Live Bookmarks or death!

Firefox uses Live Bookmarks, rather than the trimmed-down RSS reader that other browsers like Safari or IE have. It is the number 1 killer feature that keeps me tied to Firefox.

Let me explain why…

When you add a live bookmark to your toolbar or the bookmarks menu, it shows up as a menu, rather than as a single link. In Safari, you are then taken to a page that shows all the “stories” on a single page.

Have a look at this screenshot of Safari with my delicious.com feed (click for more detail):

The link on the toolbar is on the left, labelled “delicious/wynter”. If there was a new post in the feed it would show up with a (1) after the name of the bookmark. This is great if you want a newsreader.

Click on the bookmark and you get the page displayed as shown in the screenshot. I don’t generally put descriptions in my delicious items, but if I did, you would read them there.

So that’s Safari. It does what it does and it does it fairly well. If what you want is a bare-bones RSS reader mixed in with your browser, then you are set. The problem is, I don’t. If I wanted the latest stories from the New York Times (which btw is one of the default bookmarks in Safari) then I’ll put it in Google Reader (or my RSS reader of the hour).

Let me show you instead what I do want. This is how I use Live Bookmarks in Firefox.

The “Bookmarks” bit gives it away. I want something that gives me access to bookmarks… that is, lets me find pages I have been to before. It is no surprise that I have decided to use delicious.com (social bookmarking) as my example.

I have a small set of sites that I like to visit every day (or as often as I think to). I could just set all those pages as my “home” pages, but I use multiple browsers on multiple machines and the set of daily sites wasn’t always so small. Here’s how I manage to do what I want.

  • On delicious, I bookmark the sites and tag them with “daily” and “routine”.
  • Go to the delicious.com page where all those bookmarks live (http://delicious.com/wynter/routine+daily).
  • In the address bar I see the beautiful orange RSS logo. If I click on that, I get a page not dissimilar to Safari’s with the posts at the bottom and some subscription options at the top.
  • If I chose to subscribe by Live Bookmarks, I get to choose where to put my Live Bookmark. Normally, you would choose the Bookmarks toolbar. I have put this into a sub-folder (namely “routines”).

Have a look at what that looks like:

So you can see that if I go to my little “Routines-Daily” menu, I can get at all of my links that I want to. Even better (and this works for any FF bookmarks), I can hit the “Open all in tabs” option to get the whole lot to open in one hit. (And yes, before any smarties comment, I can right-click the menu to do the same thing).

So that’s it. Build a list specific tags in delicious, grab the RSS feed and put it in a large bookmark and you’ve got a handy menu that you can adjust and have reflected in any browsers you’ve set up with that menu. As you can see from the screenshot, I’ve got a few set up here.

I’ll be explaining the “Useful” feed (next to the Routines folder) in a future post.

One last thing:I might have to eat a little portion of humble pie. I hadn’t looked closely, but it seems that IE’s Web Slices does a very similar thing. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons not to use IE so I won’t let it bother me.

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I like… Webcomics

I was going to pick just one, but I can’t really stretch a whole post out of why I like a single webcomic, so I’ll speak generally and then give you a list.

I’ve followed certain webcomics for probably about 10 years now. In the early days that involved remembering which sites to go to and checking them every day. Needless to say, I didn’t follow too many back them.

At one point, I followed a set of instructions for writing a script for downloading all your favourite strips for offline reading (this was before always on broadband internet was common). It worked really well too. I even managed to write an offline ‘home page’ in HTML that displayed them all for me in one big page, one after the other. It also left me with a great archive of all the strips if I ever wanted to revisit them.

I never did.

Nowadays we have RSS feeds for most of them and it is a simple matter of plugging in a feed address into Google Reader or your reader of choice and away you go. Every time the strip gets updated, there it is. Webcomics have never been more accessible.

There is something about webcomics (as opposed to the normal paper-based strips) that appeals to me. First of all, I don’t buy the paper that often and the one that I do (the Weekend Australian) doesn’t have a funnies page (it’s far too high-brow for that). But as well as that, there are particular themes that run through many of them. Computers and the internet for one (for obvious reasons), geek culture in general is another. They make me feel right at home.

When I went to compile my list I noticed how small it has got. I have sometimes had as many as twenty or more, but I do cull them occasionally (like I do with all my RSS feeds) and I haven’t replaced them with anything new.

