Two Nifty RSS Management Tools

So Yahoo! Pipes is not new, but I just started playing with it after I saw a brief tutorial on how to use it on Lifehacker. Very cool. It provides a very simple, totally graphical, AJAXy way to filter your RSS feeds. From the initial announcements from Yahoo!, I had no idea that this is what it was for. While I had done similar things with other services, the Pipes graphical interface simplifies things a lot, and gives you a great visual way to see exactly what the end result will contain.
Anyway, following the tutorial, I was able to merge two RSS feeds (Digg‘s Technology feed and Techmeme) and then filter them out so that they don’t give me the same results from other feeds. Since I already subscribe to BoingBoing, Lifehacker, and Marc Andreesen‘s blog, for example, I added filters so that Digg and Techmeme and would not show me stories from these posts, making my Google Reader a lot less cluttered with duplicates.
The second tool I found is actually new: AideRSS. AideRSS ranks your favorite blog posts according to the amount of feedback they receive. The presumption is that the more feedback, the better a post is. The result is that you can use it to dramatically reduce the amount of “clutter” in your feeds. For example, Lifehacker averages 388 posts a month. AidRSS ranks 83% (325) of these as “good,” 55% (215) as “great,” and 14% (58) as “best.” So you can easily filter out a lot of chaff from a blog.
Unfortunately, the first feed I tried to give it was my custom Pipes feed. Given that Techmeme and Digg have different structures for their comments, this was too much for AideRSS to handle. Luckily I quickly figured it out and instead flipped it so that my AideRSS feeds now drive my Pipes. Another drawback is that it really only works on blogs. I can’t use it to cut down on the amount of noise on various mailing lists or forums that I receive in RSS format, which would be very nice. Perhaps they will work on that and offer this feature in the future.

The US Dollar is Pathetic

During my entire childhood and most of my adult life, I’ve known that the Canadian Dollar was worth $0.75. Today, while vacationing with my wife in Montreal, QC, I exchanged $100 (US) for Canadian dollars (what we affectionately refer to as “Canadabucks”).
I handed the nice lady at our hotel’s front desk $100 (US), and she handed me back $100 (Canadian).
And 39?.
I verified that this is right in line with today’s exchange rate (1 US Dollar = 1.03853 Canadian Dollar), minus a couple of bucks for a conversion fee.
How the mighty have fallen.

Facebook is World of Warcraft (in disguise)

It just hit me, while I was scouring my old address book and AIM buddy list, that social networking is really a MMORPG in disguise.
For the last three nights, I’ve spent more time digging through my old contacts, address books, buddy lists, and memory than I have killing orcs, retrieving Rethban Ore, and mining Fel Iron! My wife says I’ve spent as much time grinding through my contacts as she has spent grinding for rep in Felwood.
Take today, for example. Here I am, after a full day of work, and a couple of hours of WoW, and what am I doing? More work! (Say that with a woodcutter accent.) My LinkedIn network is 80% complete. I just invited another colleague. That will put me at 85%. But wait, that’s not all! Once that’s done, I need to finish my profile. Yes, I need to quest to get my profile complete too. I need to post my resume, my interests, and my past work experience, etc. All of these things add up to a complete profile, which, I guess, is kinda like hitting 60. I’m assuming there will be more afterward, like, the LinkedIn Expansion Pack or something. Maybe the “Job Hunting Crusade?”
I have even contemplated using LinkedIn or Facebook’s built in “invite your contacts” (read “spam”) feature, to invite people who are not part of said network, to join. So far, my hatred for spam has outweighed my temptation to do this, and I have not sent an invitation to anyone who is not already a member. But I thought about it…
And don’t even get me started on my lame Facebook account, with four measly friends in it, one of whom I cannot even say “how I know” because Facebook does not have an “Other” option like LinkedIn. The more I compare these two social networking sites, the more I think of World of Warcraft versus GuildWars. “This one has henchmen!” “Oh yeah, this one lets me invite people from my Yahoo! Messenger account!” The parallels are shockingly similar…
Here are some interesting parallels. Draw your own conclusions.

Facebook World of Warcraft
Groups Factions and Guilds
Friends Friends
Messages, a primitive email system Mail, a primitive email system
Actions (poke, bite, lick, etc.) Emotes (poke, bite, lick, etc.)
Applications Add-ons
Messages suggesting you should join a network Automatic subscription to “guild recruitment” channels
“Invite a friend links” on your home page Free 10-day trial on your Launcher
Tutorials on how to use your account for business Leveling guides

From the "It Can't Possibly Get Any Worse" Department

I had a rather lame day, which included a DNS outage (took down for a while), an insurance agency’s WAN connection dropping, a medical practice’s scheduling calendar for the next quarter getting deleted, two missed appointments, waiting for hours for technical support to return my calls, and being generally crazy-busy from 8 AM to 6 PM.
So, at home, working late, I prepared to wrap up my day by putting the finishing touches on a few IT policy documents for one of my clients. (You may find this hard to believe, but it’s somewhat relaxing compared my other daily work activities).
My Boxer, Kali, however, had other plans. Plans which apparently involved Murray. Who is Murray? Why, Murray is the skunk who lives under our house! Apparently Kali arranged to have a little meet-up and the result was that the family and I spent the rest of the evening dousing the stupid dog in tomato juice, vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap. And now the house stinks. It’s not like regular skunk smell either. It’s like some sort of gamma-irradiated skunk or something from the black lagoon. This is one nasty Mephitis.
Keep this in mind the next time you feel tempted to say your day “can’t possibly get any worse.”

