RSS is a tool that solves one of our greatest problems in our connected world: Information Overload.

What is RSS?

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a standard protocol for websites to share information with other sites and applications. This is used by blogs and news sites to syndicate their content in an accessible way. Thanks to this standard you can subscribe to a website’s RSS feed and get updates as new content becomes available.

Why Should I use it?

Imagine you are someone really interested in technology. You frequently check several tech blogs (including this one) and some YouTube channels. There is also a store on Etsy that you love and must have every one of their products. You check every week for updates. Unfortunately you have trouble keeping up:

  • Some sites update so infrequently that you feel like you are wasting your time when you check and see no new content.
  • That one columnist on the New York Times, you really love but there is too much noise with all the other news.
  • You end up overwhelmed by all these sites and start to forget creators you love.
  • You end up seeing the same information whenever a new trend hits the tech world

RSS and a little work on your part can fix these issues. Not only can you get notified when there is new content, but you can filter this information at a glance.

Many RSS readers and tools also aggregate content based on interest. This can help you find more content that is relevant to you.

Getting started with RSS

The first thing you need to filter your information intake is a Feed Reader or News Aggregator app. RSS is old technology so there are many to chose form.

Feedly is one of the most popular readers on the market and supports web and mobile platforms.

Feedly's UI After Login

Feedly already has an excellent tutorial on their website so we will not cover too much here. Unfortunately advanced filtering of your feed is limited to a payed account. You also have to trust an online service to not filter your results and respect your privacy. If all you want is to curate your news by source this is a great way to do it.

If you need more power and a healthier relationship with you phone you can use a desktop news client. The two desktop clients I will be covering today are Thunderbird and QuietRSS. Both applications follow a similar approach to RSS.

Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird is an email client, calendar, and news reader. You will not have much trouble if you already use it to organize your emails. It comes pre-installed in many Linux distros and is available on all desktop platforms. There are better options, but Thunderbird will serve most user’s needs.

To add a RSS feed to Thunderbird you will first have to make a Feed Account. Click the Menu -> New -> Feed Account… and then name your RSS Folder.

Click on your account folder to add and manage feed subscriptions. It is rather straightforward, you take the URL of a feed and paste it into the Feed URL box, chose the folder you want to store the articles in, decide if you want to load the whole article or only a summery, and how often it should check for updates.

QuietRSS

QuietRSS is a free and open source desktop RSS reader. Quiet is simple and easy to use as it is a dedicated RSS reader. It also has an integrated web browser for viewing articles from the source, something Thunderbird lacks without extensions. It is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

You can click on the Plus icon to add a new article to your feed in Quiet. Then select next to pick a folder to store your feed in.

You can add Random Thought’s RSS feed using this URL: https://www.blog.mattlamont.com/feed/

Filtering Messages

Now that you have narrowed down your news sources you might be thinking “We are finally done!” and you could be right. If you are happy with what you see in your feed and can quickly glance at titles to filter content yourself then we are done. Filters though can help you refine your feed and help keep information overload at bay.

Both Thunderbird and Quiet have very similar filter support. The main difference is Quiet lets you filter by feed if so desired.

Quiet (left) and Thunderbird (right)

You select a condition like Title/Subject contains Zoom, then an action such as Delete. Filters are rather simple, but can be very powerful.

Find RSS

RSS is all around us on the web. Blogs, news sites, and even subreddits have RSS feeds for you to subscribe to. Some useful places to look are:

BBC
New York Times
Add .atom to the end of GitLab and GitHub repos for that repo’s RSS feed
Add .rss to the end of a reddit url for that page’s RSS feed.

Add a YouTube channels using the following URL:
https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=

Enter the channel ID after the equals sign.

Take Back your Life with RSS

In this day and age we are bombarded with content. RSS helps us control that content, filter it down, and find what maters most to us. With RSS we can cut the time we spend looking at the news, help avoid bias algorithms and Facebook filters, and develop a healthier relationship with the content we chose to consume.

This year Random Thoughts will start an Introduction to Computers series of posts to give readers a better understanding of how to use computers and their important in society.

School and work have prevented me from keeping this blog up to date, but with the upcoming year I will dedicate some time each month to writing.

The Plan:

The series will be geared towards people who have little experience with computers. I have found that the majority of people are woefully ignorant of how to use a computer for more than simple searching and Facebook. In our connected and computer filled world everybody needs to know at least the basics of computers.

The series will start off with a general introduction to computers and then get into Windows 10’s User Interface, settings, and basic software needs that open-source software can provide. Wist this may seem remedial to some, I have encountered many people who have hardly touched a computer or who only know enough to post on Facebook. That is who this series is for.

As time progresses Random Thoughts will cover more advanced topics such as networking, basic web markup (HTML & CSS), etc. As we cover software we will go over the necessities first, what is needed to get the job done. We will go in depth in separate articles.

As an example of the structure we will use LibreOffice Writer:

Most users will need to know typing, character formatting, header and footer formatting, and paragraph spacing. That is all that is required for most college papers in MLA and APA format and more than what most people will ever need in an introductory level office job.

After covering the basics an advanced article will be available to people who need a little more guidance. In such we would cover page and paragraph formatting, advanced keyboard shortcuts, tables, and using images.

You will find that Random Thoughts will always encourage you to experiment and find your own answers, but we will try our best get you where you need to go.

Our plan is to be helpful to you in the coming year. Feel free to ask about anything to do with consumer and small business level computing.

Hopefully we will see you in 2016.

 

windows_10_Logo_725

 

On the twenty-ninth of July, many of you received your upgrade to Windows 10. The operating system is great as long as you ignore the blatant security problems and the problems in the new start menu. Fortunately the latter is easily fixed with the program Classic Shell.

What is wrong with the Start Menu?

