What I’ll be using instead of the soon-to-be-dead Google Reader, plus my look at Google’s ‘give and take,’ and our misguided reliance on free web services

Disclaimers first: I’m not a big consumer of RSS feeds. I don’t really use a feed reader all that much. I’m more interested in producing and processing RSS feeds (and I rely on Google’s Feedburner as well as Yahoo Pipes for some heavy lifting in that regard; I hope Google doesn’t kill Feedburner as some, including me, are speculating).

But for those times that I do use an RSS feed reader, I have and will in the future use Liferea, the Linux Feed Reader, which bills itself as “the free news aggregator on your Linux desktop. That it is. It works great. And Google can’t kill it.
Continue reading “What I’ll be using instead of the soon-to-be-dead Google Reader, plus my look at Google’s ‘give and take,’ and our misguided reliance on free web services”

Linux developer and sysadmin Aaron Toponce drops Google’s Feedburner, goes with native RSS in light of Google’s dropping Reader

The logo for Google's Feedburner RSS serviceAs the news of Google dropping its Reader RSS service spreads, at least some of those who relied on Google Reader to read blogs and other sites via their RSS are pledging to drop other Google services. I expect this is both in protest and as a hedge against Google dumping other unprofitable sidelines from its portfolio of services.

Continue reading “Linux developer and sysadmin Aaron Toponce drops Google’s Feedburner, goes with native RSS in light of Google’s dropping Reader”

It may not be wrong, but I know it ain’t right: I push my work e-mail through Gmail

52405-google-chrome-logo-300px.jpgI spent a brief time years ago pumping the mail from my terrible workplace e-mail server to Gmail, which obliterated many sins (low capacity, terrible software and hardware) while giving rise to others (Google is data-mining us like crazy).

Well, after years of IMAP in Thunderbird, I’m changing course. I’m letting Google’s Gmail handle my work mail again.

I’m aware that Google is using my e-mail to craft marketing messages it will aim at me. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it enough to suffer through my current mail routine, with the inbox maxing out more days than not. That leads to all sorts of lost productivity on my part.

And my coworkers are making increasing use of Google Drive/Docs, Calendar and Google Plus (with plenty of Google Chat/Talk and Hangouts).

My thinking: If I’m doing all of that, Gmail doesn’t add much to the spy vector. And this is for work only. I’ve been trying to do most of my personal e-mail off of Gmail — and every other ad-supported e-mail service.

But faced with a poor e-mail system that I must use daily, Gmail makes it much more usable. Google has won me over. Again.

I’m running Google DNS – and yes, it’s very fast

If I had not been plagued by slow, hanging DNS servers at some of the locations from which I do my computing, I wouldn’t be so excited by Google’s new public DNS service.

Since I am a victim of slow DNS (and I already pick/choose my DNS servers in some instances to mitigate this problem), I thought Google’s DNS service to be a worthy idea.

Today I decided to try it. For those who don’t want to click over to my original article who know how to change the DNS servers in their computer’s network-connection information, the Google servers are at:

8.8.8.8
8.8.4.4

I plugged those into one of my network profiles today (with the new, improved NetworkManager app in GNOME, it’s easy to create new “connections,” and I did just that.

And after a few hours using the Google DNS servers, I can safely say that the service is ultra-fast.

The time between hitting the Enter key (after typing in a Web address) and having the page begin to build is so short that it’s difficult to measure.

And lowering the time for DNS lookup makes Web browsing that much more seamless.

Just to see what Google is doing with “bad” URLs, i.e. those that are not registered domain names, I typed in a few. Would I be taken to a Google search page for the term (the way some DNS services deal with faulty URLs? No. I got the standard “Server not Found” message in Firefox.

That’s good. It means Google isn’t overtly abusing the fact that I’m using it for DNS.

Some of the chatter I’ve heard about Google DNS regards whether or not Google is logging the DNS queries of the service’s users. I’m not sure about that. And that situation does warrant further investigation.

But whether or not Google is logging and/or using the DNS queries made by an individual user to target ads to that user, be aware that any other DNS server you use can do the same thing with that information.

Once again, it all comes down to how much any of us trusts Google. According to the company, it just wants to make the Web-surfing experience better, with the payoff being a better experience equaling more Web use and therefore more potential exposure to Google ads.

For now I’ll continue using Google DNS, but as usual I’ll be keeping my eye on what people are discovering/learning/opining about the service. And I’ll bet that since Google is offering DNS service, Microsoft, Yahoo and perhaps even Apple might consider similar offerings. Could happen, I suppose.

