Internet-Defense-League

2013-05-29

Google Reader Shutdown -- what now?

When Google announced they stop their Reader service, I felt both old and embarassed. Suddenly, I was one of the few people who use this outdated RSS technology. What trend did I miss this time, and which service will Google stop next? Feedburner? Blogger?

There are some features of Google Reader that were really helpful: access from multiple computers and mobile phone, tag the feeds, star blogposts I want to use later, recommend blogpost via my personal feed (or later via G+), search my marked or recommended items or all feeds, find feeds similar to my subscribed ones, get some statistics on my usage behaviour, etc. For free.

Now it is only four weeks to shutdown and I still do not know what to do. Here is what I researched up to now.

Alternative online services

As far as I can see, the online alternatives on the market do not have all these features. Feedly looks promising, but in its current state it is simply a layer on Google Reader, and who knows how they manage the switch. However, it is reassureing that already 1.4 million Chrome user installed this tool, so there is reason to believe RSS is not dead.

Online services claim the convienence of “access from everywhere”. This is true only for places with internet (the Berlin subway, where I like to read RSS news is not very reliable in this aspect), and it comes with a cost, such as data privacy (not a big issue when it comes to news) or limited access (for instance, Google Takeout gives only subscriptions, not the news feed itself). This is why I looked for locally installed programs that fit my needs.

Offline?

Calibre is an ebook reader program I use to maintain my PDF collection. It has a news feature, where web pages including RSS feeds can be downloaded and – highly customizable – converted to various formats (txt, pdf, epub). Calibre can be set up as local server and the smartphone app FBReader is able to connect to it. The idea is nice, but the conversion from RSS to EPUB for over 450 feeds would take some time. Also, conversion is not always smooth. For instance, large images such as XKCD comics become hardly readable.

Another interesting offline reader is makagiga, which adds to-do list features to the newsreader functionality. However, no smartphone support as far as I can see.

Not a real option in general, but useful for certain tasks like scraping EEX data is to use a programming language with a suitable extension library, such as R's tm.plugin.webmining package.

Conclusions? Not yet

Maybe I do not feel comfortable with any of these services and programs because my trust is shaken. Maybe it is hard to give up / change habits. Whatever it is, I still have not made my mind up what to do when Google Reader shuts down. What do you do?

2013-05-17

Unit conversion in R

Last weekend I submitted an update of my R package datamart to CRAN. It has been more than a half year since the last update, however there are only minor advances. The package is still in its early stages, and very experimental.

One new feature is the function uconv. Think iconv, but instead of converting character vectors between different encodings, this function converts numerical vectors between different units of measurements. Now if you want to know how many centimeters one horse length is, you can write in R:

> #install.packages("datamart")
> library(datamart)
> uconv(1, "horse length", "cm")

and you will get the answer 240. I had the idea for this function when I had to convert between various energy units, including natural units of energy fuels like cubic metres of natural gas. The uconv function supports this, using common constants for the conversion.

> uconv(1, "Mtoe", "PJ")
[1] 41.88
> uconv(1, "m³ NG", "kWh")
[1] 10.55556

These conversions may be ambigious. For instance, the last one combines a volume and an energy dimension. An optional parameter allows the specification of the context, or unitset:

> uconv(1, "Mtoe", "PJ", uset="Energy")

The currently available unit sets and units therein can be inspected with

> uconvlist()

The first argument can be a numerical vector:

> set.seed(13)
> uconv(37+2*rnorm(5), "°C", "°F", uset="Temperature")
[1] 100.59558  97.59102 104.99059  99.27435 102.71309

2013-05-11

Highlights of Re:publica 13

From May 6th to 8th, Berlin was the host for the re:publica 13. I did not have time to attend it, but many of the talks of this internet culture conference are online. Here are my highlights (mostly in German, though):