Wednesday, December 26, 2007

HOWTO: GTD with Google Docs & PocketMod

Take control of your unwieldy to do-list by combining Google Docs and PocketMod. With the system described here you will always be ready to take notes, and never run the risk of losing an idea!

Update (July 30, 2009): Now using a Google Docs template.

I use a subset of GTD ("Getting Things Done") by having a digital copy of my next actions, sorted by context (@Home, @Office, @Shopping, @Computer, etc.). This lets me easily look up what I need to do, depending on where I am.

However, a digital copy is not very useful by itself, since it is not accessible when I am offline. Putting it in my PDA is not ideal either, since the overhead of adding a new note is too big (turning on the device, opening the right application, having it recognize my handwriting). That's why I print out my to-do list on paper once a week and carry it in my pocket. It's the ideal way of accessing and editing tasks. Before I print out a new list I spend a minute or two copying the edits from my old printed list to the digital copy.

So the question is, what format is preferred for the digital copy and how do I best print it? This question has lead to an unending debate among GTDers, and David Allen, the guru himself, doesn't offer any concrete suggestions. For me, it is important to be able to access the digital copy from multiple computers. At the same time, the printout needs to be small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket.

I have previously blogged about the advantages of managing your to do list with the online GTD-application Toodledo. I especially like the way it lets you print your tasks as a folded credit-card sized 8-page booklet, easy to carry with you at all times. Unfortunately, to be able to print a booklet with one page per context, a Toodledo Pro package subscription is required. It's only $14.95/year so it might be a good deal for some, but I was looking for alternatives.

Actually, you can achieve the needed functionality for free by using a combination of Google Docs and the PocketMod converter. Together with a Pilot G-2 XS pen, which always writes and fits great into even the smallest pocket, you are always ready to take notes, and never risk losing an idea! Below, I describe the system I use.

Requirements:

  1. A free Google Docs account.
  2. PDF to PocketMod converter. This Windows-only application will be used to shrink the 8-page PDF into a single page.
  3. A PDF reader (Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader) for printing the final result.

Steps:

  1. Create a new Google Docs document from the template below by clicking "Use this template".
  2. Customize the document so that it will be useful to you. Enter your contact information and the contexts you need, and make a brain dump of your current tasks.
  3. From the Google Docs file menu, choose "Export as PDF..." and save the document as a PDF file on your computer.
  4. Open "PDF to PocketMod converter". Click the "Open PDF" button and select the file you saved from Google Docs in the step above. Next, click the "Save as PocketMod" button, name the PDF file for the booklet and wait for the process to finish.
  5. Print the file generated in the last step using your PDF reader.
  6. Cut the printed sheet and fold it into an 8-page booklet according to these instructions.

Next week, reopen the document, copy your edits from your booklet, and continue from step #3.

Enjoy!

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bankroll-Breaking Even Money Bets

Some ten years ago I ran Gambol, a short-lived gambling fund that invested money in statistical sports betting. I even managed to convince gullible friends to invest. Eventually, the fund lost all its money to the online bookmakers, and I tried to figure out what went wrong. I ran lots of simulations to better understand what had happened, and in one of them I encountered something remarkable. Recently, I was indirectly reminded about the paradox I had discovered, which I still have a hard time to understand intuitively. Here's the story of our gambling hero Andrew, who despite being an intelligent gambler, here takes a tumble and loses his entire bankroll.

When Bob offers Andrew to flip coins for even money, Andrew wrongly assumes that this couldn't possibly be a losing proposition. The catch is that Andrew needs to bet x% of his bankroll on each coin flip. He is free to choose the value of x himself, provided that x stays the same throughout the game.

Theoretically, the expected value of each betting round is +-0 for Andrew. His chances of winning each coin flip is 50%. When he loses a flip, his bankroll decreases by x% and if he wins he gains the same amount.

Andrew decides to bet 10% of his bankroll, which is $100. Let's take a look at possible scenarios for the outcome of the first rounds. After the first betting round Andrew's new bankroll will be either $90 or $110. If he ends up losing the first bet, his bet for the second round will be $9 (10% of his new bankroll of $90), and if he wins the first bet, his second bet will be $11. After round two he will end up in one out of the following four scenarios:

  • 1st round lost + 2nd round lost: $81
  • 1st round lost + 2nd round won: $99
  • 1st round won + 2nd round lost: $99
  • 1st round won + 2nd round won: $121

It is important to note that in 3 out of 4 cases Andrew is a loser after round #2. Theoretically, each bet is even money, and the average bankroll in the four scenarios remains $100 - but still Andrew is likely to be a loser in the long run. The more betting rounds there are, the more likely Andrew is to eventually lose his entire bankroll. There is also a chance that he will win a lot of money, but that chance is getting slimmer and slimmer for each betting rounds he participates in. After the third round Andrew happens to be back at a 50% chance of being a winner, but this is just a temporary fluctuation as he is again a likely loser after the fourth round.

Below is a graph showing how Andrew's bankroll develops in 50 simulations of 2,500 betting rounds, betting 10% of an initial $100 bankroll. After 2,500 bets the best case out of the 50 simulations has Andrew's bankroll at less than $60.

All 5 scenarios over 2,500 bets

The blue line in graph below shows how many of the 50 initial scenarios are in the black (with a bankroll not smaller than the initial $100). The red lines displays the average bankroll over the 50 scenarios. The average bankroll should have stayed around the initial bankroll, since the expected value of the bet is +-0, but due to the limited number of simulations (50 in this case), we eventually run out of winning scenarios. No matter how many scenarios I choose to run, I can always make the average bankroll go down towards 0 by running enough betting rounds.

