Nov 29

Feedly

 

A few weeks back, I wrote of my frustrations with the recent Google Reader update, particularly the ridiculously wide spacing in list view. Many other bloggers also expressed their dissatisfaction with the update and some suggested alternative feed readers. One very popular suggestion was Feedly. I already knew about it from a post on Blogging Tips back in 2009: Feedly: Blog Reading in Style and I had tried it out then… unfortunately not thoroughly enough. I like to read post titles in list or titles view rather than as a magazine or mosaic layout – I can browse through articles more quickly this way. I didn’t look carefully enough for titles view back then and so persevered with Google Reader. But now people were saying that Feedly does have list view, so I had to look at it again. It does have list view as you can see above, and overall I’m pretty impressed.

It’s easy to get started with Feedly, just load up the extension in your browser then link to Google to import your feeds. I don’t want to do a full review of Feedly – there are plenty of posts out there doing that. Having said that, Feedly has just upgraded to version 8 today with some changes including ‘infinite’ scrolling feeds. There’s a nice summary of the changes on ReadWriteWeb. I’ll just focus on a couple of advantages and disadvantages Feedly has in comparison with Google Reader.

Feedly’s Advantages over Google Reader

1. Choose from a number of different themes. But at the moment, they’re a little dark and some of the fonts a little too small.

2. Nice layout and post title spacing.

3. Marking items as read and changing feed folders is blindingly fast in comparison with Reader. Having said that, the new version of Feedly introduced today has ‘infinite scrolling’ rather than paged views and I find it a little slower to load than before to refresh feeds. One way round that is to just show unread feeds rather than all feeds. To do that go to Change layout shown on the image at the top and select ‘Unread Only’.

4. There are a lot of preferences you can set up to customise Feedly and there are many nice touches which you only discover when working with it. For example, you can mark new posts as read just by clicking on the ‘Unread posts’ shown on the image above – if you can see it (discussed in the Disadvantages).

Feedly’s Disadvantages Compared with Google Reader

1. Can’t filter out posts on the basis of keywords in the post title. Using Google Reader Filter this can be done in Google Reader. Keyword filtering would be a nice addition in Feedly and would have let me filter out all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday posts suffocating my feeds last weekend.

2. Here’s an annoying little thing about Feedly. If you haven’t refreshed the list in a while and you mark the list as read, when you refresh the list all the posts you hadn’t seen will also be marked as read. Google Reader doesn’t do this. You have to remember to Refresh before you mark as read, using the buttons on the right side as shown in the image above.

3. It’s not easy to see the number of Unread posts in your categories because the font size is way to small; and the theme colour can make it pretty much invisible – see above image.

I’m going to contact Feedly on these points and see if they’re considering anything. Having said that, for me the advantages of Feedly outweigh the disadvantages and so I’ll be staying with it. If you use Google Reader and haven’t tried Feedly, I strongly recommend you have a look at it.


Nov 24

flower

When we’re not on Facebook or Twitter, chances are we may be searching for something online. It’s important to know how to get the best out of search so we can get the results we want quickly and without too much irrelevant stuff. So I was delighted to find a post on Lifehacker a little while back pointing me to Daniel Russell’s blog SearchReSearch.

Each week, Daniel issues a search challenge on some topic and you can try your hand at getting to the correct result. A couple of days later, he explains how he arrived at his result so you can see where you went wrong or indeed learn from his own search experience. This week it was What’s that flower? (pictured above).

So if you want to make your search more effective, subscribe to his blog and try his search challenges. Even if you haven’t got time to try it every week, just looking at the answers and seeing how he went about the searches is very useful. He also gives a takeaway Search Moral or Search Lesson at the end. And there’s a great archive of search challenges there if you’re looking for something to do this holiday.

