Extra, Extra, Read all about it!

As my reliance on RSS feeds has increased lately I’ve outgrown my ability, or willingness, to manually keep track of the blogs that I like to follow. From initially wanting to keep up with a small handful of blogs from a few people I know, my needs have now grown to include a much larger number of blogs and feeds that I like to keep up with. Seems that there are lots of folk I know who are now blogging, as well as there being a number of “professional” blogs which I find interesting so the idea of automating the process of tracking them is definitely something I’m interested in.

Fortunately every blog comes with the built-in technology for doing exactly this – RSS. RSS (an acronym for Really Simple Syndication) creates a feed using XML which can be read and regularly checked by software designed to do just that. In effect, it’s a bit like managing email in that I have a list of blogs and websites that I’vesubscribed to, and the updates appear in my reader as soon as an update happens to any of them. I no longer need to remember to check all these sites to see if they’ve been updated – my feed reader does it for me.

On the Mac, I’ve been using a free open source RSS reader called Vienna, and I really like it. Very simple, easy to use and works well. There are a bunch of others of course – I tried NetNewsWire for a while, and although it was pretty good, it wasn’t free whereas Vienna was. I actually prefer Vienna’s interface more too.

On Windows, I hear that FeedReader or FeedDemon are pretty good, but I haven’t tried them. FeedReader looks quite good from the screenshots I’ve seen.

There are also a few web-based feedreaders such as Bloglines that work through the browser directly, but I’ve not really played with them very much. I guess I’m still an applications kinda guy 🙂

Either way, an RSS feed aggregator of some sort is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already done so. Managing all my blog and other feeds are so much simpler now that my software does the heavy lifting for me.

Move over Lonelygirl, here comes Jo

Well, the big story on YouTube recently was that of Lonelygirl15, a supposed teenage girl named Bree who was videoblogging her life story on YouTube. I watched a couple of episodes and although it was interesting I couldn’t help thinking that it was an overly-slick production for a teenage girl to be making alone in her bedroom. As it turns out, lonelygirl did indeed turn out to be a hoaxygirl, and the whole thing was in fact made up by a couple of screenwriters looking to get some hype… For a while there, Bree was the most popular channel on YouTube.

But let me introduce you to some real YouTube videos made by Jo, a friend of mine back in Australia, and I think they are far more interesting than Bree and her made-up adventures. I worked with Jo on a couple of writing projects… at the time, she was head-over-heels in love with a new man in her life. Since then, well, things seem to have gone a bit pear shaped and Jo decided to vent her thoughts as a YouTube videoblog.

Jo muses about life and love, and gives us a little peek into her internet dating forays. I’ve enjoyed watching them, and think they deserve a look. Heck, they beat television anytime! You go girl!

Check them out at http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Sassenech2

The UI Paradox

As a power user on the Windows platform and a quick learner on the Mac platform, there is something about the difference between the two that has always intriuged me. I’ve noticed it in many forms over the years, but I was reminded of it when I read this rather silly report on the TUAW site… I’m sure the fellow who wrote it had his tongue firmly in his cheek, but if you browse through the comments under the main article you’ll find a very interesting thread of discussion has emerged relating to the Mac’s little green zoom button. Seems the zoom button is not without its fair share of controversy and a rather passionate, yet civil, debate is raging there about the differences between the way windows (with a small ‘w’) behave on Windows (with a big ‘W’) versus the way they behave on the Mac.

