Blake Carver Librarian
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Digg Killing Off Digg Reader, I Go Back to NewsBlur

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Well, I DID have plans to write a DIFFERENT article this week but APPARENTLY they have been PRE-EMPTED. As you might be able to tell by the OCCASIONAL CAPS I am just a LITTLE BIT STEAMED.

I got home, went through Nuzzel, and refreshed Digg Reader to catch it up as I’d been gone all day. And this little bit popped up:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 19 06 40

So almost five years to the day after Google Reader announced its shut down, Digg Reader is shutting down.

I’m really upset. I know on the scale of human problems this barely moves the needle, but for keeping up, I need an RSS feed reader. And I need a cloud-based reader; I follow so many RSS feeds that desktop RSS feed readers tend to crash.

Happily in this case I knew immediately where I was going to be transferring my RSS feeds. So in this article I’ll walk through exporting my RSS feeds from Digg Reader and importing them into my new choice for RSS feeds — NewsBlur, at newsblur.com.

Oh NewsBlur, I Betrayed You. Please Forgive Me.

When Google Reader first went belly-up, I split my time between trying Digg Reader and another RSS reader I quite liked called NewsBlur. But apparently at the time NewsBlur could not handle the ridiculous number of RSS feeds I had, and I ended up sticking with Digg Reader. For 2013-2016, though, I kept paying for a NewsBlur account, because I liked it and I wanted to support it. Now I’m back and paying up again. NewsBlur appears to have one developer, it’s open source, it’s been adding features and growing for years, and it’s a good product. This is the kind of Internet I want to support. And I should have tried to stick with it in the first place. Sorry, NewsBlur.

That doesn’t mean that this switchover won’t have its difficulties. First of all I’ve got to export my RSS feeds from Digg. Second, NewsBlur does not appear to be as integrated with Pocket as Digg Reader was, so I’ll have to address that.  Finally, I’ll have to import my feeds to NewsBlur and do that first big sweep.

First things first: let’s get my RSS feeds out.

Exporting from Digg

When you export RSS feeds, you’re not taking them out one at a time. Instead you’re using a file format called OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) which exports feeds in one big collection.

To export feeds from Digg Reader, you open the settings page at https://digg.com/settings and head down to the bottom of the page, where Digg makes it real clear that you need to get your feeds out:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 09 19

Once you click the Download button you’ll get a file called digg_reader_subscriptions.xml . How large the file is depends on how many feeds you have; mine was about 500K. Once you’ve got that, you can head over to NewsBlur.

Importing to NewsBlur

NewsBlur’s home page, once you’ve logged in, has an Import Sites link. I clicked on that and discovered I still had some sites saved since I was last using NewsBlur regularly.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 13 19

I clicked Upload OPML File and uploaded the OPML export file I’d gotten from Digg, after which this screen looked slightly different. See if you can spot it.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 14 12

Now you know why desktop-based RSS feed readers don’t work that well for me.

As you’ll note in the screenshot above that it’s going to take NewsBlur a little while to digest the ridiculous number of RSS feeds I subscribe to. While it’s getting on with that, I’ll proceed with step 2 of my RSS feed reader switchover: making sure that saved stories go to Pocket.

Making NewsBlur Pocket-Ready With IFTTT

I poked around in NewsBlur for a while and couldn’t find a way to easily save stories to Pocket, a read-later service. I have to have Pocket functionality; if I can’t save stories for later it messes up my work flow. My solution to this is to connect NewsBlur to IFTTT ( https://ifttt.com/ ) and use that to save interesting stories to Pocket.

IFTTT, which stands for “If This, Then That,” is a service which allows you to take data from one service and have it trigger an action with another service – for example, to take a picture you’re posting on Instagram and also post it on Twitter. (You can get an idea of how to use IFTTT from an article I wrote last year.) In this case I’m going to connect NewsBlur and Pocket so when I save an item in NewsBlur, it automatically saves to my Pocket account.

IFTTT makes this really easy. I already have Pocket connected to IFTTT, and IFTTT already has a “recipe” for doing this so I don’t have to make one.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 59 28

All I had to do was click the Turn on switch. I had not yet given IFTTT permission to access NewsBlur, but that was simple:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 59 14

… and now I have Pocket functionality. Whenever I save an item when reading NewsBlur, I’ll be able to find it later in Pocket. More about that a little later when we’re looking at NewsBlur.

