Hot Fudge! Right On! Comin’ Atcha Now!

I can’t express how stoked I am to finally have found a clip of this show to prove to my California friends that it did exist and I am not crazy.

Pay special attention to the music and the typography— there is no better way than this to express childhood in Detroit in the 70’s.

During our weekly brainstorming session this morning, we hit that place that is all too familiar— the place where the project would be cross the cool barrier and the suits and faculty would complain that it’s “not academic enough”. Charles and I decided that we just need to do a Ballmer-esque dance showing the department how much we think of them, and we’d all live happily ever after. I have had the mantra of “Departments, Departments, Departments, Departments” in my head all day long…

Still trying to process my thoughts on this year’s conference. It was great, in a totally different way than last year’s conference. I met so many more folks this year, which was a good thing for me, but was also a lot of work. Last year I focused more on the panels and less on the networking, but still managed to get a ton of inspiration and a few great friends out of it. This year I had many more conversations with many more folks, but most of them were only a few minutes long. We’ll see how many of these turn in to great friendships, but there are a few that I hope will.

The Requisite Namedropping

Here are the folks I met up with, in alphabetical order: Andy, Anton, Chip, Chris, Cindy, Craig, David, Derek, Elaine, Elly, Eric, Faruk, Glenda, Geert, Jason, Jeremy, Jon, Jonathan, Kenneth, Matt from UT, Matthew, Meri, Patrick, Rob, Rob, Scott, Steve, Veerle, Yvonne, and Zach. If I missed you, don’t take it personally— it is all still a blur.

My Favorite Moments

The real gems happened away from the conference: tapas with Chris, watching bats with Glenda and Rob, giving some Humboldt Fog to Jon. There was also when Jeremy sat next to me during a panel and then told me he liked my site afterwords. And that vision of Rob going up the escalator to the Web Awards will stay with me for a while. I pretty sure I told Jason I thought his shoes were lickable, too. Plus, there were about 50 hugs from Faruk, a great conversation with Veerle, and Anton gave me an awesome bird illustration. I think I may have learned some stuff, too.

All in all, I’d say it was a success. I have that post-conference buzz again, and have tons of ideas of things I want to do. Hopefully this will all lead to a burst of productivity. For now, I’m going to focus on catching up on my sleep… That’s one thing I didn’t do too much of.

I think I may have finally found a feedreader. I have been maniacally switching readers every couple of days for several months, trying to find one that meets all my needs. Apparently I have a lot of needs. High maintenance, moi?

Anyway, sometime during my obsessive googling for feed readers I came across Gregarius, which is

a web-based RSS/RDF/ATOM feed aggregator, designed to run on your web server, allowing you to access your news sources from wherever you want.

  • Completely web-based (runs on your web server)
  • Simple, password-protected, administration and configuration
  • AJAX powered item tagging
  • Full-text search
  • Committed to web standards: renders XHTML/CSS, supports OPML
  • Gregarius is FREE software and is released under the GPL

Perfect! In other words, if I don’t like how it works I can fix it my damn self. Which is what I have proceded to do.

I had played with feed on feeds in the past, and gave up on it for some reason that I can’t remember now. I think it is probably similar to Gregarius, but the advantage that I saw with Gregarius is the active development of themes and plugins, and modular structure that makes this development easy.

I was able to install Gregarius and create a rudimentary theme in a couple of hours. You can see my efforts, and read my feeds if you’re really bored, at I went with a Backpack-esque theme, with my own color scheme, to tie together all my various presonal data sites that I deal with every day. (Despite recent controversy over 37signals’ bad attitude, I really like the simplicity of Backpack’s design and typography, and one less design to process in my travels is a plus for my productivity.) I also like the fact that I can leave my reader public, and lock y’all out of the admin area so you can’t mess things up. Better than a blogroll— you can see exactly what I’m reading. I am also able to mark feeds “private”, so that you can’t see feeds for my personal data or the fact that I’m suscribed to (damn— I need to remember to mark that private).

