Create Custom News Streams Based on Your Specific Sources and Filters

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Source: www.defcomb.com

If you’re a nonfiction writer (or even a fiction writer who addresses real-world topics), you need to keep up with the latest news in your field of expertise. @Robin Goodtells us about Defcomb, a new curation tool that finds material on the web relevant to your oh-so-specific needs. I look forward to trying it.

See on Scoop.itBuild Your Author Platform: New Rules

Telecom companies step up pressure on FCC members

The president has declared himself for the “strongest possible form” of net neutrality rules, drawing rule making authority on Title II of the Communications Act. In response, the telecom companies have stepped up the pressure to keep their ability to create “fast lanes” for well-heeled content providers.

net neutrality world logo

net neutrality world logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Federal Communications Commission is a bipartisan affair. Two Republicans, two Democrats, and the chair who usually represents the president’s party (but for the last several years has also represented the communications industry in one fashion or another). In today’s Washington, you’ll not be surprised to learn that the current Republican members think Chairman Tom Wheeler’s first fast-lane proposal didn’t go far enough in removing restrictions on whatever the telecom companies want to do.

Until very recently, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has been the most forthright about defending the strongest possible form of net neutrality. Very recently, however, she offered a less explicit defense of net neutrality during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session:

I support a free and open Internet because I want to preserve the openness and innovation that has occurred. I am focused on the consumer and the consumer experience. I want to know what attributes are necessary to keep the Internet free and open. I want to know whether the rules the FCC adopted in 2010, which banned blocking and unreasonable discrimination were the right approach.

Interestingly enough, the Washington Post reported on November 18 that Rev. Jesse Jackson and other traditional civil rights leaders visited the FCC to lobby against Title II regulation. The Post story cites a statement from the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council that buys into the telecom company arguments that “Section 706 regulation would achieve all of the goals of Title II reclassification, but would do so in a way that avoids the uncertainty of forbearance proceedings and without creating disincentives to infrastructure investment. Less investment would translate into less deployment, fewer jobs for our communities, and fewer service options to boost broadband adoption and close the digital divide.”

What the MMTC statement and Clyburn’s AMA comments don’t discuss is that Verizon won its lawsuit against the FCC’s 2010 rules precisely because they relied on Section 706 of the Communications Act, and not Title II. They suggest that telecom companies will stop investing in infrastructure if net neutrality is enforced, yet these companies haven’t exactly been bowling the country over with investment in low-cost, high-speed access.

It’s a shame that advocates for the poor are apparently bowing to the deep pockets that write off contributions to nonprofit organizations, but are not interested in investing in the infrastructure that meet people’s needs. Commissioner Clyburn should get back on the road to real net neutrality.

As always, I apologize for the wonkiness of my net neutrality posts. Check out Why Net Neutrality Matters to Writers for a broader description of these issues.

Firefox Developer Edition: A Quick Look

So I’ve spent the evening playing with the Firefox Developer Edition, and watching Nikita

English: Cropped image of Richard Nixon and Ni...

Cropped image of Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev debating at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959, part of what came to be known as the Kitchen Debate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Khrushchev tour the US on American Experience on PBS. Firefox is fun, and pretty interesting. Though I have to admit it took me a little while to find the Developer Tools that makes it different. I still just play at developer in my spare time.

Developer Edition comes with a Web console that sits at the bottom of the browser, and a standalone Browser Console window (below) that reports on the current page that you’re working on.

Firefox Browser Console

Firefox Developer Edition Browser Console

The Developer Toolbar is actually the start of a “highly usable command line for web developers.”  Here’s the help file with available commands:

Firefox Developer Toolbar

The Developer Toolbar is really just a command line.

I suspect there’s more to come, but it’s nearly bedtime. Until tomorrow… share any experiences you have with Firefox Developer Edition or your favorite web development/design tool.

Net Neutrality: Five Reasons the President Did the Right Thing

Before leaving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in China, President Barack Obama recorded a video message that surprised many. Not only did he declare that “An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” but he endorsed the only way to defend an open Internet, that is: real net neutrality.