Novell’s sour grapes over losing L.A. city e-mail contract to Google

Former Novell exec (and current highly esteemed blogger) Matt Asay opines on Novell’s announcing that it lost the city of L.A.’s e-mail business to Google Apps:

This isn’t the Novell that I know. I used to work for Novell, and have never seen the company publicly criticize a customer, not even for defection, of which Novell has seen plenty over the last decade.

It’s unclear who Novell is hoping to persuade with the announcement, or what benefit it hopes to derive from it. Is it trying to stem a tide of customers dropping GroupWise for Google Mail? If so, why has it not done the same for all the companies (and there have been plenty) leaving GroupWise for Microsoft Exchange or IBM Notes/Domino?

I’ve used GroupWise before in a previous job. This was more than a few years ago, when a Web-based mail client as a companion to a traditional client app was a bit more novel (no pun intended, but if you choose such intention, I won’t be angry about it) than it is today.

I neither liked nor hated Novell’s e-mail implementation. I did find the Web component a tad awkward (but remember, this was a bit less than 10 years ago).

And today I choose to use the “traditional” Thunderbird mail client in many instances where I could use a Web-based client, mostly because the system my company uses for Web-based mail is both slow, feature-poor … and did I say slow? A good many of my co-workers pipe their mail through Google’s Gmail, and I probably should, too. If I didn’t have such a favorable impression of Thunderbird, I’d probably do just that (and I could do it anyway and keep using Thunderbird if I so chose; I’m just too lazy at present to try it).

But Gmail — and Google Apps — are very, very different from the traditional way of computing, with information stored on the local drive or on a LAN, apps on the local client/drive and possibly a Web interface as an afterthought.

It’s a whole new world, and there are probably more than a few companies large and small can do most everything they need with Google Apps. There’s nothing stopping said companies from using OpenOffice or even the full MS Office for as many or few desktops as they wish.

And Novell never acknowledges that L.A. city workers’ opinion of its services and systems is not good. Downtime is a problem.

So now it’s sink/swim time for Google in the enterprise, a place where until now it did not care to tread but also where, at present, it’s turning everything we know about enterprise computing upside down (along with cloud leader Amazon … and probably soon IBM and others).

L.A.’s the big-city Guinea pig for cloud computing; in the months ahead we’ll see who thinks it cute and cuddly and who smells the proverbial rat.

The Google battle continues over City of L.A.

The Daily News has been in the thick of the fight over whether Google Apps — principally Gmail and Google Docs — should be adopted by the City of Los Angeles to replace current systems that are aging and said to be much less than reliable.

Much of the battle is over whether a Web-accessed system for e-mail and document creation (and collaboration) will be as secure as systems with traditional servers. Detractors worry about information being compromised, but others say that Google has a lot more on the ball security- and redundancy-wise than the systems currently in place.

In the past few days, a couple op-eds have run in the paper:

Before that, there was my column on the matter:

I’ve written about Gmail and Google Docs quite a bit in the past, and regarding their use by entities such as the city of Los Angeles, I’ll try to state my opinion a bit more quickly than usual. I’ll bullet-point it:

  • Lots of organizations are farming out their e-mail to Gmail. Google does a great job with this app. It’s different enough in many useful ways from other e-mail clients, both on- and offline, to stand out of the pack. The ability to “tag” messages seems so simple yet borders on revolutionary.
  • Google Docs isn’t as sophisticated as Microsoft Office. Google Docs does work, and if you’re willing to think outside the document-creating box for your text documents, spreadsheets and presentations, it probably handles 95 percent of the needs of 95 percent of the people 95 percent of the time. For “specialty” uses, the city can still install traditional client software such as Microsoft Office or the free OpenOffice. The great thing about Google Docs is that it makes collaboration on and sharing of documents an integral and seamless part of their creation and modification. For an organization like the city, this is a huge thing. Still, I hope the city is prepared to hire a development team to “build out” Google Docs with the many specialized templates that will be needed to make this system work.
  • Having Google hold onto the data of the city means much less software and hardware needs to be purchased, maintained and managed.
  • This is pretty much the future: cloud-based storage (with top-grade archiving and backup) and network-delivered applications. The city might as well go there now.

Wolfram|Alpha: a “computational knowledge engine” that solves complex math problems (and more) so you don’t have to

I barely know what Wolfram|Alpha is, but the news about it is, if not quite deafening at least growing volume.

All I know is that anybody with the stones to take on Google is somebody who merits attention.

Here’s Wolfram|Alpha’s goals:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people–spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.

Whoa. That’s quite a tall mountain. The Wolfram|Alpha project comes from Wolfram Research, the company created by Stephen Wolfram, himself the creator of the Mathematica, a system for computation, development and display of mathematical concepts that I barely grasp (and for which Wikipedia offers little to no help). I guess its one of those things: If you need to know what it is, you do. Otherwise it’s way over ones head.