The basic gist of the discussion is about the subtle difference between the user interfaces of both platforms and the author tries to draw an assertion that the UIs actually cause people to work in quite different ways, and he even goes so far as to suggest that the differences in UI design actually attract different personality types. Not too sure about that one…

But it has always intruiged me that PCs – the machines with the DOS heritage, the machines that started life with nothing more than a simple black-on-white command line interface – are these days operated by the vast majority of users almost exclusively with only a mouse. It’s interesting to contrast this with the Mac, a machine born of a GUI heritage. The Mac is the machine that revolutioned the world with a point-and-click interface. Yet, in my experience, Mac users are far more likely to be the ones who know all the fancy keyboard shortcuts for tasks. Ask any reasonably competent Mac user how to perform a task on their Mac and in a majority of cases they will answer you with a keyboard shortcut. I just think it’s interesting that the machine with the GUI heritage is the one that seems to spawn the user base with the greatest knowledge of keyboard shortcuts – some of which really are quite arcane. The average Windows user on the other hand, drives his or her PC almost exclusively with the mouse. Maybe it’s just that there really are so many average (and below) users on the PC platform that they just don’t bother to learn these shortcuts… I don’t know.

The other paradox, as was mentioned in the comment thread on the TUAW article, is that most Windows users operate in full screen mode nearly all of the time, whereas most Mac users are far more competent and skilled at managing multiple open applications – they have to be because of the Macs UI design – and therefore more skilled at actually using the whole windowing concept. (The commenters to the TUAW article look to blame this behaviour on the controversial zoom button.) I find it mildly amusing that the operating system actually named ‘Windows’ seems to have a far lower percentage of users that CAN actually deal with multiple open windows.

Does this actually say anything about the types of users each platform attracts? Are Mac users better multitaskers? Or is it more to do with the fact that Windows users have a larger user base, and therefore a larger percentage of clueless users? Or is the average Mac user generally more competent at finding their way around the operating system than the average Windows user? Do the navigational quirks of each operating system in fact encourage a totally different approach to learning and using them? Is the Zoom button a flawed idea or a great idea?

I don’t have any answers… I just find the paradox of it quite amusing.

Stark Contrast between OSes


As I write this, I’m downloading updates for Windows in the background. Yes, you read that right. Windows. But wait, aren’t I a Mac guy?

Yes. Absolutely. But I also teach computing in a mainly Windows environment, and it still makes sense to be able to use those few apps that I need in a classroom situation in their native platform environment, and that means Windows. Although I personally prefer to use Mac versions of most applications, it gets too hard to teach a class about the Windows version of Word when they look up and see my Mac version on the data projector. (Despite the fact that everything is there in both versions, the Mac version has a slightly different IU and a few added features, so it doesn’t look identical.)

Anyway, I figured the simplest solution would be to just use the Windows apps for those few times when I need them. There is also a proprietary Markbook app that the school uses that is Windows only, and I would like to run that occasionally too.

As you may have read in a previous post, I was pretty blown away with CrossOver. And despite the fact that CrossOver worked well for Microsoft Office, it still didn’t support Access and Frontpage at all, nor the Markbook app.

So I decided to give Boot Camp a go. Boot Camp lets you dual boot an Intel Mac into Windows natively. No emulation or virtualisation involved, it just runs native on the Intel DualCore processor in the Mac, much as it would on a Dell, Toshiba or ThinkPad. There was really only a handful of apps I was interested in on Windows, mainly Office, so I pared off a 5Gb partition from my 100Gb hard drive and used the Boot Camp installation assistant to package up all the required drivers, etc, stuck the Windows XP disk in, and an hour or so later had a dual boot Mac that easily runs both OS X and Windows XP. Just hold the option key down at startup, choose your operating system, and off you go.

Anyway, it’s always interesting getting a Windows machine up and running. Despite the fact that I really only want a very minimal machine to use occasionally, I’ve just spent a good couple of hours setting it up. I had to install an antivirus program, and my computer is currently in the middle of downloading 59 – yes, 59 – updates for Windows. These are mostly security updates, critical updates, patches, malicious software removal tools, etc. I’d forgotten just how much effort has to go into simply maintaining a Windows box. Add to that the several dozen antivirus update files that AVG needed to pull down, installation of basic utilities like Acrobat Reader to allow me to read a simple PDF file, and I’ve just spent the last 2+ hours simply updating this machine so it’s safe enough just to go online. What a joke.