President Obama on Enforcing Net Neutrality

The president now agrees with me on this: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must reclassify Internet Server Providers (ISPs) as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act to prevent cable, phone and wireless companies from forcing content providers from paying for fast access to your web browser.

The rest of this post is going to assume you know some of the basics about this issue, and I apologize for its deep wonkiness. If you’re not really up to speed, I’ve written about this before, and included some good links there.

Five Reasons

While I’m not privy to the West Wing machinations that led to this statement, I can speculate as well as any other blogger. Here are some of the reasons I think he did the right thing here:

  • The people have spoken: It takes a lot for millions of people to take a stand on a single government regulation, even more for thousands to take to the streets to make sure that government listens. The FCC received some 4 million comments on the original “fast lane” proposal from FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. The vast majority of those comments asked for ironclad net neutrality rules, with the real wonks demanding Title II reclassification. Rallies were held in cities across the country to demand compliance with these principles. Powerful movements make change, regardless of who may hold office.

  • The law is on his side: When ruling in Verizon’s favor on the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules, the judge in the case said the FCC had used the wrong law to justify their rules. The FCC said it had the right to enforce net neutrality through Section 706 of Communications Act. The court said that the common carrier part of the statute (that is, Title II) was the way to go. The former constitutional law professor in the White House clearly agrees. “Unfortunately, the court ultimately struck down the rules — not because it disagreed with the need to protect net neutrality, but because it believed the FCC had taken the wrong legal approach.”
  • Obama was predisposed: As the statement notes, Obama has always favored the principle of net neutrality. Over the last year, though, he’s been less than specific on what he thought about reclassification. This is new, and again, reflects the impact the movement has.
  • New Chief Technology Officer: The White House offered up Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith to discuss the statement on Monday’s PBS NewsHour. Smith came to the White House from Google just a few weeks ago, and you have to wonder if she got on the president’s case to take on this campaign.
  • Follow the money: Free speech should not be a left-right issue, but look how the pundits and politicians responded to the president’s statement. I haven’t combed through the campaign finance statements, but judging simply from all those quotes, I’ll guess that the bulk of telecom money went in the opposite direction from the president’s party.

What’s Next?

One more bit of speculation: FCC chair Wheeler has taken a severe beating after the first “fast lane” rules he proposed in May. Last week, it looked like Wheeler was going to aim for a compromise, hybrid set of rules. These would rely on both Section 706 and Title II regulation. This idea isn’t flying, either. This could mean that Wheeler is at least as much of a lame duck as the president is since the midterm elections.

Wheeler needs both of his Democratic allies on the five-member commission to approve any policy, as the two Republicans are likely to oppose anything that resembles a check on the “free market.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel appears to harbor ambitions to chair the commission one day.

If that’s true, the White House may be signalling to Ms. Rosenworcel that supporting the president on this issue may help her reach her goal sooner.

Ten Years On: Mozilla, Firefox and the Developer Edition

English: This is a icon for Firefox Web Browser.

Firefox Web Browser. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A decade ago, the Mozilla project was in something of a crisis. The once-dominant browser (a direct descendant of Mosaic, the first graphical browser) had long ago been surpassed in usage by Microsoft Internet Explorer, in part the result of Microsoft’s leveraging its dominant operating system to recapture the Internet.

Mozilla was born when Netscape Communicator‘s code opened up to the global developer community, the first piece of “household name” software to go from proprietary to open source code. But the simple browser had become a full-blown suite of communication tools — Email, chat, even a web development environment. All of these tools loaded at once, clogging up computer memory (slowing down computers) and chewing up dial-up bandwidth (slowing down the web). Mozilla needed a strategy to keep the project from spiraling into oblivion.

Kudos to the person who had the idea to split up all the tools, and allow people to run just what they wanted. Thus, Firefox was born! This was the first of the lean browsers, lightning fast for its time, both for loading pages and simply displaying on the screen. Firefox also introduced the idea of modular extensions, allowing independent developers to add functionality to the basic browser engine provided by Mozilla.

Mozilla’s email client became Thunderbird, and won many fans. The web coding tool, Composer, spun off into a series of different applications, none of which ever became popular. Because the code was still open source, even the suite continued under the SeaMonkey banner. All this code runs on practically every operating system known to humans and bots, including the Firefox OS for mobile devices.