Average bankroll and scenarios in the black

This bet, which theoretically is even money, makes you lose your money in real life - a fascinating paradox! Note that the final outcome where the bankroll dwindles towards 0 does not change, no matter which value is chosen for x (the ratio of your bankroll wagered on each round).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Real Newspaper Thumbnails

FeedJournal now creates an authentic thumbnail of the generated newspaper's Page One. An example can be seen in the left column of this blog.

Existing widget users don't need to worry, the functionality has been automatically rolled out and is available to you now. Every time you generate an updated newspaper of your blog, an accompanying thumbnail is generated as well. If you use the widget on your blog, it will automatically find the location of the thumbnail. For those of you who like to write your own HTML code, the image is in the same path as the generated PDF file - just replace the ".pdf" extension with ".png".

This service is available to all FeedJournal users. Users of the free basic service get a thumbnail sized 140x200 pixels, while silver and gold members will have the ability to customize the size (soon to be available). If anyone needs this customization urgently, just give me a shout and I'll get it done sooner.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Linux Compatibility and Smaller PDFs

Marco let me know that he wasn't able to open files generated with FeedJournal on his Linux PDF readers, including Linux-based e-book readers iLiad and Cybook. It turns out that PDF readers running on Windows are more tolerant when parsing the format.

By debugging the problem I found that null characters are appended to the end of the PDF file, making it unnecessarily large and causes problems on Linux. It was an easy fix and everything should now work fine on all operating systems and readers. If you despite this still have problem to open FeedJournal PDF files on a specific piece of software, please let me know. If anyone has an opportunity to try it on the Amazon Kindle reader I would be happy to know the results!

Expect PDF file sizes to shrink by up to a couple of hundred kilobytes with the new code deployed on the web site!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Et Tu, Google?

Google was recently granted a patent on personalized newspapers. Until now, I have been having the market all to my self with FeedJournal, but I welcome the competition. A player like Google can really help to boost the awareness for these kinds of solutions. Yes, I am one person, and Google is somewhat larger than that. But still, I think it is a good sign that FeedJournal-like sites start to pop up. It will increase multitude, and the competition will help to drive the projects forward and prevent stagnation. In the end, users will gain by having better products.

The granting of the patent seems somewhat dubious to me, considering that FeedJournal has been alive and kicking for a long time. The patent could have been a good requirements specification document for FeedJournal.

I am obviously very curious to see where Google is going with this, if they decide to use the patent to build a product. Will they offer both a reader and a publisher version of their product? How will they integrate advertising? They definitely have big potential to integrate many of their existing services into a new solution.

But don’t worry! I’ll continue to put late hours into FeedJournal. Small operations like this one depend heavily on word-of-mouth, since time and resources don’t allow much else in the way of marketing. So please, any mentions of FeedJournal is greatly appreciated. I am grateful and indebted to my small but dedicated group of enthusiastic evangelizers (Joel, Simon, Mike, and many others), who helps me to build a better newspaper.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading on Paper vs. on Screen

One of the basic premises behind FeedJournal is that it's better to read text on paper than on a screen. While it might not sound like a bold assumption, it still is an assumption and as such worth to examine deeper.

Today, office workers and many other professionals are required to focus their eyes on a computer screen during most of their work day. Many of them continue to use the computer at home. FeedJournal was created with many goals in mind; one of them is to release you from the screen while enabling you to read the content you love. You shouldn't have to spend more time reading off a screen, just because you want to access fresh and relevant content.

Recent research has found that reading a longer text on paper is 25% faster than reading the same text on a computer screen. At the same time, reading comprehension and article overview are improved.

Although screen resolutions have increased and font rendering technologies such as ClearType make it much easier to read on the screen, the experience is still not as comfortable as when reading on paper.

But the largest problem with reading on the computer is that your attention is constantly being diverted. These diversions come in many forms: an incoming e-mail or an instant message, an ad flashing in the corner of your eye, a teasing hyperlink in the article text, a critical software update alert that pops up, an alert that your laptop battery needs charging, your other browser tabs needing attention, etc, etc. I could go on for a long time listing frequent diversions begging for your mouse click. On top of that is the page navigation required to scroll the text - it doesn't require a rocket scientist but it's still an additional interaction you can't escape from.

The situation gets even grimmer if you choose to read you articles on a mobile device. Not only that you have the same digital diversions as a regular computer user, you will need to make do with a much smaller screen estate.

Readers of text on paper typically concentrate fully on what they're doing, while readers of screen content are either hard at work fighting off distractions or have resigned to giving the text only cursory attention.

It is actually a small wonder that anyone manages to read longer articles on a screen. Which is too bad, considering that the quality and diversity of content has literally exploded with every blogger now being a amateur journalist, publishing content on a more or less regular basis.

In the face of this, how does it sound to you to have a printed newspaper in your hands while sitting in your favorite chair, and just read. I'm not talking about just any newspaper, I am referring to the newspaper you have personally defined, with articles from your favorite sites and blogs. This is what FeedJournal offers, a better chance of keeping your attention on what you choose to read.

With these arguments I am not trying to stop you from reading RSS feeds on the computer or on the go. I do that all the time. I am simply saying that feeds with longer content greatly benefit from being read in paper format. Feeds with shorter alert-type content (new version released, ego searches, answers to blog comments, etc.) is perfect for the RSS aggregator on your computer, while FeedJournal is optimal for subscribing to feeds with longer article content.