And here’s an added bonus: Get More out of Google: Tips and Tricks for Students Conducting Online Research (Infographic)


Nov 17

Sunset

What we do in our spare time has changed dramatically over recent years. With the recent upsurge in social networking, we’re all spending more time on Facebook and Twitter. For many of us, social networking along with gaming means that, as well as staring at a screen at work, we are now staring at another screen in the evening and into the late hours as well. And this obsession generally spills over into the weekend when we can chill out and catch up with blogs, social networks or put in some extended gaming sessions. For some, social networking and gaming can become an unfortunate addiction, eating up precious spare time we’ll never get back.

What’s my point here? Well although we can generate great memories from online encounters, I suspect we may be better off getting out and ‘getting a life’ as they say. But I hear you make the point what’s the difference with slumping in front of the telly all evening. Not much. We’ve just switched to a different screen, albeit a more interactive experience, but I would question whether it’s the best way to generate great memories.

So what’s the big deal about memories? Well, the older we get, the more we look back, believe me. Our lives are full of milestone events that go to make fond memories – first day at school, first date and all the other firsts. Memories of our parents and friends, school days, school mates, college days, college mates, work and work mates, sporting events and sporting achievements, musical events, hobbies and pastimes. Holidays and days out with the family. Girlfriends, boyfriends, marriage, the birth of our children and the children growing up. I could go on. We’ll look back on all these events as fond memories as we get older. And it’s not just sights and sounds that make memories. Smell and taste are also important. I remember the distinctive smell of some of the shops of my childhood – particularly ironmongers, delicatessens and cafes.

My contention here is that spending time online generally isn’t making fond lasting memories. Sure, we’ll probably remember some YouTube videos and memorable games just as we fondly remember some TV programmes, but I suspect most of our gazing at screens will just be a distant blur in 20 or 30 years time. And of course if we have a young family growing up, spending too much time gaming or on Facebook to the detriment of engaging with our kids surely is getting our priorities badly wrong. Believe me they grow up all too fast and are gone before you know it leaving you wondering if you spent enough time with them in those vital years. You only get one chance at life as they say.

So get away from that screen and go out and make memories with your friends and families. Capture them digitally too and don’t forget to back them up to your external hard drive and to the cloud so at least you’ll have these to jog your fading memory in days to come.

Image credit: Buttercup Sunset by Autumnsonata


Nov 7

I live in the country about 3 km from the nearest telephone exchange so I don’t expect great broadband speeds – the best I get is about 5 to 6Mbps during the day when the load on the network at my ISP and the local load is lower. It drops down to 1 to 2Mbps in the evening when everyone is trying to download or stream media further up the line. So I always try to do my downloading during the day when broadband speeds are better. But there’s another important factor involved in download speed and that’s the server supplying the file or files you’re downloading. I came across this problem recently when trying to download a podcast. I had to give up even though broadband speeds were fine at around 5.8Mbps at the time according to Speedtest.net:

downloadspeed3

As you can see, despite good broadband download speed, the mp3 file was downloading at crawling pace when I took the screenshot but it slowed further and eventually hung after this. I contacted the webmaster and he confirmed intermittent server side problems. If files are hosted on a busy server, this may slow down access speed. He arranged an alternative mirror location for the file on a different server and that solved the problem.

Server location can also be a factor in download speed. Generally, servers closer to you will give faster download speeds. The Ubuntu Software Center is a good example of how downloading should be arranged, allowing you to pick servers close to you. After that it runs a series of ping tests to find the best mirror for your location so you download from the fastest server.


Nov 4

As you probably know, Google Reader was updated earlier this week. The old internal sharing options were removed and sharing with Google+ brought in. The interface was also rejigged. Here are my thoughts on both.

Change to sharing options

I can understand bringing in sharing to Google+ but to remove the old internal sharing and following options within Google Reader is a shame. I see where they’re going with the tighter integration with Google+ but removal of choice bodes poorly for the future. I just think it would be in their best interests to allow us more choice rather than dictate how they want things to be done with ‘automatic upgrades’. We actually don’t all want to use Google+ or to be forced down the road of using it. Thankfully, you can still enable sharing to other networks. Go to the Gear at the top right, click Reader Settings and click the Send To tab. Select the networks you want and you’ll now have a Send To option at the bottom of each entry with the networks you’ve chosen. There is also a Chrome plugin called ReaderSharer to restore the old sharing options and improve the feed spacing.

