RSS, Podcasts and Thunderbird

Ok, I’m a newbie to email clients again. One thing I always heard about but never was bothered to learn about RSS feeds. They never really made sense to me when the specification now came out, mostly because I had no need of them and with all that was on my plate at work at the time, I never had the luxury of time to dedicate to studying the technology behind Really Simple Sydnication. That is, of course, until I started using them to load up Slashdot headlines in my Firefox bookmarks toolbar folder so I wouldnt have to keep visiting the homepage every time I wanted to see if there was a new article up. I realised alot of sites I’m used to visiting on a daily basis have such feeds, so now my Firefox bookmarks toolbar loads feeds for Slashdot, Digg, Newsforge and Ars Technica and more recently my own blog. That satellite icon on the bottom right of my Firefox indicating an RSS enabled site is so powerful for such a small button it amazes me how many people don’t know about it still, and I thought I was late finding out about that feature of Firefox.
RSS feeds have also become useful for Podcast listeners, and as a newbie to this technology as well I am finding RSS feeds very useful for keeping track of when new TWIT or Caribbean Free Radio feeds come out.
The first time I used Thunderbird was a very early release back in 2003 when the Mozilla project split its integrated suite so that a group could focus on developing the browser component, now known as Firefox. The email component of Thunderbird started as a separate effort to have a standalone email client just after I believe (but I could be wrong about the timeline). Still, I’m amazed at how mature they’ve both come since those days, especially Thunderbird which I haven’t used since that time in 2003.
I chose Thunderbird over Evolution for POP email because firstly I was curious to see it evolve and secondly I no longer have need to access an Exchange server at home.
Since I’m restricted to my brother’s PC until I get my network up and can access the net from home via my Linux laptop and he runs Windows XP I figured it would be easier to port downloaded email from one Thunderbird to the next since Evolution has no Windows version and also, exporting from Outlook Express sometimes strips away very valuable file attachments from email bodies.
One immediately COOL feature of Thunderbird I’ve realised from just 10 minutes of using it is that I no longer need iPodder to pull my Podcasts. Thunderbird has the option to do it for me since and store it inside a neatly labelled “News and Blogs” folder separate from my POP3 mail folder since it can recognise RSS Feeds and make them useful inside an email client in a similar manner to how RSS feeds are made useful inside the Firefox browser’s bookmark toolbar.
The benefit for me? One less program to be running while on the net and information at my fingertips more quickly than before. RSS feeds are just darned cool!

A digression into Security and Email

Since I came back to Trinidad I didn’t bother to put back a phone line
at home because of various past abuses and subsequent unpaid bills by
family members (*sigh* living with family again sigh). So until the GreenDot wireless DSL service
came along recently, I had no Internet access other than student access through
UWI’s wireless Internet on campus.
UWI’s security policy is obscene though, when I look on it as a fellow IT Professional. It makes little
sense to me since their systems still have big holes, and as
any good IT Security analyst knows, insufficient security is only
slightly better than none at all and is still nowhere close to
security. UWI’s internet access blocks basic POP3 access to receiving email and SMTP access to sending email, yet through social engineering on the part of any person who speaks English (and even some who don’t)
who steps on campus, one can determine within a day how to file share
with certain P2P clients or bypass the security login for Internet surfing by utilising
instead open gateway servers….
Their policy is perhaps more obscene to me as a normal yet saavy Internet user. Let me first state my credentials for making such a bold statement that goes against that of the supposedly intelligent UWI policymakers. I’ve been using the net for 10 years now, I got online just after Windows 95 was released but I still knew about the need for Winsock clients in Windows 3.1. My first WWW experience was surfing with Lynx, because Netscape was now pushing
2.0 and it took too long to download over a slow 14.4k connection to the Internet. I know about the times of Gopher, Usenet and MUD. I’ve seen Pointcast and push-technologies promoted as the future of information syndication, VRML promoted and sites built because it was thought to be the future of Internet surfing, and something called
Palace with its cool avatars and movable rooms promoted as the future of online chat. I was there when there was no Google and searches by Yahoo were paled in comparison to the power of Altavista searches. I was there before there was MSN Messenger, or even ICQ, and when IRC was king. I’ve also scene many of those technologies disappear completely for one reason or another or simply replaced with something better.
There are standard protocols which have stood the test of time, HTTP, FTP, POP3, SMTP to name a few, they have evolved but never been replaced. When analysed I can tell you that the three protocols that every student needs to have access to for it to be called Internet access, these are HTTP for browsing the net, and POP3 and SMTP for receiving and sending emails.
There are still holes where viruses can penetrate the network otherwise, what’s the point of blocking one way in if there are 2 others still open for attack? If one has the perspective that the volume of users for POP3 is greater hence making security more risky, one fails to understand that this is a weighted risk equation, not an equal weight equation. The weighted riskiness of the lesser number of users using the higher risk technologies like P2P would make insignificant the weight of users being given POP3 access who requested it.
It just doesn’t make sense to block the basic building block protocols of the Internet as we know it if the more recent ones still go through.
Block all or block none, you either implement a policy to have proper security or implement no policy, since that’s basically what you are doing now with the improper security existing. The POP3 user like myself suffers, while the amateur file sharing, non-UWI student still gets his music videos with time to spare.
There ARE disadvantages to webmail, despite what Hotmail happy users have gotten used to. Think about it, wouldn’t it be nice to access your email offline when one is at home and far away from the Internet. POP3 mail users CAN.
The level of complexity introduced for a webmail user without POP3 access to download ALL of his
or her email, especially when it comes to categorising it and making it searchable in some manner similar to how a typical POP mail client does it makes those who are used to POP mail groan at the thought of webmail.
So I’ve been on webmail (and groaning) for the last year or so thanks to this “security” policy at UWI.
Typical POP mail client in UWI would probably be Outlook Express, or Outlook 2003 for those who afford it, so in a sense the block of POP mail is more justified than if the users were Linux users or even Windows users running Thunderbird or Evolution…
All the more reason the advocacy of open-source alternatives must continue…
There’s not any cool stuff to mention in Outlook 2003 or Outlook Express for those who already were used to Evolution :-P But they ARE cool features when compared to the limitations Webmail imposes. The
first thing I said when I first saw Outlook 2003 (especially the whole
“Junk Mail” folder everyone loves) was that it bore a strong resemblance
to Evolution and the features I had available in that software for about
a year previous to Outlook 2003 release (especially the junk mail
filter, except Evolution was more powerful since it could integrate
SpamAssassin to filter junk mail progressively and adaptively, rather
than having the need to continuously download outdated Junk Mail list updates). Webmail has the spam and junk mail filtering, but you have to make sure you’re with an ISP or mail hosting service that supports those features, and trust THEM to keep it secure for you.
Sadly, like the Matrix, noone can be told how much more useful POP mail is, they can only see it for themselves once they use it. Hopefully one day, UWI students will wake up and the war with the policy makers will be over and we can finally benefit from TRUE Internet access on campus.