In a future post I will describe how any web page you visit can be marked for publishing in your next FeedJournal Reader issue. FeedJournal Reader is still in development, but expect private beta testing e-mails to be sent out shortly. FeedJournal Publisher is available today for bloggers who want to be read on paper.

Friday, November 9, 2007

KillerStartups Feature

FeedJournal was featured on KillerStartups.com yesterday. I'd be grateful to anyone who would be willing to vote for me. All you have to do is go to the review and click on the plus icon next to the FeedJournal logo. Thank you!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Widget For Your Blog

It's now super-simple to add a FeedJournal widget to your web site or blog. You can see it in action in the left-hand column of my blog (http://jonasmartinsson.blogspot.com if you're not already here). Since you are probably using one of the more common blog platforms or social networks (listed below), you're only a few clicks away from having the widget installed to your site.

WidgetBox.comDeveloping this widget is something I've intended to do for a long time. It makes integrating FeedJournal with your site so much more easy. Thanks to the November 2007 article on widgets in "Inc. Magazine" I realized that widget development platforms has now reached a level where it is a very trivial task. All-in-all it only took me one hour until the widget was ready for prime time. All thanks to WidgetBox.

So, what does the widget do? First and foremost it contains a thumbnail snapshot of the FeedJournal newspaper and a text link, both linking directly to the newspaper version of your blog. Second, it allows every visitor to your blog or web site to simply share this PDF with the rest of the world, by e-mail or blog post for example.

How do you install it? In 3 simple steps:
1. Visit http://www.feedjournal.com/webservice.html, fill in your blog's feed URL and click submit.
2. Wait for the e-mail with the URL from where you can download the generated newspaper.
3. Click on "Get Widget" to add the widget to your site and configure it with the PDF URL from the e-mail.
When you are ready to update the PDF with the latest feed content, you just have to repeat step #1, since the URL to the PDF stays the same.

Future developments of the widget will include an authentic thumbnail of your PDF file's first page, and the possibility to further customize the look and feel of the widget. If you have any other requirements, I promise to take them into consideration.

Installing the widget to your site is trivial if you're somewhat familiar with HTML. You will only need to paste a HTML tag into your site's source code. To install it on one of the services below is even simpler, doesn't require any HTML knowledge and doesn't take more than a few clicks:

  • Blogger
  • Typepad
  • Pageflakes
  • netvibes
  • iGoogle
  • Piczo

Sunday, October 28, 2007

FeedJournal Features Images

FeedJournal now supports images! This is a feature I've been aching to add for a very long time and the work finally got going thanks to a potential customer who really needed it.


FeedJournal with images

The first image from each feed article is added to the newspaper. I am very happy with the visuals and you are welcome to check it out for yourself by downloading the sample PDF newspaper from the thumbnail in the left column on my blog.

For now, image support is a feature reserved for gold members. So, if you generate a sample basic newspaper from feedjournal.com, it will not have images. You will have to contact me and I'll arrange access ASAP to a demo gold level account so you can review it for yourself.

To anyone curious as to how the reader project is coming along I have good news. A couple of finishing touches remain, and then I will be starting to send out invitations to get access to the beta version. I'll probably need one or two more weeks. If you want to be a part of the beta testing program, now is the time to let me know! FeedJournal Reader will allow each and everyone, free of charge, to generate and print their own customized PDF newspaper or magazine from a collection of their favorite feeds, using a slick web interface.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Suspended by eBay

eBay suspended my account after being a member for less than a week. I never bought or sold anything, just browsed their listings. eBay refuses to give an explanation for suspending me, but claim that they "can understand [my] frustration".

On Sep 30 I created a user account in order to buy a docking station for my laptop - an item which costs around $10 on eBay. I contacted about five sellers about shipping costs to Israel. Then I get the suspension e-mail from eBay. At first, I was convinced the e-mail was a phishing attempt and marked it as spam, but when I logged on to my eBay account it was obvious that they had really suspended me.

The only clue they gave as to why they suspended me is this:

"Your account was suspended under the 'Abusing eBay' section of the eBay User Agreement. This section states that eBay may suspend a user's account if we think that the user is creating problems (legal or otherwise) or acting inconsistently with the letter or spirit of our policies. [...] In addition, your account was found to be in violation of our Spam Policy"

Needless to say, I never sent any spam or in any other way misused eBay's services.

The representative who I got in touch with in order to understand the reason behind their action says: "For security reasons we are unable to be more specific about the details that led to this action. [...] eBay is taking a tougher stand to prevent fraud". He goes on to say that "honest members may be required to take one or two extra steps before they are allowed to participate on eBay". These extra steps involves faxing them a copy of a "credit card statement, a recent bank statement or a recent utility bill". I also tried to connect with their live chat support but they can't do anything as long as I did not fax them the statements they want.
I am not going to fax them this or any other personal information to get my membership back, and I will definitely never use their services again (I'm not allowed to, but that's beside the point).

Development of eBay ranking according to Alexa

Which other major web site are abusing new customers like this? It is amazing to consider that eBay is the #20 most popular web site in the world according to Alexa's ratings. Their rating peaked at #5 a few years ago, but has steadily been dropping since then. If they are treating me like this, a typical new user exhibiting typical user behavior - it is not being bold to assume that their rankings and popularity will continue to decline. eBay is still the #1 online auction but that has to change soon, unless they radically change their customer services and implementation of their policies.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Story of FeedJournal at 47 Hats

I have a guest post up at micro-ISV consultant/author Bob Walsh's 47 Hats blog, describing the development of FeedJournal, and some notes about what might come in the future.

