Giving RSS the Bird (er, Fox)

I’ve spent the past 24 hours playing with the new releases of Firefox (1.0PR) and Thunderbird (0.8), available from Overall, I’m very impressed. The respective teams are obviously hard at work improving the software, and these projects (indeed, in general, in my opinion) continue to serve as excellent examples of Open Source in action.

Both Firefox and Thunderbird now have some sort of RSS/Atom support built in. In Firefox, they’re calling it Live Bookmarks. In Thunderbird, it’s a new account type, RSS News & Blogs. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’m going to have to break down and start using an aggregator to get my news and updates, so I was excited to hear about both features. One of the things that’s prevented me from really embracing a feed aggregator in the past has been the need to run an additional application: can’t it be integrated into my existing work pattern?

Unfortunately, neither Firefox or Thunderbird is going to become my full-time aggregator for a very simple reason: Galeon. Well, not Galeon, exactly, but rather features and ideas that Galeon has introduced that I think Firefox and Thunderbird could benefit from. Let’s take the apps one at a time.

First, Firefox. Firefox’s Live Bookmarks create a folder-like view of a particular feed, and add an option to “Open In Tabs,” like all bookmark folders. So I can easily see the headlines, but if I want to quickly browse the articles, I have to open a dozen web pages. Huh, not exactly what I had in mind. Galeon’s MyPortal, though, could be a good jumping off point. After all, it already acts as a display of bookmarks, and since Firefox treats feeds as “live” bookmarks, it seems like a simple extension of the idea.

Thunderbird is a little better; each feed is it’s own “folder,” with posts showing up as messages and the contents showing up in the preview pane. And since it’s coming at things from the e-mail perspective, you can even flag posts as read or unread. Great! That’s what I want! Except, uh, well, I can’t actually aggregate things. That is, if I want to read the morning news, I have to look at each folder with new items, individually. This only points out the great usefulness of Evolution’s vFolders. If Thunderbird supported vFolders, I could create a view of unread News items. Heck, I could create a view of unread items, including mail, news and feed items. Now that would be a killer feature.

date:2004-09-15 08:09:27

I Take it Back

I take it back. Yes, Camino is faster than Firefox 0.9.3. However, I just downloaded Firefox 1.0 Preview Release, and (excuse my, er, French) Holy Fuck (or is that Fuque?). I know it’s not scientific, but the Firefox 1.0 Preview Release starts in a single Dock “bounce,” compared with 2 for Camino 0.8.1, and 4 for 0.9.3. If this is any sort of preview of things to come in the real 1.0 release, Firefox will (does) crush the competition. It hardly seems fair.

Now, what can be done about Thunderbird’s abysmal startup speed? Anybody? Anybody?

date:2004-09-14 14:28:53

Getting Feedback From Users

Patrick Roberts, author of the [Python and wxPython-based] news aggregator egoClip has written a generalized exception handling module for wxPython which traps Python exceptions and POSTs details to an arbitrary (well, developer determined) URL. The module, wxSupportWiz, is available as source here. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like a good idea, and one I’ll be wrapping into ccTag as work progresses.

One possible improvment might be to allow the user to comment on what they were doing or what they were trying to do. We’ll see how it works.

date:2004-09-14 11:06:49

Firefox 1.0 Preview now available

Mozillazine reports that has released the Firefox 1.0 Preview Release. I just downloaded the Windows version and can report a few things:

  • First, there is no reason to use Internet Explorer. Ever. Firefox on Windows is fast, intuitive and pretty. What’s more, if you don’t like how it works, or want some additional functionality, you can do something about it.
  • Second, mozCC works great with the preview release. Go on, install it, give it a try and let me know if you run into any problems.

For more information, check out the great new site,

date:2004-09-14 10:49:12

Diversity in Action

Last month I had the opportunity to take part in a panel discussion at IPFW where we talked about diversity and issues which resident assistants in the new student housing should be aware of. While not a perfect discussion, I did feel like the RAs heard us, and that in particular, I was able to make my point.

“Pay attention to what you say, because we [gay people] pay attention. When you call your friend a gay, faggot or fag, we hear that, and we draw the conclusion that you don’t understand that those words are hurtful and demeaning. Even if you think it’s only the two of you, people are always listening, and people are paying attention whether you like it or not.

This afternoon I had the, uh, “opportunity” to put my words into action. I was walking from the parking lot to my first class, and a girl was walking ahead of me, loudly talking on her cell phone. She was telling the other party about some event or show she had witnessed; I’m not clear on the exact context. What I do know is that she makes the statement,

“So there was this Muslim person… [looks around] ok, I just had to make sure no one around me was Muslim. Anyway…

At this point I was tempted to tap her on the shoulder and say, “excuse me, miss, I’m a convert to the Islamic faith,” but decided against it. I walked past her, as she continued her conversation.

