Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Replacing Google Reader

I once had a boyfriend who I discovered had a habit of finding replacements before breaking up with his girlfriends.  When he made his dramatic exit to stage right, he already had another woman waiting in the wings.  While making fun of him with my girlfriends and commiserating over drinks I discovered that there is a type of person who hops from one relationship to the other because being single is the worst fate on earth.  

Google Reader, on the other hand, decided to prepare me in advance for the demise of our doomed relationship so that I could begin planning for our future without it.  Google is moving on to bigger and better things and leaving me in my rut of RSS reliance.  I tried to work it out and even joined Twitter this week but while I like certain aspects of social media, I am not ready to commit.  

It took a few weeks but I finally came out of my breakup funk and I'm trying out the other RSS feeders that are out there.  Here are a few that I have tried out so far:

The Old Reader
This will be the solution for those of us who are looking to replace our old boyfriend with a duplicate copy.  With The Old Reader I can transfer news and blog subscriptions and connect with friends from Facebook and Google contacts.  Unfortunately the duplicate boyfriend doesn't have a mobile app, which I need, so it's not going to work out.

Feedly seamlessly syncs with Google Reader so you don't even have to do the export/import actions.  I can't believe that I am saying this but I might like the Feedly interface even more than my beloved Reader.  The variety of viewing styles offer text lines, text and images (like Reader) or a sexy image based layout similar to a Pinterest board.  I liked the look and feel of Feedly's mobile app.  The downside was that Feedly is occasionally slow, probably due to the sudden upsurge in subscriptions (I have heard that 3 million joined since Google's announcement) and the fact that Feedly syncs with Google Reader right now instead of carrying the subscriptions over.  

Newsblur has a lovely layout that allows you to see each feed through the original site, which solves one of RSS's biggest criticisms: that people prefer to see the layouts from the sources of media and not  sterile reader layouts.  Apparently you can also personalize your own Blurblog but I didn't get to do all of that because I wasn't willing to pay US$24 per year for a service that I wasn't completely sold on.  NewsBlur allows you to use it for free if you only have 12 subscriptions which is a joke and didn't expose me to the full experience in any way that would convince me to purchase it.  Maybe if they offered a free month trial period I would be won over but I'll never know.
* since the time of my review, NewsBlur upped the free subscriptions to 64 but you still need a subscription to view more than that number.

Like Feedly, Bloglines will easily sync with Reader and also features a widget type of format.  The widgets help to organize and personalize the feed, even making the feeds specific to location, which is a great asset for me since I tend to read local stories from Hong Kong, Ithaca, or Texas along with general world news.  The bad news is that the Hong Kong feeds were in Chinese even though I marked my language to be 100% English.  I like the visual display style of Bloglines very much on its regular display but the mobile app is too text based for my liking.  I will bookmark Bloglines for now though, because with Reader's demise I suspect that all the other readers are scrambling to add features that will draw in former Reader subscribers.

Google Currents
I wonder if Google Currents will expand to include some of the features of Reader.  So far it is only available on tablets and smartphones, and I need a reader that works on my laptop so it is currently out of the running as it stands.  If you only want a mobile reader, Currents does a great job at delivering magazine layouts in full website views as well as sidebar navigation similar to Reader.  Currents also has a translation option for foreign stories.

Rolio is the new kid on the block and, unfortunately, still needs a lot of work before they win me over.  The import function was very slow and it didn't/couldn't import all of my feeds, bringing over only 77 of 128 feeds.  On the other hand, Rolio does one thing that most of the other readers don't: it integrates with social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook though so far you can't respond to tweets or updates as it is only an aggregator.  Oh, if only the others thought of it!  For that reason alone I am bookmarking Rolio in hopes that it will improve quickly.

Digg, which is an okay social news website has been working on a reader, but it is still in the Beta stage so I can't review it.  I only mention it because they have made a lot of exciting promises such as incorporating social media services, which none of the other readers is doing with the exception of Rolio aggregating tweets and Facebook posts.  Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, etc. will be incorporated, and Digg promises to not only aggregate, but allow users to respond to updates.  As all of the critics of RSS feeds keep telling us, social media is the way of the future.  I agree but I just can't quit my RSS feeds.  

So far I am leaning toward Feedly.  Its computer and mobile applications answer all of my current reader needs in an attractive format.  It also has given me more than I asked for with its sexy layout style and ease of organization.  But I will be watching Bloglines, Rolio and Google closely for any changes that will put them above Feedly in my estimation.  Of all the possibilities, Digg seems to be the answer to everything and more.  If they do come through on social media incorporation it will be hard not to choose them, even if their interface is inferior to Feedly.  