Firefox reignited the browser wars, and eventually eclipsed Internet Explorer by out-innovating Microsoft. As a result, Google got into the browser business with Chrome. These days, Chrome is at the top of the browser pile, with Firefox, Apple’s Safari and IE  trailing. As with many things Google, Chrome is a proprietary browser running atop open source code, called Chromium.

Today, the Firefox team released the Firefox Developer Edition, a special browser with built-in tools for both the mobile OS and ordinary web designers and developers. I’ve got this downloaded, and hope to learn more about it in the coming days (if you’ve read through all my NaBloPoMo posts this month, you’ll know that I’ve got a lot of learning ahead of me).

Meanwhile, I continue to use Firefox as my primary browser, in part because of its open character, in part out of habit. Happy Birthday Firefox!

One Writer’s Process: Email to Pocket

I’ve been a news junkie all my life. Raised on the Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel, and the Huntley-Brinkley Report. In retrospect, I’m a little surprised I was never one of Walter Cronkite‘s acolytes, but I think NBC always had a stronger signal than the CBS affiliate in my youth.

English: American broadcast journalist Walter ...

American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite (b. 1916) on television during 1st presidential debate between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 23 September 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before I ever touched a computer, I thought I might become a full-time journalist. My then-fiancee put it this way: There must be some way to combine your writing and your news addiction. I gave that a shot, but out-jostling other reporters to get a “scoop” was never my style. Covering and explaining technology turned out to be a better bet for me.

But I still keep up with my responsibilities as a citizen, and try to stay informed on a range of issues. With the US elections coming up on Tuesday, let me tell you one way I keep up: It’s called Pocket.

Originally called Read It Later, Pocket allows you to save articles and just about any other kind of web content for review when you’re not so busy. I make so much use of it, I pay for the Premium version (I get long-term storage and tagging suggestions for the privilege).

The Morning News Funnel

My news funnel largely consists of:

  • Emails that many news sites (specialized and mainstream) send me every morning
  • Newsfeeds that I subscribe to (with Feedspot, if you want to know),
  • Twitter links

I scan these over for a half-hour or so in the morning, and right-click on links to interesting stories. The Pocket extension to Firefox and Chrome offers me a Save Link to Pocket item on my context menu. A dialog box appears that allows me to tag the article (sight unseen), and then save it to my Pocket.

Following Up

I can use Pocket’s mobile app to read offline when I’m eating lunch or riding the bus home. Sometimes I’ll just go to the Pocket website after dinner and read stories in my browser.

You can also share Pocket items via email, Twitter and Facebook. Sharing to Buffer lets you schedule when you share an item. Because they save the page, you can also use any share buttons a site includes.

Oh, by the way – If you find this (or any other post here) interesting, you can save it to Pocket with the share button below.

How do you stay informed? Does your news reading habit feed your writing or blogging addiction? Add something to the Comments!

If you live in the United States, go out and vote!

Book Review: WordPress 3.7 Complete

WordPress 3.7 Complete

WordPress 3.7 Complete

The fine folks at Packt Publishing asked me to have a look at their latest WordPress book, WordPress 3.7 Complete. This is the third edition in the WordPress Complete series, by Karol Krol and Aaron Hodge Silver. I am happy to recommend it to folks looking for a good introduction to WordPress.

Full disclosure: I read the edition covering WordPress 2.7, when I started getting serious about learning WordPress, but missed the edition that covered v3.0.

Packt specializes in web development and open source software books, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the strongest parts of the book are in this area. But you don’t have to know code to find good, solid information here. Chapter 3, “Creating Blog Content” offers a nice introduction to blogging that will help you start thinking about the kind of content to include in your blog, along with an introduction to the WordPress admin pages.The chapter on choosing themes has some excellent questions that you may not think to ask yourself before choosing a theme from the vast collection of choices.

While there’s a basic introduction to WordPress.com, most of the book’s content relates to WordPress on an independent web host. It might have been nice to note what sections (like setting up widgets and working with the Media Library) apply to both the dot-com and dot-org sites.