“And then, they brough out this fag…

And suddenly, I was “that guy;” you know, the one everyone whispers about (“hey, did you seem that guy outside of Kettler Hall this afternoon? he was, like, fuckin nuts!”). I spun on my heel and at the top of my lungs said,

“Hey, I’m a fag and I don’t appreciate that! Why do you feel you need to look for Muslims but not faggots, bitch?”

Admittedly, my deliver could use a bit of polish, but the look of abject shock on her face was worth it. IPFW, take notice: I’m sick and tired of hearing your ignorance, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

date:2004-09-13 13:02:37
category:my life

More platform-specific browser props

Last week I mentioned that I had tried Camino again, and that I was shocked at how fast it was. Since then, I’m a little ashamed to admit it’s nearly become my primary browser on Mac OS X. I’m ashamed because I feel like I should be supporting Firefox, not just because it’s’s current darling, but because it’s cross platform and oh-so-extensible.

That said, I’ve been doing lots of development on my Linux machine this week, and have taken the opportunity to become reacquainted with Galeon. And again, nothing but props. Well, almost nothing (more on that in a second). Galeon has two features that I’ve found particularly kick-ass. First is the implementation of the myportal: view. MyPortal is nothing more than a customized view of your bookmarks, but it manages to display them in a way that I find very useful. More than it’s current usefulness, MyPortal hints at a better, client-side start page: bookmarks, RSS feeds and maybe even your local weather, all in one useful location. The other feature that I think is darn cool is only available in the most recent builds (>= 1.3.17): bookmark vFolders.

Those of you who’ve used [STRIKEOUT:Ximian] Novell Evolution may be familiar with vFolders: “virtual” folders which aggregate content from other folders that meet certain search criteria. A simple idea, but amazingly powerful. So Galeon’s Bookmark vFolders allow you to specify search criteria, and then gather bookmarks from your bookmarks list. This overcomes one of my great frustrations with bookmarking: the maintenance. If you have any quantity of bookmarks, you have to put thought into how you’ll organize them, and maintaining that organization just gets in the way of doing real work. I just want to hit Ctrl-D and move on, thanks. So Bookmark vFolders let me dump all my bookmarks in a big pile, and then slice and dice them later in a variety of ways. Hopefully the idea will catch on and we’ll get Bookmark vFolders as a Firefox extension. Or maybe I’ll have to write it myself…

So what’s my single complaint? Using Firefox and Camino, I’ve become used to pressing Ctrl-L, Tab to get to the Google search box. Since Galeon implements it on a seperate toolbar, that pattern doesn’t work. A small frustration, but muscle memory and habit bring it up frequently. You can’t have it all, I guess.

date:2004-09-10 09:13:21

I am so ignorant

I’m taking “Religion & Culture” this semester, which is turning out to be the most informative and simultaneously humbling class I’ve ever had the privilege to take. We’re discussing the creation of culture (is it constructed or pervasive?), which is incredibly interesting.

Prof. Dixie starts class with “religion in the news,” an opportunity for anyone to bring up the expression of religion in everyday life. Today someone brought up something involving the Arab-Israeli tensions and Prof. Dixie asked “what does jihad mean?” Awakened from my reverie, I confidently responded “holy war.” “Wrong! It means the struggle, more precisely, a spiritual struggle; only through modern media have we identified it as a literal war!” And suddenly things take on an entirely different context.

On Tuesday we deconstructed the hip-hop song “The Experience” by Goodie MoB. I’ve always assumed that there’s more to hip-hop than I understand, but after Dixie began a discussion of the Nation of Islam and the so-called “5% movement,” the layers and textures of meaning were incredible. I respect “The Experience” as much for it’s social commentary as it’s musical expression.

And the net result of these two experiences drives home the realization that even when I think I’m hot shit, I’m really just cold diarrhea. I have so much to learn.

date:2004-09-09 15:05:03
category:my life

wxPython Improvements

wxPython has long been my favorite toolkit for developing cross-platform interfaces that actually work. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot closer than other alternatives I’ve tried.

I’m using wxPython in ccTag for Creative Commons. I just downloaded the new version,, and it’s most notable new feature is not all of the Mac OS X improvements (although those are cool and needed), but rather the improved documentation. For a long time the best documentation for wxPython has been the documentation for wxWidgets, it’s C++ backend. So you would look at the C++ documentation, translate the methods in your head, and hope you got the translation right.

Now, thanks to EpyDoc and lots of work by Robin, we have the beginnings of real wxPython documentation. It’s amazing how much more productive I feel using them than the C++ docs, which I had sort of resigned myself too. Great work, Robin.

date:2004-09-01 09:08:35