Monthly Archives: April 2009

SOMESSO trailer

I’m impressed with the trailer for the London SOMESSO conference that I’m speaking at next month:


If you missed today’s discounted tickets, I have a discount code for you – XYSO09CANDYP – sign up online via http://www.somesso.com and insert the code where it says “Click here to enter a promotional code”. Oh, and if you’re a blogger, you might even be able to get a free ticket.

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Say Boo!

If microblogging wasn’t crazy enough… you can now audioboo!

AudioBoo is a free iPhone application linked to a website of the same name. It lets you record short messages and upload them to the site, where people can then comment if they so desire.

I heard about it a few weeks ago, and installed it on my phone, but never actually launched it. It wasn’t until yesterday that my interest was really piqued, when the boys on the Dan Logan Show talked about it (I dropped them an email to tie it in with my RSS chat, since AudioBoo quite naturally provides RSS feeds). I’ve noticed folks like Phil Campbell using it quite a lot too, so while I was waiting for some software to install today I thought I’d actually try it out.

Sign-up was a breeze… I was delighted to find that it autodetected my Gravatar so I didn’t have to upload a profile image to yet another service, and it used the new Twitter OAuth support to link to my Twitter account without needing me to hand over my password. Even better – the audio quality is brilliant, as it records locally on the phone and then gets transferred, rather than being recorded on the server side with all the crackly quality of a phone line. The iPhone app works beautifully, too, as you’d expect. Oh, and you can subscribe to AudioBoo feeds in iTunes, which is pretty neat.

At the moment I can’t see how much I’d use this, but it’s fun. I see via the AudioBoo blog that the Guardian used it to cover the G20 protests in London. Cool idea.

All about RSS

This is a short post to accompany my appearance on The Dan Logan Show on Focal Radio this evening. Hello, Dan Logan Show listeners! If you’re wondering who on earth I am, take a look at my About page! :-)

RSS – the basics

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and basically it’s a way of publishing information online. Once upon a time, you would have to open a bunch of web pages to keep up with the news and see what had been updated. These days, you can subscribe to the feeds that those pages provide, and the updates will automagically appear in your feed reader.

RSS and another similar technology called Atom are often grouped together and called “feeds”. If you’re into the visuals, then you’ll enjoy a short 3 minute video called RSS in Plain English which shows what this is all about. If you want the technical description, then take a look at Wikipedia which goes into way more detail!

The RSS or feed icon is usually a little orange square with 3 radar-like stripes, but you’ll also find it shown as a blue or orange box which says ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ in it. Here’s an example of the standard icon shown at the bottom of my Flickr page:

FlickrRSS.png

[confusingly - on Dan's blog, there's no icon, but right at the bottom of the page is a link that says Subscribe to: Posts (Atom) - that's basically the same thing, just without a nice orange icon]

What’s a feed reader?

A feed reader is a program or application you can use to subscribe to and read different feeds. They usually look a bit like an email program like Outlook or Thunderbird, with feeds on the left and items on the right. There’s an online feed reader called Google Reader which is easy to get started with, or you could use any one of a large range of feed readers for Windows, Mac or Linux.

Which sites use RSS?

Lots and lots of sites use feeds now – it is becoming a really common way of providing updating information. Flickr, Twitter, BBC News, and others all provide feeds. Facebook is a little more tricky because their feeds are quite well hidden, but one thing you can do with Facebook is point it at a feed you publish, and it can then import the information as Notes – there’s an article that talks about how to set that up. There are literally thousands of sites that provide feeds – one “directory” of them is Syndica8.

If you’re looking for events in your area then you could take a look at Upcoming which provides feeds based on your searches. For gigs there’s also the-mag (which seems to mostly list gigs in the south, but you could always publish your own on there).

What else can I do with feeds?

The first thing to realise is that you don’t need to be really into technology to use feeds. If you write a blog, publish photos on Flickr, or publish a podcast, then feeds are already being created for you, and you don’t have to do anything at all!

However, if you’re into coding, you can mash them up. You could use something like Yahoo Pipes to visually wire them together and combine the output. Things like this cool interactive map of BBC News stories are mashups of RSS feeds with Google Maps, for instance. It’s a bit techie but also quite straightforward when you learn how. You can see a whole load of different mashups that other people have built at ProgrammableWeb.

