one’s 7!”

“Oh,” I said.

“Why the hell would you think they’re twins?” she continued, still using such a loud voice that all the other customers were also stopping and turning to look at us standing there at the entrance. “Are you blind, or just stewpid?”

“I’m neither blind nor stupid, Ma’am,” I replied — loud enough for everyone to hear, but calmly and in the politest of tones. “I just couldn’t believe someone slept with you twice. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Walmart.”

She just stood there dumb-struck, but all the other customers — every last one of them smiling and giggling, immediately turned and continued on their ways.

But my supervisor said I probably wasn’t cut out for this line of work.

Posted May 25, 2016

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Don’t Be Fooled: The Mac App Store Is Full of Scams

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You love technology, but not everyone does. For many people computers are confusing, even scary. Malevolent actors know this, and try to deliberately trick people online. From ads that look like download buttons to ransomware pop-ups, the web is full of deception-based design, intended to take advantage of the less technically inclined.

In theory, this is part of why app stores are useful. Users afraid of being scammed on the open web can browse the Mac App Store with confidence, knowing that Apple’s walled garden will protect them.

Except it won’t.

Try to put yourself into the mental state of a novice computer user. You have a brand new iMac, and you want to edit some Excel spreadsheets. In the dock you find that App Store you’ve heard so much about, so you open it. You find the search bar, then type “Microsoft Excel.”

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The top result is something called “Office Bundle,” and costs $30. You click the result to read more.

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Look at that! This is the “easiest way to create high-quality Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.” That’s exactly what you need! Let’s read a little more.

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Reading that block of text, what do you suppose this download offers? Go ahead and guess.

Seriously: guess. I’ll wait.

It’s…templates. A $30, 293MB collection of templates, all of which are useless without Microsoft Office.

It’s possible for a collection of templates to be worth $30, and for all I know these are really great. But let’s review:

This is the top result if you search for “Microsoft Excel.”The word “template” is not in the name of the product.The word “template” is not in the product’s description.The product’s description outlines several functions that are specific to Microsoft Office, and have  nothing to do with what customers will acquire by purchasing a collection of templates.It’s literally impossible to find this product by searching for “templates.”

It’s easy to see that users could be deceived by this, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s not intentional on the developer’s part. Whatever the intention here, people were deceived:

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Let’s be blunt: these customers were ripped off, and Apple pocketed $10 each. And you’ll only see these comments if you scroll past the two five star reviews that mention the word “app” numerous times. Both of those reviews, by the way, were left by accounts that haven’t reviewed any other apps in the Store.

Search for other Office applications and you’ll find more template bundles, disguised as official applications to varying degrees.

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There are also several $20+ applications that put Microsoft’s free online version of Office into a dedicated browser. Then there are the actual “apps” capable of opening and editing Office files, many of which use terms like “Microsoft Word” in their names. They appear to be slightly modified versions of open source applications, but we’re not about to buy them to find out.

All of these fakes use Microsoft brands like Office, Word, and Excel in the product names. The logos aren’t one-to-one copies of Microsoft’s official logos, but they’re almost always the correct color and letter (blue “W” for Word, green “E” for Excel, etcetera).

We’ve talked about why the Mac App Store doesn’t have the applications you want, and the Microsoft Office Suite is among the applications you can’t get there. Maybe you already know this, but tell me: why should the average computer user be expected to? Scammy developers know that they can’t be, and are taking advantage of a hole in the market.

With the exception of OneNote and OneDrive, you cannot buy any official Office app from the Mac App Store. You have to purchase it directly from Microsoft, either for $150 or in the form of a yearly Office 365 subscription. (Alternatively, you can use Apple’s iWork suite, which probably came with your Mac, as well as the web version of Microsoft Office online or a free open source alternative like LibreOffice.)

This might seem obvious to you. It isn’t obvious to everyone, and the existence of the Mac App Store full of imitators serves to make this a lot more complicated. The walled garden isn’t protecting everyone.

We’ve focused on Microsoft Office because this is a particularly egregious example. But you don’t have to dig long to find similar problems.

