Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

February 29, 2004

Improved Email-to-RSS Feeds

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 3:05 pm

Since reporting on my experiments with email-to-RSS feeds last night, I’ve managed to improve the feeds I’m using for my two listservs on my blog homepage. One list, WWWEDU, is a yahoogroup list, while the other, DIGITALDIVIDE, is a Listserv list.
Improving the WWWEDU list:
The feed I demonstrated in yesterday’s blog entry was problematic because it was displaying the 30 most recent stories, with the most recent at the bottom, while the Feedroll syndication script displays the most recent from the top down. This meant you needed to show all 30 stories in order to see the latest one.
Problem solved. I figured out how to get yahoogroups to show a shorter rss feed. For example, here’s how to get a wwwedu rss feed for eight stories:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wwwedu/messages?rss=1&viscount=8
By adding the “&viscount=8″ to the end of the URL, it limits the number to eight, which is a heck of a lot more manageable than 30. So if you want to access wwwedu’s RSS feed, I’d suggest you use a variation of this. I then went to feedroll.com to generate a syndication script for it. The script looks like this:

And this is what it looks like when you include the code on a webpage:

Improving the DIGITALDIVIDE List:
At first I tried creating a fake Yahoogroup for the list which would do nothing but create the RSS feed for the site. Then I discovered Mailbucket.org, which I also described in yesterday’s blog. By creating a mailbucket account on the listserv, I was able to generate an RSS feed, which I then fed into feedroll, giving me this script:

When you put this script in a webpage, it comes out looking like this:

So that’s where things stand with my email-to-RSS feed experiments. Stay tuned for more once I get settled in our new apartment in Boston. For now, though, it’s time to pack and get ready for the movers to come tomorrow. Stay tuned… -ac

February 28, 2004

Experimenting with Email-to-RSS Syndication

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 3:41 pm

A few days ago I thought it would be interesting to see if it would be possible to use RSS feeds to syndicate my WWWEDU and DIGITALDIVIDE discussion lists over the Web. In a nutshell, RSS syndication is a way of sharing dynamic online content, such as a blog or a news feed. Normally, someone’s website might feature a static link to someone’s blog, for example, but RSS syndication allows them to display the actual blog entries themselves — or at least their titles and a link to the blog entry.
I’ve been using RSS feeds as a way of displaying the titles of the latest photos from my photo.spotlight gallery on my blog. If you go to my blog homepage and look at the left-hand column, you’ll see the RSS feed for photo.spotlight. Every time I post a new photo to that site, the list of new entries gets updated on this site. That’s RSS syndication.
Getting RSS syndication to work between my two websites was one thing, but then I wondered if I could also display the latest email postings from my discussion groups. As it turns out, there are several tools on the Web that “parse” an email into RSS. It doesn’t matter if your email is simply a hello to a friend, or the latest message from your discussion group; these parsers will convert your emails into RSS so you can then syndicate them to your hearts content.
Two of the most interesting parsers out there are MailBucket and DodgeIt. They both work on the same principle: you create an email address at either site — for example, andy-rss-test@mailbucket.org and andy-rss-test@dodgeit.com. Try sending a test email to either of them. Once you’ve done this, you can go to each website to see the RSS feed generated by the incoming emails. Follow these links to MailBucket and DodgeIt to see the RSS feeds. (From what I can tell, the DodgeIt RSS feed gets generated almost immediately, while MailBucket takes its own sweet time before appearing as RSS.)
When you look at either of these RSS feeds through a web browser, they’ll probably just look like a bunch of code and text – not very readable to the average person. But if you take the URL of each of these feeds and then go to a website like BlogLines, you can set up a personalized collection of your favorite RSS feeds and view them at Bloglines whenever you want.
Most people use sites like Bloglines to follow their favorite blogs, but why not use it to follow your favorite discussion lists? This is where tools like DodgeIt and Mailbucket come in. Basically, it’s simply a matter of subscribing a new email address to your discussion list of choice that would send a message back to either DodgeIt or MailBucket. Example: pretend there’s a discussion group called ANDY-COMPLAINTS for people who want to complain about me. You’d simply create a subscription to this discussion either as andy-complaints@dodgeit.com or andy-complaints@mailbucket.org, then go to their respective website to get ahold of the RSS feed generated by the website. Once you’ve got the RSS feed’s URL, you’d simply go to bloglines.com or a similar “news aggregator” service and add that URL to your collection of favorites.
In my case, I was interested in displaying RSS feeds for my discussion groups on my blog homepage, as well as encouraging friends and colleagues to do the same on their sites. My first experiment involved utitilizing the RSS feed automatically generated by Yahoogroups.com, which I use to host my WWWEDU list. In the case of WWWEDU, you can find the RSS feed simply by adding /messages?rss=1 to whatever the homepage of the yahoogroup list is. This means you don’t necessarily have to use a tool like Dodgeit or mailbucket to do it for you, since yahoogroups does it automatically. As for my DIGITALDIVIDE list, since it’s not on yahoogroups, the only way to take advantage of Yahoogroup’s RSS feeds was to create a new yahoo group that has only one job — to subscribe to the DIGITALDIVIDE list. So whenever someone posts a message to my list, a copy of it gets sent to the fake list a yahoogroups. Wham, bam, instant RSS feed.
The next trick is getting these RSS feeds to display on your homepage. In my case I’m experimenting with feedroll.com, which allows you to input an RSS feed to generate a short script for you to include in the HTML of your website. Let’s go back to the example I gave before, in which you can send an email to andy-rss-test@mailbucket.org and andy-rss-test@dodgeit.com. Doing this allows you to create RSS feeds for emails that get sent to those addresses: see the examples I have for MailBucket and DodgeIt.
With Feedroll.com, I can take the URL for either of these two feeds and generate a little script that can be placed into the HTML of any website. This HTML then displays a list of all the emails sent to either dodgeit or mailbucket as if they were a newswire feed. Here, for example, is the DodgeIt feed, as seen by feedroll:

