Tag Archives: interwebs

Protip

"Hello. My name is 'Google Reader.'"

I’m fully aware that many believe I sit in front of a computer all day and stare at Facebook, posting articles and comments and shirking actual “work.”  In actuality, I’d argue that I only have “http://www.facebook.com” on my web browser 15 min per day, on average.  On a “busy” day, when I’m in the middle of a conversation/argument, more like 30 min.

How is this possible, you ask?  Why, it’s the power of RSS readers!

“RSS” stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and the idea for it goes back as far as 1995, though the first official version was integrated into Netscape in 1999.  In many ways, RSS is what gives blogs the power they have today: the ability for the headline and a brief description of an article or posting to be “aggregated” for easy digestion by the reader.

Note: This very blog has and has always had an RSS function.  That’s what the cute little orange icon in the upper-right corner that pops up does.

So here’s the secret:  I’ve got 45 different blogs aggregated into my Google Reader account.  This means that my phone, my Kindle Fire, my Chrome web browser, and the Reader website itself all tie into a single repository that collects new posts from each of these sites almost immediately after a new article is posted.  I’ll wake up in the morning and have 75+ articles to wade through, to see if there’s anything interesting, and I can do this easily on my phone, swiping with my finger to scroll through the list.

Any articles I think may be interesting (based on the title, usually, but sometimes after checking the description), I will press to add a “Star,” effectively bookmarking it for later reading.  Then, I can just click “Mark All Read” and my list is cleared out, ready for re-population.  Once I sit down at a computer somewhere, or with the tablet, I will then skim the articles I found to be most interesting.  And sometimes, I’ll share relevant articles on Google+ or Facebook.

So, quite rapidly, I can skim through articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Columbia Daily Tribune without ever having to actually visit the sites themselves, thus avoiding ads and thus saving me time.

And furthermore, you can share articles to Facebook or Google+ directly from most of these blogs, as this is how they generate their traffic.  You just have to click “Share” from the page in question, or from within Google Reader.  A little box shows up and you write what you want to post, along with the link.  And you never have to actually go to Facebook.com to do this.

So yeah, a little “protip:” use an RSS reader of some kind to make your blog reading more efficient.  You are more than capable of getting information throughout the day without getting bogged down in Facebook or on blogs themselves.  You can, in fact, get work done and still provide useful information on subjects that interest you.  It really isn’t that hard…

Jolicloud

This is what the desktop screen and apps look like in Jolicloud.

I’ve mentioned previously that we’ve got a Dell Mini 10 netbook.  To be honest, it doesn’t get as much use as it did a few years ago when we lived in St. Louis and our desktop computer(s) were on a different floor.  Once we moved to Swisher, and now back to St. Louis again, the desktop is only a room away from the living room, so there isn’t much of a need to have a laptop constantly running…let alone the fact that we both have Android smartphones now, where it’s even faster to look something up quickly if it’s needed.

Thus, I get to “play” with the netbook a bit more than I used to.  I find Windows XP to be extremely slow on the system: slow to boot, slow to open programs, slow to do just about anything.  Therefore, I’ve toyed with a few different alternative operating systems.  Because Ubuntu 11.10 appears to have some serious issues with the graphics chip on the netbook, I decided to give Jolicloud a try.

Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu, incidentally, but runs quite a bit differently.  It’s designed to do everything within a browser as much as possible, though it is capable of having stand-alone programs installed as well.  In the desktop screen pictured above, most of those programs are opened within the Chromium web browser.  You can listen to music, edit documents, use maps, check your status updates, and browse the internet just as you can from any other computer.  The benefit here, though, is that the netbook is much more responsive because all it’s effectively doing is loading a web browser.

I guess the main downside is that it really requires an internet connection of some type, so if you aren’t on wifi anywhere, you can’t use the OS (to do anything productive, at least).  But hey, where does that happen anymore, anyway?

