Tag Archive: RSS

Aug 28

iPod Touch Tip #6: RSS Readers Still Missing The Mark

 Having quick and easy access to information is one of the strong points of the iPhone and the iPod Touch. With their online capabilities, the Internet is at your fingertips, and just about any piece of information is just a few taps away. One group of applications that provides news information is the “RSS Reader” category. These programs provide news feeds in a (typically) organized and concise manner, allowing you to catch up news from your favorite sites wherever you are. But what if you are not online? What if an iPhone user is on a subway or in an area that has marginal or no coverage. What about an iPod Touch user who is not within range of a WiFi connection? Providing offline access to RSS feeds is a worthy endeavor, and AppStore has a dozen or so RSS readers that may fit your needs, however they all currently miss the mark in providing a complete offline reading experience. Read on to find out why….

All of the RSS Reader apps in AppStore provide pretty much the same content, however their method of presentation and execution spans a wide spectrum. Some apps require a network connection to display anything. With these apps, news feeds are loaded in real-time so you are always up-to-date, however if you are offline, you simply will not see any content. (I personally question this approach as I may as well just use a decent WebApp.) Others provide excellent offline reading capabilities with articles organized by feed, folders, date, etc.

The feature set is growing in this line of apps. Some have lots of eye candy (at least one uses the CoverFlow concept in presenting the feed list) and some provide synchronization to online accounts such as Google Reader and NewsGator ensuring that regardless of how you access these accounts, they will always be up-to-date. But despite the host of features and ease-of-use, there’s still one key feature that is missing from every application in this category: The ability to pre-fetch and cache embedded images within articles.

As an iPod Touch user, I don’t always have network connectivity, so offline functionality is essential. AppStore applications like WeDict, Acro Bible, and Bookshelf, and Jailbreak applications like Wiki2Touch provide incredible acces to amazing content that is always available online or offline. As of this writing, every RSS reader in AppStore lacks the ability to provide full offline content–both article text and associated embedded images. There are excellent applications that provide an intuitive, fast, and comprehensive reading experience, but if you want to see embeded images in articles, you must be online, or you must have at least viewed the article once while online. Omitting the images removes a significant part of the reading experience.

Now I do realize that syncing dozens, if not hundreds of images could amount to a much longer sync session, but that’s a tradeoff I would welcome if I could have offline access to all of the content. So here is my plea to all developers of RSS Reader applications for the iPhone/iPod Touch: Please add the option to pre-fetch and cache embeded images for offline reading. And to stand out ahead of the competition, provide more granular control so that the user can really tailor what gets updated. For example, let the user toggle pre-fetching on a feed-by-feed basis. Have a setting to only pre-fetch images for the n-number of articles or articles received within the last n-days, etc.

Most of the current AppStore RSS Readers are very well thought-out, well executed, and provide great information both online and offline. Just don’t stop short when the user goes offline.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-tip-6-rss-readers-still-missing-the-mark

Feb 26

iPod Touch News: Software Development Kit (SDK)

Apple announced that in February 2008, they would release a Software Development Kit (SDK) enabling third-party developers to create applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Many people are placing a lot of hope into this tool. As of this writing, it appears that its release will be delayed until March, 2008. Read on to see my take on what the SDK may or may not bring….

On one hand, I am very excited that the availability of the SDK could potentially provide some excellent and useful applications. Opening up application development to third-party developers could potentially rival the literally thousands of applications released for PalmOS PDA's.

But on the other hand, I have several concerns or questions:

1. Because the applications will be distributed exclusively through iTunes, it is currently unclear what applications will cost. My guess is that it will probably follow a pattern similar to PalmGear with free, shareware, and commercial offerings, but it is also likely that Apple will always want their cut, so we may not actually see any free applicaitons.

2. The SDK will obviously provide the ability to develop and distribute onboard applications, but it is unclear if the SDK will also allow syncing data with the new applications which, in my opinion, is essential. For example, I would like to see an eBook reader application be developed, but to work, you would need to be able to sync various file types through iTunes. Being able to sync data will open up many capabilities, but it depends on what Apple provides.

3. What will be the "approval" process to accept applications? Who or how will applications be approved for distribution through iTunes?

4. Finally, what will be the cost of the SDK? Will it be free, or will it cost? Amd what about the "digital signatures" required for control and distribution through iTunes? Will these be free as well? If it costs anything to develop applications, the pricing will need to be so as not to price out small, hobbyist developers. Unless, of course, that is Apple's intention.