As you can see, it has a problem displaying the feed; it’s interpreting the date of the email as the title of the email, so it doesn’t look very good.
And here’s the feedroll interpretation of our test of Mailbucket:

This one looks better, though it still seems to take a while for it to be up-to-date with the latest emails.
RSS feeds generated by Yahoogroups work okay through Feedroll, but not great. The problem is that the Yahoogroup RSS feed displays the latest message at the bottom, rather than the top, whereas feedroll assumes that the latest message appears at the top, as is standard on most blogs. What does this mean in practical terms? For example, here’s the Feedroll feed for my WWWEDU list, based on the RSS feed generated by yahoogroups:

As you can see above, the only way to get the most recent posts from WWWEDU to be displayed this way is to show all 30 of the posts captured by Yahoogroup’s RSS feed. The most recent messages are at the bottom of the list, and the oldest are at the top.
So, if you try to show only a handful of posts – let’s say five – it looks like this:

This is much easier on the eyes, but it’s not up to date, since it’s cutting off the 25 most recent messages because it’s only showing the five oldest out of 30 messages displayed by yahoogroup’s RSS feed. (got it?) Compare the two feeds to see how the second feed is displaying only relatively older messages.
So what’s the solution? Good question. For now, I’m having my blog display my WWWEDU and DIGITALDIVIDE messages by using yahoogroup-generated RSS feeds processed by feedroll. I have to display over 20 messages for each list so they display fairly recent messages. The more I display, the more recent they are; the less I display, the less recent. I’m hoping the holy grail in my quest for a good email-to-rss parser may be MailBucket, but so far the website is running so slow I can’t tell how it’s going to work. Stay tuned to this blog to find out how the quest goes…. -ac

February 22, 2004

Archiving a Decade of Blogging

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 3:37 pm

Even though I’ve only been using blogging tools to post Web logs for the last six months, I’d spent the better part of the last decade hand-coding journal entries and posting them on my original personal website. Today, though, it occurred to me that I could use the “Wayback Machine” at the Internet Archive to search their archive for posts I’d made to my website over the years and consolidate them into my current blog.
So now I’m sorting through dozens of dusty webpages in search of ancient journal entries, back from the days when a blog meant, well, basically nothing. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that you’ll now be able to go to my blog’s homepage and find my journal entries going back to the mid-1990s. Simply go to my blog homepage and skim down the left column until you find the collection of monthly blog archives. Rather than going back only to September 2003 (when I started using my first blogging tool, Blogger), you’ll now be able to go back many years before that, all the way back to the announcement of my EdWeb site going live in October 1994. These old journal entries cover everything from digital divide-related grant programs I worked on at the Corporation to Public Broadcasting in the 1990s to trips around the world I took with Susanne well before the two of us got married.
So when you get a chance, check out these archival entries and take a walk down memory lane… -ac

Ralph Nader to Run for President

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 10:02 am

This morning on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press, corporate gadfly Ralph Nader announced he intends to run for president as an independent in the November election.
Nader’s decision will undoubtedly cause the mimosas to flow in the Oval Office — given the 50-50 split between democrats and republicans in this country, every vote that Nader takes away from the democratic nominee will undoubtedly act as a virtual vote for Bush.
“Washington is now corporate occupied territory,” Nader told Russert, according to MSNBC. “There is now a for-sale sign on most agencies and departments…. Money is flowing in like never before. It means that corporations are saying no to the necessities of the American people…. Basically, it’s question of both parties flunking.”
I find it rather amazing that Nader still operates under the assumption it matters not whether a Dem or a Repub is in the White House because they are equally to blame for this nation’s ills. Pretend you’re Ralph for just a moment: if you look at all the particular issues that he cares about, whether it’s consumer protections, the environment, etc, how can he honestly believe that the US is better off today under Bush than it would have been under Gore?
Knowing the political demographics of the country, unless we suddenly get a right-winger running as an independent as well, the only votes Nader will cancel out will be the Democratic candidate’s. Perhaps he wants his tombstone to read, “Secured a two-term presidential legacy for George W. Bush.” If he gets the same level of support this time around as he did back in 2000, that’s exactly what his legacy will be. Oh, the vanity.
Terry MacAullife, the Rolaids are on me, buddy…. -ac