Search for “Indesign” and you won’t find Adobe’s publishing tool, but you will find several bundles of tutorial videos with icons that mimic InDesign’s closely.

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It’s not as clear that any of these applications are trying to deceive people, but it’s another case where it’s striking how closely these developers are mimicking official branding.

And other developers seem to be working some dark App Store SEO magic. Search for “Firefox” or “Chrome” and the top application is “Fast Browser,” a $1 app that hasn’t been updated since 2014.

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Using this as your browser is a very, very bad idea.

And there’s all sorts of weirdness to be found elsewhere:

Search for “Adblock” and you’ll get a $2 application completely unaffiliated with the browser plugin with the same name.Search for any website—Facebook, Gmail, anything—and you’ll find several dozen “apps” that do nothing more than open a browser window with the appropriate website. (Something that you can do for free with many browsers.)Over the summer at least one Mac App Store app installed malware onto users’ Macs.The App Store is also full of disk cleaners and memory cleaners, which you absolutely do not need.

We could go on. The point is that the App Store, which is supposed to protect users from deception, doesn’t seem to be doing a great job at that. There’s a lot of nonsense offered inside the walled garden.

Last year we outlined how the Windows Store was a cesspool of scams, a problem Microsoft has since been tackling. Apple, for their part, is making an effort to alleviate fake applications for iPhone and iPad users: the iOS App Store is currently being purged of outdated and broken applications.

But anyone who browses the Mac App Store regularly knows that this platform needs cleaning out too. Seemingly official applications of dubious value are way to easy to accidentally find by searching. It’s understandable that Apple wants the App Store to appear full, but leaving things seemingly designed to deceive people is hardly an answer.

Justin Pot is a technology writer and enthusiast who lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don’t have to.

How to Provide Guest Access to Your Eero Wi-Fi Network

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When you have guests over who want to use your Wi-Fi, Eero makes it really simple to create a guest network for them to connect to. That way they can get internet access, but they won’t be able to access your local network files or other devices.

This is particularly useful if you share files over your home’s network that might contain sensitive information. Creating a separate guest Wi-Fi network is a great idea, especially since it allows you to keep your main Wi-Fi password secret.

To get started, open up the Eero app on your smartphone and tap on the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen.

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Select “Guest Access” from the list.

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Tap on the toggle switch to the right of “Enable” at the top.

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Next, tap on “Network name” and give your guest Wi-Fi network a custom name if you’d like. By default, it will simply add “Guest” to the end of your current network name.

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After that, tap on “Network password”. It will generate a random password that you can provide your guests.

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However, if you want to create your own password, simply tap on “Edit password”, enter in a password, and then hit “Save”.

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You can also tap on “Generate a new password” to have Eero come up with a new random password.

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One you’ve set the network name and the password, it’s ready to go and guests can immediately connect to it from their devices. If you want to share the network name and password with your guests, you can send them a text message, email, etc. by tapping on “Share guest network”.

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From there, pick a service you want to use to share your network details with others.

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Eero will automatically create a passage with your guest network’s details that you can send to any of your friends, so that they can connect to your Wi-Fi right when they get to your house without having to ask.

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Whenever you want to turn off the guest Wi-Fi network, simply just tap on the toggle switch next to “Enable” to turn it off.

Craig Lloyd is TIME Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year, as well as a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, Marvel fanboy, and a proud introvert. He began his career as a young, naive teenager tinkering around with the family computer and has since blossomed into the beautiful geek he is today.

5 Easy Steps for Better Domain Name Security

Securing your domain name is very essential. Don’t let someone steal and transfer your domain name without your knowledge. You will be surprised how many people are complaining of stolen domain names, and it happens everyday! Here are some simple steps to keep your domain name safe.

Domain locking is the most first basic step to domain name security. Once you lock the domain names, they cannot be transferred till you decide to unlock them. Unlock domain name only before you want to actually transfer them. Your domain name might not be locked by default and you need to check this.

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Always remember to turn on Domain locking.