On a side note, I am happy to report that category/section support has now been added to FeedJournal, and is available to paying customers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Simplified Web Service Available

The process of generating sample PDF newspapers from your RSS or Atom feeds is now even simpler. It doesn't  require any setup at all and takes not more than a few seconds!

Initial users of the service complained about the FeedJournal newspaper generation process being too cumbersome. We listened to your feedback and are now re-launching the web service for bloggers and content providers.  The whole process of generating a newspaper cannot be simpler!

Just enter your e-mail address and your RSS/Atom feed and push the button. Wait a few seconds while the newspaper layout is generated and you will be picking up the link to your PDF newspaper in your e-mail inbox in no time.

At the same time, two more advanced web service offerings are being launched, silver and gold membership. These services offer advanced content filtering mechanisms for getting the full content out of your summary feed, custom branding of the newspaper and full control over fonts, paragraph layout, page size whitespace, etc.

To get started with FeedJournal's free basic service or to learn more about the business options head over to http://www.feedjournal.com/webservice.html

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

FeedJournal on the Radio

Yesterday, Irish radio show "The Right Hook" discussed newspapers and technology. FeedJournal was in the center of attention. Simon McGarr skillfully presented the technology behind FeedJournal as well as discussing future uses for newspapers generated from RSS feeds.

The show is available in MP3 format. The newspaper discussion starts 7 minutes into the segment.

McGarr expands on the discussion in the radio show in an excellent blog post named The Future of Newspapers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

FeedJournal Web Service Launched

FeedJournal proudly presents the availability of a web service for bloggers and other content providers to publish their latest articles as a PDF newspaper or magazine (see left column of this blog for a sample). The service enables an easy export of your RSS or Atom feeds to a newspaper. Full branding capabilities and customization options are available in the service. The newspaper is regenerated on the fly by simply pinging FeedJournal's service.

To learn more about how it works, and to get started, head over to feedjournal.com.

Friday, August 31, 2007

My Interview in Silicon Republic

I was recently interviewed by Ireland's leading tech news service, Silicon Republic, regarding the upcoming launch of FeedJournal's web service. The article is published online (see below) and is well worth a read. It talks about the future of traditional media and my visions for FeedJournal.

Direct link to online article: Bespoke newspapers on the way

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Read My Blog as a Newspaper/Magazine

Starting today, I am offering my latest blog posts as a free magazine in PDF format. You will find the link to this blog's FeedJournal magazine in the left sidebar. Print it and read it wherever you like; during your commute, in bed or anywhere else where you prefer to be offline and rest your eyes from the computer screen.

As soon as I publish a new post the magazine is updated. The oldest post is pushed out to make room for the new one.

Even if reading my blog posts on paper does not excite you, you might be thrilled to know that the same service will soon be available to all bloggers and other content providers who want to offer their readers the opportunity to enjoy the newspaper/magazine format.

In the coming days, I will publish information about how you easily can integrate and customize this service with your own RSS or Atom feed. Available customizations include logo, font selection, number of columns, page size, limits on articles, multiple feeds, deep linking, content filtering, etc.

Keep your eyes on this blog!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

FeedJournal 2.0 Build 186 Released

Build 186 of FeedJournal 2.0 has been released. It contains the following changes and bug fixes:
  • Publish button was not working in all configurations.
  • Output folder is now defaulting to My Documents.
  • Warning when attempting to publish an empty newspaper and helpful suggestions how to solve the problem.
  • Changed position of dialog buttons.
Click here to download the file.

Friday, August 24, 2007

HOWTO: Fix a Broken Laptop Lid for $1

A few months ago my laptop lid's hinges gave up and my lid kept falling over. I will show you how I fixed the problem in five minutes by using materials for $1. But first some background info.

At first, I assumed there would be a quick and simple fix to this common laptop problem. My laptop is an Evo N800v. HP has bought Compaq since I purchased the computer so that's where I'm supposed to turn for help. I was kind of startled to hear that HP support wanted $500 for fixing the broken hinges - presumably they intended to replace the entire lid.

Obviously, shelling out $500 for fixing a 6 year old laptop is not the way to go, so I started to look for alternative solutions.

First, I disassembled the laptop numerous times, trying to make the hinges more sturdy (that's spelled S-U-P-E-R-G-L-U-E). Anyway, that didn't help.

Option number two was to do something similar to what user xrobevansx did on instructables.com. Basically he bought a lid support in a hardware store and glued it onto the laptop. That worked excellent for his Dell laptop but my Compaq does not have the required space to attach the lid support to the laptop.

My solution is similar in spirit but uses different materials and needs less assembly.

You'll need:
1. 5 feet Cotton elastic (half an inch wide)
2. A few inches of Velcro
3. Duct tape.

All in the same color as your laptop.

Assembly:

1. Cut the elastic in half, and attach one piece to the upper side of the lid on the right-hand side using duct tape.

2. Attach the second part of the elastic to the bottom of you laptop on the right hand side using duct tape.
3. Measure the length of the elastic that you will need and cut off what's not needed.
4. Attach Velcro to the end of the two elastic bands using for exampler a stapler (or sew them on for a nicer result)



That's it. Now you have laptop that is usable again. The lid angle is adjusted with the Velcro. I know that it might not be the hottest looking laptop in your neighborhood but hey, you only spent a buck.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

FeedJournal 2.0 Build 185 Released

The last FeedJournal builds contained a mean bug where the database was not found when opening the application from the Start menu or via the Desktop shortcut. Thanks Boris for pointing this out!