After experiencing the shock and horror of having Reader ripped from my clutches I am moving on and looking forward to discovering a life beyond RSS.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Using self publishing software to organize my reference material

By the time I graduated my MArch, I had a little under a gazillion readings that I had accumulated over the course of four and a half years of classes, lectures and thesis notes for two different degrees.  While a few of the academic articles were available on Google Scholar, most would no longer be accessible once I was removed from the university's JSTOR license.  I was stuck hauling around several large boxes packed with binders of scholarly articles that I perused on a regular basis.  Before I moved to Hong Kong in 2008 I spent a hellish week scanning every single page of each of the binders and painstakingly renaming them in files by author and title.

The problem with this "system" was that my binders were organized by topic, and the titles didn't often give me enough information to find what I needed.  I ended up slowly going through all of the files and individually editing categories and tags rather than making folders.  This worked because I didn't have to copy the same file into many folders but simply could add a tag/category to the file if it fit more than one subject.  I could add as many tags as I wanted to make searching easier but this also posed a problem if I went too crazy with tags and ended up with a huge list of every tag known to mankind.

A few months ago I started using an e-book management program to organize my Kindle books.  The Kindle is awesome in terms of capacity and reading interface.  The Paperwhite screen is easy on the eyes and the adjustable font and bookmarking functions make it preferable to books for me.  Not ideal are the deplorable search function and lack of organizational abilities.  It only lists books by date, title, author or collection.  You can create a large group of collections to place your e-books into to help manage them but in my case I ran into problems.  For example, I divided my books into time periods but then I couldn't remember if a certain Atwood book had been written in the 1990's or 2000's. And searching for the title took a very, very, very long period of time and ended with the Kindle getting hung up if I tried to cancel the search.

I heard about Calibre, which is free, from a book review website and gave it a try.  Unfortunately Calibre will not override the Kindle's awful system, or lack thereof, but you can use it in conjunction with the Kindle or any other e-reader.  Calibre will connect with the e-reader and not only store your books' information but you can add metadata to Calibre that will help you to manage your e-books from your computer. Fixed subjects include not only author, title and dates added but categories, tags, publishers, editors, and whether they are part of a series.  There is even a notes area for me to add a synopsis or review of the book.

Once I got my e-book collection all sorted out I started thinking about my academic article collection.  Most of the files were PDF files so they were compatible with Calibre.  I could convert my PDF files to mobi files to read on the Kindle as long as they were text files.  Unfortunately the majority of my files were scanned as images and much too large to drop into the Kindle.  But then I remembered that Adobe Professional has the capability to scan over such files and convert images to text.

With this in mind I have started converting my readings, bit by bit, to text and then copying the text to Microsoft Word so that they become an acceptable file size (6MB to 400KB).  Then I format the files and eventually convert them to mobi files to add to my Kindle so that I can have them in the office when I am looking for a reference.  So far this is my best solution, and carrying the Kindle has been far preferable to lugging around large binders in a giant handbag.  More importantly, when I am home and writing a paper or editing my ever changing thesis, I have a reference library to make searching easy.

A few of my friends use Endnote to organize their references and citations.  I tried it and discovered that its built in citation system was useful but only if you use the pay version.  The free version is too limited to be much good.


Handy instructions to convert from a Word file using Calibre:

Handy instructions to convert from a RTF file (non-proprietary) using Calibre:

Friday, April 26, 2013


I was saddened to read about the story of Richard Cobb; he was executed in the state of Texas for a murder committed during a robbery/rape at a convenience store.  He died at the age of 29 and had committed the crimes when he was 18. In the execution chamber he was quoted to have said, "Life is death, death is life. I hope that someday this absurdity that humanity has come to will come to an end," and later as the drugs were taking effect, "'Wow! That is great. That is awesome! Thank you, warden! Thank you (expletive) warden!"  

How awful to think that he was only a teenager when he behaved so terribly that jurors in Texas agreed that he had forfeited not only his freedom but his right to live. 

I once knew someone who was like Richard Cobb, except that he was (hopefully) less violent and slightly older when I met him but the attitude toward life was the same.  Like Cobb, Joseph was a high school dropout with a criminal record and a history of drug use.  Joseph began working as a doorman for the bar I tended at after completing a prison sentence.  I wouldn't call what we had a friendship but he talked to me more than the other coworkers, probably due to my sometimes stupidly naive inability to be rude to people even if they deserved it.  I don't have that problem anymore.