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Its simple to set up and those few minutes of extra effort ensures that your domain name stays secure. Any unauthorized changes will send information via email/phone and you can stop the hackers  in their tracks. [Similar to Gmail 2 step verification]

godaddy 2step verification

A very common problem which does not allow the registrar contact you in case of fraud domain name transfers. We keep on registering domain names, and many times we fail to check the contact details. Wrong emails can prevent you from stopping domain name transfer. See what happened to 9Rules!

Always opt for private registration, which protects your personal details like name, email, address, phone from the public domain. The more people now about the registrant details, the more easy it is for them to track and change it. Private registration comes for a fee, but is totally worth the money. Sometimes free domain privacy is available as in Google Domains.

private registration

You will be surprised how quickly the year passes, and your domain name has expired. Always set the domain to autorenew, this will at least ensure continuity of your domain name ownership. Before renewing, any domain name registrars do sent out an email to renew.

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It is even better to register domain for many years (we booked this site for 10 years!) if you really want to keep the domain name. See when Google.com domain was up for sale for $12 only!

How to Make Windows Clear Your Page File at Shutdown (and When You Should)

Windows uses a paging file, also known as a page file, as additional virtual memory when your RAM fills up. Windows can clear your page file every time you shut down, ensuring no sensitive data is left in the page file on the drive.

When you shut down your computer, the system’s RAM is always erased—it’s erased whenever it loses power. But the page file isn’t. If you’re worried about someone snooping for sensitive data that may be left in your page file, Windows can erase it each time you shut down. It does this by writing 0’s to every bit of the page file, overwriting any existing data. If someone pulls the hard drive from your computer, they can’t inspect the page file to find any potentially sensitive data that may have been stored in memory.

There’s a real downside to enabling this feature. It will make your computer take much longer to shut down. Your shutdown time may go from a few seconds to a few minutes, or even longer. It depends on how fast your computer’s hard drive is and how large your page file is. This is why Windows doesn’t automatically clear the page file at shutdown by default. It’s a trade-off, and one most people wouldn’t want.

Rather than rely on clearing your page file, we recommend setting up full-disk encryption on your Windows PC, if possible. If your page file is stored on an encrypted drive, you don’t have to wipe it each time you shut down—the page file will be encrypted, too. That means no one can pull the drive and attempt to examine the page file without having your encryption key.

More importantly, encryption also prevents attackers from looking at all the other files on your hard drive. But, if you store your page file on an unencrypted drive, or if an organization uses thin-client systems, this option can be useful.

If you have a Home edition of Windows, you will have to edit the Windows registry to make these changes. You can also do it this way if you have Windows Pro or Enterprise, but just feel more comfortable working in the Registry as opposed to Group Policy Editor. (If you have Pro or Enterprise, though, we recommend using the easier Group Policy Editor, as described in the next section.)

Standard warning: Registry Editor is a powerful tool and misusing it can render your system unstable or even inoperable. This is a pretty simple hack and as long as you stick to the instructions, you shouldn’t have any problems. That said, if you’ve never worked with it before, consider reading about how to use the Registry Editor before you get started. And definitely back up the Registry (and your computer!) before making changes.

First, open the Registry Editor by pressing Windows+R, typing “regedit” into the Run dialog that appears, and pressing Enter.

Use the left sidebar to navigate to the following key.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management

You should see a “ClearPageFileAtShutdown” setting in the right pane. If you don’t, right-click the “Memory Management” key in the left pane, select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value, and enter “ClearPageFileAtShutdown” as the name.

Double-click the ClearPageFileAtShutdown value, set enter “1” in the value data box, and press Enter.

You can now close the Registry Editor window.

If you want Windows to stop clearing the page file at shutdown, return here, double-click the ClearPageFileAtShutdown setting, and set it back to “0”.

We’ve created two downloadable registry hacks that do the work for you. One disables the “ClearPageFileAtShutdown” setting, and one disables it. Download the archive below, double-click the registry hack you want to use, and add the information to your registry.

Download ClearPageFileAtShutdown Hacks

These are really just two small .REG files that change the registry value we showed you how to change above. If you ever want to see what a .REG file does, you can right-click it and select “Edit”. And, if you enjoy tweaking the registry, you can make your own registry hacks.