Everyone was excited about the implementation of the Start Menu in Windows 10, but this is not the menu of yesteryear. It has numerous improvements over the old menus:

  • Better SearchWindows_10_Start
  • Live Tiles (Questionable improvement, but we will get to that in a minute.)
  • New Animations
  • Cortana Integration

The better search in Windows 10 is wonderful, in earlier versions of Windows search was almost entirely useless. Now you can start typing in the name of whatever you need to find and it will find it, though application launchers still do a better job. The animations are smooth and have a nice feel to them.

Cortana is a feature I do not use for the privacy reasons, but if you are okay with sacrificing privacy for convenience it may be a boon.

Now the problems that come with the menu:

  • Most of the Live Tiles are useless advertisements for Microsoft programs, not something you should expect for a professional operating system. The other programs connect your start menu to the internet. This sounds nice to some, but first, this is a security risk and second, why would you want to be bombarded with information every time you try to launch a program?

The new search is everywhere in Windows 10 so there is no reason to use the default start menu there either. You could use an application launcher to search and launch programs instead.

  • Then there is the problem of customization. Wist you can pin programs the menu as bulky live tiles, you can not change the menu’s appearance much, other than accent color and its size.
  • Some programs do not even show up in the apps menu. The uninstallers and sub-folders do not show up at all. How is one to be productive if they must make new program shortcuts for their programs and place them on the desktop or if they must go into the control panel whenever they wish to uninstall a program?

How do we fix it?

We can use Classic Shell. This is a free program that will add a new start menu and replace the old one. This will work on other versions of Windows so do not fell left out if you have not upgraded yet.

The first thing that you need to do is download and install Classic Shell form their site here: http://www.classicshell.net/

After the install you will be prompted with an options screen.

Classic_Shell_SettingsStart Menu Style

The first option available to you in Classic Shell is to choose the style of the start menu. The classic style is similar to the Windows 95 and 98 menus, this has little advantage over the default menu in Windows 10. The next option looks more like Windows Xp’s menu with multiple columns for the programs menu, this is useful if you do not want to scroll through a list of programs as everything will be on the screen at once. The last option looks more like the Windows 7 with a single column programs menu.

At this point you can hit OK if you do not want to go through the host of configuration settings available. The style serves as a base for what your menu will look like, but there is more customization to be had.

The next option available to you is to replace the start button. You can change the start button (Start Orb). You have three options: Aero, the Classic Shell Logo; Classic, the Classic Shell Logo on what looks like a Windows 98 start button; and Custom, this is where you can get creative.

Start orbs can be downloaded from websites like Deviantart or make yourself. They are images that have three frames, the first is when the menu is idle, the next is when the mouse is hovering over the button, the last is when the menu is open.

Basic Settings

To get a little bit more power out of Classic Shell you can go to the Basic Settings tab. To some of you this may look like a lot, but it is only scratching the surface of what Classic Shell can do.

As there are many options I will list them and what they do along with any comments or recommendations I have. I will be omitting self explanatory options.

  • Shift + Click: Self Explanatory, Classic Star Menu is the one for Classic Shell, Windows Start is the default one of your OS. I recommend leaving this on the default menu as you never know when you will need it.
  • All Programs style: Cascading will make the all programs menu multi-columned like in Windows XP and earlier. Inside main menu will have your programs in a scrollable list much like Windows 7.
  • Show recent or frequent programs: On the bottom of the Classic Shell start menu you will have a list of programs, this setting allows you to choose what is displayed. Recent programs will show a list of the last run programs. Frequent programs lists the most used programs.
  • Shutdown Command: This allows you to decide what the Shutdown button will do. There is a drop-down menu for the other options by default so this option is only useful if you need to default to something else a lot.

Skin

This is where you will do most of your basic cosmetic changes in Classic Shell. The options are simple. First you have a drop down for what skin you wish to use and underneath a few options for changing skin specific details. Windows Aero is the default Windows 7 look. I will not go into detail about this as it is dependent on your style, skin, and personal preference.

Customize Start Menu

The links you see on the right of the Windows XP and 7 menus are under this tab. This is a feature that they took out of Windows 8 and 10 that is most useful. You can decide to hide or show any menu item.

But There is More

If you click the Show All settings at the top of the settings window it will reveal multitudes of new options. You can change the color of Windows 10’s task bar or change the height and width of the start menu by the pixel, but we will not cover these setting here. We have covered a lot today and will explore more about Classic Shell in the future.

Many value a computer mouse over a keyboard nowadays. There is less to remember and the use of menus give us easy access to everything we need. We even have touch screens now that can save us seconds of time now that we do not need to drag the mouse across the mouse pad. With all of this innovation many do not even see the value of a keyboard, with the exception of typing and the few shortcuts that they know. The truth is that keyboard shortcuts are not only for computer geeks and they increase ones speed more than any touch screen could ever dream.

Many who will read this will know their fair share of keyboard shortcuts, however many people only know few, if any, shortcuts.

In my brief experience with the Vim text editor I learned to love my keyboard. Shortcuts allow you to get things done much faster with just a few keystrokes. A control+c here saves two clicks and a shift+control+directional key will allow you to select a few words without you needing to leave the keyboard. The speed took some time to master, keyboard shortcuts are many and require some time to learn, but the results well made up for the time.

I have talked about the application launcher Launchy before (If you are on a Linux system with KDE you can use Krunner), it allows you to launch programs without leaving the keyboard. Application launchers paired up with a working knowledge of shortcuts can lead you to a place where you do not need to reach for the mouse so often. Knowing your shortcuts can greatly increase your productivity in work, school, and even in play.

Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of universal keyboard shortcuts that I highly recommend you take a look at. In the future I will post more on keyboard shortcuts and how to make your own.