Blogging RSS Techie

RSS Category feeds

Minor site update: I’ve now created RSS feeds for each entry category on this blog. So, for example, if you’re only interested in my “Techie” posts, you can use an RSS newsreader to subscribe to just that category. You can find the links to each category’s feed by going to the main categories index.

Will this actually be of use to anyone? Dunno. But I had some time on my hands while I was copying some files, and I couldn’t be bothered doing anything more constructive.



With all of the weird stuff happening last week, I almost missed a good thing I found in the sunpig server logs: NewsGator. NewsGator is an RSS aggregator that integrates with Outlook.

If you’re not familiar with RSS aggregators, they are basically programs that allow you to check web sites for updates without having to visit the sites themselves in your browser. RSS is especially popular with people who read and write weblogs, because it’s very easy to get interested in a lot of weblogs, and they often change several times a day. Checking dozens of weblogs just to find out if they have changed gets old really fast. But an aggregator program takes all of the hassle out of it.

There are a bundle of RSS aggregators out there: Radio Userland (which is also a blogging tool), AmphetaDesk, NetNewsWire, Aggie, and Syndirella are just a tiny selection of the most popular ones. Radio Userland and AmphetaDesk have a program that runs in the background on your machine, while the actual RSS newsreader interface appears in your browser. NetNewsWire, Aggie, and Syndirella are programs you have to fire up separately. With all of them, you say how often you want to check on your news sources, and then they scan them for you automatically.

I’ve been mostly using AmphetaDesk for my RSS newsreading purposes, but now that I’ve come across NewsGator, I may well switch. NewsGator acts as a plug-in for Outlook. When it scans your RSS news sources, it converts new articles into Outlook items, and sorts them into a set of folder for you–just like mail items. After that, you can treat the article/headlines just like anything else in Outlook. You can delete them, move them around, or drag and drop the most interesting ones into a public folder so others can see them.

I love it. It’s like saying to all your favourite sites, “send me an email when a new article appears”, only without the twin disadvantages of ending up on dozens of email lists (which you then have to manage, or remember about) and having your inbox flooded with dozens of non-critical emails each day. It’s a perfect match for the way I think about RSS news.

The only possible problem is that it runs on Outlook. I’ve been reluctant to run Outlook as my mail client at home, because of vulnerabilities like these. I don’t think that Outlook is necessarily much less secure than other mail programs, but because of its ubiquity (and Microsoftness) vulnerabilities are much more likely to actually be exploited.

After trying the new M2 mail client in Opera 7 for a while, I’ve temporarily settled on Mozilla mail reader, but it’s horribly slow. Diego Doval’s Spaces email client also includes an RSS newsreader, but the software is still alpha quality. I tried it yesterday, and while it showed promise, it didn’t quite click with me. (Also, with switching between mail programs, there’s always the question of how easy it is to switch back if you don’t like it.) Spaces is certainly promising, but I’m not ready for it right now.

So Outlook it is. By taking proper care (make sure you have the security settings right, don’t open dodgy attachments, view messages as text-only, etc.), it can be made pretty safe. I have a virus checker on our home firewall, and one running on my PC as well, all of which help. (Still, security is a process rather than a product, though, so no complacency will be allowed here chez Sutherland 😉

I have to say that I’m actually quite excited about starting to use NewsGator. There are dozens of sites that I want to track, but which haven’t made it into my AmphetaDesk subscriptions file. NewsGator is going to bring me up-to-date with all of them–and much faster than I could have tracked them before.


RSS update

I’ve just updated the RSS feed for this site to RSS 2.0, based on Mark Pilgrim’s RSS 2.0 template for Movable Type. It should be fully backwards compatible with the RSS 0.91 feed that was there before, but if it breaks, please let me know. Notable new feature: the full text of each post is now included in the feed, as part of a <content:encoded> section.


Valid RSS

I’ve made a couple of minor changes to the RSS Feed for my blog. It’s still RSS 0.91 (I haven’t had the time to get to grips with about 1.0 or 2.0 yet–but soon!), but now it’s valid RSS 0.91, as validated by Mark Pilgim and Sam Ruby’s new RSS validation service.

Valid RSS

The main change involved the lastBuildDate and pubDate elements, which have to be in RFC 822 format (e.g., Fri, 25 Oct 2002 07:04:23 +0100). Movable Type can generate a date like this quite happily: <$MTEntryDate format="%a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S +0100" $>. But the problem with this is that the time zone (+0100) is now hard-coded. If you change the Time Zone setting in your blog preferences, the RSS feed won’t match up any more.

Not that big a deal, really, but it’s not as elegant as having it pick up the time zone automatically. Movable Type does actually have a time zone element (<$MTBlogTimeZone$>), but it generates the time zone with a colon in the middle, i.e. as “+01:00”.

John Gruber has put together a new MT plugin which provides the time zone in RFC 822 format. You can use this to build up a proper, dynamic RFC 822 date like so: <$MTEntryDate format="%a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S" $> <$MTrfc822BlogTimeZone$>. Note that you do need that space between the two tags–if you cut-and-paste from the sample code in the plugin documentation, it’s not there.

Alternatively, you can use Brad Choate’s regex plugin. This doesn’t give you an extra tag, but instead allows you to apply a regular expression to the output of a standard MT tag, like so: <$MTBlogTimezone regex="s/://"$>.