Oh heck. Let’s just look at NewsBlur now.

Getting Used to a New Interface

In the time it took to get IFTTT and Pocket hooked together with NewsBlur, NewsBlur was able to finish digesting my big list of RSS feeds, so let’s take a look at the Import Sites section again to see if it’s been able to import all my feeds yet.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 22 14 40

Yup, looks like NewsBlur has imported all my feeds, no problem. But things in NewsBlur look a bit different from the way they looked in Digg Reader.

If you’ve ever used an RSS feed reader, either Web-based or on a desktop/laptop, you’ll remember that it looks a lot like an old email reader — a list of sources on one side, and content on the other side. In that Digg Reader and NewsBlur are a lot alike. It’s the features they offer beyond that that are a bit different.

Here’s what my NewsBlur setup looks like:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 22 26 01

That screenshot mixes up feeds with new content and feeds without new content; there is a switch at the very bottom of the screen to show feeds with content only, but I’m leaving that turned off for now because a) NewsBlur isn’t done fetching new feed content and how can you blame it and b) I’ll need to go through all my feeds and remove/alter the ones NewsBlur marks as problematic (it does this with a giant, unmissable orange exclamation point.)

Now that I’ve got the RSS feeds in, let’s take a look at an individual entry from an RSS feed.

screenshot from 2018 03 15 06 03 21

The title and the body of the feed entry aren’t that surprising (how much is in the body depends on the RSS feed). Your tools for managing a particular entry are on the right. You can email a story, train a story, save a story (this normally saves it to NewsBlur, but since I’m using IFTTT, will save an item both to NewsBlur and Pocket) and/or share a story to Facebook or Twitter.

All of those are fairly self-explanatory except for the “Train Story” option. NewsBlur addresses this in its FAQ; when you’re training a story that means you’re telling NewsBlur what you like and don’t like about it, so that NewsBlur can be more intelligent about the stories it offers you. Unfortunately my interests are broad enough that I don’t think this will work for me and I probably won’t be using it much. NewsBlur notes that you don’t have to train stories to find it useful.

Really, there’s a lot in NewsBlur that I haven’t gone into here: the sharing community, the followers, the stats, the site organization. That’s because the focus on this article is getting out of Digg Reader before its death and getting your RSS feeds into something else. (I can do a deeper dive later if there’s interest.) But the fact is that it’s an extensive reader and offers a lot for power users.

… but if you don’t pay for it you’re going to find it limited. The free version of NewsBlur is restricted in a number of ways, including RSS feeds limited to 64, you can’t tag saved stories, you can’t share content privately, search is extremely curtailed, and you’re not helping feed the developer’s dog. The premium version of the site is $36 a year, and I’m happy to support him.

RSS Isn’t Flashy, But It’s Reliable

Periodically, I’ll read a take that RSS feeds are done, nobody uses them, all RSS readers are going to die, etc. Then I read that WordPress powers 30% of the Web (not 30% of all sites using CMS, 30% of the Web.) And guess what? WordPress offers RSS feeds by default. That means that there’s a huge number of feeds out there whether a site wrangler is deliberately adding them or not.

If you’re trying to do any amount of site or information monitoring on the Internet, RSS feeds are critical, and therefore so are RSS feed readers. I’m not happy about my solution for the last five years, Digg Reader, going away. But I think NewsBlur will make a fine replacement — as long as my huge number of RSS feeds doesn’t make it too creaky to use.





















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btcarver
1039 days ago
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Buffalo, NY
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About Our “Spending Problem” (Revisited)

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@TBPInvictus here

It’s a well established fact that the Obama administration has been spending like a drunken sailor since the day he was inaugurated. I first wrote about his spendthrift ways here, toward the end of 2010 (has it already been three years?).

Some time has now passed, so how’s it going? Let’s take another look at Federal government spending – including and excluding defense – for the last five administrations, indexed to 100 in the first quarter of each administration.

First the overall picture:

fgce

Now, let’s strip out the defense portion:

fndefx

Please think of these two charts the next time you hear someone say, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” Present these charts and ask precisely where that spending problem is.