FeedJournal displayed an ugly database exception "No such table Issues", which is the first table it tries to access.

The bug is now fixed and there is a fresh build #185 available for download. Click here to download the file. Thank you Adamantium and Henrik Blomgren for kindly providing installation file hosting.

I will soon be going on vacation for a couple of weeks, but the development will continue even if you will notice a temporary hiatus in blog posts. Right now I am focusing on implementing an improved HTML parser for generating even better looking article layouts. And of course, web development continues and I will very soon be able to offer custom RSS newspapers over web services.

You will see it first on this blog, where a PDF newspaper with all the latest blog posts will be free to download. If you are a blogger or any other type of content provider and see yourself in need of such a solution please contact me!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Subjectivity of Relationships

There is this great insight about human relationships that I keep coming back to. The whole concept of it makes my mind spin because it is so meta and fresh. I first read the piece more than half a year ago, but I keep coming back to it. In fact, it's the most important blog post I ever read! Even if it would turn out that this theory has got it all wrong, the concept is still stupendous and enriches the understanding of social behavior.

I am referring to Steve Pavlina's article from early this year, titled "Understanding Human Relationships". In it, Pavlina puts forward an idea where all relationships are purely perceptions. He says that the relationship exists entirely inside you and by making a change in yourself you will change your perception of the other party. This works in parallel in two different ways.

Firstly, by changing yourself you can see the other person from a slightly different perspective. Pavlina argues that the errors we see in others are typically a reflection of our own shortcomings.

Secondly, your partner will be mirroring your behavior and see you as a model for herself. There is always an opportunity that you can change their behavior by being a better role model.

Realizing that inter-personal problems often can be solved by changing your own behavior is a great mind-opener. In situation where you previously felt option-less, you are now empowered to being able to improve the situation.

If you have the slightest interest in working on, or understanding relationships I urge you to read the full article online. If you find it as fascinating as I do, you can go on to read a long discussion about the blog post on Pavlina's message boards.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

FeedJournal.com Status Report

A while back I decided to port FeedJournal into a web application and offer it at feedjournal.com. The decision was greatly inspired by the user community who strongly voiced their opinion about choosing the web option. I had a vote here on my blog a month ago and a very large majority voted in favor of the web. The two most important factors were:
  1. Not having to install the application locally
  2. Cross platform availability
I am happy to announce that the development is well underway and going smooth. Due to the fact that the code base is C#/.NET 2.0, my choice of technology has naturally fallen on ASP.NET 2.0 and SQL Server. As is a standard these days, I plan on including some AJAX in the interface to improve the user experience.

Users can expect a launch sometime this year. I plan to roll out features incrementally and having an early release with a basic feature set. The idea is to early on grow a strong user base who will influence FeedJournal's direction and future.

On the development side of things I am so far impressed with the development speed using ASP.NET. Together with Visual Studio and SubSonic for auto-generation of the database layer I am very satisfied with my work environment.

FeedJournal's progress will be posted here, so please sign up for the RSS feed and you will be sure to be first to know when the site will be operational for printing your own newspapers. The Windows version of FeedJournal will of course continue to be available as before.

Two major question marks at this stage are web design and hosting. I'd be happy to receive ideas from my readers to guide me in these decisions.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New FeedJournal 2.0 Build (#184)

A new version of FeedJournal is available for download!

What's new in this version:

  • Improved installation program.
  • Improved support for Atom 1.0 feeds.

Download the build from FeedJournal's download page.

Note about Blogspot/Blogger feeds:

If you previously had issues with Blogspot's Atom feeds you should try the new build. If you are using Blogspot's new feed URLs (ending with "posts/default") please use the workaround outlined in the FAQ.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Google? What's Going On?

Google? What's going on? I used to like you, but lately you've been disappointing me plenty.

I'm not going to regurgitate that the Redmond guys beat you to the live RSS feeds for web searches.

I still feel burned about the way you deleted my iGoogle start page a few months back, and didn't acknowledge the problem until much later. I still can't access my Google Calendar over HTTPS on iGoogle. Google Analytics were non-functional in iGoogle for more than a month, perhaps not surprisingly considering there is not even an official Google Analytics control! But who cares, I've moved on to another start page anyway. Greener pastures.

But what's really annoys me is what's happening with Google Reader. Lately I've been suffering intolerable delays in retrieving my feeds. Pushing the Refresh button does absolutely nothing. Today, more than 18 hours after I published my last blog post on Blogger (also Google-owned) it showed up in Reader. Pffft...

And additionally, for how long will you rely on Stylish hackers to provide search in Reader?

Sure, you say - Google Reader has the Labs tag, which I guess is pre-beta. But still. This is not the way to keep your users

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tuning in to The Micro-ISV Show

On my daily commute to and from the office I enjoy listening to podcasts on my iPod. One of my favorite shows is Microsoft/Channel-9 sponsored "The Micro-ISV Show", where Michael Lehman and Bob Walsh interview software developers who run their own businesses with small means, often on a smaller scale. The podcast is a spin-off from Bob's book "Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality", where he describes how to plan, market, host and sell your software.