I’ve referred to cloud computing in the past.  Like many things, I think it works remarkably well, but you just have to know what you’re getting into before you boot the system.  Know what the strengths and weaknesses are before even trying to go that route.  You can’t expect to run Photoshop using low-powered devices that are designed to only operate within a web browser.  At the same time, though, you can get away with cheaper hardware with remarkably fast boot times and functionality.  So yes, a trade-off.

I’m enjoying it for now, though.  It’s always fun to install a new operating system and see what it can or can’t do.  At the very least, it gets me to use the netbook more often.  Still a good piece of hardware that has a few more years left in it due to software like Jolicloud.

You Can “Like” and “+1″ Now

So, I realize not everyone wants to comment on these various posts (especially mine… :-P ), but looking at traffic data, I can tell that more than a few people are actually visiting this silly blog of ours.  Thus, I’ve wanted to set up some way for people to express something about a post without actually commenting on it.  This solution has been available for awhile, but I’ve been too lazy to do anything about it.

Therefore, I have set up a “+1″ button (for Google+ users) and a “Like” button (for Facebook users) at the bottom of each post.  It will include the number of people that have “plussed” or “liked” each post, giving me some idea of whether people are actually reading anything when they visit the site.

Just a friendly public service announcement.  :-)

Top 5 Google+ Features

I’m not one to do “Top #” lists, but after today’s announcement that Google+ is now available to any and all, I thought it would be useful to recount a few of the features that I’ve been using on a nearly daily basis (well…some things…not everything, of course).

1). House Hunting – When we moved up here, I came up alone and brought along our Flip Video camera so Brooke could get a “feel” for the different options, at least in some virtual sense. This time around, Brooke is taking pictures with her phone, then allowing the Google+ app to automatically upload the pictures to her profile so she can share them with me. Then, I can comment on each picture and she can answer all my questions. This is done without anyone else having to see the conversation(s) or the pictures.

Here's a picture of a living room for a place we're considering

2). Gaming Communication – In the past, we have used Skype to make VOIP calls between Josh, Ryan and Mike so we can voice chat while playing whatever game we’re on at the time. Skype works well, but one person hosts the call and then has to call each person once they’re ready (much like a telephone). Now, with Google+ Hangouts, you can simply “Open A Hangout,” which is basically an open invitation with whatever group you want that can join in at any time. So, if one of us isn’t ready, they can join in whenever they want. Much more convenient, and the voice quality is nice, too.

3). Selective Sharing – I post a lot of stuff on Facebook. A lot of stuff. Google+ makes it easy with their Circles function, allowing me to share with people from Columbia, or people from Truman, or people from St. Louis, or all of them all at once. This is done really easily, both from the web interface and from within the Google+ Android app. Facebook has started adding in some of this functionality, but it’s nowhere near as helpful. It’s obvious it’s a “stop gap” measure to provide some of the same functionality, but is very much “tacked on” to their existing, convoluted infrastructure. Circles is just easier to use.

Photos taken with the camera are geo-tagged and dated. Select the ones you want, and then click the green "Share" button!

4). Full Integration with Picasa – I already use Picasa to post pictures online, partially for display on this very website.  Because of the integration between Google+ and Picasa, any pictures from my phone are automatically uploaded, and then I can share them on Google+ with whoever I want.  But also, they are made available under Picasa, so I can copy them into any albums I want, and either keep them private or share them.  In short: it’s free cloud storage and organization for any picture I take with my phone (though, you can still manually upload them from a camera if you want).

Here's what the main screen looks like.

5). Separated Streams – Right now, I have 287 people in my various circles on Google+.  A lot of those folks are Gamers With Jobs people.  There are times, however, I really just want to see the news updates from my Friends, rather than the GWJ crew.  Thus, Google+ makes it easy to choose which Circle (or “news feed”) you want to view.  Moreover, the Android App lets you set feeds so you just have to swipe from side to side on the screen to switch between feeds, making it much easier to follow the people you want without seeing updates from everyone else.  Again, Facebook implemented something similar in recent weeks, and while their web interface works alright for this, the Android app just doesn’t have the same functionality.  Believe you me, when you have over 500 people on your Facebook friends list, it’s a daunting task to scroll through everyone’s stuff every morning…

So now that Google+ is open to everyone, I hope more people check it out.  Really, anyone that has a Google account for e-mail already has a Google+ account ready and waiting.  It’ll get more integrated over the coming year, anyway, especially with Picasa (being renamed to “Google Photos”) and Reader.  You may as well get used to it now!