Just on the culling process, I have found that I don’t really like the larger strips with convoluted stories. Those strips that are essentially short stories in picture form. I like to just have a quick look, have a giggle then go on to the next one. For the same reason, when I read a paper with funnies I tend to skip over Phantom or Modesty Blaise and the like. If I want to read a graphic novel, I’ll go buy one from the newsagent.

Here I have my list of comics that are currently in my Google Reader:

    • Darths and Droids: A screen-capture strip made in homage to the great DM of the Rings (and if Shamus happens to read this: please, please, please put the old strips of Chainmail Bikini up somewhere). The artist is taking screen shots of the Star Wars films and making a comic strip story based on the premise that they are characters in a roleplaying game. Plenty of D&D and Star Wars in jokes. A bigger strip, but not too many words for my attention span.

 

    • Order of the Stick: D&D in jokes galore. OOTS is starting to try my patience with too-long strips, but I have had far too many laughs from them in the past to give up just yet.

 

    • PvP: or Player vs Player. The life of the team at a (computer) gaming magazine. Crude and sometimes potty-mouthed but without a doubt my favourite strip. Characters are well-defined and lovable (especially Skull the flatulent troll). I sometimes miss the computer-game references but there is plenty of D&D love in there too and most of the jokes are PvP-jokes anyway. Good work @pvponline!

 

    • Dilbert: Dilbert is required reading. It has its own line in the geek code for goodness sake!

 

    • Doghouse: as in “In the doghouse”. I’ve only just starting following Doghouse, but anything that makes jokes about the differences between men and women is good value in my book.

 

    • UserFriendly: The first version of The IT Crowd, only Canadian. An oldie but a goodie, but currently only running repeats.

 

 

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auTAKU: An Australian Otaku Blog [tilt review]

To start my TILT (Things I Like Thursday) series, I thought I would point you in the direction of a relatively new blog run by my friend Steve McKenzie.

I make a point of following all the blogs run by RL friends and family and when I found Steve’s old blog “Steve Likes…” I added it to Google Reader and read the articles as they came off the press. To be honest, a lot of the things that Steve Likes I don’t have as much interest in as I might earlier have (but that probably says more about me than anything else) but Steve writes well and inspires interest in the things He Likes.

Which brings me to the successor blog, auTAKU. The name itself is a play on the term otaku with the “au” replacing the “o” because he’s an Aussie. Apparently, an otaku is a “person with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, and video games.” (thanks Wikipedia) and once you understand that, you’ll get an idea of the content over at auTAKU.

There’s reviews of computer games, movies, collectable figures, anime/manga, technology and all sorts of Japan-related stuff. Like I said earlier, most of this means very little to me but if he can keep the interest of an unbeliever like myself I can imagine that the site would be of particular interest to anyone who shares the things Steve Likes (are you listening @starconstant?)

I am particularly impressed with the way Steve has branded his blog. He’s set a target of what he wants to write about, picked a really cool and clever name (which he really needs to pick up the domain for before he loses the chance) and posts regularly with well-written posts.

Anyone with an interest in popular Japanese culture or anyone who just wants to see a well-done startup blog should go visit Steve now. And if you’ve missed all my links hidden in the text and images above, here it is again: http://autaku.wordpress.com/.

(Don’t take this the wrong way Steve, but I rushed this post so I could get started on my Project52 challenge and my TILT series. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your work any less.)

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YANC (Yet another writing challenge)

Hot on the heels of my second NaNoWriMo win, and thanks to a post from fellow wrimo Natnie, I’m going to have a go at the inagural Project52.

I’ve complained regularly of spending more time fiddling with the theme on this site than I do writing on it. This could be a good way around it. I had already set in mind a goal to do more writing here this year but Project52 seems to be a good idea. It’s concrete (write once a week), there’s community (one of the great things about NaNoWriMo) and hopefully some accountability.

So this year expect a bit more traffic here. It will be no more focused than it normally is. Maybe once I get into the habit of writing more often, I might be able to “brand” the site a bit and maybe focus on one particular topic. But we’ll leave the future for the future.

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The Unblinking Eye [review]

I’m a bit slow with this one, but I thought I should give this a good chance before I wrote my review.

Last month, Roger Taylor (of Queen drumming fame, for those not in the know) released a single “The Unblinking Eye (Everything is Broken)”. I’ve always enjoyed the Queen songs penned by Roger and I don’t get much of a Queen fix nowadays, so I bought the mp3 from queenonline the day it was released.