Time will tell as to how this plays out.

In the mean time, I'm craving a number of software updates or additions, so here is my current wish list in no particular order:

  • Calendar application that syncs with Google Calendar over WiFi and through iTunes
  • Notes application that syncs with Google Notes over WiFi
  • ToDo application that integrates with Calendar
  • Bible Reader application
  • eBook Reader that syncs documents (.txt, .html, .pdf, Word, excel, and Palm DOC) through iTunes
  • Calculator that is more comperhensive
  • Offline RSS reader
  • Application to simply toggle WiFi on or off from the Dock
  • Ability in Safari to "save" pages for offline reading

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-news-software-development-kit-sdk

Jan 03

SageTV Tip #6: STV Import Modules

The second type of SageTV customization is the STV Import Module, or "STVi". These plugins get imported into the default STV to provide additional features and functions. By simply installing a couple of these plugins, you can really improve upon SageTV’s already amazing core features. Read on to learn about some of the best SageTV STVi’s available….

For me, this is where SageTV really shines. By letting third-party developers create innovative plugins, SageTV has enabled the user to tailor his SageTV experience in ways that SageTV probably never dreamed of.

Below is the current list of Plugins. The descriptions should be pretty self-explanatory, but I did provide links for you to see the details if you want. Note that the STVi’s marked with an "*" are the ones that I have installed on my SageTV system. I find these to be the best mix for my needs.

Some of these STVi’s are very simple, and some are ambitiously sophisticated. Ii all cases, they provide you, the viewer, with enhanced functions that you can tailor to your needs.

The best place to learn about these STVi’s and other SageTV customizations is to visit "SageTV Customizations" forum, and notably, the "List of available customizations" page in that forum.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-6-stv-import-modules

Jan 03

SageTV Tip #4: SageTV Customizations

SageTV provides lots of opportunity for third-party developers to provide enhancements and additions to core SageTV functionality. There are currently 3 general types of customizations: STV’s, STV Import Modules, and Other Customizations. Read on to learn about these types of customizations, what they are, where you can get them, and how they can improve your SageTV experience….

One thing that really impresses me about SageTV is that unlike some competing products, SageTV is very user-tailorable and user-extendable. This means that your investment in SageTV is not limited by what SageTV provides. Many dedicated and innovative developers have come up with customizations that improve upon and enhance SageTV’s core features. You have the opportunity to customize your SageTV experience into something that suits your personal needs.

There are generally three types of SageTV customizations: STV’s, STV Import Modules, and Other Customizations. I’ll be posting separate Tips that detail each of the customization types, but here is a brief summary:

1. STV’s
These define the look-and-feel of the User Interface, and define what functionality is available to the user. There are several custom STV’s that provide a wide range of alternate functionality from completely new UI’s to simple feature enhancements. These can provide a whole new way of using SageTV.

2. STV Import Modules (STVi)
These plugins called "STVi’s" are small add-ons that improve or extend core SageTV functions. Some examples include Customizable Menus, IMDB Search, and DVD Burning. These let you, the user, really tailor SageTV to your liking.

3. Other Customizations
This is the general category of all other SageTV customizations. These typically include more sophisticated enhancements that require installation of additional software or tweaking outside of SageTV. Though they may be a bit more complex, they also provide powerful capabilities.

The scope of SageTV customization is rather broad. Some customizations are seemingly as simple as displaying an on-screen clock to as complex as auto-detecting and removing commercials during playback. There are customizations that completely alter the look-and-feel of the user interface, and there is a plugin that will let you read RSS feeds.

There are customizations that provide amazing remote access to your SageTV through any Web browser, and there are add-ons that leverage external media players to handle a variety of common and obscure media formats.

There is’s even a plugin that, when your phone rings, will pause playback and pop-up a message displaying the caller ID info right on your TV!

And best of all, these are customizations that have been developed by enthusiastic SageTV users. If you like any of these customizations, or if you have suggestions, be sure to contact the developers and let them know. They really to appreciate the feedback.