Plus, you may find that you like it.  :-)

On Netflix

There has been a reasonable amount of vitriol on the interwebs with regards to Netflix in recent weeks.  First, it was the price increase and separation of DVDs and Instant Queue into separate plans.  Then, Starz pulls out of negotiations to keep their content on the streaming service, including Disney movies and TV shows, meaning that a lot of content will disappear in February.  Finally, today, it comes out that Netflix will begin enforcing its rule to only allow streaming to a single device on an account at one time (or two devices if you have a two-DVD plan, and so on).

I’ll read comments from folks on blogs saying that they’re going to cancel their accounts over all this.  That Netflix isn’t adding enough new content to justify their $8/mo.  That they are screwing over their consumers.

Well, folks.  Get used to it.  The cost of doing business with Netflix will keep going up, and they aren’t alone.

Hulu famously created “Hulu Plus,” a separate entity that you pay $8/mo to use.  Hulu carries shows from ABC, FOX and NBC, as well as many of their affiliates.  Some shows appear the day after airing on TV.  Other shows appear after 30 days.  Hulu Plus gives you the ability to watch some of these shows on your television, but the nature of the deal that Hulu was able to work with The Powers That Be dictate that not all of Hulu’s content can be sent to your TV.  They still want you to watch that content on a TV, through your cable provider, rather than do it through the internet.

Oh, and Hulu Plus still contains ads.  You pay $8/mo extra for different content than you get through their website, and you still get ads.  All just so you can watch it on your TV.  Because an LCD TV is different than an LCD monitor, apparently.

The content providers in the motion picture and television industry want a large piece of the proverbial pie, and they have entrenched interests with the cable providers that have built and “maintained” that infrastructure for decades.  They see upstarts like Netflix to be a threat.  A company that provides a really nice service to their customers that the vast majority of people are happy with.

Netflix has almost single-handidly destroyed the DVD industry.  In the early-2000s, I bought tons of DVDs, but now that I have Netflix, I have no need.  I can order a DVD and have it the next day, any time I want to see a movie.  Half the movies I own are on Netflix Streaming.  I still prefer the video quality of popping the disc in rather than using the internet to watch it, but still: if I want to see it, I can with only the most minimal of planning.  There was a time where I would rarely walk out of Wal-Mart without a DVD in town.  Now, I can safely enter and browse DVDs without fear of actually buying one.

Thus, these companies will charge Netflix exorbitant amounts of money to license movies and TV shows.  They will keep increasing the licensing costs, not because the content is actually worth that much, but because they want to destroy Netflix and keep their business model intact.

This is all aside from the fact that cable seems to have less and less that I want to watch.  Whenever Brooke and I are at our respective parent’s houses, we’ll flip on the TV and see what’s on.  Invariably, the answer is a resounding “nada.”  The only thing I miss having is the occasional sporting event.  So if I cared about sports more, we’d have to have cable.  Other than that, we just don’t watch much on TV anymore, at least stuff that isn’t available digitally through Hulu or TV.com, or that will eventually be available through Netflix in some form or fashion.  Part of me wants to get the basic “Family Package” of 30 channels when we move just so I don’t have to deal with bunny ears anymore, but thankfully, St. Louis gets a good number of channels over-the-air, so even that isn’t as big a deal.

Netflix provides me with a good service.  I have almost no desire to return to cable.  I can watch what I want and there’s plenty of material available, with new content arriving frequently.  My Instant Queue has 63 items in it, and it should be longer except that I know I barely have enough time to watch what I already added.

Keep on going, Netflix.  I’ll continue to support you.  And I imagine most people will, too.