The more hardened and streetwise coworkers quickly had his number and avoided him but I saw no harm in letting him sit next to me and chat when work was slow. I quickly learned that he was not a good person and in fact, was damn scary. I grew smart fast but it was too late to disengage from him so for several months he would sidle up and menace entertain me with stories of past crimes that he had committed and then ask me to tip him out for 'favors' he was doing for me. He was making off with several hundred dollars from me per week when he suddenly stopped showing up at work. Later, the man who he was staying with showed up at the bar looking for him regarding some business to do with Joseph and his wife.  That was thankfully the last time I ever saw or heard about Joseph.

Years later I was visiting San Antonio and having drinks with friends at a different bar when I recognized the bartender as a former colleague.  He sat down for a few minutes and updated me on some of the old crew (one waitress had married a professional basketball player, one of the bartenders had run off with a biker, etc.).  Then he told me that he had seen on the news that Joseph was dead.  When I expressed sadness he looked at me in shock and informed me that no one else felt that way.  Why was I sad when Joseph had been such a miserable person?  He had been a violent criminal with a long string of crimes committed regardless of whether the victim was good or bad.  He didn't care about anyone, maybe not even himself.  My colleague told me that I was still as naive as before if I could feel sorry for Joseph.  Maybe he is right and maybe I am still dangerously naive but with my happy and safe life I can afford to feel sadness for someone who never learned to value the beauty of the world or experience goodness.  How sad to die so young and empty.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The US justice department is going after Lance Armstrong yet again, this time laying out a case under the False Claims Act because Armstrong may have unjustly enriched himself due to profits made as a result of doping claims.

I'm not condoning Armstrong's actions but I am sick of the continuous actions taken by US agencies ranging from the US Anti-Doping Agency to federal prosecutors because the fixation on Armstrong to the tune of millions of dollars seems to be more about their anger at him rather than the crimes committed.  And as for the crimes, I am not comfortable with the agencies accusing him of conspiracy, defrauding the government, drug trafficking, money laundering and witness tampering but not following through with prosecution.  It is almost as though the government is using their authority to attack his reputation without providing a venue where he can face his accusers, and I am fast losing respect for a justice department that is politically motivated.

But then, I would be even unhappier if the US government prosecutes him because, well, have you seen the federal deficit?  When the country is cutting back on funding for education, research, emergency services and national security, I have a hard time getting behind a case regarding crimes that have mostly occurred in Europe and committed by an undeserving celebrity athlete.

I haven't been able to find out the cost so far of investigating Armstrong (if only we had those resources for investigating all of those banks that cost us billions of dollars) but I do have a few numbers for the case of Roger Clemens, who, by virtue of being a baseball player, at least confined his "crimes" to the United States.

Number of federal agents who investigated the Clemens case: 103 law officers and 5 attorneys
Number of reports produced: 229
Number of investigation locations in the US, Puerto Rico and Germany: 72
Cost of investigation: US$6 million
Result of prosecution: a 2 year old indictment and 1 mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct
Personal cost to Clemens: similar to the case with Armstrong, Clemens' finances were significantly reduced and his reputation was ruined during the long attack which may have been the real goal.

Now let's take a look at fellow baseball player Barry Bonds:
Cost of investigation: US$55 million
Result of prosecution: guilty on the felony charge of obstructing justice, mistrial on three perjury charges.  Sentenced to 30 days of house arrest, two years of probation and 250 hours of community service; sentence delayed pending an appeal.

Just imagine how many homes we could have rebuilt in New Orleans with US$55 million instead of using the taxpayer funding to chase after a baseball player.  And what's that about a national deficit?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


SB loves the scent of my facial lotion even though I don't think that it smells like anything.  It's Olay Regenerist with SPF properties.  I wonder if SB, who can only breathe out of one nostril anyway, is actually able to detect some sort of attractive scent or if he's smelling the sunscreen part of the lotion.  He likes the scent of sunscreen because "it smells like fun."

On several occasions SB has given a kiss and then had to go spit out the lotion that was on his lips.  I had begun to have suspicions regarding how come he always manages to taste the lotion.  This time as his nose came into my line of sight I warned him against kissing me while I was applying lotion.  He continued along, smooching me on the cheek.  I then observed him as he stood nearby and sure enough I saw his tongue dart out to swipe at his lips and then he made an awful face and went to the sink.  I knew it!  That weirdo is tasting my lotion on purpose even though he repeatedly gets reminded that it tastes like...lotion.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Happy Valley has been the locale of a rowdy flock of cockatoos for as long as I have lived here.  During the week I have seen one or two of them flying above or perched on a windowsill.  In the earlier part of the day on weekends I have seen a large group of them in the trees in front of the Leighton Hill development.