The best place to learn about SageTV customizations is to visit "SageTV Customizations" forum, and notably, the "List of available customizations" page in that forum.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-4-sagetv-customizations

May 05

Joomla! Review: Jom Comment

I was browsing the Joomla Extensions site , and stumbled upon a very cool Component / Plugin called "Jom Comment " that adds very nice article "commenting" capabilities to Joomla, giving your site visitors the ability to read and post comments about articles. Jom Comment leverages AJAX, presenting a clean, slick Web 2.0  style commenting system. It’s very complete, but its strength is in its simplicity.

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Read on for a quick review….

To preface this review, I have to say that I have never installed or tested any other commenting Components in Joomla. I have used them on countless other Joomla-based sites, but I never actually researched and tested them out for myself for use on my site. There are a number of other commenting choices out there, so by all means investigate them, but Jom Comments really caught my eye, and it delivers.

Jom Comment is found at http://www.azrul.com/ , and adds very simple, yet elegant Web 2.0 style commenting capabilities to Joomla. While reading an article, a site visitor can read any existing article comments as well as write comments of his own. And because it uses AJAX, it all happens right within the page without requiring full page reloads between actions. This saves bandwidth for both the site and the user, and it makes the user experience much cleaner. In fact, Jom Comment can even be configured to "auto update" so that you can see new comments as they are posted! Very cool! It also includes an RSS feature letting your site visitors link to article comments through any RSS reader!

Jom Comment is a commercial addon, but don’t let that scare you off. The Standard verison only costs $8.50(US) and it is really worth every penny. The author jokes about the low price on his site, but the fact is that because it is so low in cost, even if it doesn’t work out for you, you aren’t out that much at all. A limited trial version is available, and there is a "Professional" version in the works, but the Standard version seems to have just what I wanted in a commenting addon.

What it looks like

When you are viewing an article, you see a new "Add Comments (n)" link below the article:

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When you open the article by either clicking the article link or the Add comments link, you see the article normally, but now, at the bottom is a comment section:

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 When you submit the comment, it immediately appears below the article vor you to view:

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So from the site visitor’s perspective, that’s about it. It’s clean, simple to use, and nicely implemented.

But what about the back-end? What kind of control does the site administrator have? Here is a look at the Settings….

The Settings

Jom Comment is very configurable letting you tailor many functions to your needs. For example, you can determine if guests can post comments or not, you can determine on which sections comments will be displayed, you can determine if the comments will be moderated or automatically posted, and a host of other goodies.

You can even configure Jom Comment to email you whenever a new comment is posted. This can be nice to help keep an eye on comments and to help to prevent abuse without requiring moderation. And here’s a tip: Use a "plus" email address as your notification address. For example, enter "some.user+comment@gmail.com". If you have a Gmail account (or any email provider that supports "plus" addressing), set up a Filter in Gmail to automatically label these emails. This makes managing frequent comment notifications a snap!

Here is a screenshot of the main Settings screen showing the main settings:

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Security

Unfortunatly, there are unscrupulous people who abuse open systems, so security must be addressed. Jom Comment provides several levels of security to help prevent or reduce comment abuse. Here is the "Spam" settings screen:

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Layout

Youcan also tailor the layout to your needs.  Jom Comment is template-based, so presumably, you could create some very interesting and flexible layouts for your commenting. Here is the Layout screen:

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Captcha

You can also leverage Captcha http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captcha authentication to help reduce automated comment spam. Captcha presents a graphic image containing a string of random characters. The user must correctly enter the characters to successfully submit the comment. One thing I like about this implementation is that the characters aren’t so distorted that they are too difficult to read–a problem with many Captcha implementations.

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Support

OK, so my initial install had some glitches. I installed the Component, and then said to myself, "Now what?" Unfortunatly, the .ZIP file did not contain any documentation, and seemed to be missing some pieces. So, I emailed Azrul, and literally within minutes, he replied with an appology and a fixed file. Apparantly, he was in the middle of updating some things, and a bad version of the distribution slipped in. Anyway, I uninstalled and re-installed the new version, and it has been smooth sailing since! Thanks to Azrul for your swift and effective support!

Bottom Line

Overall, I think Jom Comment’s strength is in its simplicity. It seems to embrace the "UNIX way of thinking": Build a solid, simple program that solidly and simply does what it’s meant to do. It was easy to install, easy to use, and best of all, it’s unintrusiveness fits very well into my site!

So check out Jom Comment and see if it is something that would enhance your site to provide your visitors a better experience!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/joomla-tips/joomla-review-jom-comment