Back from vacation

My wife and I spent the first ten days of June hiking around southwestern Ireland on a Backroads organized trip. It was relaxing, though occasionally strenuous (I'm not the fittest person in the world and the hikes had an annoying tendency to start with a steep vertical climb then ease off). I toyed with going to the Web 2.0 half day affair in Cork that kicked up a storm but couldn't quite figure out how to get there from Kenmare.

On the last day, the last hike, the easiest hike of the six days, I twisted my ankle. I knew to expect it, I had bagged the previous day's hike (which was the most challenging, a ~18km hike from Killarney to Kenmare over a long-disused road, again with the vertical climb bit) because I could sense that my ankle was doing a sort of funky turning out thing. But I let my guard down.

It made the various walks to customs and immigration at O'Hare absolutely fun and delightful (we flew LGA-ORD-DUB and back to shave off $$$ from the airfare).

I've punted on trying to catch up on 19,000+ updated posts in Bloglines. I don't have the time, or interest, in trying to sift through them all. I picked out a few blogs from a few categories that I'm absolutely interested in and skimmed through them and then marked all as read. It gave me an idea for yet another tool which I'll likely not write and then whine about when someone does (take some sort of attention data thing like technorati and mash it against my bloglines account to tell me what was most interesting).

I recognize that there's a danger in using popular lists to filter what you read, you only see what the crowd (even if it's your crowd) has selected, and may miss a few pearls of wisdom that don't meet the crowd's standards. Still it is a way of trying to bring the beast under control.

When I was IBM's corporate webmaster , I spent hours trying to keep up with my email. I eventually ceased reading IBM's internal forums (mainframe hosted newsgroups), Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists. Eventually I hacked my Lotus Notes inbox to add a sort of smart filtering (as I recall, I grouped mail from the three groups I managed into one bin, mail from my executive chain into another bin, mail from generically interesting people into yet another bin, and everyone else into a pile that I dealt with at the end of the day).

I was a weird case, I was the sole point of contact for IBM's entire web infrastructure (not intentionally, just by historic accident). To this day I've heard that my email address is banned for reassignment because so much spam continues to go to it (lesson: don't include your email address in a template application for an F-100 company). I find it interesting though that more "average" people are finding themselves in this situation: too much data from too many sources and too little time to deal with it.

I have it easy now, I ceased taking on consulting engagements earlier this year to focus on some of my own projects, and the insight from being at the wrong end of the firehose: if it's important enough, it'll resurface again.

Now, that insight will freak out people: they want their message to be read, acknowledged, understood, and acted upon. They want you to pay attention to them, their words. But, honestly, you can't pay attention to everything that demands your attention.

We need tivos for our information streams.

Before I left on vacation I rebuilt a PC with Windows XP. 98% of the time I like to work off my laptop, but I find having a desktop sitting, running, to be handy (though, perhaps because of the laptop, or 38+ years, I find I have to kick the font size up several notches on the screen). Since I'm cheap, and I have had no income for the past six months due to the previously mentioned pause in consulting, I am using Mozilla's Thunderbird to grab mail.

I loved using Netscape's mail client, which Thunderbird is derived from. It was faster than Notes and for the plain text mail I received, was faster to start up and run. Thunderbird seems to be a nice descendant of Netscape Mail (caveat: I've been using it for half a day).

An interesting feature of Thunderbird is a built-in RSS/Atom feed reader. (A side note: I thought it was quite cool that I could give the URL of my Bloglines OPML file to the Thunderbird import dialog to import my blog subscriptions. It seems to have imported most of them though obviously nothing I marked private in Bloglines).

The feed reader doesn't seem to have a concept of folders, or the so-called river of news ability. It's more like a newsgroup reader with each feed as a separate item to click on. The subjects of each post are listed in a pane, you click on a subject to read that item. Now, one thing I found curious which I need to investigate, is that Thunderbird displays the original web page for an item if that is listed in the source feed, rather than the (usual) text for the item from the feed itself.

This interests me as a web architecture pinhead: not only is Thunderbird hitting the server to fetch the feed, but rather than display the content of the feed which it already has, it causes another hit to the server to display the web page for the given item. On the one hand, advertising people rejoice since they can serve ads to that page, on the other hand it puts more strain on the server.

I suspect Thunderbird doesn't have that great an installed base yet to make this a performance issue. Having played with it I'll likely stick with Bloglines for my feed following for now. But the problem is still there: you're using up bandwidth twice, once to serve the feed, and a second time to serve up the page (which is redundant since the feed (in theory) has the very content of the page).

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