E-mailing blogs is now working! Sorta…

Well it’s Saturday, so I finally have time to do my own work and noone
elses. I went through the instructions for emailing my blogs so I don’t
have to hit the admin page all the time. I still have to periodically
visit a web page that starts a script that will check my designated
email address for blog entries and post the blog entries in the Inbox.
If i had access to a shell on the server then i could schedule an hourly
job with cron to just wget the web page For now though, I must now
manually visit every time I make a job entry. Once I get the network
home up and running, I figure I’ll schedule that cron job from one of
the home machines, since I don’t have that level of access to my web
server and probably couldn’t afford that hosting package right now anyway..

Wednesday Blues

Midweek already. To all my law friends at Hugh Wooding still writing exams, keep awake, study hard, and do well. I figure it’s more original than just saying good luck :-)
There’s the slight depression that comes with reaching midweek, the normal kind of depression, not the qualified for Prozac kind. You’ve gotten through half the working week, but still, there’s this other half a week of challenges you still have to undertake. This week has been pretty relaxed for me, several of my projects are in mid-motion, where the onus is no longer mine to move on to the next phase, but my continued progression awaits those who that responsibility has been given. However, deadlines are still deadlines.
When those who I await finally move, I will be no longer at the snail’s pace of current. Ah, I both look forward to the challenge and feel loathe of it, knowing that if the plan I had made were followed, there was no need for the standstill puddle or the rushing current in my plan, just one smooth sailing stream. And THAT i think, is what I learnt about life today! :-)

C# or Mono?

Well, my good friend Riaz has started up our usual chat debate of MS vs non-MS technologies. So what is wrong with C#? Nothing at all, I mean, I think having Mono as a .NET platform alternative for Linux is a good thing since people can take their Windows learnt C# skills to another platform if they chose. MS pushes some good ideas, the problem is they’re usually not MS born ideas, but MS bought or MS copied.
Open source is about community born ideas, free for all to use, and adapt, and evolve. MS ideas cost money to adapt. MS determines how it evolves, if it evolves. Sometimes they kill the right ones, like MS Bob. Sometimes they don’t (Clippy still exists). Sometimes they take an idea that should be or was free before and decide it’s popular enough now to charge a price for.
A simple example is today in our discussions, I was talking about how Visual Studio Express was cool because it was a free IDE and I could finally learn C# with the free videos MSDN is giving out as well their Coding4Fun website. Then Riaz gave me the news I should have expected….Visual Studio Express 2005 for C# isn’t going to be free much longer, it’s in beta, so it’s a free download for now, but MS is planning to charge $50 fee for it when it goes final…of course I’m sure my beta won’t work really long past the date the final is released, although I’m perfectly happy with it.
So there goes my C# experiences with MS IDEs (again)...I’ll go back to learning about SharpDevelop, my choice because its good enough for a newcomer to C# like myself, it’s open-source, and it’s an IDE for C# that also has a derivative called MonoDevelop for when I’m ready to try my hand with Mono on my Linux desktop at home.
Already there is a live-cd called Monoppix that has the full MonoDevelop, Mono XSP server add on for Apache and Knoppix Linux preconfigured, along with basic tutorial videos to get you started. All done by the community and released for the community without cost to the user. C’mon MS, you could have at least kept the Express versions free and given me some hope there was a real attempt to change the strategy of doing business in the face of the Linux/Open Source competition.