WordPress Complete really takes off in the second half, where Krol and Silver focus on creating and manipulating themes and plugins. I don’t know about you, but when I started messing with code, the first thing that scared me was the likelihood of me breaking stuff that was already working. Krol and Silver help break down that fear by showing you how to safely remove your header, footer and sidebar from an existing theme’s index.php file (“What, you want me to break my home page!?”), customize each new template file, and reassemble the new modules so that it all works.

Another big plus for the beginning developer is an extensive section about building themes from scratch. After comparing this method with constructing themes with the help of a theme framework like Genesis, Thesis or Thematic, they advise:

… create your first theme manually, just to learn the craft and get to know all the basic structures and mechanisms sitting inside WordPress. Then, as the next step in your mastery (if you’re planning to work on other themes in the future), you can pick one of the popular theme frameworks, get deeply familiar with it, and use it as the base for your future themes from that point on. Such an approach will allow you to reach maximum time efficiency and save you the effort of dealing with the core set of functionalities that every theme needs, regardless of the design or purpose.

After demystifying the process of theme and plugin creation, and introducing BuddyPress and WordPress MultiSite, Krol and Silver focus the last two chapters on “Creating a Non-Blog Website” using the increasingly powerful content management features WordPress offers.

You’ll learn a bit about using Pages to create corporate and e-commerce sites, membership sites and the like. Can I say that as an author, I especially appreciated introducing custom post types by way of creating distinctive ways of listing books on your site? You may see something like this on michaelmccallister.com soon.

Overall, WordPress 3.7 Complete is a fine introduction to WordPress and web development. Incidentally, don’t be upset that the book misses out on WordPress 3.8. With the increasing speed of WordPress core development, all us authors are at a distinct disadvantage–we can only type so fast!

So what do you look for in a WordPress book? Have you read this one? Comments always appreciated.

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A Surprise Ending to NaBloPoMo: Domain Fun

And so we come to the end of National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). Now I was planning to try to sum things up, but that will have to wait one more day, as a friend and I need some help from the blogosphere.

Law School Textbooks

Law School Textbooks (Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix)

This story begins last spring, when a good friend got accepted to law school. Among other ambitious ideas, Boone ran an online support and critique group for Milwaukee area writers. I built a WordPress site for this project, but now that he was leaving Milwaukee temporarily to hit the books, the workshop would have to run itself for a while.

The writers were notified of the situation, and Boone went off to law school. Apparently, we all forgot about the website. Last night, Boone had some downtime, and was thinking about updating the WordPress site, and making plans for its eventual revival. Except he couldn’t log in to WordPress, nor would WordPress reset his password. Boone (who is not a technical person) emailed me about this dilemma. I went to the site–and I couldn’t log in to WordPress either. The interesting thing is that the site itself (at least the home page) displayed normally.

Boone and snow!

This is a random dog named Boone in the snow! (Photo credit: otakuchick)

Both of us could get into the hosting account, but when I tried to look into the site’s database admin tool, I got a Server Not Found message. Couldn’t access the database online. After Boone had a chat with his host’s tech support, and just before I started researching their proposed solution, Boone wrote to tell me the domain had expired on July 1, and apparently had been scooped up by someone in the interim. That would explain much.

A WhoIs search for the owner told us the domain had been registered with GoDaddy in August, and the Nameserver was at domaincontrol.com in Arizona. Incidentally, GoDaddy was not the original host for this site. We later learned that domaincontrol.com is a GoDaddy subsidiary, but I’m no longer sure that’s relevant. You see, I’ve never fought with hosting companies, or had a domain I controlled expire, so this is new to me.

Good news is that Boone got a new domain for his site, and we still have the old database backed up. So I think we’ll be ready to go when it’s time to relaunch.

Less happily, Boone is concerned that the new owner/squatter is still using his (and his writing collaborators) content, presumably until whatever replacement content arrives. Boone would like to see that content disappear (and as long as we’re wishing, get a redirect to the new site).

To those of you out there with more experience in these situations, how does one find and contact the new domain holder? We’re assuming that large sums of cash would be required to reclaim the domain, but where do you send the cease-and-desist with regard to the content? Any other tips and ideas?

