Have You Tried Google Reader?

Google ReaderHave you tried Google Reader yet? If not, you’re really missing out on a great tool to keep track of all of the news and information that’s important to you.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Google Reader is an RSS reader. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. Basically, an RSS feed allows content providers to syndicate their content through a standard file format that can be read by any program that has been designed to read that format. Many programs and web sites support RSS. Some that you may have heard of are My Yahoo!, iGoogle, Newsgator, and of course, Google Reader.

I have used most of the major RSS feed readers out there, but I’ve never found one that met all of my expectations. I used Newsgator for a while, and I liked it, but it never really made its way into my every day routine. Recently, I gave Google Reader a try, and I’ve been using it ever since. It provides a simple 2-click process to add new RSS feeds, and it displays information in two different views: an expanded view and a list view. When reading a post, you can add a star (just like Gmail), share the post through your Shared Items page, email the post with direct access to your Gmail address book, and add a tag to the post. All of this functionality is built into a very clean and simple interface.

If you’re looking for a tool to keep track of all of your favorite news sites and blogs, I highly recommend Google Reader. You’ll find yourself getting through your news and views faster than ever before.

Working Remotely Works!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how productive you can be when you are working remotely with people all over the world. As someone who does this every day, I am of the opinion that you can be very productive when working in a remote location. Not only have I worked on very successful teams at work that have been disbursed all over the planet, I also managed to get my Masters degree remotely by collaborating with other students and instructors in different parts of the country and the world. In some cases, I worked with military people stationed in South Korea and consultants shipped off to India during our classes.

The most important part of working remotely with other people and companies is that everyone commits to taking advantage of the best technology available to make everyone as productive and successful as possible. When this happens, a remote team can be just as successful or even more successful than a team that is together in one place. The team members learn how to communicate differently using online tools like IM, email, and newsgroups, and because everything is in writing, miscommunication is less likely. I believe that communication actually improves in successful remote teams. The proper tools mean all the difference in the world when it comes to working remotely.

I wrote about online collaboration tools back in May 2005, and that post is still very relevant today. In a post coming soon, I will investigate using Google’s suite of web applications to collaborate with people all over the world. Stay tuned!

You Have To Try Meebo

MeeboMeebo is one of those web apps that kind of sneaks up on you. I tried it a while back, and I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Then I tried it again and again, and now it’s something I use every day.

For those of you who are not familiar with Meebo, it is a very easy to use web application that allows you to connect to all of your instant messaging services on one web page. Meebo supports MSN, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, Google Talk, and Jabber. You can sign up for a Meebo account and save your settings for all of your IM accounts and use one sign on for all of them. When you have an account with all of the major IM services, using one account to sign on to all of them is pretty useful.

I use Meebo most often when I’m out of town for work. I don’t want to install a ton of IM software on my work computer so Meebo really provides a great service so I can communicate with my family when I’m away from home. I’m actually finding myself using it on computers where I have the IM clients installed. It’s really that good. The site is even designed to work perfectly on an iPhone if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Try it when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

WidgetWizard Is Really Cool

WidgetWizardThe guys over at TUAW hipped me on to a new tool for Mac OS X and the Internet that makes it possible to automatically create Dashboard widgets for Mac OS X. InnermindMedia’s WidgetWizard can take any RSS feed from the Internet and make a great looking Dashboard widget.

The tool for Mac OS X comes in the form of a Dashboard widget. So, yes, a widget is used to automatically create another widget using the data from an RSS feed. The Internet version has the same functionality, but the Dashboard version seems to be more polished.

I really like this tool because it makes it very easy to create widgets for the RSS feeds you like to read the most. As a blogger, I’ll be able to provide a great looking Dashboard widget for my readers.

Thanks InnermindMedia for creating such a useful application!

Probstisms Dashboard Widget

Get Your Very Own Refurbished iPhone

iPhoneFor all of you out there with iPhone envy but little tiny bank accounts (like ours), I read some good news over on TUAW the other day. Apple is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished iPhones at The Apple Store for $399 for the 4 GB model and $499 for the 8 GB model. That is $100 off the list price for each model! If you just couldn’t bring yourself to spend $499 for a device with only 4 GB of storage, perhaps $399 sounds a whole lot better. Unfortunately for me, I’m still out of the market for an iPhone mostly because I have a BlackBerry through work, and I suppose the price tag is still a bit out of reach right now as well, but I bet there are a lot more people out there considering an iPhone purchase with the lower prices for the refurbished models.

To add a little perspective as far as Apple’s iPhone pricing is concerned, I ran out in October of 2001 and bought an iPod for $399 because I was (and still am) an Apple freak. That $399 bought me a devise that could play music, and that was it. Sure there were some other little features like a game or two, but the iPod was predominately a music player. Now, the iPhone is a music player, a video player, a wireless Internet device, and a cell phone. That’s a lot of functionality squeezed into a stunning little piece of machinery. So I guess $399 doesn’t sound all that bad after all.

Now, what did I do with that Powerball ticket?

