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Reading the Newspaper

DurhamRegion.com

I love to read the newspaper. It is one of my Saturday rituals. Events in the past year, however, changed the way I indulge in this pastime.

First, my daily morning newspaper started getting delivered after I left for work. I want to read the paper while getting ready, not when I get home – so I canceled weekday delivery. My solution was to read the paper electronically from Monday to Friday.

The biggest challenge I faced in using the Internet to replace my morning paper was the comics. I start my read with the funnies page. I hoped that many of these comic strips might be on the web. With a copy of the Saturday comics section and a few hours on the Internet, I found my favourite comics, PLUS several I grew up with that were not available in the daily paper I was used to. On my personal blog, I created a post with the comic listing (Link) so that each morning I could quickly view them. When I travel now, I look for new interesting comics to add to my list.

Nothing is faster at getting news out than the web. When the propane transfer station blew up in Toronto, I found raw video and commentary on blogs three hours before CBC even mentioned it on their site. Many comments were speculation and not necessarily accurate, but the video and images were amazing.

itouch

At this point, the printed newspaper became more of a news recap or a place to scan for topics of interest. The next change came with my purchase of an Apple iPod iTouch last year.

I have been in the PC business since 1976. I worked on the two generations of personal computer before the IBM PC, and I had one of the first IBM PCs when I was with Research and Development for that firm. The iTouch (an iPhone without the phone part) has to be the coolest computer I have owned in my life. While the included Safari browser supports viewing most websites, the real power of the iTouch is when a site does the extra work to support small mobile screens.

Both CBC (CBC.ca/iphone/) and CNN (m.CNN.com) have mobile interfaces that makes viewing them a joy on a handheld computer. Even our own DurhamRegion.com (m.DurhamRegion.com) has a mobile interface now. Some news sites have even created a dedicated iPhone application for accessing their information. An application can make the interface quicker and more powerful for the user. I have Maclean’s, the New York Times and USA Today installed on my iTouch. All the applications were free and trivial to install.

Now I can scan the news categorized by topic with most of the advertising missing. I am amazed how little news there is in a large issue of the paper. The news applications are tuned to browsing and provide quicker access to the information than a website.

I love reading the news with my iTouch. Now if they can just make the it waterproof so that I can relax while reading in the tub …

(The funniest part is the iTouch is also an iPod for music and videos. While I have a 160 gig iPod classic for my music and videos, my iTouch is really a computer to me. I don’t have any music on it.)

As appeared at DurhamRegion.com on Jan 27, 2009

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Open Source Software

DurhamRegion.com

When most computer users think of getting the latest office software, they visit their local computer store. I visit http://sourceforge.net and browse the latest Open Source software. “Open Source” gets its name from the requirement that the source code is openly available for others to build on the product. Most of the time, the price is free. This means installing on your home, office and notebook computer is legal, as there are no additional licenses to buy.

SourceForge currently lists 155,700 free packages for download. This covers all operating systems and categories. Like surfing the web, finding the right Open Source package takes work. The most famous examples include the Linux operating system, MySQL database, Open Office and, for me, WordPress.

There are instances where a charge is associated with Open Source software. As an example, Red Hat packages the Open Source version of Linux with its own utilities and support and sells its own version. The value add is what you are buying. You can download many versions of Linux that are free, though.

The same is true of MySQL. Since Sun Microsystems bought MySQL in 2008, Sun has offered enterprise versions and training for a fee. Sun Micro also owns another popular offering – Open Office.

Open Office provides an office package with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and database access. It comes in 24 languages for Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix. Open Office can interchange files with Microsoft Office. My own experience is that importing a complex Microsoft Word document may not give identical results. When my wife edited the book “From Prospect to Wilfrid” in Word 2003 and I tried to lay it out, I found Word had turned may basic formatting such as bold and italics into structures that got in the way. I cleaned the text by exporting the text only, then moving into Open Office to do the layout.

But Open Source is not a panacea. Many Open Source packages were written to do a specific job and may not fit your needs. Also, support may disappear as an author loses interest or no longer needs the program.

Why would people write software for free? The larger packages are group efforts. Often developers need a specific function and add it as their contribution. As an example, I use WordPress as my website authoring software. On my personal Webmaster in Residence site, I delve into WordPress in detail. I am also a big iPhone and iTouch fan. WordPress separates the presentation layer from the content. The presentation of a WordPress site is controlled with an installed Theme. I looked around and didn’t find a theme that did what I wanted, so I wrote one. To make my contribution to the WordPress community, I offer my iPhone/iTouch theme for free on my site. Anyone can download and use it. My site now appears different when viewed from a browser like Internet Explorer or FireFox on a computer than it does from an iPhone/iTouch or Blackberry.

One general weakness I find in Open Source software is documentation. Developers tend to like to write software but not documentation. On larger packages, writers may contribute to the project with a user manual. Forums provide the support interface to the developers. There is no 1-800 number to call with free Open Source. I had a wonderful experience recently with a WordPress plug-in. While it did exactly what was advertised, I was using it in an unusual way. I emailed the author in Finland with details of the problem. A few hours later, I received a reply with the fix. I was impressed and sent a PayPal contribution to him as a thank-you for the prompt support.

All of this considered, I am a huge fan of Open Source. Much of the software on my computer is Open Source. Here is a list of my favorites:

http://sourceforge.net/ – Main Open Source repository
http://www.mysql.com – MySQL Database
http://www.openoffice.org/ – Open Office
http://filezilla-project.org – FileZilla FTP utility
http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/ – PDFCreator creates PDFs from any Windows program.
http://wordpress.org – WordPress

Other Open Source Sites of Interest
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source – Wiki Entry on Open Source
http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php – Open Source Group

http://www.opensourcemac.org/ – Open source for the Mac

As appeared at DurhamRegion.com on Jan 25, 2009

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