New interface

It’s hard to fathom how they got the new user interface so badly wrong. We’re all led to believe Google employs the best minds but the redesigned interface just beggars belief. Google, this is supposed to be an interface to, well, read stuff. So why put in so much white space in List View that I spend more time scrolling than reading? And the colours are so drab – all shades of grey. I just don’t get it and I’m not alone. I know they’re trying to impose some kind of interface consistency with their other apps. We’ll all experience a similar interface in GMail soon after what Google call an ‘automatic upgrade’ but really, I preferred things as they were. Thankfully browser plugins have already been released to remove some of the white space and display more feeds on the screen. Without a Chrome plugin to help, I’m getting just 17 feeds displayed in List View. Install New Google Reader Rectifier and I get 23 feeds, while FixStyleSheet for GoogleReader crams in 32 feeds. But why should I have to install Chrome plugins to get Reader to work the way it used to? Each extension takes up valuable memory. Why aren’t there preferences within Reader to tweak display settings?

It may well be that Google eventually responds to the widespread condemnation and reinstates internal sharing and something resembling the old interface, but I just can’t understand how a company supposedly with a lot of bright people can just get things so badly wrong in terms of user choice and design. If they don’t innovate well, or listen to users’ opinion, and impose badly designed stuff with cut-back choices, it surely doesn’t bode well for their future, or the users for that matter. Developers take note. We need a good Google Reader alternative to show how it should be done.

Any thoughts? As always I’d love to hear what you think.


Nov 3

Route 66

Well, after starting blogging here in August 2008, 3 years and 3 months later I’ve made it to my 200th post! If you do the math, that’s just over five posts a month – not a great amount so I’m never going to overload your RSS reader or email, and that’s probably a good thing.

I’d like to thank everyone whose subscribed to or kept in touch with the blog so far, especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. Blog comments and subscriber numbers are the two things that encourage bloggers to keep going. If you’re a long time reader, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new here, I’d love you to sign up to the RSS feed for the blog or to have posts delivered to your email inbox. You’ll find the subscription buttons at the top right of the page. Hopefully the fact that I’ve put out 200 posts over three and a bit years will convince you I enjoy blogging in my spare time and intend to continue at it.

I hope you will take a look around – with 200 posts now, there’s lots to look at. I don’t reblog tech news as there’s plenty out there doing that. You’ll mainly find tech tips here – things I’ve worked out and learned in the day to day working with my PC, software and online sites. I like to pass on what I discover. Problems I’ve solved, apps and free software I find useful, hardware I use, learning and working with WordPress, continuing my journey with Linux, discovering and using great online services, online privacy and so on. And you’ll also get the occasional post on my take on life in general.

Here’s a selection from the 200 posts which you might like to look at:

A short Twitter list to follow for great tech links

Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop screen replacement: not as hard as you think!

Points to consider when choosing screen capture software

Eliminate PC overheating and shutdown by trying a simple procedure

Improve search in Word by closing the search pane

The new search feature (Ctrl-F) in Word 2010

A generation of change in PCs

Remove FeedBurner tracking queries when clicking website links in Google Reader

Quick tip: Remove Windows.old folder after installing Windows 7

Send free SMS reminders to your mobile phone

Some Ubuntu resources for beginners

Useful links: Free wi-fi hot spots

Useful links: A to Z of search

How long should a good blog post be?

Give us this day our daily fruit and veg

Receiving low balance account alerts by SMS from your bank

Hopefully there’s something for everyone there. Well, here’s to the next 200 posts and more. Thanks for reading!

Image credit: gamillos


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