While the book itself contains plenty of interviews with independent software vendors (ISVs), the audio interviews is a great addition and I always look forward to tuning in to new shows. The interview questions are all relevant and always shed new light on areas where software and business intersect. Some of the many notable shows have featured Eric Sink, Joel Spolsky and Nick Bradbury.

My only criticism is regarding the audio quality. It sounds as if the interviews are being recorded over a regular phone line, with the result of the voice coming out very flat and far from the radio quality many other podcasts offer. It's a big shame that the voice quality is not on par with the show's top-notch content.

Please keep the shows coming!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Book Review: Founders at Work

"Founders at Work" is a inspiring book for anyone interested in reading the stories of successful software companies' early days. A lot of well-known companies' founders get to tell their story on how they made it all happen, and how they felt at the time of the start-up.

It is fascinating to learn that so many successful companies struggled in their early days, and that they often didn't know which product to market. Many of the founders tell stories of how they stumbled upon their successful idea after many failed attempts, and that the product which finally took off was just a side project. This is for example true for both Blogger and PayPal, among many more.

"Founders at Work" should be mandatory reading for anyone running a start-up software company or with such aspirations. It is especially interesting to read the founders take on venture capital and company ownership.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Toodledo for Online GTD

Let me be the first to admit (after my wife) that I spend too much time optimizing my to do-lists and calendar implementations - more than I actually earn from the process. Like a large number of other like-minded, I am trying to find the perfect balance between easy note-taking and a manageable and computerized system.

I love the immediate availability of a pen and paper in my pocket, although I have been through a lot of other systems like a larger Filofax system (not mobile enough), Palm and PocketPC (too slow compared to handwriting) as well as the cool index-card based Hipster PDA (too difficult to sync with the PC).

GTD is obviously the system of choice these days, with a splash of Covey's Weekly Reviews and role-based goals thrown in for good measures. An eruption of online GTD implementations have become available lately but it's not until now that we are finally starting to see them mature into useful tools.

My vote goes to Toodledo - it has a nice AJAXy interface with GTD contexts, projects, priorities and deadlines. You are able to export your to do lists as RSS feeds, iCAL, and (drumroll...) as a PDF booklet. The PDF export is the feature which really makes it usable for me, and makes me happy to switch from my current Hipster PDA implementation. Basically, it allows you to print out your to do lists to an A4 page which you cut & fold into A7 size, fitting nicely into even the smallest pockets.

I also found out that the classy notebook Moleskine is finally available in Israel. I bought mine from Soho in Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Encapsulate Field Blues

There is no other computing book that I regard as high as Martin Fowler's Refactoring - Improving the Design of Existing Code. I am therefore thrilled to have seen refactorings take a major leap into mainstream development during the last couple of years. For the uninitiated, refactoring deals with how to make computer code beautiful, maintainable and easier to read, without changing functionality.

One of the most common refactorings there are is Encapsulate Field, which tells us to make a member variable private and wrap it in public set and get methods. The rationale behind this is to separate data from behavior and allowing us to change the implementation without having to change all callers.

I hate it.

It's not that the refactoring is bad per se, it's just that it's being misused right and left. Why would you want to bloat your code with trivial get/set accessors instead of just making the member public? Also, most modern languages have constructs for making a public member read-only, if you only want to allow get, without set.

If you want to implement a non-trivial accessor function, it is very likely that you would want the accessor to be a method instead, whose name will better describe the implementation.

While the argument that it would be easier to change the implementation in one place rather than in several is true, I'd much better hold that refactoring/code bloat off for now, and run my IDE's "Find references" and make the necessary refactorings later if need be.

Anyway, if you want to rename the member variable, you will have to rename the accessor, as well as all callees, or you will have an bad code smell.

Do yourself a favor, hold off the Encapsulate Field next time and just DTSTTCPW! My guesstimate says that it is only preferable to use this refactoring in 5% of the cases where you have a member variable you want to expose.

The only real reason where I constantly see the benefit of designing members encapsulated are in published interfaces which you don't want to or cannot modify.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tech·Ed 2007

Next week I'll be visiting Orlando and Tech·Ed 2007, Microsoft's annual developer conference. You will find me in the Mainsoft booth, showing off our spanking new 2.0 version of Grasshopper, the cool cross-compiler for .NET to Java, soon to be released. You are more than welcome to stop by the booth to chat with me and get the product tour.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

FeedJournal as Desktop or Web Application

I have recently been approached by various users who would like to see FeedJournal as a web application where there would be no need for installation. Of course, as a web site it would also be easier to have a community where news feeds are sorted by for example popularity.

I am still sitting on the fence about this, so I would like to hear your opinion, please vote for your preferred option.


Create polls and vote for free. dPolls.com

Monday, May 21, 2007

Swedish Keyboard Layout Gets Ported to Linux

Why should Windows user have all the fun of using my custom keyboard layout, intended for Swedish programmers and users with non-Swedish keyboards?

That's what Henrik Holst, at Stockholm University thought. He e-mailed me a couple of days ago wondering how to port my original idea to Linux. A day later he sends me his own solution for how to set it up on Ubuntu and compatible systems. Way cool! Please go and check out his instructions.

Instructions and download for the original Windows version I put together are still available both in English and Swedish.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ryan & the CIA Publish New Clues

New clues everyone!

A few days ago, I was notified that Ryan Brooks had published the second step of the new hack.net puzzle - seems to be another tough one. The first step was solved by a Bulgarian team. I think Ryan was right when he said that the first version of the puzzle was only warm-up.