What goes on at the state and local level also obviously impacts the trajectory of our economy, including GDP and our employment picture. While the Federal government does not have direct control of state and local economics, it is certainly a meaningful indirect influence, as Federal policies ripple through state capitals and subsequently through local town halls.

Here’s what that picture looks like over the past five administrations:

state and local

[NOTE: Gotta say, the degree of state and local austerity surprised even me.]

Put it all together, and this is what government at all levels has added to (or subtracted from) GDP for the past five years:

govt cont to gdp

Finally, and sadly, the NY Times ran an article last week about the deleterious effects already being felt by the recent cut in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps). The damage being done to those who can least afford it cannot be overstated. Beyond the pain it is inflicting on the poor, the adverse “trickle up” effect is already taking hold:

The cuts are also hurting stores in poor neighborhoods. The average food stamps household receives $272 a month, which then passes into the local economy.

At a Food Lion in Charleston where as many as 75 percent of the shoppers use food stamps, managers were bracing for lower receipts as the month wore on.

At a Met Foodmarket in the Bronx, where 80 percent of the 7,000 weekly customers use food stamps, overall food sales have already dropped by as much as 10 percent.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast,” said Abraham Gomez, the manager. Losing that much revenue could mean cutting back hours for employees, he said.

For some perspective on the SNAP program, here’s how it stacks up versus our spending on defense:

gunsvbutter

Source: BEA Table 3.12 Government Social Benefits and BEA Table 3.11.5. National Defense Consumption Expenditures and Gross Investment by Type

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btcarver
2625 days ago
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Library Card Mosaic

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publiclibrarycardmosaic

Steve Campion writes:

I was building a library card gallery (scroll down the page: http://www.wa-list.com/?p=418) and decided to gather them together in one image.  The mosaic came from that.  I think the gallery is pretty cool.  It shows off the individual cards and the variety and vitality of the public libraries across the state.  85% of the libraries — large and small — contributed cards or images for my gallery/mosaic.

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btcarver
2719 days ago
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STEM talent: It’s a distribution problem

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french startup feat

There’s a bill in Congress right now to increase the number of visas for highly skilled workers — the H-1B visa. This is an issue that techies have trumpeted loud and proud, saying that there aren’t enough domestic computer programmers to meet the Silicon Valley need.

But two studies recently published call this de facto problem into question. Separate organizations mapped out stats on the domestic IT workforce  — the Economic Policy Institute and employment recruiting startup Bright — and they came to similar conclusions. They found that there’s not a lack of qualified STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates in the US, and that increasing the number of H-1B visas would tackle a salary and distribution problem of IT workers in the US, not a supply problem.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 2.00.27 PMThe number of US Citizens enrolling in computer and mathematical graduate fields has grown by 88 percent in the last 10 years. Students are taking notice of the market forces at work and they’re gravitating to computers and coding. In other words, being a geek is the new kind of cool.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 2.07.54 PMUnfortunately and surprisingly, it might not be the most employable kind of cool. The Economic Policy Institute found that a third of students who studied computer science, but weren’t working in comp-sci after they graduated, said it’s because they couldn’t find a job in that field.  How is that possible when Silicon Valley is supposedly stumbling through a parched talent desert in search of developers? Job seeking site Bright studied supply and demand in cities across the US, and they think they found the answer.

Although there may not be enough qualified people in Silicon Valley, there’s no lack of domestic programmers across the US. The Bright research showed there’s approximately one qualified programmer to meet every job, but those programmers may be located in podunk, middletown, not San Francisco. “We looked at localized labor, and in the Valley there is a shortage of qualified computer programmers,” David Hardtke, Bright’s Chief Scientist, said. Hardtke pointed out that international applicants are more willing to move to where the jobs are, but US based programmers may not be as flexible.

So the problem is one of distribution, not necessarily supply and demand. My editor compared it to the international food issue — in America 13.2 million tons of food gets thrown out every day, and yet in other geographical regions, people go hungry.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 2.16.32 PMBut there’s another side to the story: STEM jobs may not be the most attractive for the top STEM grads. The Economic Policy Institute found that half the students who studied computer science, but weren’t working in comp-sci after they graduated, said it’s because they found a better job. Grads can make more money in managerial and professional positions, where the median annual salary is $20,000 higher according to 2009 U.S. Census data. Wages have remained stagnant in the IT sector for the last decade, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s report.