These birds seem to have a weekly schedule.  Lately I have noticed them in the trees above the Happy Valley playground only on Sunday and only in the late afternoon.  It is as though they wait for the playground to fill up with small children and then suddenly they swoop in and proceed to poop all over everything, literally and figuratively.  Once mayhem is achieved they then fly to the adjacent racecourse tower and groom themselves.  A few of the birds appear appear to gnaw on the concrete structure but I would hope that they are really sharpening their beaks or something useful.  My Australian neighbor assures me that they like to gnaw on almost anything including her roof tiles and wooden fixtures so she wouldn't be surprised if they did indeed gnaw on concrete as well.

They are probably the most entertaining and beautifully plumed menaces in the Valley if you don't count the luxury sports car drivers who rev their engines up and down Sing Woo Road.

bad romance

Over a year ago my neighbor lent me her copy of 50 Shades of Grey.  After assuring her that I would get around to reading it I was informed that she was moving from the country so I was out of time.  So I read the story that had so many women raving about the domineering, single minded, devoid of humor Christian Grey.  Yeah, it didn't do it for me.

My girlfriends recommended a few of their favorite romance novels and I went into them with some trepidation but to my surprise I enjoyed Girl Gone and so I moved on to the next one, which was part of a series focusing on the lives of members of a fictional football team.  I think that the books were recommended because I am a bit sports-mad.  So I started reading the series but by book two I was a bit weirded out by how the author justified some rather unethical behavior of the female characters because they did it for love and babies.  And then one of her characters went on to crawl into bed with her unconscious object of affection and proceeded to have sex with him, which of course resulted in her becoming pregnant and him falling in love with her and marrying her.  Excuse me but did you just feature non-consensual sex in your romance?!  If the characters were reversed and the male character crawled into bed with an unconscious woman and had his way with her I don't think that anyone would be calling this romantic.  I then went online to read reviews of the book and it was rated four out of five stars on Amazon.  You can bet that I am adding my own review and I will be lambasting the author as well as all the reviewers that loved the book.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

the cluster effect

I sometimes wonder if city dwellers are so used to being surrounded by people that we have begun to feel comfortable only when near others.  SB and I can hike all the way out to Tai Long Wan and settle on a far section of the beach and invariably another couple will set up right next to us.

This afternoon we located a patch of grass in the Happy Valley recreation ground to throw the lacrosse ball back and forth and not ten minutes later a couple walked up with their small child and a soccer ball.    There was an entire soccer pitch to utilize but they wanted to be right next to us which meant that we could no longer be there because unlike the parents, we foresaw possible reasons why not to hurl a solid rubber ball next to a small child.

Friday, April 19, 2013

all together

Rene Rancourt is well known in Boston and throughout the National Hockey League because he has sung the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at the Bruins' home hockey games for 35 years.  He thought that his most memorable rendition of the anthem was during last year's Stanley Cup final when his team finally won the cup after a 40 year wait but then there was last night.  During the game against the Buffalo Sabres he began the song and the crowd joined in.  He turned off his microphone and let the crowd's voices carry throughout the rink.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

waiting room

SB's sister woke us up with a phone call to talk to him about the horror and strain of spending hours, days and weeks in that beige drywall waiting room at the Boston hospital where their father eventually passed away after contracting a chest infection following surgery.  I can attest to the long, monotonous time spent there by the scores of random pictures that he sent to me featuring everything from the warning signs to the hospital apparatuses to the motion sensor controlled drinking fountain that only operated to motion at the groin level (yes, I have a few pictures of him making pelvic thrusts at the fountain).

It seemed like a random phone call but not totally unexpected because they are still processing through their grief.  Then after the call ended we turned on the news and learned about the bombings in Boston and understood why his sister was suddenly remembering the hospital waiting room ordeal.  My heart goes out to all the people who are playing the waiting game as their loved ones are being treated.

Monday, April 15, 2013

bad brains

Remember that time that I wrote about about Texas legislators who were decided that the state's educational curriculum shouldn't include critical thinking skills?

This week out of my state of residence:

So what Representative Stockman is saying is that...actually, I am struggling to understand what he is saying.  If only I had some of them critical thinking skills.

Friday, April 12, 2013

good deeds

On my way out of the Valley I saw a young woman at a traffic light, looking around while talking on the phone in a way that made it pretty obvious that she was lost.  I decided to cross the street and help her out, directing her to her hotel.

