Google Reader is Magic

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with the new Google Reader Explore functionality.  Some of the stuff might be interesting, but honestly it’s just another distraction that I don’t need.


Did anybody catch the new sorting features though? We’ve known that Google is magic for years.  Apparently they’re now being public about it.

Two Discoveries

turning-point-boardwalkI made two discoveries today.  Well really, my friend Mike made one discovery yesterday (which I realized today) and I made another one today.  I’m going to use my discovery today to illustrate Mike’s from Yesterday.  If you’re less inclined to a little geekery skip to the map below.

GPS Tracking isn’t all that new, there are many devices to do this, and every mobile GPS unit that I know has the ability.  The iPhone doesn’t, or at least not natively.  Mike and I were exploring an area of Rochester today which I’d never heard of or seen before today.  Because of this I thought it would be neat to track where we were and how far we went etc.  Also because I tend to take a lot of photos I figured I could use the GPS tracking information to geo-tag my pictures.

My criteria for GPS tracking was that it could use my iPhone, that it was free, and that it could track my coordinates over time.  This isn’t a lot, I know, I was trying to be flexible.  I did a little searching in the iTunes app store and came up with InstaMapper.

InstaMapper fit the bill perfectly.  Not only is instamapper free, but it pushes the data direct to a website (which requiers an account that is also free) allowing you to export it in any format you wish.  It also interfaces directly with Google Maps letting you see all your waypoint data on a very nice Google Maps interface.

Overall I’m impressed.  My only complaint is that the the waypoint data is not cached locally to send later if you don’t have a connection.  While this isn’t a problem around Rochester, this will be a problem if I were to try to use this application in a more rural area such as the Adirondacks.  Of course, there is another downfall to the iPhone app version, and that is the app has to be running in the foreground for your waypoints to get tracked.  This is a limitation of the iPhone however; and in my opinion can’t detract from the value of the application itself.  The app is available for iPhone, Blackberry, Android & Motorola iDEN(whatever that is) at this point.

The following is the GPS waypoint map created and embedded using InstaMapper’s tools of our trek today.

GPS tracking powered by

This is all in a park called Turning Point Park.  It’s quite nice and apparently they’ve spent a large chunk of change in the past few years putting in the 4,000ft boardwalk.  I’m awefully happy with whoever spent all the effort to push for the new boardwalk, it made the entire experience vary enjoyable and the park would be all but useless without it.

I will be visiting again.

Reverend Randy Aldrich

I never dreamed of being a Minister or a Reverand.

Still, I happened across The Universal Life Church the other day and found out you can be ordained from them for free.  So I did it.  Why not?
Reverand Randy Aldrich
I recognize that this probably means absolutely nothing but it’s still fun.

I did a little digging and found that according to Section 11 of the New York State Domestic Relations Law the following list of people are authorized to officiate a wedding ceremony in New York State:

Various government officials;

a member of the clergy or minister who has been officially ordained and granted authority to perform marriage ceremonies from a governing church body in accordance with the rules and regulations of the church body;

a member of the clergy or minister who is not authorized by a governing Church body but who has been chosen by a spiritual group to preside over their spiritual affairs;

other officiants as specified by Section 11 of the Domestic Relations Law.

The person performing the ceremony must be registered with the City of New York in order to perform a ceremony within the New York City limits. The officiant does not have to be a resident of New York State.

Ship captains are not authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in New York State.

Looking a bit further, Also in Section 11 I found:

The term “clergyman” or “minister” when used in this article, shall
include those defined in section two of the religious corporations law.
The word “magistrate, ” when so used, includes any person referred to in
the second or third subdivision.

This doesn’t quite cut it yet so I looked a little further into Section 2 of the Religious Corporations Law and found:

The term “clergyman” and the term “minister” include a duly authorized
pastor, rector, priest, rabbi, and a person having authority from, or in
accordance with, the rules and regulations of the governing
ecclesiastical body of the denomination or order, if any, to which the
church belongs
, or otherwise from the church or synagogue to preside
over and direct the spiritual affairs of the church or synagogue.

Honestly I think that pretty much sums it up and means that as long as the Universal Life Church Monastery believes you to be ordained as a clergyman of their church (which they do as soon as you register), you can perform a wedding in New York State.  Note that the articles of law I found do not list any documentation you must provide, that is likely up to the individual county clerk.  Just for fun I’m going to look into it for Monroe County.  If whatever I need to get from ULCM doesn’t cost much, I might just do it.

