Google plans?

Great article in PC Plus this month about Google’s plans to take over the world, kinda. There has been much speculation across the net about the fact that Google have headhunted a couple of Microsoft staff, been very cozy with the Mozilla people and have registered the gbrowser.com URL.

The article speculates that if Google were to develop a browser, it could then use this to create a whole online computer environment. They already offer mail, websearch, news, usenet, blogging and image handling. The addition of a browser would make further technology possible – perhaps a word processor/spreadsheet app that runs online, some kind of personal information manager – gmail already offers a very comprehensive contacts section – and a music search, and everything you need on a day to day basis would be available online, from any machine, whether Windows, Mac, Linux, or a handheld.

Bloglines

Just come across Bloglines for the first time. It’s basically an RSS feed reader, but which operates within a browser window, so you can pick stuff up from anywhere. This article from the Guardian’s Online section might help explain more about RSS:

Answer to a news junkie’s prayers Web feeds offer an easy way to keep up with the news, reports Bobbie Johnson

Monday November 1, 2004

It’s been setting geeky hearts aflutter for some time now, but syndication is finally starting to take hold on the internet. Net technologies called RSS and Atom, or to give them the more user-friendly and generic tag of “web feeds”, take the hassle out of keeping up with the news. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’ll never want to go back.

How does it work?
Reading web feeds is a bit like watching the headlines on the evening news. Essentially, you ask a program to check your favourite websites every so often, looking for the things that have changed since you last popped by, and then present the new stories to you. That means you don’t have to waste your time by trekking through sites to find out what the new developments are, or find yourself reading an interesting story only to realise you read it before – but somebody’s changed the headline.

You surf around, and if you find a website or page that you like, look out for a little icon reading “Web feed” or “RSS” or “XML” or “Atom” – you’ll find one on, say, Guardian Unlimited’s football news. Click on the icon, and paste the address of the resultant page (normally filled with computer gibberish) into your feed reading software. And … well, that’s it. From now on, with the click of a mouse, your feed reader checks for fresh headlines and then delivers them to you in a jiffy.

Your feed reader picks out all the stories that have arrived since you last checked in and presents you with a summary of them, along with a link to the original.

Bong! England storm to victory in the World Cup final! Bong! Frank Lampard seals victory with hat-trick! Bong! Brazilian coach resigns after “total footballing humiliation”!

OK, so your feed reader won’t tell you what you want to hear – but it will tell you what you need. In fact, most programs let you customise which headlines are presented to you, and how they’ll look on your desktop. For example you could browse all the latest reports, or you could choose to look at all the stories you haven’t read before. Or perhaps you just want to look at the top stories. It’s like the paper boy suddenly worked out that you only read the most interesting bits of the newspaper and decided to save you ploughing through the rest.

Why should you be interested?
Web feeds sound great in principle – but then again, so did that triple-extra-hot vindaloo pizza last night. Sometimes judgment can be clouded, and after all, barely a week goes by without some new technology being heralded as the greatest thing since sliced white. These days fancy dan techno-gadgets come and go in the blink of an eye, and sceptical readers are probably wondering why web feeds important – or even useful – to them.

First of all, web feeds can save you an awful lot of time. If, like any self-respecting news junkie with an internet connection, you’ve spent countless hours refreshing a web page waiting for latest news update, then this takes out the hard work. Now all you need to do is log on to your feed reader and it can present you the stories that have arrived since you last looked. No hanging around.

Web feeds can also be extremely useful if you’re on a dial-up connection; your reader program checks sites for you, saving you the hassle of loading up heavy pages and spending countless moments watching that egg timer flip over and over.

And of course, it’s not just news that you can run through RSS. Many weblogs have feeds that you can subscribe to, and if you’re addicted to reading them, it makes light work of the chore of doing the rounds by simplifying the whole business of keeping track of dozens of different sites. You can get recipes, cartoons and all kinds of material delivered through feeds.

Once you’ve got a wide selection of sites drawn together and displayed with the freshest content at the top of the pile, keeping track of multiple sources becomes easy.

Web feeds hand power to you, the surfer, rather than to the producers of websites. Instead of you going to them, they come to you. Feeds let you narrow down the particular bits of a site you want to see, and they help bring the things you’re interested in to your attention. Essentially, they help you customise your web experience by building your own personalised website by syndicating the content from all your favourite places.

Is there anything else?
Right now web feeds are relatively simple stuff. This is by no means the crest of the wave – it’s probably more accurate to say that we’re still splashing around in the shallow waters by the shore. But all across the planet, hordes of feverish technologists are bashing away in attempts to try and come up with new ways to use web feeds. And if the apocryphal bunch of monkeys with typewriters can produce the complete works of Shakespeare, you can bet that a gang of geeks with computers can come up with something.

Now where do I look?
If this has got you excited, then you should go and get yourself some feed reading software. PC users could have a look at FeedDemon, while Mac users might like a gander at NetNewsWire. You might also like to have a look at Amphetadesk, which can be used on PCs, Macs or Linux machines.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to – or can’t – install a news reading program onto your computer, you might want to have a look at websites like BlogLines, which allow you to do the same thing through a web-based interface.