Thanks to all for any help you can offer!

Tomorrow, some more lessons learned during NaBloPoMo. A bunch of folks have done this already. Listed below are some of them.

Twitter and Me

You probably heard–Twitter went public today. I’m not much of an investor, and goodness knows I’m not rich. Nonetheless, I spent part of my day seeing how the IPO went, mostly following the live blogs on Mashable and The Guardian.

Spent another sliver of my day tracking down my Twitter roots. You may know that a service called Topsy tracks the Twitterverse for topics you care about. What I didn’t know until today is that they will show you every tweet you’ve ever made! The good part of this is that it matches the memory I have of my early days on Twitter.

As I recalled, I learned about Twitter when friends from BarCamp Milwaukee and Web414 returned from the 2007 South by Southwest conference, where Twitter had a sort of coming-out party. Sure enough, Topsy told me my first tweet was on March 20, 2007 at 1:16PM:

Michael McCallister's First Tweet, March 20, 2007

Michael McCallister’s First Tweet, March 20, 2007

The next day proved a little busier:

Topsy's collection of @WorkingWriter's first tweets

Topsy’s collection of @WorkingWriter’s first tweets

Seven and a half years and more than 4200 tweets later, I’m still with the service. I go in spurts with posting, but unlike that first day, my tweets are more about sharing information, and not just about me. Back then, posts answered the question “What are you doing?” These days, it’s much more “What do you know?”

My long, if uneven, tenure on Twitter has helped build my authority online as a writer. I always recommend it as a way to keep up with what’s going on. Twitter’s role as a catalyst of the Arab Spring enhanced its reputation as a place where ordinary people can have a voice–if abbreviated to 140 characters.

Today’s IPO reminds us all, however, that Twitter does not belong to its users. The open source alternative, Identi.ca, hasn’t exactly gained a lot of traction over the years.

You are, of course, invited to follow me (@workingwriter) at both Twitter and identi.ca. Hope you find the feed interesting!

How do you use Twitter? Has it helped you in some way? Do you still think it’s a trivial place where strangers tell you what they’re eating? Were you once addicted, but gave it up?

 

Douglas Engelbart: Augmenting Intelligence

Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart (Photo credit: nilsohman)

It’s been a week since Doug Engelbart died. You may not know him as well as some of the other pioneers of personal computing, but he was an amazing person by all accounts.

I first learned about his ideas and life story in John Markoff’s excellent 2005 book, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

In this book, NY Times reporter Markoff describes the competition between two technological world views represented in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early to mid-1960s. Engelbart led the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), “dedicated to the concept that powerful computing machines would be able to substantially increase the power of the human mind.” Across the Stanford campus, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL), led by John McCarthy, “began with the goal of creating a simulated human intelligence.

“One group,” Markoff wrote, “worked to augment the human mind; the other to replace it.”

Engelbart was originally inspired by Vannevar Bush’s postwar essay, “As We May Think,” that, among other things, described the Memex, envisioned as a really smart piece of office furniture. This article from The Atlantic’s Alexis C. Madrigal tells you a lot about that encounter.

An illustration of Vannevar Bush's Memex, from Life Magazine

An illustration of Vannevar Bush’s Memex, from Life Magazine

At the ARC, Engelbart and his research team put together both concepts and devices that really form the basis of many of the bits that govern our technological lives today. Nearly all of Engelbart’s obituaries included the phrase “Inventor of the Computer Mouse.” But that was certainly not all he did. Take the time to watch what Steven Levy dubbed “The Mother of All Demos,” delivered December 9, 1968. You’ll be amazed, I think.

If you read some of these obits, you may actually conclude that Engelbart’s peaked some 45 years ago. This is not a completely unwarranted conclusion, I’m afraid. I will discuss this further in another post, as this one’s getting a little long. More links next time too!

For now, you can learn a bit more about Engelbart’s legacy in this very sharp piece from Bret Victor.

I got this Engelbart quote from Boing Boing. It’s a fitting epitaph:

“The key thing about all the world’s big problems is that they have to be dealt with collectively. If we don’t get collectively smarter, we’re doomed.” – Douglas Engelbart (1925- 2013)