Then again, I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m using Google as a Law Book.

DISCLAIMER: Please do not take my word for it.  If you decide to pursue this method of marriage, clear it with your county clerk first.
So there you have it.

Reverend Randy Aldrich is now available for all your wedding ceremonial needs.

Mobilize Your Software with TextMarks

TextMarksI’ve often thought of ways I could use text messaging to interact with different web applications. One specific tool I still wish to write is a way to add notes to Google Notebook via Text Message. One part I’ve always struggled with is how to use text messages rather than e-mail to and from the phone. TextMarks makes this perfectly easy. Adding Text Messaging to a system is just about as easy as possible with TextMarks.

Syncing with FolderShare (part 2)

It’s taken me over a month to write this.

It should be awesome then!

Nah sorry, just more of the same old crap.

In Syncing with Foldershare part 1 I outlined what I was using FolderShare for. I’ll now outline my reactions after using the service for a while.

FolderShare advertises three main features. Sync My Folders, Share With Friends, Access My Files.

FolderShare Features

Share With Friends – This feature is completely unnecessary. There are literally thousands of ways out there to share a file with your friends. Having a directory synchronized with your friends seems like overkill. As far as the collaborative nature of the feature, collaboration itself belongs on the web. As such there are many online tools such as Google Documents or gliffy provide much better mechanisms for collaborating with others.

Access My Files – This feature scares the crap out of me and if if there is one reason I stop using FolderShare this will be it. It allows you to access every file on any of your computers that is currently connected to FolderShare. This means if someone gains access to your FolderShare account they can access everything from the web.

Surely you mean only the files or directories you’ve told FolderShare to share?

Nope sorry, Everything. A big downside to FolderShare in my mind is the fact everything is configured from their website. You can add a new computer to ‘sync’ with and add sync points right from the website if you have access to the account.

Sync My Folders – This is the only feature I find useful and frankly the only feature I want FolderShare to provide. This allows you to pick (different) folders on two (or more) different computers and sync their contents over the web. They synchronization is recursive so if you have seperate partitions for data feel free to sync the entire partition.

Lessons Learned

FireFox profiles -Firefox keeps some files in your profile locked whenever it’s running. If you have the (synchronized) profile open on more than one computer you will start to get notices that FolderShare cannot copy a certain file. Your only options are ‘retry’ or ‘exit.’ If you choose retry it will obviously fail unless you close FireFox. Choosing to close firefox means you will need to wait several minutes before resuming your work. If you choose exit FolderShare itself exits and you lose your synchronization completely. This didn’t bother me to much I just got in the habit of making sure I closed FireFox on my laptop before attempting to use it on my PC.

After a few weeks however; my PC and Laptop started to get out of sync and at some point Firefox (or Windows I’m not sure which) decided it would be a good idea to reinitialize my entire profile and I lost everything on my laptop. At this time I determined the headaches FolderShare was giving me synchronizing Firefox profiles wasn’t going to work for me. I need a new solution so if someone has one please share. Note that I’m looking for a way to synchronize everything including plug-ins not just settings and history (what Google can currently offer)

iTunes Music Library – As I don’t use iTunes all that often on my home PC this feature is working excellently. However; it suffers the same problems as the Firefox profile synchronization in that the two PCs cannot both run iTunes at the same time.

Security – FolderShare uses your normal Microsoft login. This means that if your MSN account is compromised it instantly exposes all of your personal files on your home computer. This is very scary to me. To make me a bit more at ease FolderShare needs to add some local security features.

  • Only Files and Folders shared Locally (from the PC itself) should be exposed to FolderShare
  • To add a PC should require some sort of authentication from one of the PCs already part of the synchronization

Usefulness – FolderShare seems to be incredibly useful to synchronize data. That being said it seems fundamentally flawed for synchronizing application data that needs to be used very often. The fact that FolderShare synchronizes over the internet as opposed to network connectivity is awesome. This means that even if I’m on the go, when I make a change to a file I’m synchronizing it gets backed up at home.

Fix Those Pesky Unread Shared Items

I’m a fan of Google Reader. I’ve written here before about their new improvements and how great it is to work in an iterative development area where improvements happen daily.

Even a great team has a failure once and a while. They recently added the ability to see your Google Talk Friend’s shared items within Google Reader. While this shows that Google has great plans for integrating their services, I’ve had problems with this feature right off the bat and from what I understand I’m not the only one.