I will be releasing the theme in the near future, after I make a few tweaks to some of the functionality that isn’t quite perfect yet. For example, I want to hide the “Refresh” and “Admin” tabs from non-admins, make the Category display the default instead of the list of feeds, and have it collapsed by default. And there are some style tweaks with the favicons and footer I still need to do. And I suppose I will also have to test in in that one browser that I have so far avoided, since I never use it, and this project is for me and me alone.

I can also tag feeds and keep them around for as long as I want. There is an easy way to trim old feeds from the database after a certain number of days, but keep any article that is either tagged or marked “Sticky”. So when someone figures out a way for me to consolidate all the crap I have tagged in my feedreader and and flickr, I will have a nice tag cosmos available to me.

There are a few bugs in the software, but not enough to keep me from using it. It is being actively developed, so those should be worked out soon enough. The biggest change to get used to is that it takes a few minutes to refresh all the feeds. This happens much faster in a desktop app, but I am trying to cut down my feed reading and email reading frequency a bit anyway. Gregarius will check feeds in the background after a specified period of inactivity, which is working out great for me at work— by the time I go back that tab to read feeds it has already refreshed them for me.

So, I must say that my Gregarious experience so far has been a good one. The only thing I can really complain about is that the name of the software is spelled wrong on purpose* which is one of my biggest pet-peeves. If you’re a compulsive feedreader switcher like me, you could do worse than to give it a try.

*OK it’s really not supposed to be “gregarious”; “gregarius” is apparently Latin for “flock” or “group”.

  • Someone brings Spam and crackers on a china plate, and a 40 oz bottle of Miller High Life (I am kicking myself for not getting a picture of this)
  • Some people (not you) actually eat some spam and crackers
  • You end up with more wine than you started with
  • The dog only growled at the right people
  • The kids didn’t break anything
  • It only took an hour to find the remote after the kids left
  • You didn’t have to spend the whole time pretending to eat one of the kids’ toes (although he would have liked you to)
  • You end up with some leftovers you actually don’t mind eating
  • You have to stay home sick for the next two days, but not because you have a hangover
  • The house is still cleaner after the potluck than it was before you cleaned it for the potluck
  • Someone actually drank the rest of the generic grape soda you have been trying to pawn off at the potlucks for about 2 years
  • Anthony has a good time
  • Anthony admits he had a good time

In my quest to find a feed reader that actually meets my needs, I signed up for a month of Feedlounge when it was finally released on Jan 16. Here are my first impressions after using it for about 5 days.

I am attracted to a web-based feed reader, because I really want to sync my feeds between my home and work computers. It drives me crazy to have to re-scan all my feeds to figure out which ones I’ve already seen, and hurts my productivity as well. The only client-based feed reader that offers syncing is NetNewsWire. This served me for a while, until all the servers I use disabled FTP access, switching to SFTP exclusively. I can’t blame them for doing that, in fact I’m glad they did. However, it rendered NNW syncing useless to me.

I have tried just about every web-based reader out there, and am unsatisfied with all of them. Lately, I have been switching between Newsgator online and NNW synched through Bloglines. There are problems with both of these, though, and I looked forward to the release of Feedlounge as a potential replacement.

Feedlounge’s interface is very nice compared to other web-based readers. You can choose between 3 different layouts, and use keyboard commands to navigate through feeds. It emulates a client-based reader, but is not quite as flexible; for example you can’t adjust the width of the panes. This kept me from using my favored widescreen layout, because the proportions of the panes caused the pane with the text to be too narrow for comfortable reading. But this is a constraint I can live with. Design-wise, Feedlounge is also much nicer than the other online alternatives. They really took some care with this, and the app is nice to look at. Compared to Bloglines, it is heaven.

Feedlounge includes a couple of other bonus features, such as feed and article tagging, and a history of read articles. I don’t tend to use this kind of functionality in my feed readers, so these aren’t selling points for me. The seem to be functioning nicely, though, aside from a little bugginess in Safari, which is slowly being worked out by the developers. In general, the experience of using Feedlounge is very nice, and I would be very happy to make the switch if it weren’t for two factors.

