DEAN'S DIGITAL WORLD
By Dean Tudor
What's new this time? A theme I've emphasized over the past several
issues has been how to stay on top of journalism and news. You need
to keep current.
And probably the hottest/current thing around is RSS (Really Simple
Syndication) and news aggregator software. RSS (in XML-format) allows
for the delivery of news from web sites to an individual's computer
via news aggregator software. The trick is that instead of clicking
on one web site after another, which may or may not have been updated,
one goes only to one's aggregator. This service alerts the client
as to when his favourite blogs, ezines and websites have added new
Keeping up is important for journalists; it is a necessary activity
for the reporter to stay in touch with the news and information
about key developments in the world, and in those peripheral journalistic
fields that allow him to keep his skills current. You could try
checking out the Keeping Up website at <staff.philau.edu/bells/keepup>.
Lately there's been considerable talk about RSS and news aggregator
software as technologies for keeping up. These technologies save
time as they improve access to news, information, blogs, developments,
or political alerts, or the latest web design
Rather than explain about how RSS works and what it can do for
you, I'd like to direct you to Gary Price's ResourceShelf www.resourceshelf.com
for a listing of what is available. A basic explanation plus a list
of free links is available from Yahoo!
<news.yahoo.com/rss> If you want to learn more about RSS and
news aggregators go to www.websearchguide.ca/newsletter/030228.htm
Learn what you can about RSS and news aggregators, and then think
through your personal strategy for keeping up with the news. RSS
and news aggregators may be viable options.
Of course, there is still the old-fashioned way to keep up, via
the print world of articles/newsletters or books. I usually prefer
articles, since they are on a specific theme or issue. And many
can be downloaded from the Internet, read, and saved. Books are
tough, for they go out of date very fast. But they can be explicit
manuals of advice, to be referred to over and over again.
Some recent books which have come to my attention include a new
series from O'Reilly hacks.oreilly.com called the Hacks Series,
written by a variety of subject experts. Each book emphasizes the
lesser known features of an Internet/computer monolith, and how
to use them more efficiently. Each book covers 100 or so different
ways to modify the engines which drive the website. Hacking is now
becoming a more benign word; its meaning is more like specializing
in custom design/retrieval or quick-and-dirty patches.
In the O'Reilly series you will find books on how best to exploit
eBay, Windows XP, Linux servers, Mac OSX - to one's own specific
needs, as a journalist seeking information or as a businessperson
trying for profit. And all books have pretty thorough indexes, plus
free samples on the web. I got hold of three interesting books on
how to hack Google, Amazon, and TiVo.
TiVo (tapeless VCR) is the wave of the future: the spread of programmable
video-recording devices (DVRs) or even PVRs (personal video recorders).
This will be an upheaval in the world of television programming.
The TiVo digital recorder allows users to bypass commercials using
a "skip and omit" principle. Time shifting will also be
mere child's play. You can read all about it in TiVo Hacks by Raffi
Krikorian (O'Reilly, 2003, 226 pages, ISBN 0-596-00553-9, $38.95
Cdn paperback). O'Reilly tells us that if you Google the phrase
"TiVo changed my life", you'll find scores of references.
It even appeared on "Sex and the City".
To use TiVo, you'll also need a satellite hookup and s subscription.
You can store 300 hours on the harddrive; you can catch all the
news on all the stations at one swoop. TiVo Hacks presents the basics
of TiVo and then gives about 100 tips and tools on how best to maximize
the service (both hardware and software). Tweaks include hacking
the remote, upgrading the hard drive, using the TiVo command line
for access to programmes, using onscreen caller-ID, presenting digital
slide shows, and playing MP3s. There are also instructions for compiling
C code for TiVo. To check out how useful the hacks are, you can
sample a few for free at www.oreilly.com/catalog/tivohks/chapter/index.html
Amazon Hacks by Paul Bausch (O'Reilly, 2003, 280 pages, ISBN 0-596-00542-3,
$38.95 Cdn paperback) helps by giving 100 or so tips and advice
on how to access, control, and fine-tune Amazon preferences and
information. Journalists often use Amazon.com or Amazon.ca (or even
the Amazons in other countries) to get basic bibliographic data,
critical opinions, content listings, and reviews of books, not only
to cut and paste data but also to see how other people feel about
a work of fiction or non-fiction. And this can be done even in the
music, DVD, software and games areas.
