All posts by Dan Siemon

Content syndication

Ever have one of those moments where you think “Why didn’t I do this before?”. During my recent forray into the Weblog world I started to realize how useful the ability to syndicate content via RSS or Atom is.

A great example of this is the ‘planet’ phenomenon started by Jeff Waugh in the Free software community. The various planet sites aggregate the Blogs of Free Software contributors into one site where you can keep track of all of them. Here is a couple of examples:

Sites like these are an amazingly good way to keep up on the Free software projects you are interested in.

Now back to the “Why didn’t I do this before?” question. I scan a lot of news sites everyday. This takes considerable time. Worse, since there is no notification of new entries I continually poll the same sites many times throughout the day. This time killer may now be a thing of the past due to RSS readers. There are RSS readers for all platforms but since I only use Linux and GNOME apps there are two that I have been playing with.

Both seem to be quite good. I like Blam’s UI a little more but Straw seems to be more mature and handles the various RSS feeds better. It also supports the Atom syndication format mentioned above. Blam is written in C# and thus requires Mono. Straw is written in Python which most linux distributions have installed by default. Both use the GTK+ bindings for their respective language so they integrate well with the rest of my GNOME desktop.

Downsides to using a RSS reader instead of visiting the site?

  • Not all sites have full RSS feeds. Slashdot and OSNews for example only give the first sentence or so of the news item. Fortunately, I was able to find a full RSS feed for Slashdot at Alterslash. From my limited experience it seems that the commercial sites are the ones that do not provide full RSS feeds. I guess this makes sense. They are not selling ad space when someone only views their content via RSS.
  • The presentation of the content is not the same. For the most part this doesn’t matter since the content is more important anyway. Especially in the case of Blog content.
  • Neat extras like the Slashdot poll are missed.

Is the time savings worth the trade offs? It’s experiment time.

Network Distributed Computing

I just finished reading a sample chapter of The Scope of Network Distributed Computing which I found at OSNews. I don’t want to get into the habit of posting links to articles that are linked from major news aggregation sites but this one is particularly good. This article does a great job of showing the relationships between some of the current Internet technologies. I found the discussion on meta-information particularly interesting.

Easy to what?

Is the term “Easy to use” in the computer user interface (UI) world overloaded? I am starting to think so. Before I go any further take note that the Unix shell is a UI. Graphical UIs (GUIs) are generally considered to be the easiest way to use a computer. But are they? Here is a list of command shell steps to change the email address that gets root’s email on a Fedora Core 2 system:

  • su to root.
  • cd /etc.
  • vim aliases
  • Search for root: (/ is the search key in vim)
  • $ to go to the end of the line.
  • bdw to delete the last word on the line (this is the email address or account name).
  • A to enter insert mode.
  • Type the email address, then press ESC
  • :wq to save the file and exit vim.
  • newaliases to update the aliases database.

That seems like a lot but I timed myself and I can easily accomplish all of these steps in under 30 seconds. What could be easier? I doubt this task could be accomplished in under 30 seconds with a GUI. If you are not fluent in the Unix shell you are probably getting quite angry at me right now. “But I don’t know those commands” you say. This is where the term “easy to use” breaks down. The average computer user is not looking for easy to use. They are looking for easy to discover. The normal computer user does not care if a task takes a little longer than the optimal way. All a normal computer user cares about is the ability to easily easily re-discover the steps necessary to accomplish the task the next time they need to do it. These users don’t want to learn the skills necessary to optimally control their computer. Instead of talking about computer UIs with the term “easy to use” I think it’s time we start talking about “easy to do” and “easy to discover”.

New Cozumel pictures

I finally got Moe’s pictures from the Cozumel trip online. That’s another ~150 pictures added to the Cozumel album. Now I just need to get Allison’s ~380 uploaded and that will be all of the Cozumel photos. Hmm…. I should probably put up the pictures from the Dominican trip in 2001 too.


Well, I have spent way more time than I should have playing with the CSS to make this site look the way I want. Hopefully it works in IE too. If you want to see an amazing example of just how much CSS can change a website without any XHTML changes check this out.


It’s odd. Having my life completely saturated with Internet technologies both in the ISP work and University I should have taken time to investigate CSS before now. Wow, this is pretty darn cool.