By contrast, when I got my Mac I just opened it up and started to use it. No driver issues, no AV issues, no missing utilities, and only a couple of updates – mostly version updates for iLife apps, not security updates. The updates were all done in a couple of minutes.  Back in Windows I’m experiencing the usual symptoms – “menu lag”, unacceptably long delays between clicks, excessive hard drive activity, hung applications, and a system that gives error messages at shutdown. This is a clean install for goodness sake!! That’s pathetic!

It’s installing those updates now, only 42 more to go. Seriously, I’m SO looking forward to rebooting and going back to an OS that Just Works.

9/11 + 5

I just watched the most amazing documentary on the 9/11 attacks from 5 years ago. It was just called, simply, 9/11.

It was on TV last night, and had a bunch of footage that I’d never seen before. Considering the huge amount of press coverage that the attacks got when they first happened, and how well documented the events have been since then, I was surprised to find that there was still such a large chunk of footage that I’d never ever seen before.

The documentary was made by two French filmmakers that were actually making a doco about a young firefighter who had just joined the FDNY. They’d been following this guy around, fimling and getting to know the other fireys for a few months and had been taking their cameras out on shoots to local fires, etc. They just happened to tag along when the guys were called out to attend an unknown event on the morning on 9/11, not really knowing what they were in for. Turns out that one of the filmmakers got caught up in the foyer of the building with all the NY fire chiefs during the main part of the disaster. It was a real insiders view of events.

Our recent visit to Ground Zero was an amazing experience and made the events of five years ago so much more real. As I say, I’d never seen any of this documentary footage before, and found it to be quite compelling viewing. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

Dropping like Flies

What on earth is going on back in Australia??

First I awoke the other day to the news that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was killed. I’m amazed at the response here in Canada and the USA. I can understand the outpouring of emotion back home is Australia, since Stevo was a well known and mostly well liked bloke who did good things to promote the environment and wildlife. Despite the way Irwin often came across as just a bit too over-the-top, he was absolutely passionate about what he did and that showed through. Even if he got on your nerves a bit, he was still the real deal… a genuine Aussie bloke that was just excited about life. Such a shame to lose him like that.

It has been amazing though to see the way that his death has been mourned and reported here in North America though. I had no idea he was so well known and loved by so many people outside Australia. There have been endless news stories about the incident since it happened, and current affairs feature were still talking about it days after it happened. I’ve heard it mentioned on the TV and radio here numerous times… a surprising amount of airtime actually. Just goes to show what a great job Steve Irwin did of promoting Australia. Vale Stevo.

And then today I heard the news about Brockie. OMG, I couldn’t believe it. Peter Brock was one of the most well known racing drivers in Australia. Nine times winner of the gruelling bathurst race, Brockie was the undisputed King of the Mountain for many years. He’s another one who is just a fair dinkum, down to earth, good bloke. To have him die in a targa – a minor rallying event – is just unthinkable. He was a major promoter of road safety, did heaps of great charity work and you just couldn’t help but like Peter Brock. Australian motor racing has lost a legend, and the Australian people have lost a great Australian. You’ll be missed Brockie.

Let’s hope things don’t really happen in threes.

Oh, and Germaine Greer…  why don’t you pull your head in and piss back off the UK.  You’re talking shit.

Just a thought

I want to see if this works.

It’s a voice recording made in GCast, a web based podcasting tool. Since Edublogs don’t appear to support podcasting, I’m curious about ways to create/store an audio file somewhere and then link to it from inside the blog post. What intrigues me about GCast is that you can create the recording for free using a telephone. Just call the phone number provided and enter your PIN, then record you message. Hmmm, interesting. What can we do with that idea?

The dial in number is US based, but I suppose you could always Skype it. Otherwise just record locally with Audacity and upload the audio file to GCast as usual.

It’s not technically a podcast if you just link to it like this, as there is no RSS feed involved, but it still has possibilities.