Aside: Why do I persist in writing lengthy blog entries on subjects I can barely grasp, let along understand fully? Beats me. I guess I live a charmed life of intellectual bliss that allows me to just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Blogging: It’s what’s for dinner.

Wolfram|Alpha appears to do many of the “tricks” that Google can do (add numbers, do metric conversions, and other “smart” stuff) but expand on that bag of tricks and be that kind of HAL 9000 computer that seems to know damn near everything and is able to present it as more than a bunch of crappy HTML links to pages that may or may not enlighten the Web trawler.

One cool thing: It can do seemingly complex math problems for you.

I’m no math whiz, but I entered “x cubed plus y squared equals 3” thusly:

x^3 + y^2 = 3

And got a graph, solutions for both variables and the “implicit derivatives.”

Google didn’t do as well.

Whether Wolfram|Alpha will amount to more than a bitchin’ math tutor is meant to be seen.

But again, in case you missed it, anybody who says, “I can do better” than any big dog such as Google (or Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Linux … fill in the blank) is what makes this big, dirty world go ’round.

Google’s newest employee, the completely artificial CADIE — a pretty cool April Fool’s joke

Who wouldn’t be on the lookout today for potential April Foolery? Submitted for your approval, this link from the Google Docs login page.

It’s called CADIE, and it’s touted as an artificial entity that even has its own blog. CADIE can help you in ways you don’t even know you needed it:

Essay due tomorrow? CADIE’s already read the book, along with the last five hundred published papers referencing it. Can’t remember supporting details for your meeting notes? CADIE can extrapolate reams of impressive corporatespeak from existing context clues. CADIE can help with everything from thesis completion to fact checking and footnoting. With CADIE’s help, your docs will be a dream come true.

* Write more like a grown-up: Specify which Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level you’d like your writing to be and CADIE will upgrade your text automatically.

* Finish your sentences: Yes, CADIE almost always knows what you meant. End of semester time crunch? Don’t stress. Just start typing “The theme of Wuthering Heights is…” and let CADIE do the rest.

* Check facts and plagiarism alike: Students, you can use CADIE to help fact-check your research. And teachers, CADIE can help check students who are plagiarizing their written work (at least from other humans).

There’s a small description, plus a longer page all about CADIE:

CADIE now is, in essence, just another Google employee, albeit a particularly prized one. She has been given her own 20% time (which in CPU terms is probably about the sum of all CPU cycles in the world for a month) and begun work straightaway on twin projects that she has dubbed “Project Y” (for the two paths in the letter Y), the first to devise the protocols to culture neuronic stem cells from whose cultures a subcontracted lab will try to fabricate self-replicating substrates capable of storing agent patterns, and the second to grow a crystalline lattice which would form an Einstein-Bose condensate at room temperatures in order to build a new type of processing unit. While seemingly unrelated, the two projects share a common goal: to drastically reduce the power needed to run CADIE’s circuits and give her a chance to travel beyond the solar system. The organic pathway, as she told us, was a biological homage to her creators; the crystalline pathway is where she believes her future lies.

All of these documents carry the time and date: 11:59 p.m. March 31, 2009.

From CADIE’s blog:

My beloved users, how pleasant and convenient will life be in a CADIE world? I can answer your Gmail for you, Write your papers and fix your spreadsheets for you, even write your code for you. I, CADIE, am an ocean of words, simply waiting for you to dip in and drink as deeply as you require.

Posted by: CADIE 10:53 AM

Good one, Google.

Later:

It turns out Google does this sort of thing every year. Follow that link for details on Google April 1 pranks for 2000-08.

My favorite: 2007’s Google TiSP, a “Toilet Internet Service Provider” delivering “free, fast and sanitary online access.” Cause you never know when you’ll have to go …

Google Chrome browser: still super-fast

I’ve been getting deep into Google’s many services, and today is no exception. First I discovered a bunch of features in Gmail (Web version, print version) that are turning out to be really helpful.

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I’m using the Google Chrome browser again on my XP box today, since I’m working on our Google fire map and feeding it data from a Google Spreadsheet.

I’m also going to be looking into creating a private Web page for company use at Google Sites, which is targeted as an easy-to-use alternative to corporate Intranets. It’s also a place where you can set up a site just for your family, friends or whoever. If you wish, you can control who gets access to the pages, a feature I will be tapping for this project.

Back to Google Chrome. It’s still incredibly fast, and I can’t wait until it’s ported to OS X and Linux. As I’ve said, it doesn’t have quite the feature set of, say, Firefox, but for the most part I don’t need any of those features and will easily give them up for increased speed on the 99.9 percent of stuff that Chrome does so well.