February 12, 2004

Our New Boston Digs

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 1:11 pm

Susanne and I flew up to Boston last Sunday to search for our new apartment. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, we’ll be relocating to Boston in early March so I can help launch the new Center for Media & Community at the Education Development Center (EDC). We’ve been staying in Cambridge at a B&B called the Harding House, using it as our base of operations while we find our new place and get oriented at the EDC office in Newton.
Yesterday, Susanne and I signed a lease for an apartment in Brookline, just one block west of the Brookline-Boston border in the Audubon Circle area. Our new place is a five minute walk to the Fenway T stop and the Landmark Center, 10 minutes from the heart of Coolidge Corner, and a block away from Beacon Street — just far enough from the street to be in a quiet neighborhood, where the only reoccuring sound is the bell sounding from the belltower of an old church. The apartment is being totally renovated, with new floors, ceilings, kitchen, bath — everything brand spanking new. So we really lucked out, because a lot of the places we’d looked at had appliances that looked older than us. Perhaps my favorite part of the apartment is the office, with long windows covering three of the four walls — our cats will love staring out at the trees and the church across the street, I’m sure.
Today, I’m actually in Palo Alto, California for a whirlwhind 48-hour trip to HP, for a meeting of community technology activists and corporate philanthropists. It should be a really interesting gathering. Susanne, meanwhile, is still in Boston, taking care of some local logistics for the move. I’m back to Boston late Friday for a couple more nights to get familiarized with our new surroundings before heading back to DC Sunday morning.
An administrative PS — as you may have noticed, some spammer has used my blog’s comment feature to submit some rather naughty comments (let’s just say they allude to Britney Spears) to many of my blog entries. It happened during the night so I wasn’t able to block the spammer until he had posted over 130 separate spams. So please bear with me while I go through the site and remove his missives…. -ac

February 5, 2004

Big News: Leaving Benton, Moving to EDC in Boston!

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 11:43 am

I just wanted to let everyone know about some very exciting news. As of this week, I’m leaving the Benton Foundation along with our foundation president and other staff to launch a new institute at the Education Development Center in Boston called the EDC Center for Media & Community (CMC).
With seed funding from the Benton Foundation, CMC will serve as the new home for Benton’s decade-long work on the digital divide and ICT literacy, including our Digital Divide Network (DDN) and the DIGITALDIVIDE discussion group. The center will pay particular attention to the issue of ICT literacy amongst underserved youth populations in the US and abroad, and will conduct its work through researching ICT-related activities in real-world communities while fostering virtual communities of practice like DDN.
Here are links to the press announcements about this transition, released today by EDC and Benton:

http://main.edc.org/newsroom/press_releases/new_center.asp

http://www.benton.org/press/2004/pr0204.html

Susanne and I will be relocating to Boston around the first weekend in March; between now and then I’ll be spending most of my time working out of my home office, though I’ll be in and out of the Benton and EDC offices as needed. I plan to keep my Benton email address working for a couple more months but will soon transition to my new EDC address, acarvin @ edc.org. I’ll continue to use my personal address, andycarvin @ yahoo.com, as well.
I’m really thrilled about this new opportunity, and will send out more details about our new center over the upcoming weeks and months…. -ac

February 1, 2004

Rajasthan Photo Gallery Now Online

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 9:13 am
the Pushkar Camel Fair
Livestock traders assemble at the Pushkar Camel Fair

As some of you know, I’ve spent the last couple of months pulling together some of the photos that Susanne and I took in Rajasthan, India in November 2001. Those photos have now been compiled into a new online gallery called Rajasthan: Land of Kings. This site features five separate photo galleries, including Jaipur, the Puskar Camel Fair, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Chittorgarh. (I would have also included a gallery for Jodhpur, but unfortunately Ritz Camera somehow managed to forget to scan several rolls of film when I had the pictures developed two years ago, so it’ll have to wait until I can scan those pictures myself.)
Unlike previous galleries, I’ve kept the photos in bins based on who photographed the picture. So if you see a thumbnail of a picture and click on it, you’ll be able to look at the URL and see either my name or Susanne’s associated with it. It’s not the most elegant way of identified who took each pic, but hey, it works and it was a technical cinch, so I won’t complain if you won’t.
I’m also working on a travel journal for our Rajasthan trip. I recently discovered a journal with dozens of pages of notes from the trip, and I’m using it to write up a more detailed travelogue. Of course, this may take me months to complete, so I can’t promise when it will be ready. So stay tuned to the blog and I’ll be sure to post a note when you’ll be able to visit the travelogue…. -ac

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