I’m really sorry to say it, but… FAIL.

Here’s what annoyed me in detail:

  • It’s understood that Roger’s voice is not Freddie’s (or even Brian’s for that matter). That doesn’t bother me normally, but the songs he sang as part of Queen (thinking “I’m In Love With My Car”) were so much more rock ‘n’ roll than this track and suited his voice better. He seems to be trying to do too much and fails badly.
  • The music is all over the place. Was he trying to write a ballad, a rock anthem, a protest song (actually, I think he has said this was his goal), a symphony or what? I couldn’t enjoy the tune or the rhythm because it kept changing at inappropriate times.
  • The lyrics. Oh dear. He was trying too hard to make his protest. Look at this: “This Kingdom’s not united; Just a complicated mess; Are we in Europe; Half in Europe; Not in Europe; We’re soulless, spineless, directionless” and this: “Why send our young men out to die in wars that we don’t understand; Why on earth should we be meddling in places like Afghanistan” and worst of all (the first line of the song): “God would weep if he existed”. God would weep if he existed? Please. It’s the same sentiment, though much less eloquently put, than “Is This The World We Created?”.
  • The politics. Not that I necessarily disagree with all of what he says in the song, it’s just that he shoves so much of it into one song. And not even very well.

Out of what is probably misplaced loyalty, I tagged this track with 3 stars (it’s a reasonable song) in my iTunes library, just so that it stayed in rotation properly. It probably deserved 2 (keep only for completeness sake). I’m hoping it might grow on me like the Queen + Paul Rogers album from last year.

Want to make your own decision? It’s on youtube, I suggest you try before you buy. And I think I might be giving the upcoming album a miss.

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What do I like in my music?

If you have ever visited my last.fm page you might wonder random landscape you had stepped in to.

Eclectic. Yes, you could say that. Even just looking at my top 6 you’ll see The Beatles, Iron Maiden and Jethro Tull. Who listens to all that?

So to cast off the rumour that my taste in music is actually no taste at all, I thought I would throw together a list of the things I look for in my music. A tick next to any one of them will get the music a listen. Two or more and I’ve probably found a new favourite.

So without any further ado and in no particular order (except perhaps #1).

  1. A beat that your head can bang along to. Self-inflicted whiplash? Yes, please.
  2. Unusual instruments. Think flute and mandolin (thank you Jethro Tull), operatic vocals in metal music, harpsichord, accordion (button for your Sharon Shannon, piano for Al Yankovic).
  3. Unusual voices. Ian Anderson, Kristin Hersh, Kasey Chambers, Mark Knopfler.
  4. Powerful voices. Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale.
  5. Lyrics that tell a story. Mythical themes and folklore for an extra point.
  6. Creative blending of genres within an album (or even a song). Tull (again), Queen.
  7. Folk music (Irish and English and their descendants mostly) and anything that blends it with. Flogging Molly for Irish folk and The Currency for Aussie Folk.
  8. Sadness. Depressing stories and melancholy music. An offering for my inner emo if you like. I have a special playlist on my iTunes I just call “Melancholy”.
  9. Surprises in lyrics or music. Things that you hear that you really wouldn’t expect. Like when Ozzy Osborne sings “They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love”.
  10. A bass line you can feel. Steve Harris is the master.
  11. A certain amount of obscurity. No one else has heard of this band? Gimme.
  12. Nostalgia. Some songs just remind me of a particular time in my life and will always be favourites, even if they aren’t very good (hello, Duran Duran old friend).
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Nag me for NaNoWriMo 2009

Following on from this brilliant idea last year, I’m going to keep tabs on my progress in this year’s challenge right here.

To all those friends and family who I have pointed in this direction, please keep an eye on me here and feel free to give me a hard time if I am looking like I need one. Have a look at my Progress Report if you are interested in the details. Please leave a comment here, give me a ring or a text message, send me an email or knock me over in the street with your car. Anything to remind me what I’m supposed to be doing.

As with last year, there are some pretty little images to show how things are going:

Country vs City Word War, Elsewhere in Australia vs Perth, North

North vs South Word War (race, really), Me in Esperance vs Kamu in Port Hedland:

As of just before midnight on 31st October none of these links and clever images are working. I’m sure the NaNo servers will get with it eventually!Done. Images working now. Sweet. (edited 2009-11-06) – Of course now that this NaNo is well over and done with the images aren’t available at all. I might have to remember to save them in future. (edited 2014-05-08)

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Soundtrack for 2009

For an interesting exercise, I’ve created a soundtrack for the forthcoming film of my 2009 NaNovel.

