Reading through categories in Google Reader

20120112-googlereader

I’m a big fan of Google Reader, which is a Web-based application that allows me to subscribe (via RSS) to news and blog sites and read their latest updates in one convenient location, rather than having to traipse around a hundred or more websites.

I used to use a Windows application with the dubious name of FeedDemon. It was in my humble opinion the best RSS reader available for Windows. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought it.

And then there were changes to how feeds were aggregated and stored, and it started synchronizing with Google Reader rather than (if I remember correctly) its own server.

Which was when I realised that I didn’t need to wait a couple of minutes for the synchronization to complete before I read my posts. Instead of pulling them from Google Reader into FeedDemon I could go directly to Google Reader and cut out the middle-demon.

So I exorcised my PC and FeedDemon was gone. That was around 2007 or 2008.

So why has it taken me this long of using Google Reader to realise that I don’t need to have all my sub-folders open to access the posts?

I categorise my feeds into a number of folders (that I have both “Metal music” and “Music” is because Google Reader wasn’t playing properly the other night and after I created “Music” nothing happened until the next day!).

It was only the other day that I realised that I could simply click on the closed folder to see all the posts within, organized by date. And if I like, I can also view only unread items.

20120112-googlereader2

That’s making getting through reading updates much, much quicker and more enjoyable.

Of course, it also helps that I’ve purged a few blogs in the new year. This year I need to focus more. I’ve got a couple of Web projects that I’d like to launch in 2012, as well as a book on the go.

Learn JavaScript this year with Codecademy

Screenshot of Codecademy website

When I was young my Mum and Dad bought my brother, sister and me a computer, a Commodore 64. I remember that I had to write a short essay about why I wanted a computer before Mum and Dad would consider buying one. I really wish I still had that essay, I’d love to read now what I wrote back in 1983.

I loved it. With its friendly blue screen and flashing cursor.

Commodore 64

And its ability to load The Hobbit text adventure in under half-an-hour. But what I loved most was that I could program it.

I would spend hours typing in programs from magazines like Commodore User, Your Commodore and Your 64, and then working out how to customise them. And if I felt brave I’d write my own programs from scratch, in nothing but Commodore BASIC but it was a start.

These days you buy a computer and it boots into Windows, or Linux, or MacOS, or Google Chrome, or Android, or a host of other operating systems with friendly, colourful graphical user interfaces and there is nowhere obvious to begin trying your hand at programming.

If you do want to get into Windows programming, for example, many of the programming languages and environments look quite intimidating to a beginner (and often have a price-tag to match). And that’s before you even attempt to decipher what .NET is, or WPF (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation), or DirectX, or… you get the idea.

I once dabbled with an early version of Delphi (having done a year of Pascal at high school), and Dolphin Smalltalk. I even looked into C and Borland C++ Builder. I didn’t create anything particularly mind-blowing. But you know, they were my programs. I had created them and I knew how they worked, and the process was just really good fun.

That’s one reason I loved my Psion PDAs: they had an OPL programming editor built in. You could start writing programs straight away, using Psion’s own BASIC-like procedural language. I have a half-written Mahjong scoring program somewhere on file that I would like, one day, to finish. Maybe next year!

I definitely think that young people, especially, should be taught programming (again) in school. Something that an article in The Guardian last month agrees with: Programming should take pride of place in our schools.

Codecademy

This year Codecademy seem to be making a push for 2012 to be a year of programming. They are encouraging people to sign up for their getting started with programming course. They are using JavaScript as their chosen language.

JavaScript is a great language to start with (as Mike Loukides will tell you “everyone needs to learn JavaScript” in 2012). The course is online. You do it all within a Web browser. Web browsers know what to do with JavaScript. Perfect.

I’ve completed the first lesson already. It was called FizzBuzz and it gets you recreating that favourite game of primary school, where you start counting from 1 to 20, but instead of saying numbers divisible by 3, you say “Fizz”. And instead of saying numbers divisible by 5, you say “Buzz”. For numbers divisible by both 3 and 5, you say “FizzBuzz”.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at learning JavaScript (and programming in general) then do check out Codecademy.

Metallica celebrates 30 years

Last month Metallica celebrated their 30th anniversary with a series of four shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Monday 05, Wednesday 07, Friday 09 and Saturday 10 December. (These links are to the official ‘recap’ videos on Metallica’s YouTube channel—over two and a quarter hours of Metallica and friends.)