On a related note, I was extremely pleased to see new clues in solving the enigmatic Kryptos puzzle, located on CIA headquarters. Yesterday, the CIA revamped their website and put up some nice new close-ups of the Kryptos monument. This is a very welcome addition, since until now the agency has been extremely camera-shy in this respect. The images are available on https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/virtual-tour/kryptos/index.html

Summer is here - "Sommar" is here!

Summer is around the corner as well as season #49 of my favorite radio show from Swedish Radio, "Sommar". Since 1959, each weekday during summers, Swedes are tuning in to listen to this show. Here, more and sometimes less famous people, get an opportunity to tell their story and select their choice of music between segments. The "summer speakers" picks are always a much talked about piece of news and the press conference is broadcast live.

A great tradition; this cultural institution in Swedish society has succeeded in renewing itself over the years. With the Internet boom came web access and a few years ago they added archiving and a podcast format, which is of great benefit for me, living abroad. This year's invention was to invite the public to submit a beginning of a show they would host. Among the submissions, ten candidates have been selected. Now it is up to the public to cast their vote for which candidate to get their own show.

I really like the format of "Sommar", and keep thinking that it would make a great idea for a daily or weekly podcast. I would love to see someone adopt this idea in a global context, not only in Sweden and not only during a few precious summer months.

Monday, April 23, 2007

RSS Feeds for Web Search

It has happened a number of times that I need to subscribe to an Internet forum in my RSS reader, just to find out that the forum in question doesn't support RSS, or that its support is just not good enough.

Since a lot of fora introduced image authentication for running a search I more or less by default head straight for a Google Web Search now. By using the "site:" argument it is easy to limit the search results to one specific forum. The world would be a better place for a geek like me if web search would offer an RSS feed to enable easy monitoring of new results. But, Google only offers feeds for their blog search and not their normal search.

But! I just found out that rival search engine Microsoft Live Search is offering a splendid feed for all search results and I really like their polished interface as well. This is the first time I am actually impressed with Live Search. Nice work, Microsoft! I'm sure I'll be using Live Search from time to time in the future.

Monday, April 16, 2007

In Memoriam: Izhak Tom Osser (1972-2007)

I had been living for just a few months in Israel the first time I met Izhak. I was studying the language in classes for new immigrants, or ulpanim as they call the schools here. My classmate told me that she knew another Swede living in the same city. I was overly happy to hear my native language being spoken with the same southern accent as mine. Izhak and I quickly struck up a friendship. There were a calm and an optimism around him that were contagious. He always had a smile on his face and he was always willing to help out whenever he could. This is how I will remember him.

He had been living here for a number of years and although his mentality was still to a large part Swedish, he was deeply in love with this country of his. He came here together with his father to pursue a more religious lifestyle than what is possible for a Jew to have in Sweden. He devoted his last living years to God and religious studies. It was obvious to everyone who met him that his faith gave him much strength and happiness. While his father headed back north, Izhak was rooted to the Israeli land, where he remained.

In the end his lungs gave in to his disease and not even his deep faith and optimism could save his life. My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his wife and parents.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

FeedJournal 3.0 - Planned Features

FeedJournal v3.0 is in the works. This release will contain several substantial improvements:
  • Completely revamped and simplified interface.
  • Embedded images for news articles.
  • Preview issues before publishing.
  • No need to open Acrobat Reader for viewing and printing.
  • Back-issues browser.
  • Toggle to disable specific news sources.
  • Support for feeds in Atom 1.0 format.
  • Improved installation process.
  • and more...
No release date is published yet, but expect a few months down the road for the first public beta. I am listening with both ears to any feature requests or other comments you might have.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Dire State of Podcast Clients and One Recommendation

Twelve percent of Internet users have downloaded a podcast, according to a Pew survey from November 2006. As more and more public media are using podcasts to make audio and video available over the Internet, the need for a decent podcast client (a.k.a. "podcatcher") increases. I have been carefully monitoring this market for at least a year - and I must admit that it has been a frustrating time. But, I think I finally found an application that has what it takes.

I have been looking for a native Windows application to fit my needs, with features like:
  • Automatic downloading of audio and video files to a specified folder.
  • Light on system resources and not interfering with other processes.
  • Free.
  • Stable.
  • Configurable.
  • Intuitive GUI.
To my great surprise there haven't been any decent choices out there for the longest time now. I have been trying all of the products out there only to uninstall them again shortly afterwards. To get a glimpse of which clients are popular, let's take a look at the big content providers' suggestions.

CNN recommends:Their recommendations shouldn't be taken too seriously though, considering that they misspelled jPodder's product name.

BBC recommends:
Swedish public television SVT gives the following recommendations for video podcasts:
Finally, Swedish public radio points to
I have been trying all of these applications and let me save you the effort if you haven't been going down the same path already: you will get what you're paying for - they are all free and they all suck! Below is my short rundown of the more popular ones.

iTunes' performance is making the application a nightmare and it is installing a couple of services which increases Windows' boot-time significantly. The podcasting features of iTunes are very basic and you don't have much control (which is one of iPod/iTunes' selling points and can be a good thing). It also keeps all downloaded files inside iTunes and makes it impossible to access the content from an external audio/video player.

Juice and Doppler suffer from the same problems. They are very unstable and often download the same episodes over and over again. Their user interfaces are also very unintuitive.

I would have loved to love Fireant, which sports a very nice GUI, but unfortunately it seems to be a dead project and the current release candidate is too unstable to be useful.