Audio clips

Andy talks to Dan and Dayve about RSS (download)

Dan and Dayve talk Geocaching (download)

Thanks to Dan and Dayve for inviting me onto the show – it was a blast! They are doing some great stuff around social networks, geocaching, Twitter, blogging etc – it’s a fun programme. Looking forward to following them in their new Sunday slot.

EU to restrict Internet access?

Blackout Europe

For the past week my avatar image has changed to show one of the logos of the Blackout Europe campaign.

“What’s that all about?”, many folks have asked me in the past few days. Well, as I understand it, this is the situation: the European Union is debating a set of measures called the Telecoms Package. This package is set up such that ISPs will in future be able to parcel out Internet capabilities to consumers in much the same way that satellite and cable TV companies do today – so, for example, there is a possibility that in future you will not pay a flat rate fee and have access to “everything” online, but you might have “starter package” with a certain range of sites plus, say, Skype access, and a “gaming package” which would give you access to various online games services, and a “pro package” which enabled all sites plus any services you wanted. Basically, they will be able to filter what you are doing based on site or protocol – those are just some examples I thought up rather than anything known to be in the works.

How does that differ from Internet packages in Europe now? Well, right now there’s no real differentiation between the services and sites that can be accessed, although there are often speed limits and download caps. This is potentially a fundamental change to the way in which access to the ‘net might be regulated and controlled.

It’s all a bit technical, but for more detail see this page on the Blackout Europe blog and look under section 6 for a set of annotated PDFs which discuss the measures in detail. You can also read the open letter already sent to the EU Parliament.

It’s a hypothetical situation, and as several folks have pointed out to me over the Twitter stream, it might be pretty difficult to actually implement. Other people have pointed out that the site itself “looks unprofessional”, which I suspect is more a factor of translation and time than anything else. I don’t think either of those two issues should really stop people from registering their discontent at these proposed changes. There are forms available on the site to enable people to contact MEPs. I’m late in blogging this, as the deadline is really in the next 24 hours – frankly, I’m surprised that the site, Facebook page and other social networks haven’t attracted more attention.

The press release about the Telecoms package makes it all sound very reassuring and good for the public, but as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Computerworld UK has published a great article on the issue today – here’s an extract:

Unfortunately, it’s an openness that is fairly subtle for non-technical people; above all, it’s not at all obvious to politicians, who seem to assume that apparently minor tweaks won’t change things much.

At least, that’s the most charitable explanation for the fact that European politicians are on the brink of passing legislation in the current Telecoms Package that will destroy a key part of that openness, by allowing telecoms companies to discriminate in the way that they handle IP packets according to their type.

(via @glynmoody)

One of the issues that still exists with the EU is the visibility of the institutions and processes at a national level. As a supranational organisation, it’s commonplace for people not to be aware of what is going on in the Parliament, even though in my experience, the EU’s web presence actually provides a great deal more transparency and insight into what is happening in Parliament than many national governments. People tend only to respond to EU legislation once it has been enacted and then re-enacted within their own national context. So, there are a whole bunch of things going on at an EU level that most people in European countries pay no attention to unless they are picked up by the media, and even then only if enough noise is made about the issues at hand.

It’s not too late to take a look at the site, and contact your MEP to let them know how you feel about freedom of access to the Internet – get the amendments that neutralise the offending clauses in “the Telecoms package” passed.

Update: another good article on the detail of the package, again via @glynmoody

Home Camp mark 2

The second Home Camp event takes place in London tomorrow. I won’t repeat all of the details here, as they are covered over on the Home Camp blog.

We have some wonderful sponsors – CurrentCost, Greenmonk, Onzo, Pachube, and ReactionGrid, with support from theattick who are going to be streaming the event for us as well.

There are some nice pre-event writeups on the Greenmonk and Redmonk blogs.

It’s a shame that due to unforeseen circumstances I’m no longer able to attend, but I’m looking forward to following remotely if I can, and otherwise catching all the content tagged ‘homecamp’ on Flickr, blogs, and Twitter.

The event is open to anyone, so if you are interested in home hacking automation and energy efficiency, you will definitely want to get involved.