If you’re using a Professional or Enterprise edition of Windows, the easiest way to have Windows clear your page file at shutdown is by using the Local Group Policy Editor. It’s a pretty powerful tool, so if you’ve never used it before, it’s worth taking some time to learn what it can do. Also, if you’re on a company network, do everyone a favor and check with your admin first. If your work computer is part of a domain, it’s also likely that it’s part of a domain group policy that will supersede the local group policy, anyway.

To open it, press Windows+R on your keyboard, type “gpedit.msc” into the Run dialog that appears, and press “Enter”.

If you see an error message saying gpedit.msc wasn’t found, you’re using a Home edition of Windows. You can’t use this tool.

In the left pane, navigate to the Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Local Policies > Security Options folder.

Locate the “Shutdown: Clear virtual memory pagefile” option in the right pane and double-click it.

Click the “Enabled” option in the properties window that appears and click “OK”. Windows will now clear the page file each time you shut down.

You can now close the group policy editor window.

If you ever want to stop Windows from clearing your page file each time you shut down, return here, double-click the “Shutdown: Clear virtual memory pagefile” setting, and select the “Disabled” option.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He’s as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

How to Stop Windows from Adding “- Shortcut” to Shortcut File Names

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When you make a new shortcut in Windows, it automatically adds “- Shortcut” to the end of the shortcut’s file name. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but they can be bothersome. Sure, you can remove the text yourself when you create the shortcut, but why not stop it from happening in the first place?

After all, we already have a shortcut arrow overlaid onto the icons of shortcuts—unless you’ve removed the arrows. How much reminding do we really need that they are, in fact, shortcuts? Plus, if you keep a lot of shortcuts around, the extra length on their names can get cumbersome. If you’re willing to make a quick change to the Windows Registry—or download our one-click hacks—you can prevent Windows from adding the text in the first place.

To remove the “- Shortcut” text for any PC running Windows Vista all the way through Windows 10, you just need to make an adjustment to one setting in the Windows Registry.

Standard warning: Registry Editor is a powerful tool and misusing it can render your system unstable or even inoperable. This is a pretty simple hack and as long as you stick to the instructions, you shouldn’t have any problems. That said, if you’ve never worked with it before, consider reading about how to use the Registry Editor before you get started. And definitely back up the Registry (and your computer!) before making changes.

Open the Registry Editor by hitting Start and typing “regedit.” Press Enter to open Registry Editor and give it permission to make changes to your PC.

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In the Registry Editor, use the left sidebar to navigate to the following key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer

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On the right-hand side, scroll down and locate a value named link. If you don’t see the value, you’ll need to create it by right-clicking the Explorer key, choosing New > Binary Value, and then naming the new value “link.”

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When you’ve found—or created—the link value, double-click it to open its properties window. In the “Value data” box, replace the current value with “00 00 00 00.” Note that the current value you see will depend on what version and edition of Windows you’re running. It doesn’t matter what’s there already. Just replace it with all zeroes.

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You’ll need to restart your computer (or sign out and back in) to complete the change. Test it out by creating a new shortcut. Windows should no longer add the “- Shortcut” text. If you want to reverse the changes, just head back into the Registry and delete the link value. This will work whether the value was already there or you created it yourself. Windows will recreate the value with the default setting when it needs to.

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If you don’t feel like diving into the Registry yourself, we’ve created some a couple of Registry hacks you can use. The “Remove Shortcut Text” hack sets the link value to 0, creating the value if it needs to. The “Restore Shortcut Text (Default)” hack deletes the value, restoring the default and causing Windows to add the “- Shortcut” text again. Both hacks are included in the following ZIP file. Double-click the one you want to use and click through the prompts. When you’ve applied the hack you want, restart your computer (or log off and back on).

Shortcut Text Hacks

These hacks are really just the Explorer key, stripped down to the link value we talked about in the previous section and then exported to a .REG file. And if you enjoy fiddling with the Registry, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to make your own Registry hacks.

Walter Glenn is a long time computer geek and tech writer. Though he’s mostly a Windows and gadget guy, he has a fondness for anything tech. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.