For a long time I was hoping that IE7's RSS support would include some advanced podcast features but that didn't happen.

Besides these clients, I have been uninstalling everything available on http://www.podcastingnews.com/topics/Podcast_Software.html, which is the definite list of available podcatchers.

One of these was Ziepod, a relatively unknown alternative, which is not recommended by any of the larger content providers. I originally tried out this application a little over 6 months ago and while I liked the GUI it was too unstable. I waited and waited for an update with bug fixes but nothing came. So what else is new, I though, another vaporware podcatcher which will never get to v1.0.

Well, I was wrong! I checked in on Ziepod's web site a few days ago and the product is back in development and v1.0 is now imminent. And what is even better, they have fixed all the stability issues while keeping the client lean and mean. So far, this product beats its competition by a fair margin. And did I mention that it's free?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Google Reader Hacks

Are you being swamped with RSS content? Me too, and while waiting for mainstream feed readers to include built-in filtering support I am going to tell you how I deal with it. I am using 2 approaches for streamlining my Google Reader experience: one for removing the irrelevant posts from a feed, and another for prioritizing my subscriptions.

Removing uninteresting posts

When subscribing to a feed, your best option will be to find one that only contains the posts you are interested in. This blog, for example, provides individual feeds for each tag or label. If you are only interested to read new posts about .NET you should subscribe to http://jonasmartinsson.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default/-/.NET.

You are not always lucky enough to have your favorite web sites return a relevantly filtered feed for you. But don't despair, the solution is just a click away: FeedRinse provides a free RSS filtering service where you can set up rules based on titles and content. I have been using their service for many months and it has been working flawlessly.

Prioritizing your feeds

One of the many great features in Google Reader is the option to tag feeds (or folders, as Google calls them). This allows you assign a feed to more than one folder, which a traditional RSS aggregator doesn't let you do. I am using this to tag my favorite feeds with "-a-list", "-b-list", and "-c-list" along with their normal categories. I put feeds which I don't want to miss in the "-a-list", while less critical feeds will get the b or c rating. Feeds which I only read occasionally will not get any of these tags.

By prefixing the folders with a dash, I am making sure that they are showing up at the top of my Google Reader subscription list, which is sorted alphabetically. By reading my subscribed feeds in top to bottom order I can feel confident in having read the most relevant posts, in case I won't have the time to browse all new posts - a luxury I seldom have.

Friday, February 2, 2007

My Job Hunting Is Over

After months of stressful job hunting I am happy to say that I have found a new professional home at Mainsoft. Beside being the main contributor of the Mono project, their product family enable .NET code to run on any Java-enabled platform. In the end I chose Mainsoft for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I believe in their products; second, I enjoyed the interview process with a lot of people who are sharp, but still humble; third, they are working with wikis, blogs and are responsive to their end-users.

My search for a new job was a long process and it took me to a lot of different places, mostly because I wasn't in any hurry to leave my previous job as integration manager at ECI Telecom, where I was a part of a great team. I had the time to wait until I found something I felt was just right. The problem with job hunting in Israel is that most hiring is done via recruitment agencies. That means that you can't really browse from a wide selection of employers, but you are rather at the mercy of the agencies. Having been on the recruitment side of the process as well, I don't see the benefit for the employers either. Sure, you'll get a lot of CVs, but these are candidates who aren't enthusiastic in working for your particular company. Also, many of the agencies' attempts at rewriting the candidates' CVs make it look much worse - you could at least expect them to use a spell checker.

One peculiar detail is that in all my interviews I am invariably asked the same question: "Are you Jewish?" I guess it is my exotic looks that raises their curiosity, but I've stopped to be surprised by the question. I am sure it is illegal to ask this during a job interview.

During my job search, Mainsoft was the only company where I actually sat down at the keyboard to write and debug source code. To let the candidate program on a white board or a piece of paper doesn't give enough information about a developer's capabilities. The interview process with Mainsoft was an extended one, and I wasn't until after one phone interview, 4 technical interviews and another one with human resources that I was offered a job. You might think that 6 interviews seem like overkill, but I appreciate their quality assurance measures, and this is definitely the kind of team I want to be a part of. And I am not kidding you when I say that I went through more difficult interviews during this time - but that will be the subject of a blog post sometime in the future...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Changing Blog URL

After blogging for almost a year using Thingamablog, I have decided to switch blog platforms.

While Thingamablog is a great idea in theory it doesn't work out that well in practice - at least not for me. The basic idea of Thingamablog is that there is no server software required - all HTML is generated on the client and then uploaded to the web directory of your choice using FTP. I carried around my blog database on a flash drive in my pocket at all times and could blog both from home and my office.

The problem was that the FTP upload became slower and slower as the database grew in size. Because I run the database from my removable drive I once did the mistake of removing it too early from the computer with a corrupted database as result. Of course there were no backups.

I decided to do away with my web page as well and merge the information into the blog instead. Of course I still want to be able to blog from any location I want, and avoid ads. And get it for free.

Blogger.com is my new blog home - setting up and migrating the data was a very simple procedure. Of course a hosted solution doesn't offer the same customization benefits as a WordPress installation on your own server but it's enough for the purposes of this blog. I decided on blogger.com over WordPress's hosted solution because of the greater customization offered in designing the HTML.

Please update your bookmarks and subscribed RSS feeds:
URL: http://jonasmartinsson.blogspot.com
RSS Post Feed: http://jonasmartinsson.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default