My biggest problem was that the counter of unread items would go up but my ability to read said items was gone. I could no longer get updates of my friend’s shared items essentially rendering the feature useless. If you’re like me you’ve been plagued by the following screen since they introduced the feature:

Shared Item - Wrong Count

Thanks to Graham the helpful Google Reader Guide we now have a solution and it’s easier than you think.

  1. Make sure you’re logged into Google Reader and goto Settings -> Friends.
  2. Scroll down until you see the user who’s items won’t update correctly.
  3. Click Hide. You should see a picture like so:

    Hidden Google Reader User

  4. Go back to the main page by either clicking ‘<< Back to Google Reader’ or the Google Reader logo.
  5. Your friend should no longer appear at all in the ‘Friends Shared Items’ list.
  6. Go back to Settings >> Friends.
  7. Find Him/Her again.
  8. Click ‘Show.’
  9. Go back to the main page again.
  10. It might take a second but they will appear in the list again. Once they do they’ll have a small red ‘new!’ next to their name. Click their username.

At this point you will have their new shared items displayed. From now on things will act normally and you can mark the items as read as you see fit.

These instructions are a complete interpretation of Graham the helpful Google Reader Guide’s original post.

Feed Oriented Browsing

RSS ImageHow do you browse the internet? It’s a funny question to ask really, but you’d be surprised at the different ways people will respond.

  • I look at the front page of Digg
  • I check my friends new bookmarks
  • I search
  • I visit my bookmarks and see if there is anything new of interest
  • I browse my friends profiles on Facebook
  • I check MySpace updates
  • I watch top rated YouTube videos
  • I see whats new at CollegeHumor

There are many many many more ways to browse the internet and far too many to list here.

I use none of these and yet all of them. I prefer to call how I browse the web Feed Oriented Browsing or FOB for short. It’s something I’ve only begun doing this year. As my final post in 2007 I thought I’d share it.

What is Feed Oriented Browsing? It is a way of browsing the web that gives you the most relevant and up to date information at your fingertips without looking for it.

How can I get the information I want without looking for it? It’s not as hard as you might think. Instead of checking if there’s new information, you are told that a website you found interesting in the past has a new update.

Everytime you go to a website you already make a relatively quick decision on whether or not the site contains relevant information for you or not. It could be the information is not immediately useful but could be used as a reference in the future or it could be the answer you’re looking for right now. Normally, in these cases you would bookmark it either in your browser or using a web service such as

Bookmarks are stale and not useful. We all know that technology in general changes so fast what you know today is outdated tomorrow. Since Bookmarks point to a particular page this means that information is likely to be outdated by more relevant and better information somewhere else. Does this mean you should just forget the site and move on? No! Your mind has already made the determination that the site contains relevant and useful information. Chances are the website you found is likely to share new information that you will find interesting and relevant in the future. This is the power of Feed Oriented Browsing. Instead of bookmarking a stale link to the site, add the site’s feed to your Reader. If the site doesn’t have a feed create one using a service like feed43 or feeditiy. Often times the feed will contain items that does interest you and items that don’t interest you. If that’s the case use a tool like feedrinse or yahoo pipes to clean up the feed so that it best matches your interests.

The real benefit of FOB appears after you’ve built up a good set of feeds. At that point you can stop browsing the old way all together. Instead use your reader to find new relevant sites. If you like discovering new feeds and new sites still, rather than searching for common phrases all the time, subscribe to a feed of your search. You can easily do this on sites like Digg and You can subscribe to searches or tags so that if a new item appears in that list you’ll get notified. If you’re using FOB correctly it will be rare that you need to leave your reader except to discover a new feed and even that is possible within some readers.

Observe your browsing habits. If the first thing you do after leaving your reader is visit the front page of Digg then it’s time to subscribe. If you then hop over to your friends blog to see if he posted last night… it’s time to subscribe.

It takes time to build up a good list of feeds. Making the switch to FOB doesn’t happen over night. You begin the process by visiting your reader first every day. Only once you’ve read all the items or marked them as read should you move on to the other sites you use.

Once you adapt this method of browsing the web it will truly change your web experience. A few months ago I read a study that made a bold claim that 2 out of every 3 ‘clicks’ on the internet were wasted because the content at the other end of the link had not yet been updated (I cannot speak to the accuracy of the numbers but the point is clear regardless). Meaning if someone checked a particular website three times in a day chances are that the website would only be updated one of those times. What a waste!