Some useful tips here include switching to a text-only Amazon (saves
time, easier to save and print out), how to access Amazon by cell
phone or PDA, finding browse mode Ids for category searching, importing
data directly into Excel. Sample hacks, such as powersearching or
using the ASIN, are at www.oreilly.com/pub/ht/24
Google has been around since 1998; it is easy to use. But the Google
Hacks by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest (O'Reilly, 2003, 329 pages,
ISBN 0-596-00447-8, $38.95 Cdn paperback) maximizes the strengths
of Google. There are tips on how to increase traffic on your website
via Google by increasing your own profile, and using special syntaxes
in the search box to filter results. Google has a lot of syntaxes
to narrow searches by pages, domain, kinds of content, and collection.
There are also many special services, beyond the News, Groups,
Images - ones such as Catalogs, Froogle, Directory, and some experiments
in beta mode. For the technie journalist, you can write information
retrieval programs that use the Google Web API in Java, Perl, PHP,
Python and .NET. Google API leads to Google whacking, "goopoetry",
Google art, Google bounces, and Google mirrors. Author Calishain,
a top researcher www.researchbuzz.com has developed an API on her
site for Google recipes that I have used, with great success in
tracking down food preparations (why buy another cookbook ever?).
Other useful tips include hacking your way through Yahoo! Buzz
with Google to find all relevant background data on new fads and
celebrities. Plus assorted software modifications for your own site.For
more samples, such as scraping Google News or using full-word wild
cards, try www.oreilly.comk/catalog/googlehks/chapter/index.html
All hacks continue to evolve; thus, Calashain also has some new
tips and devices on her own website for using Google. You'll need
all of these books if you want to be effective in what you are doing
with Amazon, Google, or TiVo (plus the others listed above), as
sort of manuals for dealing with information from or about that
source. Of course, if you have no need for Google, then forget it
Another recent book, which I had to request several times (hence
the late review) is The Internet Handbook for Writers, Researchers,
and Journalists by four authors: Mary McGuire, Linda Stilborne,
Melinda McAdams, and Laurel Hyatt (Trifolium, 2002; distr. by Fitzhenry
and Whiteside, 276 pages, ISBN 1-55244-082-6 $27.95 paperback).
It was first published in 1997; this is the third edition, from
late 2002. But in general, current updates are available at the
publisher's website www.trifoliumbooks.com So it is okay to use
the book as it is today.
As it says, this is "a basic introduction to the Internet
and describes specialized resources and tools for writers, researchers,
journalists and students". The book will help develop one's
online search strategies which produce fast, accurate, and relevant
data, and also sources of online databases, libraries and government
sites. There is material on multimedia applications such as streaming
media, web conferencing, and desktop video conferencing. Basic chapters
cover using email and newsgroups and listservs for posting queries,
creating webpages with basic HTML, and how to write for an online
This book is mainly about sorting the grain from the chaff; more
specific books will sort the bran from the germ. Each chapter, with
plenty of tips and advice and screen shots, concludes with a "Further
Reading" bibliography. But some page references in the index
are off slightly, because of careless editing of the new edition's
index, and there are no discussions of API, Google News, and newstreaming
such as Rocket or RSS - all of which were around in 2002. A book
for both the beginner to learn from, and the professional to serve
as a review.
More sharply focused on the art of writing for the web are a pair
of books from off-shore. The better of the two is Web Word Wizardry
by Rachel McAlpine (Ten Speed Press, 2001, 264 pages, ISBN 1-58008-223-8,
$11.95 US paperback). It was originally published in New Zealand;
it has been slightly modified for the North American market. The
author is a playwright, ESL teacher, and now is a trainer in online
This is a basic guide to chunk writing, to fit between web design
and print business writing. And, of course, it itself is written
in chunk style (e.g., three paragraphs maximum per heading). Basic
chapters discuss how to make online content readable, usable, findable,
accessible and credible. She covers the art of skim-reading, how
people read, the context of writings, the progression of screen
by screen, keywords, metatags, links, interaction with readers,
There is also writing for ezines, writing alt-text passages, forms,
optimizing websites for search engines, and proofing/editing/layout.
Company websites (intranets) need different writing styles, and
so these too are also covered in this book. Wherever possible she
has included lots of screen shots for illustrations. Her ancillary
material has checklists of important points to remember when writing
for the web (e.g., metatags, titles and descriptions, body copy,
links), adapting documents for the web, and evaluation of sites.
Of course, there is a glossary and index.
The second book is Writing Copy for the Web in a Week by
Nigel Temple (Arnold Publishing, 2003; distr. by Oxford University
Press, 96 pages, ISBN 0-34085-802-8, $14.95 Cdn paperback) which
is good enough to get you started and rolling with basic chunk writing
skills. It is shorter - only 96 pages - and illustrated with 30
black-and-white cartoons. But start with McAlpine's book first.
Dean Tudor, Wine Writer and Professor Emeritus of Journalism,
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada<www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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