TGI Monday?

Well, it’s Monday. I say thank god for that, because I’m trying the positive approach to things. Some hate Mondays because it signals the end of your own time and indicates the beginning of the 5 days or so when you HAVE to answer to the needs of something/someone else to survive, even if that something else is your own business. My approach, which we will see by Wednesday or Thursday this week if it works :-) is this: It’s a new day of a new week where new challenges await me. There is something I am looking forward to this week which when I am finished I will be satisfied, and it is the expectation of that feeling of satisfaction that will drive me until then. This week, my drive is to get to Thursday so I can FINALLY see Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Most people have banned themselves totally from any spoilers of the movie to not spoil the experience. I gave up this since the first Matrix, because someone is always inadvertently giving you info you never asked for and spoiling in a second what you spent so much effort trying to avoid.
So now I think I have it worse, because rather than be given info involuntarily, I went and bought the screenplay on Amazon for $5US (Adobe PDF protected format), so I KNOW what’s going to happen, even have exclusive shots in the PDF from the movie to tease at the movie effects, but because I know how it ends, I also know how truly spectacular the movie effects are supposed to be to carry this story effectively.
Most times if I’m disappointed by a hyped movie it’s because the storyline/movie effects combination wasn’t right. I can say now, George Lucas got the screenplay right, and if the trailers and stillshots are any indication, the movie effects have made the right combination. Thursday night, Movietowne, 9:15pm, I’ll be the guy centre aisle somewhere still in work clothes, since I plan to line up right after work to make sure I get good seats.

Optimisations for WordPress

I’m totally new to WordPress, so I have no idea how to do certain things, so I enabled an option to mail my blog entries to a specific account. I tried it, didn’t work….hmm….what’s going on here? sigh something to do when the night comes and I can’t sleep.
Another small peeve is that my posts are being date-stamped, but not time-stamped…have to tackle that annoyance a little later too.
Heading out to see “XXX2” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, it’s been awhile since the cinemas which still offer double features have put two that I’ve actually wanted to see together. Worth it or not, it would still only be a $10 investment :-)

Podcasting equipment

So I’m thinking of trying to podcast, don’t ask me about what, I have a few ideas bouncing around inside the ole noggin, and as soon as I settle on one it will as my blog title says, be turned into words :-) .
I can, however, work on the hardware and software requirements, which thanks to the TTCS session yesterday, I am more aware of. The iRiver H10 5 GB Digital MP3 Player Remix Blue looks like a promising (relatively) cheap option for recording though. It has 128kps recording capabilites so if I find that the 64kps Georgia says she uses doesn’t work for me, I still can go a little higher for quality. Next piece of eq I need to identify would be the actual microphone, since I’ve been forewarned about background noise. Georgia gave some tips, so as soon as I’ve identified sites online that sell them, I’ll post those as well.

Maxmising Google Reader

One of the problems I’m constantly challenged with as an avid Internet user is the management of content that I’m exposed to so that I can absorb and eventually utilise it in some form to make myself more efficient. As part of the solution RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, became a useful web standard and along with it came RSS Aggregators, programs meant to help organise the content retrieved from RSS feeds.
I never like any aggregator I tried, other than ITunes for my regularly listened to podcasts. I starting using Google Reader recently though, and I must say I have found myself liking it more and more every time I use it.
As part of its features, there is the ability to share any articles aggregated or email them directly to friends. A cool feature I have started using as well is to post links to my shared content directly to my blog. This is done through a Google provided JavaScript embedded directly into my sidebar widget.
I definitely am seeing this becoming another addition to the list of my frequently used Google Applications.

Good luck to all Hugh Wooding students!

To all my friends in Hugh Wooding law school with exams starting this
week, much luck in both those and the internships you have chosen for
summer. I hope we have the opportunity to make a lime again like we
did in Barbados after your exams last year :-) . If it’s one thing you
guys exemplify is the work hard, play hard mentality which gives me
the utmost respect for you especially this year when your UWI
compatriots have already finished their exams are already hitting the
clubs and beaches.