First the update interval of the feeds. From the Feedlounge FAQ:

We take the average time between posts for each feed and update the feed at twice that interval. If a feed has a new item every 8 hours, we update the feed every 4 hours. New feeds are updated every 4 hours until the average posting time is determined. No feed is updated more often than every 30 minutes. No feed is updated less frequently than every 48 hours.

This is a problem for me, because it assumes that feeds that are updated less frequently have lower priority to me. This is simply not the case. For example, ALA updates only about once a month, and I don’t want to wait 2 days to know about new articles. Similarly, feeds of my friends and family or from my Basecamp or Backpack accounts aren’t updated that frequently, but they are much more important to me than someone’s link blog that they update daily. I have tried to live with these update intervals for the past 5 days, and I can’t.

The second issue is the price. Feedlounge is currently available for $5 a month or $49.95 for a year. I don’t want to debate whether this is a fair price. It probably is, if the reader meets your needs. But it is too much for me to take on for a reader that doesn’t do what I need.

At this point, I am thinking I will probably be canceling my Feedlounge account at the end of the month, and sticking with NetNewsWire synced through Bloglines. It is a pain to have to manage feeds in one service and read them somewhere else, but at least this setup gives me what I need. The best case scenario would be for NNW to start supporting SFTP synchronization, or (even better) for NewsFire to add synchronization features. Until then, I guess I am stuck with being frustrated…

Today, we are given the day off to remember the principles of the good reverend doctor, and to make last minute preparations for Spring semester which starts tomorrow whether we like it or not.

For us faculty spouses, today is also a much needed day of rest before the start of our least favorite time of year: Potluck Season.

The hiring of a new faculty member is preceded by the bringing to campus of 3-4 potential candidates for each job in close succession. The candidates are put through the ringer with 2-3 day long interviews, during which they must meet with everyone from the undergraduates to the deans, give two seminars to the department, and attend the most important event of all: the potluck. It is here that they get to “socialize” with the department members, their children, and their spouses.

The schedule goes something like this: the candidate has a full day of meetings, then gives a research seminar from 5-6 pm, which the whole department has to attend. Then all the department members rush out to Wildberries (the local health-food supermarket), buy a dish to take to the potluck, and then head over to the house of the lucky department member that is hosting the potluck. The potluck begins at 6:30, and the faculty spouse has somehow magically whipped up a main course for the 30+ people descending on the house in the 1.5 hours since they have gotten off work (assuming that they got out of there on time). If you’re lucky, everyone doesn’t bring the same thing from Wildberries, so you actually have a full meal, instead of 10 salads.

Then there is the socializing, the inevitable beer drinking, the people staying too late, the cleanup, and then trying to get to bed early enough to get to work on time the next morning, because these potlucks are inevitably on weekdays. Repeat this all 8 times within a two month period (4 candidates each for 2 positions being hired), and you get the glory of Potluck Season.

I swear, this tradition must be left over from when the good old faculty members’ wives didn’t work and could spend the day cleaning and cooking. There is no time built in to the schedule for the actual faculty member, who is the one who really has a stake in this whole hiring process, to help out the spouse with the potluck.

But the kicker is that we have to do this EIGHT TIMES. By the end of potluck season, none of us have anything more to say to each other— all the pleasantries have been played out. And we have no energy left to try to explain what we do and why it’s important to the University to a candidate that is dog tired from the inhumane interview process and really in no mood to socialize. We are sick of eating the same food from Wildberries, and thinking bitter thoughts about those department members that never seem to show up to these supposedly mandatory social events.

Brian and I get the privilege of hosting the first potluck this season, on a day that is right in the middle of another season of mine at work: Deadline Season. Which means that I will not be taking any time off to prepare for the potluck (and really, why should I even have to consider doing that?), and I am seriously thinking about just ordering pizza and being done with it. We have started to prepare for this event this weekend, a week and a half in advance, so that we are no too stressed out at the last minute. This all seems a little out of proportion to me.

Well, that was… interesting. What does it mean when the new year comes in with a fizzle?