We can dream can’t we?

  • Love Lies Bleeding – Elton John
  • Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad – The Clash
  • She’s Invisible Now – Eurythmics
  • Would You Believe? – Roxy Music
  • Superman Main Title Theme*
  • He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies
  • You Know I’ll Always Love You – Budgie
  • Flames of Fire – Machinae Supremacy
  • Super Steve – Machinae Supremacy
  • Laura – Flogging Molly
  • Liar – Queen
  • Blood Brothers – Iron Maiden**
  • Liar, Liar – Castaways
  • For All Tomorrow’s Lies – Berlin
  • Ride of the Valkyries*

* I apologise in advance for the use of the Superman Theme and the Wagner. It was just too hard to leave them out, being a superhero story and all (My MC can’t even fly!)
** I also apologise for the Maiden. But I’m fairly convinced that my muse comes disguised as Eddie, so I’d best make this small offering for the sake of a smooth and comfortable November.

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Violet Crumble Cheesecake

Here’s a nice recipe, minimally converted from a Tim Tam Cheesecake recipe to use Violet Crumble instead and to add some thermomix directions. It was a big hit with children and wife. Mum too, but she made me put more Violet Crumble in it the second time I made it (quantity below is this higher amount).

I love the way the honecomb “melts” if you leave this in the fridge for a while. I’ve never really been a big cheesecake fan myself (this was made primarily for my darling Linda, and then for Mum when she requested a re-do), but I could manage to eat lots of this I think.

Please excuse the copy-and-paste image. I’ll update the post with a photo taken of the real thing once I get the camera emptied onto the computer.

Ingredients:

    • 250 grams plain chocolate biscuits

 

    • 80 grams butter melted

 

    • 375 grams cream cheese cubed and softened

 

    • 1/2 cup caster sugar

 

    • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

 

    • 1 cup thickened cream

 

    • 3 teaspoons powdered gelatin dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water

 

    • 200 grams white chocolate melted and cooled

 

    • 150 grams Violet Crumble chocolate (3 regular bars)

 

Method:

    1. Place biscuits in a blender and process into fine crumbs (10 seconds in thermomix on speed 7)

 

    1. Add the butter and process to combine (5 seconds in thermomix on speed 5). Press the mixture into spring-form baking pan and refrigerate 30 minutes.

 

    1. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

 

    1. Beat in cream.

 

    1. Melt chocolate (in microwave, give 1 minute at 50% power, repeat until soft). Beat into mixture.

 

    1. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and beat into mixture.

 

    1. Chop the Violet Crumble and stir into the cream cheese mixture then pour over the biscuit base.

 

  1. Cover and refrigerate until set.
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Mythic and NaNoWrimo 2009

We’re well within two months of NaNoWriMo 2009 and I’m not really sure what I’m wanting to do.

Last year’s story only told half of the story I had planned, so I was originally planning on doing a sequel. But now I don’t want to. I was happy to leave it where it finished. In fact, the story I ended up telling started off being just the introduction to the story I first envisioned telling. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes!

I need to come up with something else. That doesn’t need to be hard, I’ve always got lots of ideas, I just need ideas plus inspiration. And a bit of interest developed in the subject matter.

So instead, I’ve come up with a completely different and very stupid idea that will have me doing almost everything differently to how I did it (successfully) last year.

I’ve been playing around with the Mythic Game Master Emulator (demo here and yahoo group here) for my role playing games this year and I am considering using that to completely “wing it”. The GME book says this:

Finally, Mythic: GME can be used as a writing tool. The architecture that creates dynamic adventures is really an automated story-telling system. It will work just as well without any games or formalized characters attached. Just set the scene, ask some questions, and start writing.

If it works the way I see it, I could just come up with a general concept (or even make one randomly) and then use the system and appropriately phrased questions to let the plot work itself out.

Some years ago, I did some rough outlines of an alternate-history Earth. Very little of it got detailed, but the setting has a reasonably defined place in my mind. The idea of writing a novel set there, and having the Mythic Fate chart to help me flesh it out really appeals to me.

I’ll keep you informed as to how it goes…

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