Expanding the number of H-1B visas may keep wages stagnant. When Bright compiled the numbers on who was intending to apply for H-1B visas, it found that 80 percent of the twenty companies filing the most applications were outsourcing firms — like Wipro and Syntel — that bring talent into the country and then “rent” them out to other companies on a contract basis. If the number of H-1B visas is lifted across the board for the entire country without restrictions on who can file for those visas, then these firms will benefit the most.

Why does that matter? Because as NPR has reported, these outsourcing firms pay foreign IT employees less than domestic workers would receive. As a result, tech companies save money by contracting out work to one of these outsourcing firms (they call themselves “consulting firms”) instead of employing a domestic IT worker. If these consulting firms can file more visas, than they can continue to undercut domestic workers and lower the median IT salary.

So here’s the gist. More students are getting STEM degrees now than in the past, but only one student of every two with a STEM degree gets hired into a STEM field. The reasons vary: Some may not live in Silicon Valley or other tech friendly locations, others say they found a better job elsewhere. They may have found a better job elsewhere that pays more.

Increasing the number of H-1B visas is a roundabout way to solve some of these problems, albeit to the detriment of domestic workers. Foreign employees are more willing to move to the locations where STEM workers are needed, like Silicon Valley. But outsourcing firms, the largest consumer of H-1B visas, will take advantage of an increase in visas issued to hire foreign workers and potentially pay them less than domestic workers receive.


    


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btcarver
2723 days ago
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XKCD's Time Saga Comes To The End

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Fans of Randall Munroe's XKCD strip had a bit of a shock this afternoon, when the long-running, auto-updating comic "Time" apparently came to its conclusion.

The comic, which started on March 25, initially showed a girl and a boy (Megan and Cueball) sitting on a beach, with the alt text—that is, the yellow-boxed text that appears when you mouse over the comic—of "Wait for it." Soon it became apparent that the comic was updating automatically—initially every half-hour, then after 120 hours, every hour.

At first, the animation showed the two figures building an elaborate sand castle. Then it turned into much more.

According to the Explain XKCD wiki:

The unfolding story that it tells is set in the far future, at a time when the Straits of Gibraltar have long been blocked, and the Mediterranean has largely dried up, leaving only a much smaller, hypersaline sea behind. Megan and Cueball, living on the shores of this sea, notice one day while building a huge sand castle that its level is starting to rise, and set off on a journey of exploration to try and find out why. Eventually they discover that the Straits of Gibraltar have once again been breached, and the Mediterranean Basin is being flooded. They run back to their home, assemble their village, and board a makeshift raft. Megan has now established that the sea has risen too far, and that they will have to remain on the raft for the duration of the flood.

The tale ramped up in recent days, particularly as Megan and Cueball ran home to warn others about the flood. (The alt text helpfully changed to "RUN.") Once they reached the village and got everyone on the raft, the alt text changed again to "...." That led some on the forum thread, which has grown to over 50,000 posts, to anticipate another change.

That change came today, which also marked the occasion of that 50,000th post. The raft struck shore, and the villagers disembarked and strode off into the woods. Whereupon the words "The End" appeared both in the image and the alt text. The words later disappeared from the image.

Some speculated this was all a case of nerd-sniping. Maybe that's the case. But Munroe clearly paid enormous attention to detail—as did his community, which was able to deduce by the night sky in the comic that the story was taking place in April of the year 13291. So it seems fairer to consider "Time" a story well told, well, in time.

One day, perhaps, the story of Time will be taken up again. In the meantime, see the entire animated story for yourself.

Munroe image courtesy of Wikimedia. Comic images courtesy of XKCD

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btcarver
2731 days ago
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30 Years of Change and Hype

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For a possible research project, I’m reading around in the historical library literature about change in libraries. Here’s a great quote from John Berry in a Library Journal editorial from 10/15/83 about the first LITA conference:

The usual band of cheerleaders delivered typical, often condescending, pleas for everyone to get on this or that automation bandwagon, and the usual “experts” delivered typical indictments of working librarians who offered any resistance to the cosmic imperatives of the new age.

I’m trying to get an idea of just how long hyperbolic change rhetoric in librarianship has generated a specific kind of criticism, not of the change, but of the rhetoric. Now I know it’s been at least 30 years.

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btcarver
2732 days ago
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