Often times you search the web to find the answer to a particular problem. You find an excellent resource that tells you exactly how to solve your problem and then forget all about that site again. If you have the same problem in the future you can always get back to that site by searching again right? Well, maybe. Search indexes change and you may or may not be able to remember the search you used. However; If you subscribed to the feed for the site, that piece of information will be in your reader and if you use a reader (such as Google Reader) that allows you to tag and search items it will be incredibly easy to find.

In addition to finding old pieces of information, it is likely that the site that had that great piece of information for you in the past will have more great information for you in the future. If you subscribe you’ll see new information posted by them whenever they update which means you’ll get new information before you even realize you need it.

if you subscribe to every feed you come across won’t your reader get so bloated its unusable? Yep. That’s why you need to be selective in your feeds. Determine whether or not the site has relevant information to you or not before subscribing. To find out if the site has other useful information browse for a moment and see if any other articles besides the one you’re looking at are interesting. If not then don’t subscribe simply use or digg or some other such service to bookmark it. You have already subscribed to your bookmark feed right? If so then that one article will show up in your reader and nothing else from the site.

Once you subscribe to a feed your job is not done. That feed needs to satisfy your interest. If it doesn’t then it needs to go. I give every feed I subscribe to one month. If i don’t receive at least one more piece of relevant and interesting information within one month of subscribing then that feed is gone. Additionally if the ratio of articles posted to articles I find interesting is too low I either attempt to clean it up with feedrinse or yahoo pipes or simply unsubscribe.

Hopefully Feed Oriented Browsing will get you started on the road to a better web experience. It has certainly helped me.

If you’re struggling with feeds and need to learn a bit more before you dive in check out this great video presentation entitled RSS in Plain English. RSS is a type of feed.

If you found this post interesting you might like to subscribe to my syndication category in which I try to post tips to help you deal with all the available feeds out there.

Send a Kwiry From Your Cellphone

Kwiry Text LogoI hear and see things I want to remember all the time. I used the voice notes on my phone for a while but I always seemed to forget they were there. A few weeks ago I was thinking it would be great to be able to send a text message to store little things I think of throughout the day. I even tried writing an application that allows you to send text messages to Google Notebook. Unfortunately Google’s Data API doesn’t allow pushing data to Google Notebook so that was a bust.

A few days ago I found Kwiry which does exactly what I was looking for. Kwiry allows you to send a text message which is saved as a ‘kwiry’ (pronounced query) on their system. It then sends you a notification using any method you’d like including E-mail, SMS, RSS etc that you have a new saved kwiry. There is also a social aspect so you can see your friend’s kwiry’s and they can see yours. I find this feature completely useless and unwanted so I’ve disabled it by setting all my kwiry’s as private. Social networking doesn’t improve everything. Social networking is not a golden hammer even though most new services think it is.

Kwiry stores your texts in their system. Once they’re stored and you get notified (using whatever method you prefer) the links they provide send you to the Kwiry website itself which then gives you search results using your desired search engine.

I love Kwiry and it’s functionality but I’d much rather use it without logging into their system since the functionality it provides is really quite simple. To do this I’ve created a Yahoo Pipe that switches the links to point directly to the search engine of your choice. All you need is the base Search URL (Google’s would be and the feed URL to your kwiry’s.

Use this Pipe to replace the links in your kwiry feed to your desired search engine.

Web Visio Clone : Gliffy

Gliffy LogoI’ve slowly started moving to online document management using Google Documents. Unfortunately they lack a Diagram utility (like visio) of any kind and so I went searching for one. Luckily enough the people at Gliffy agree. The Web is a perfect platform for such a collaborative sort of document like the diagrams you can create with Visio. At this point in time they don’t support the ability to import Visio or other Diagram type documents, but just the ability to use an online tool to build diagrams so that they can be shared and collaborated on is awesome.

Gliffy also allows the diagrams to be embedded anywhere on the web as long as they’re public. You can also get many different sizes including a thumbnail version. Private documents are provided as well but that requires a paid subscription to their service.

The service itself is very responsive and in fact allows building diagrams much quicker than doing so in clunky bloated client side applications such as Visio. As with any web application one of the key benefits is also that your created document is available anywhere and no client-side software is needed. An example I threw together quickly is below.

File UML Diagram