Monday, August 18, 2008

Google Alerts via RSS

I am trying to become a more efficient consumer of news and information. I was a bit late coming to the RSS party, mostly because I didn't truly realize the value it could create. However, once I started using RSS it became a passion of mine. I found it incredibly valuable to have my news & information delivered to me rather than having to go find it constantly (which always drops off when I get busy).

I found lots of cool tools that allow me to mix RSS, and filter RSS, and generally create mashups (more on this in future post). However, the one itch I could not scratch was the ability to consume my Google Alerts as an RSS feed. It seemed ridiculous to me that I couldn't find a little RSS icon anywhere on the Google Alerts page.

Luckily, after much searching, I found someone who had noticed that the URLs for individual Google Alerts looked a lot like those for Google News. So here's the scoop, if you want your Google Alerts as an RSS feed:

1. Goto Google News and enter the query that you would want to use for your Alert.
2. Look at the URL that is created as a result and pull out the q=______ section (hint: this is your querystring)
3. Add the querystring onto the following URL:

Obviously replace the ________ with your querystring from step 2.... and Voila! You now have an RSS feed to import into Google Reader or whatever reader you prefer.

Outlook : Hazy with a chance of Pain

This morning I booted up my laptop and launched Outlook to pull up my calendar and task list (one of my favorite Outlook features) and plan out my day. However, my expectations were quickly dashed when Outlook informed me that it "Cannot open your default e-mail folders. The file c:\Documents and Settings\mquinlan\Local Settings\Appclication Data\Microsoft\Outlook\outlook0.ost cannot be accessed. You must connect to Microsoft Exchange at least once before you can use your offline folder file." and then closed immediately upon clicking the OK button.

Now I'm actually a big fan of Outlook, when I was working for RedHat and switched my laptop over to Linux I was forced to live without Outlook for more than a year and I must admit that the alternatives (Thunderbird and Evolution) are complete crap. Yes, Thunderbird is fine for email only users. But if you actually need to run your life in your PIM and you need something simple like calendaring support... you are stuck using buggy 3rd party extensions like Lightning. So needless to say, one of my favorite aspects of leaving RedHat was to return to my previous level of personal productivity through Outlook. Or so I had hoped.

Now on to debugging the problem. I've checked to ensure that the file it references does indeed exist. I've even temporarily removed the file so that Outlook might recreate it from the server-side (Exchange). But no luck. I'll post the resolution here once I figure it out. Not because anyone reading this is likely to benefit, but more likely that I will stumble across this again in 12-24 months and not be able to remember how to fix it and this will be my documentation.

Update: Looks like the problem wasn't Outlook, but rather another piece of software which I use to sync Outlook's calendars with Google calendar. While Google provides a free piece of software to do this, it is only capable of syncing your main Outlook calendar and I like to separate out personal and work calendars. I purchased and use SyncMyCal and it has worked flawlessly... until today. I'll see if there's an update. But luckily, this issue was fairly easy to resolve and didn't require me to rebuild my entire Outlook .ost file.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Carson Update

I've been a slacker about updating this blog about Carson's health. The good news is that there has been little reason to update the blog because Carson has been very healthy and happy! In just the last week or so he has become sooo much more aware and grins at us when we make goofy faces (which is often). Anyhow, thank you to everyone who has been following our saga and praying for us. He may not be destined to sing opera (b/c of the vocal chord damage), but somehow I'm sure he'll manage :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Death of Offline Web Apps

I love my Google Reader (especially the VI hotkey navigation). I really love the fact that I can take my RSS feeds offline with me when I'm about to jump on a plane. However, what happens when the concept of being disconnected from the Internet disappears?

I tend to be a ridiculously early adopter of technology and therefore end up with hopelessly outdated technology that costs 5x more than it should. I have always thought that connectivity should be independent of wires & location. From OmniSky (for my Palm Pilot in 1999) to Intel Anypoint (1.5 mbps baby) to digital phone cards (PocketPC) to EvDO cards... there's almost never a reason not to have an IP address except on an airplane, a submarine, in a faraday cage, or in deep space. Since I'm unlikely to encounter three of those situations it's really about the ability to access the net at altitudes of 30,000ft.

I just read today that Delta has announced it is going to provide WiFi on all domestic flights. And it seems JetBlue has been offering limited access since 2007.

As competition forces the cost of mobile connectivity to decline, offline may be a stop-gap solution that eventually becomes a solution in search of a problem. Now this doesn't mean that some of the advancements that have been associated with offline will also disappear (local data storage, desktop integration, etc.). However, the idea that my user interface needs to be stored locally will soon seem quaint.

note: cross-posted at my work blog

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stop Identity Theft by Freezing Your Credit

What keeps someone from applying for a credit card in your name? Truthfully, very little. We have all seen the reports of identity theft in the news, but you may not know that this has become a truly rampant problem affecting a growing portion of the overall population.

How do you protect yourself? There are dozens of advertisements for services which claim to protect you from identity theft. Most are worthless, a few have some merit, but the good news is that you can protect yourself for $9 if you are a resident of Georgia (other states may be up to $30, if you have been an ID theft victim it's free).

It's called a credit "freeze" and essentially it means that nobody can open credit in your name unless they provide a secret 10-digit pin number. Simple & effective.

Here are direct links for issuing a credit freeze for each of the 3 credit bureaus;
notes: You must pay the $3 fee per bureau which means $9/person or $18/couple. You may also be required to pay a small fee to "thaw" your credit profile when you actually do want to apply for credit. But it's a small inconvenience for the protection it provides.

Do it now and save yourself from the identity theives.