We drove home from Seattle in the midst of a huge storm. It has been raining constantly in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of weeks now, which is no surprise. But add to that a few days of torrential downpour, and you end up with floods, mudslides, trees down all over the place, and tons of road closures. Eureka/Arcata in particular becomes an island, since there is no way in or out of here without driving through one of several mountain passes, all of which are prone to mudslides an are closed during storms. (Which is a big reason why we live here as a week in Seattle made clear. Where the hell did all those people come from?)

Anyway, we were able to sneak through Grant’s Pass right before it closed, and the trip was not what I would call uneventful. We hit several huge areas of standing water over the road, one of which we couldn’t see at all and almost ripped the steering wheel out of Brian’s hands. We also just missed hitting a rock about the size of a marmot that bounced down off the cliff and across the road, slamming into the barrier on the other side. We got to Crescent City in the pouring rain just after they reopened 101 after clearing away huge redwoods that had fallen across the road. We made it home just before the storm really broke loose and pretty much every road closed.

We spent a night hearing the wind bounce things off our roof, and our power went out about 9 am on December 31st. We got it back yesterday, January 1 at about 2 in the afternoon, so we spent new year’s eve laying in front of the fire to keep warm and reading by candlelight. It was actually quite nice and beautiful. I wanted to take a photo, but then I realized that my camera battery was dead. As was my cell phone and new iPod. Our laptops had juice, but we couldn’t get online. No TiVO, no stereo, no clocks. It took us a day to realize that we had an old phone that wasn’t cordless that we could plug in and at least call some folks.

I realized that I am much too dependent on electricity. I felt lost and way too upset that I couldn’t plug in. How did this happen? I spent a good year of my life living in a tent with no power at all to speak of, and I was perfectly happy. How can my whole life be disrupted when the power goes out for 24 hours when there was no electricity at all for most the the history of humankind? It really is incredible.

So, 2006 came in without much fanfare, and with more reflection that I had planned. Maybe it was reminder to unplug every once in a while and realize how good we have it.

Wow, I haven’t written anything in a while…

I have been just plain busy— with client work, the holidays that just passed and the ones that are coming, my sister’s wedding, and a random inspiration to do major renovations in our house. That last point is what I want to highlight here, since it is a little too exciting for me…

I guess you could call me bookish

I love books. I read every night before I go to sleep, and sometimes on the weekends I’ll stay in bed reading for a couple of hours before I get up. I have been doing this since I was about 3 years old. I also have slight pack-rat tendencies, and a husband that is also a reader, leading to quite an accumulation of books.

I don’t consider this a problem, because I love to go back to them and leaf through them and re-read them and think about them. The only real problem is that they end up taking up a lot of space.

We ended up hitting critical mass with books last weekend, with all our shelves full and random piles of books lying everywhere, as documented in this Flickr set. The logical thing would be to get rid of some of them, but I could never bring myself to do that. Even the crappy pulp novels are worth something to me— have some intangible essence that makes getting rid of them seem like it would be evil.

So instead, we spent a couple days ripping out a built-in buffet in our house and converting it to a built in bookcase. Those that know our cooking habits can attest that this is a much better use of valuable redwood and Douglas fir for us. The buffet was full of old papers and receipts…

The new bookcase kicks ass, and holds about 300 books. The whole middle shelf is the “sciency” section, and the top is “photos” and “classics”. Bottom left is “knitting” and the rest is just random. “Computery” books, textbooks, field guides, reference books, and books in Spanish are in the office. (I double-majored in Biology and Spanish Literature in college, so I have a good collection of Spanish books.)

The best part of the whole experience was having an excuse to look at all our books while we were organizing them. I found some awesome things that I had forgotten about, like my original comic book of “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land”. I am going to put some photos up of this on Flickr sometime soon. It was also nice that after the NPR story about Wallace Stevens on Tuesday, I could go right to my copy of “The Poem at the End of the Mind” and page through it, without having to search all over the house.

Anyway, now the books are organized and I found some inspiration. I also figured out what I’m going to do with Jangly Ganglia, so expect that sometime in the not-too-distant future.