Why Parents Should Be Licensed

People should be licensed before allowing to breed.
Read this MSNBC article and tell me you don’t agree. On the “We Suck At Parenting” meter, these idiots are light-years ahead of the pair who brought four children under the age of 10 to see the new Transformers movie last week.

LinkedIn Recommendations: As Useless as eBay Feedback?

I recently was invited to set up a profile on LinkedIn. I wasn’t going to bother with it, but with all the hype around social networking, I decided to give it a shot. So I signed on and slowly started the process of building my network.
Because I am a staunch hater of spam in all forms, I refused to simply upload my entire address book to LinkedIn and let them either peruse it or use it to send unsolicited emails to everyone in my contacts. Instead, I decided to just see what happens.
My original invite came from a colleague of mine. I added him to my network, then used LinkedIn’s utility to see “Other people (I) might know.” Out of the other people I did know, one is another colleague (my graphic designer), a consultant (with whom I’ve never worked, and only know from occasionally bumping into her at networking events), a security professional whose podcast I listen to, and a former employee of mine. Within a week, I received an invitation to join the network of one of my sales reps.
I have not yet written any recommendations for anyone, and my profile is, as of today, 15% complete (although it was at 40% last week – not sure how I backslid). I intend on writing recommendations for my two colleagues, my sales rep, and the security podcaster. I will not write a recommendation for the other consultant because I don’t know enough about her.
Now, for the meat of this post.
I am also not writing a recommendation for the former employee. Why? Because I don’t have enough good things to say about the individual. While I was there, I did look over said individual’s profiles, and found it quite entertaining, and somewhat disturbing, that said individual had a positively glowing recommendation from yet another former employee of mine. While this may not sound surprising at first, the fact that the referral was gushing over said individual, after the referrer had repeatedly complained to me about said individual on multiple occasions. It got me thinking that this referral system on LinkedIn is nothing more sophisticated, or reliable, than eBay’s feedback system.
I have had very low regard for eBay’s feedback system for several years. Ever since I left a neutral feedback on a vendor who sent an item (10 network interface cards) described as “like new” which arrived absolutely encased in dirt and dust. They had obviously been removed from old, dirty computers, and did not meet my criteria of “like new.” Although they did work, I did need to spend some time cleaning the cards before I could put them into production. I noted this in my feedback, and the seller retaliated by leaving me neutral feedback. Now, how is this at all fair? I did everything right, paid my bill promptly, and waited for my product. Was I supposed to lie and say everything was perfect, and give positive feedback? I think not.
Similarly, the recommendation system with LinkedIn is likely to have just a bunch of positive referrals. After all, who is going to a) invite anyone to leave a referral unless it will be positive, or b) leave anything but a positive referral if there is the chance for retaliation by the subject being recommended?

Transformers – I Loved It!

After hearing only snippets of a couple of reviews on Transformers, and seeing its average rating on Yahoo! as 2.5 stars, I was guarded in my approach to the theater yesterday.
Boy, was that uncalled for. Let me sum up: Transformers is the best movie I’ve seen all year. Now, I admit, I haven’t seen a lot of movies this year, but I’m putting it ahead of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and Oceans 13 (all of which I liked a lot, except Spider-Man 3, which was… meh).
Note to parents: This movie is rated PG-13 for a reason. This is not your father’s Transformers movie. Do not bring small children! I am writing this specifically to the couple who brought no fewer than three kids under the age of 6 to the theater yesterday. Your parenting license should be revoked, idiots.
The acting was good, the direction was good, the special effects were amazing, if a bit heavy-handed. The one complaint I have about the fight scenes was that, like in the Transporter and Daredevil, there were too many shots where the camera was about 4″ away from the action, and all you could see was a blur of motion. That’s not fun to watch, but the transformations were awesome.
Also, hearing Peter Cullen reprise his role as Optimus Prime was simply delightful, as delightful as seeing Optimus NOT be a fire truck, as he was rumored to be last year.
I’m not sure why Bumblebee had to be a Camaro (okay, I am sure, given that the apparent top sponsors of the movie were eBay, General Motors, Apple Computer, and Nokia), and think he would have been just fine if they’d kept him as a VW bug, but I got over that.
Another minor gripe was that Devastator seemed under-powered, and did not appear to be a composite of multiple Constructacons. Again, I got over it, but I was disappointed that he only lasted a single fight scene.
Overall, I’m giving Transformers two thumbs way up, and can’t wait to see it again this weekend!