A Gentle Introduction to using RSS

I know many people who have never tried RSS, so here is my attempt at a gentle introduction…

The problem: Too Many Places

Too many website to keep an eye on.

If you are like most people, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of the wealth of data available, a curse because it is easy to waste valuable time and get nothing in return.

For example, if you have a single website you love, maybe you check it several times a day. Easily done.

Sometimes you check a website and there is a new article worth reading, but sometimes there is nothing new. A few minutes wasted.

But what if you have three site you love…then it starts to get tedious, you go to one site for the weather, a second for news, a third for your hobby, a fourth for your grandchildren’s school.

The solution: Just one place

What if, instead, you could check one place and see updates appear from any of the sites you are interested in? Then instead of checking three places, or five, or ten, you could check only one but still get the information you want.

This concept is called “RSS aggregation” (RSS is a a kind of a file format — you probably already know what aggregation is).

But no matter what you call it: RSS is a way to know when new articles appear.

Nothing special about it really.

RSS contains the following information:

  • Links to the most recent articles on the site
  • Titles, descriptions, and other details of the articles and the website

How it works

The good news is that you never have to edit or save an RSS file, that is the job of the website, they keep their RSS file updated with the list of the latest articles. All you have to do is tell your RSS client software (more on that later) to do the website checking for you. You do this telling your RSS software the web address (URL) to the RSS file on the website you want to keep tabs on.

The RSS software then checks the website at regular intervals (usually every hour) so you don’t have to.

How to spot an RSS link

What RSS practical, is that most sites now supply RSS. This trick is knowing that is is there.

RSS files come in several “flavors” among them various versions of RSS and Atom. The term XML is also sometimes used to indicate an RSS or Atom feed (technically speaking XML is a much more generic term that also includes a huge number of other things).

So to make a long story short, look for links or icons on web pages labeled like the following:

  • Atom

RSS Client Software

There are many many choices and this article will not cover any specific choice.

Regardless of the RSS software you choose, they all do the same thing: give you the ability to get your updates at one place instead of many.

There are two broad categories: websites and applications.

RSS Client Website

This type of website collects feeds and displays them. The checking happens from the remote website, and the remote website keeps up to date even if you computer is off or disconnected from the internet.

Pros:

  • Accessible from any computer on the internet.
  • No installation needed.

Cons:

  • If you have intranet (not accessible from the internet) RSS feeds, this software will not be able to access it.
  • You must be connected to the internet to even read the headlines.

RSS Client Application

This is software you download, install, and run on your computer like any other application.

RSS Clients that run on your computer

This software runs on your computer and is usually installed as a stand alone application or may even be available as part of your web browser.

Pros:

  • Can read headlines and sometimes even the articles themselves while disconnected from the internet.
  • Can access intranet RSS feeds.

Cons:

  • Runs only on the computer(s) you installed on.

Getting Started

The best way to start is to try one of the many RSS Clients. A list is available at blogspace.

If the above list seems overwhelming, the Google Reader as a good place to starting getting familiar with an RSS Client.

For your first feed, try mine at http://rmore.net/planet/rmore/rss10.xml.

Whatsa matter buddy? Yous gotta problem with Javascript?

After more than 10 years as a professional software developer I have decided that you can write good code in any language…or bad code.

I’ve seen great assembly language, bad Java, scintillating Visual Basic, poor Python, ludicrous lisp, crisp Hypertalk, and even some very good Javascript.

David Chelimsky asks What’s the Problem with Javascript and all I can do is nod my head and state “I concur”.

Javascript allows you to create classes, subclasses, and even has studly regular expression support that would make a Perl user feel right at home.

Many languages suffer from what can only be considered “the AOL” effect. When AOL really took off, (slightly) longer time internet users considered AOL users to be worthless. Some of it was that they didn’t understand [http://www.dtcc.edu/cs/rfc1855.html netiquette], but it was also that their entry onto the internet was considered too easy. They weren’t smart enough, or technical enough, or elite enough to count like ”’real”’ internet users.

Programming languages are the same way. Lisp and C++ users regularly look down on programmers using almost any other programming language because the barrier of entry to Lisp and C++ is high. Mastering difficult languages, and anything else with a high barrier of entry, should result in feelings of pride, but they also often result in feeling of superiority over others.

When I started doing web development, I felt the same way about Javascript. I had mastered C++, Lisp, and many other languages. Perhaps I would do a little client side validation in Javascript, but certainly nothing more.

It turns out Javascript is a pretty nice language. It has a fairly modern runtime: easy, built-in arrays and mapping types, garbage collection, a well designed library, and the ability to manipulate almost anything in a client browser. With a little more study I discovered that the prototype based object system was very handy for developing classes and subclasses and the syntax for doing so was only slightly more awkward than Smalltalk, Java, or C#.

These days I am asked to, and am willing, to write code in many languages I once thought beneath me.

Today if someone were to say about me “Writes good code regardless of language.” I would proud.

Any developer worth hiring should be.