Metallica took up a residency at The Fillmore and essentially became the house band for the week, to which they invited friends and former Metallica band mates to come join them and play both their own music and covers.

It was really great to see Dave Mustaine (Megadeth/ex-Metallica) on stage playing with them, and Jason Newsted too. Wonderful to hear John Bush (Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax) singing with the band, whom apparently Metallica wanted to join them as their vocalist in the early days. As well as all their other guests, including King Diamond (Mercyful Fate), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Sean Harris and Tatler (Diamond Head), Animal (The Anti-Nowhere League), Lou Reed, Glenn Danzig (Misfits and Danzig), Marianne Faithfull, John Marshall (Metal Church), Biff Byford,  Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Bob Rock and more and more.

I’ve been listening to Metallica since 1986, when their third album Master of Puppets came out (I first listened to it at a Scripture Union camp!), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Metallica play so well live as they did during those four shows. James Hetfield’s voice especially. Wow! And how heartening to see James Hetfield so well, and confident in himself.

I’d love there to be a DVD released of these shows.

You can buy digital versions of the four concerts on the Live Metallica website for US$9.95 (MP3) or US$12.95 (FLAC and Apple Lossless formats). Having listened to them all, they are well worth it: full of great music, great chat, and great humour.

There’s also a great review of the gigs on the Metallica news page, and of course following the 30th anniversay shows they released the Beyond Magnetic EP which contains the four ‘new’ songs (recorded during the Death Magnetic sessions) they played during the four nights in San Francisco: one each night.

Beyond Magnetic EP will be released on CD worldwide on 30 January, and in North America (who apparently aren’t part of the world!) on 31 January.

Lamb of God vocalist to stand for US President

Lamb of God: Willie Adler, Mark Morton, D. Randall Blythe, Chris Adler, John Campbell

WARNING: There are some sweary words in the following post. They are not my sweary words—obviously, I never swear (ahem!). I’m just quoting them.

Without a shadow of a doubt Lamb of God are one of my favourite bands. Their new album Resolution is scheduled to be released in approx. 18 days’ time. I’m very excited.

Well, their vocalist, D. Randall (Randy) Blythe has announced that he is standing for US President in 2012.

“It’s 2012 now, the year some are saying the Mayan calendar predicts a cataclysmic upheaval across the board for our planet, perhaps even the end of the world as we know it. I don’t know if these doomsday predictions have any validity, but I do know one thing: the potential candidates in the race to decide who will be elected President of the United States look like pure shit.

“I’m not particularly stoked on any of the candidates. In a massive blow to our civil rights, Obama quietly signed the NDAA for the fiscal year 2012 into law while Americans drank in their party hats on New Year’s Eve. The GOP is parading around a bunch of ass-clowns in what has got to be the most embarrassing primary season in the history of their party. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Sarah Palin, they bust out that lunatic Michele Bachmann. I have no clue what the Libertarians are up to now that Ron Paul is gunning for the Republican nomination. Probably loading their guns and preparing for the worst.

“Don’t even get me started on our current Congress, THE WORST CONGRESS I HAVE EVER SEEN OR HEARD OF IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. It’s a relentless bipartisan pissing contest in Washington where not only is nothing getting done, nothing is ALLOWED to get done. There’s a bunch of squabbling children in Washington in charge of the business of running our country. These baboons are stopping any useful litigation from occurring by engaging in an endless game of “I know you are, but what am I?”. There is very little compromise happening in DC, and there is very little regard for the welfare of the American people. It’s PATHETIC.

“Something has got to change. America is falling to pieces around us and we are sitting back and letting it happen. We need someone to come in and REALLY take charge, someone who can’t be bought by corporate dollars because he doesn’t need or want ‘em. Someone who is not going to bullshit the country or the rest of the world about what’s going to go down when he steps into office, because he LIKES pissing people off and doesn’t give a shit about hurting anyone’s feelings. We need a man who is not afraid to stick his neck out and risk embarrassing himself while doing the right thing, a man, in fact, INCAPABLE of embarrassment anymore PERIOD because he’s ALREADY done almost every stupid WRONG thing you can think of at one time or the other. We need a hard-boiled, no-nonsense, mean son-of-a-bitch with a bad reputation who ain’t afraid to cock-whip the shit out of some randomly selected pussy-ass billionaire on live tv during his annual State of the Union Address just to make a point and let the mega-rich know that NO ONE is above the law here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In short, we need a man who just DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK.

“America, that man is me.”

Source: Revolver

So, lets just assume that all goes to plan and Uncle Randy gets elected. What would be his first act as the 45th President of the United States of America?