Later in the day I was standing in San Po Kong where I had forgotten which direction to walk to find the 101 bus and with no help from my mobile phone which I had forgotten to charge when a nice, young man walked up to me and asked if he could assist me.  I guess there aren't too many westerners in the neighborhood so I stood out.  That, or my attempts to home like a pigeon gave me away.  He explained that the 111 bus stop was closer than the 101 and showed me how to get to it.

Overall it was a good deed day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Many moons ago I owned a Dell m70 workstation type of laptop computer.  The thing was very bulky and heavy but it was also one of few laptops that was capable of running CAD and rendering programs without freezing or overheating.  In 2006 some of my classmates started purchasing much sexier Apple computers and I was lusting after a MacBook myself until one day when several of us opened an email attachment from a classmate and found ourselves infected by an especially malevolent worm.  It became clear after visits with the school computer center that the only way to remove the worm was to re-install the entire operating system.  This is when I discovered that the Dell customer support was far superior to the others.  A gentleman from Dell support stayed up with me from 9pm to 4am, walking me through the complicated process.  Dell provided this service free of charge.  My classmates ended up paying a local company a substantial chunk of change to re-install their systems.  When it was finally time to replace my laptop  I was very disappointed that Dell had such a small presence in Hong Kong.  Even the Dell authorized store carried a limited selection.  I was so happy (practically delirious after the marathon re-installation) with Dell's service that I planned on being a lifer with their computers.

I broke my phone on Sunday.  I dug it out of my backpack after lacrosse to find the screen shattered- the LCD screen that is.  The plastic screen over the LCD display was fine.  In the past when a phone went on the fritz I would simply replace it but that made sense because my phones were practically obsolete by the time that they finally broke down.  This one is by far my favorite phone and only a year old so I looked up the HTC repair centre and made my way over.

If only all Hong Kong customer service centres operated like the HTC centre.  I was in and out in under thirty minutes.  No one tried to sell me anything extra or ask somewhat invasive personal questions (hint, hint HSBC).  The representatives were organized so I didn't have to repeatedly give out my ID number to everyone and their secretary and I wasn't passed around like a hot potato (hint, hint PCCW).  There were no bizarre requests to go somewhere else and fax in my request (hint, hint NowTV).  And most shocking of all, the customer service representatives were well trained, efficient and polite.  Polite!  No one died upon wishing me a pleasant day.

The screen replacement only costs 10% as much as what I payed for the phone so I left feeling not only satisfied with the service but with the pleasureful sensation of having snagged a great bargain.  I may be an HTC lifer after this.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

the straight edge

One the the recent news stories on my reader was an article regarding dinosaur sex.  What, you don't have these subjects on your news reader?  From the ages of seven to twelve I had more books on dinosaurs than any other subject.  I could name them all, or at least all of the ones that were known in the eighties including a few that have since been proven to be nonexistent.  I have moved on but not enough that a headline mentioning dinosaurs won't hook my interest.

Recently scientists have been able to use animation technology as well as a more accurate depiction of the makeup of dinosaurs to conclude that stegosauruses had sex in the missionary position.  In fact, any other position would possibly have resulted in castration.  I was unaware that anyone was able to conclusively figure out the configuration of the spikes so I'm glad that that's been taken care of.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

mean beef stroganoff

I was one of the people left scratching my head at the since amended obituary in the New York Times for Yvonne Brill. This is the original obituary:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. "The world's best mom," her son Matthew said.

But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

The Times writer appears to have omitted a few parts so I'm taking this space on my blog to add that aside from being "womanly", Yvonne Brill also was the director of the space shuttle's solid rocket motor program for NASA, and won the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011.

then again...

SB turned off all of the lights and cuddled me in front of our huge living room window as we watched the impressive lightning and storm.  I take back my previous post.  He is the bomb.

Unfortunately we had brought a few of our plants onto the roof earlier today in an attempt to expose them to a bit of sunshine.  I'm not sure what they will look like when it is safe to retrieve them.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Here in Hong Kong, near constant rain showers have sprung to herald the arrival of spring.  I have a pair of bright green rain boots with pink polka dots that remind me of the colorful and floral beauty of the season.

With the inclement weather, I have only managed three days of fun during the multiple holidays that coincide this time of the year.  SB and I have been cooped up for much too long and are driving each other crazy.  I have decided that his habit of taking up 3/4 of the couch to stretch out his legs over me is not endearing after all.  And then there's the playing sports in our tiny apartment.  First there was the tap, tap, tap of stick handling with his hockey stick and a tennis ball and then there was the back and forth cradling of the lacrosse stick near my head.  I finally snatched the instruments of disaster out of his hands and loaded up the duck shooting game on the Wii while I fled to the bedroom with my Kindle.

I'm not coming out until the sun returns.