Those are just some of the most popular programs: take a look at this Wikipedia page and you’ll see that there are plenty of other readers out there. Go try them, and see if it changes the way you use the web.

The US Election

Ohmygod. Another 4 years of George W. Bush as the most powerful man in the world. Well, the second maybe, after Bill Gates. Anyway.

Even as a conservative (small ‘c’! small ‘c’!) kind of guy, Bush fills me with loathing. He’s the embodiment of the idiocy that seems rife in the world at the moment, at every level of society, that culture which wears ignorance on its sleeve and is proud of it. Not to mention his religious fundamentalism which puts him on a par, as far as I am concerned, as those he claims to wage war on. Surely anyone that takes anything too seriously, whether it be Xianity, Islam or whatever, is worthy only of contempt?

At the end of the day, if George Bush hadn’t decided to go to war, Britain wouldn’t have been involved either. It’s just a shame that our PM hasn’t the guts to stand up to the smirking, brain dead simian and get the hell out of Iraq.

Perhaps Kerry just wasn’t a strong enough candidate to beat Bush. Maybe next time, eh?

Google – Good or evil?

I have always been a fan of Google – and that’s not just the websearch. I use their email system, their mailing list groups, and of course Blogger, which is now owned by Google.

I’d never given much thought to the way that the company operates, generally believing that they aren’t evil, as they claim so proudly. But a couple of links might have made me think a little more about it:

Google Watch and Gmail is too Creepy.

The joys of PHP

It is a wonderful thing when something you think might be really complicated turns out to be really simple.

On http://www.davebriggs.net, I have three columns. The left one holds links common to all pages, including the internal site navigation; the centre one holds all the content; and the right one has links and stuff relevant to that page.

The problem with the left hand column is that if I want to make a change to it, I would have to do so with all the pages one by one. While this wouldn’t be too much of a burden at the moment, when the site starts to expand it would become seriously time consuming.

Fortunately PHP (www.php.net; http://foldoc.doc.ic.ac.uk/foldoc/foldoc.cgi?query=php) comes to the rescue. By typing the HTML for the menu content into a separate HTML file, called say “menu.html”, I can then call up that file anytime I like using:

<?php
include(“filename.html”);
php?>

And that’s it!

So all I have to do is update menu.html and ALL the pages change in line with that!

Developments

Plenty has happened since I last posted. I have had a total re-think of how I am going to ‘do’ davebriggs.net. Instead of going for a graphics-heavy Dreamweaver approach, I’m going to do it in Linux, more or less hand coded, using Bluefish and The Gimp, and make it accessible and fast loading on as many browsers as I can test it in.

This approach, however, has its downside. I still can’t get my internet connection to work on Linux, so I have to do all my work, save it onto a floppy, then log into Windows to FTP it to the web host.

Why am I bothering? Because I think it’s important. The coding part of the process is far quicker and more controlled, using Bluefish, and the Gnome environment I work in makes it easy to test and plan. Not least because of the multiple desktops – I have Bluefish open in one, various browsers in various others, OpenOffice.org Writer in another, in which I keep my site plan updated, and one desktop has a terminal, where I can do any file management stuff. It’s simple, straightforward and gets everything done perfectly.

Because of this new design decision, it means that I can change the layout of this blog to suit the whole site. I’ll still keep it hosted at Blogspot, though, simply because it’s too easy not too!

More reading…

I have abandoned ‘Consider Phlebas’ with a third of the way to go. At the end of the day, I don’t like SF enough to read nearly 600 pages of the stuff.

So, fiction-wise I am reading ‘Lolita’ now, which hopefully will be a quick one. The few chapters I have read make it clear what a superbly written book it is, and it should be a real joy.

Non-fiction-wise, I have still got Boris Johnson’s ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ on the go, though that is a good dip-in-and-out-of book. I’m certainly enjoying the early Politics section which covers the early 1990s, specifically on Europe. Obviously it comes from a sceptic viewpoint, but it is still filling me in on a time when I was too young to know what was going on.

I am also seriously keen to start John Naughton’s book. In fact I might do so tonight.

My site / Firefox / Web design

Work is continuing on davebriggs.net – though it is going to take a while to complete as I seem to have a lot on at the moment. Still, the front page is nearing completion, the side bar of my frequently used sites is going to come in really handy!

On the right hand side I am going to have various ‘advertiser’ links, so adwords from Google, Amazon etc and advocacy links. At the moment I only have one of these, for the Firefox browser. I recommend this brilliant piece of software to everyone. It’s faster, has more features and more secure than IE, and it is free, too. One of the things that annoyed me about Mozilla, and Netscape before that, was that some of the rendering of the HTML left a little to be desired – a lot of this has been sorted out now in Firefox. For some reason, though, it doesn’t pick up the stylesheets for the Palimpsest home page! Strange, because my other sites which are built in exactly the same way seem to work fine…

I have completed the contact page on my current work-in-progress, which uses a simple PHP script to send the details through to an email address. The site is looking rather good, though, and my progress can be monitored at http://www.davebriggs.net/wip/elmcroft.