“My first act as President of the United States will [be] to be shot. That’s right, SHOT. With a high-powered assault rifle. Immediately after taking the oath of office, I will be escorted about twenty yards away and be shot publicly in a non-lethal area of my body by a highly trained Navy SEAL sniper. It will hurt like fuck.”

Blythe says he will do this because he doesn’t expect anyone in the armed forces to do anything he wouldn’t.

“Me being shot will be broadcast live world-wide via satellite, with no bleeping out of the incredible string of curse words I will undoubtedly let fly with. I will be required to walk/limp/crawl on my own power a minimum of 50 yards through the mud to an ambulance that will take me away to patch me up. If I can’t make it on my own, I’m not tough enough to be your President.

“After all the nations in the entire world witness America’s new President, an insane looking heavily tattooed freak, getting shot ON HIS OWN ORDER as soon as he takes office, then crawling all bloody to an ambulance, cussing the whole way and screaming pure hate in a monstrous voice tortured by years of touring and Marlboro Reds, they will think twice before fucking with us,” he adds.

“Among his impressive list of promises are to:

  • Take 13 weeks of Marine Corps training.
  • Kill an enemy prisoners in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Kill the first enemy of any war.
  • Change the rules of engagement so troops can shoot before the enemy strikes.
  • Kick some ass.
  • Drink beer.
  • Get laid.
  • Bless America.

Blythe appears to focus on foreign policy rather than discuss economic issues, suggesting he may be better suited for the role of Secretary of State.

His slogan? “Fuck the dumb shit. Let’s get real here.”

Source: Ultimate Guitar

When we have a general election in the United Kingdom we get candidates from the Monster Raving Looney Party. We get candidates dressed as pirates. America gets presidential candidates who want to get shot. That’s metal!

Now do you see why I love Lamb of God?

The man who made things fly (video)

I can’t remember how I discovered these videos, but I think they are just quite inspirational. The video above is the making-of, the video below is the final advert for Avios.

As an aside, I was delighted to see in Avios’s later adverts changed the final tagline at the end. This original advert simply says “anything can fly”, but it doesn’t explain what Avois does or that Avios is now the new name for AirMiles.

Now, AirMiles made sense to me. It gave me an idea of what it was about. Avios, for some reason, makes me think of baggage handlers.

The stupid EU cookie law

In May 2011 a new law came into effect across the European Union that affects probably around 90% of all websites. The UK government has given UK website owners a year (so, until May 2012) to get up to speed with the legislation and do something about it. The law is to do with how cookies are used.

What is a cookie?

In Web-speak, a cookie is a simple text file that stores information about websites you’ve visited. They can be used for lots of thing, such as for the browser to remember that you are already logged into that website, to store items in a shopping cart on a commerce website, or user preferences on another site.

My main browser (Google Chrome) reports that it has stored 3722 cookies from 1374 web domains.

A cookie for a particular site can only be written to and read by that website. So, Facebook cannot read cookies created by Google websites, and Google websites cannot read cookies created by Facebook.

The worry is, however, that spyware software could potentially access these cookies—they are simple, easily read text files after all—and gain all sorts of information about you, such as browsing habits, personal details, etc. And it seems to be this that the legislation is aiming to address.

The issue

Over the next few months I’m going to have to get my head around this legislation, both for my own websites and for the University of St Andrews website. There has been some interesting and useful discussions about it on various JISC-run inter-university email discussion groups.

My main concern is that this doesn’t ruin the user experience. It’s going to be very, very annoying if you require to give consent to every single website before you can meaningfully use it. My fear is that it’s going to become the Web equivalent of the User Account Control (UAC) nightmare that Windows Vista introduced.

Update

Thursday 5 January

Last night’s post was a bit rushed. I didn’t expand it quite as much as I’d have liked but I was tired and I just wanted to get to bed!

Ironically, I kept waking up during the night thinking about it. At one point Jane was awake so I talked it through with her. She has to put up with that kind of thing from me all the time, poor girl!

Anyway, this morning I got three replies on Twitter:

  1. Surely new cookie guidelines are sensible? Happy to chat about this.
  2. The sad fact is, it puts EU based sites/companies at a disadvantage vs those in the rest of the world.
  3. In intent, sensible. In execution, I’m with @garethjms – stupid. Can only see negatives for UX.

And a couple of comments below (which I’ve only just approved). A nice balance of for and against. I look forward to getting my head around this and posting more about it, here and on my professional blogs.