Easily Embed Google Maps into Your Web Page

Google MapsI read on TechCrunch this morning that Google Maps now provides the ability to embed the results of a Map Search, Business Search, or Directions Search in a web page without having to mess with the Google Maps API. This is a really great tool for anyone who wants or needs to show a map on a web page but does not have the technical know how to work with an API. This is very similar to the way YouTube and other video sites make it possible to show videos directly on your web page. This seems especially useful for businesses of all shapes and sizes as well as individuals who are planning parties and events.

Google really could not have made it easier to get the code to embed a map into your web page.

First, type in the location, business, or directions you need to find, and then click the Search button.

Google Maps

Second, click the “Link to this page” link, select the text box labeled “Paste HTML to embed in website,” and copy the text.

Google Maps

That’s all there is to it. You now have the code to add a map to your web page. Google has also provided the ability to change the size of the map with presets for Small, Medium, and Large as well as an option to enter a custom width and height. The custom option provides the greatest control over the map so you can really make it blend in well with your site.

With this new functionality, Google has provided another great free service for all of us to use.

I Love That Windows Broke Skype

SkypeOK, so maybe Microsoft Windows didn’t really break Skype, but this is a great story. As most of you have probably already heard, Skype had a huge outage late last week, and the system was down for about thirty hours. Skype is a P2P network which means it uses resources from all over the world. It turns out that new patches were released through Windows Update last Tuesday that required a reboot to finish the installation. When all of these millions of computers rebooted at about the same time, and the users tried to log back in to Skype, the loss of P2P resources and the massive number of log ins overwhelmed the system. Skype claims to have fixed the bug so hopefully something like this will not happen again.

I still think Skype is an incredibly useful tool, and it provides a service that allows individuals and businesses to communicate around the world at a very reasonable price. I just couldn’t resist the fact the Microsoft’s Windows Update brought one of the Internet’s most widely used communications systems to its knees.

(via GigaOM)

I Only Want to Watch My Teams

My family and I moved away from the Chicago area back in the Spring of 2005. Since then, it has been a struggle to keep up with my two favorite teams, the Cubs and the Bears. I get to see a few Cubs games on WGN Superstation, and there are always the Cubs and Bears games on national TV, but it would be great if I could sit down and enjoy any game that I want to see.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, well Tim, just order MLB Extra Innings or NFL Sunday Ticket, and you’ll be all set. That’s all well and good, but why would I order a package with so many games when I only care about the Cubs and the Bears? I don’t sit around and watch sports games just because they’re on. I want to watch my teams, and that’s it. Some of you are also probably thinking that I should just order MLB.TV and watch the games on my computer. While I enjoy computers, and I work with them all day, I don’t really want to sit at my desk to try to enjoy a game. I want to sit my butt down on the couch and watch the games on my TV.

It seems to me that I can’t be alone in my desire to watch my favorite team out of market. Here is what I would like to see happen. The leagues should provide an option on both digital cable and satellite so that a fan can subscribe to all of the games for their favorite teams. Obviously, the packages should be a lot more economical than the packages available today because they will include significantly fewer games. With the combination of a lower price and the ability to watch only the games from your favorite team, I believe many more people will subscribe to these packages making everyone a winner. The leagues and providers make more money from more subscriptions, and the fans will be happy because they get to see their favorite teams.

Come on MLB and NFL, make this happen!

My Two Cents on Mac Gaming

A lot has been said lately about the state of gaming on Mac OS X. Most recently, a lot of noise has been made about the amount of time it took EA to ship some games for the Mac platform even though they had pledged to release the games at the same time as the Windows versions. They have finally shipped four of the six games with the other two coming later in the year.

I personally have very little interest in gaming on my Mac or any other PC because I am too busy with work and family. The time I do spend on the computer is usually spent creating and consuming content for the Internet, and as a Mac user, I am not alone as you may have read earlier this year. Mac users are just more likely to be engaged in other activities with their computers that it is no surprise that EA and other game makers tend to keep the platform on the back burner. There are so many other interesting things that you can do with a Mac that it seems a waste to spend time playing games on one.

With that said, I do enjoy playing games from time to time, but it’s not on my Mac or other PCs. I prefer gaming machines because the experience is so much better. Machines like the Playstation and Xbox are specifically designed for gaming, and they have the horsepower to make the games come to life. Why play games on a computer that was designed to do something else when you can use a gaming machine and have the best user experience? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

It’s Time for A Final Push

Well, my Cubbies have moved into first place in the NL Central again with a half game lead over the Brewers. The Cardinals have also managed to get back into the race and are only four games back with a little over a month to go in the season. The Cubs are playing really well going into the last month of the season, and they have a great chance to win the division. They just need to keep focusing on one game at a time, and everything will work out. Besides the last two games of the current Cardinal series, the Cubs will have another shot at both the Cards and Brewers in September. If they can play well in those important series and take care of business in a majority of their other games, they should be pretty tough to overtake. It should be fun (and stressful) to watch to see what happens next.

Go Cubs!