LCD News Readout How-to

This is a How-To to create a LCD style news ticker embedded on your desktop as referenced in my previous post.

What you’ll need

You should be able to find links to these on the main page of most large newspapers and news organizations. We’ll be using the CNN Top Stories feed here.

This is an easy project using the PageScraper extension included with the installation of Samurize. I’m going to assume that you are comfortable working with basic Windows actions and that you are using the Firefox web browser. If you arn’t at least using Firefox… well, we’ve got some talking to do.

1. Download the LCD font and Serious Samurize to your desktop.

2. Install Samurize, then go to Start > Control Panel > Fonts and choose File >Install Font. Browse to where you saved the LCD Font, select it and save.

3. All right, we’re ready to begin!

4. Open the Config Editor. You should find this under Start > All Programs >Serious Samurize. Click on any picture to see a larger version of it if you need more detail. Some of these pictures are large enough that they get cut off by this WordPress theme, so you may need to open the picture up in a separate tab to get better detail.

5. This is the editing window, the large grey area in the center is where you will build your desktop background. Over on the right side you should see a series of tabs. The most important of these is Edit Meters.

This tab should be forward, click on it if it isn’t. Then click on the drop down menu beside ‘Add Meter’.

6. The first thing we are going to do is create our own CNN logo. I’m going to go into a lot of detail here to introduce you to some repetitive things I won’t be mentioning much again. First of all, select Add Text, outlined in red in the graphic above.

This will open up a series of tabs, over on the right hand side of your page. These will be General, Source, Display and Input. We are primarily going to be using General, Source and Display.

7. Click on the Display tab. You should see a Text area. This

is where we will be inputing the text we want to display. Go ahead and type CNN in the text area.

Now, we are going to get things looking better. Move down the toolbar on the right until you see Select Font and Select Color. Click on Select font and go ahead and choose LCD, the font we installed earlier, keep the size regular and increase the font size above 16 point (I’m using a 26 point font). Now, click OK and move over to Select Colour. I suggest a deep red, but a neon green works very well against a black background.

We will need to repeat the steps to choose the font and color for each discrete element to make everything match.

Click over on the grey area where you see your CNN logo, you should be able to move it around the grey workspace. Choose a location near the top of the screen and move the CNN text there with your mouse.

For housekeeping and to keep yourself organized, click over on the General tab and change the name of this meter. I use CNN Logo. Continue this every time you add a page element to keep yourself organized.

8. All Right! You’ve made it through creating a logo in Samurize! Now let’s start the fun stuff! Take a deep breath, stretch, and open up your browser. Go to the CNN webpage and find the RSS feed for Top Stories. Right click and from the context menu choose ‘Copy Link Location.’

If you can’t find it, go ahead and type this in at the proper place http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_topstories.rss

9. Go back to the Config Editor window and click on Add Meter. Go all the way down to the bottom and click on Add Plugin > Page Scraper. This should add a small box in the grey area that says [Plugin Not Yet Executed]. I usually go ahead and change the font and color as mentioned above, in this case I’m going to be using white, 16 point font. I also expand the box area to fill the section I am going to be using for this particular page element.

10. On the toolbar on the right, click on Source.[1]. The plugin should read ‘pagescraper.dll’, then move on down to ‘Select Function to Run’ and choose ‘GetWebpage’ [2]. Finally, click on the Configure button. [3]. This should open up the somewhat intimidating PageScraper configure windows. Take a little time and familarize yourself with the different areas. There is a URL input up top. This is where we’ll paste our RSS feed. The large grey area now dominated by the text telling you where to put the webpage address is wherewe will see the code for the webpage we will be scraping. Down at the bottom iswhere we can customize our output. Take a careful look at some of the coding we’ll be using, especially [Occurence] and %b.

Note the Advanced Options button down at the very bottom. We’ll need to set some features here by the end of our setup.

There are two windows, a background screen and a foreground screen. You can move both around independantly, so arrange things in a comfortable way.

Looks intimidating? Nope! Let’s dive right in!

Background

11. Paste the RSS feed into the URL bar at the very top of the page and click Load. You should see the HTML or XML in the grey window. Now, we need to do some deduction, inferences and testing. Scan down through the code until you find the beginning of the news stories. Right now [10:03 PM 16/09/2008] the top story is the Federal Reserve takeover of AIG. This title is all that we want to display on our desktop, so we can filter out the rest of the content. We’ll do this in two stages.

Forground

12. First, lets think big. If we had lots of space we’d want to include all of the news information, but we don’t need the copyright information, the general links and other header information, so let’s set a top limit. Check the box for ‘Page Start Boundary’ and enter the following <item> .[1]

The entire header should now be crossed out, right up to the <title>Fed takes over AIG with $85 Billion Loan</title> section. This gives us a fresh place to start, our first matches should be the headlines we are trying to extract from the page.

13. Second, we’re going to extract the headlines using the [Match1] section below. Check the box for [Match1] [2]. Now that we’ve indicated that we are going to be doing further extraction, another boundary entry area should show up directly above where we checked [Match1]. We remove the tags from the title by

putting <title> in the start boundary section and </title> in the end boundary section. [3] We should be able to see the output below, directly above where we checked [Match1].

We’ve now successfully extracted the headline! Pat yourself on the back. Now recover from the shoulder injury…

Moving on, let’s go down to the bottom and check ‘Return All Occurrences’ [4] then limit our output to 5 [5 and 6] You should be able to see the results down at the very bottom of the background screen.

Background

14. On the background screen, down at the bottom, do you see [Match1]? This section sets the format of how we output our headlines. To make this a little more usable, go ahead and replace [Match1] with [Occurrence] – [Match1] in that section. This gives us numbering for our top stories from CNN.

15. Click down on Advanced Options. Scroll down and check the box ‘Save Output to TMP/HTML file’. Save this file in the default folder [usually C:/Program Files/Samurize/plugins/PageScraper/] by clicking on the … button, and give it a name you will remember. I use CNN Top Stories Custom.tmp. Go all the way down to the bottom and choose how soon you want it updated. CNN has pretty good servers, and I like my news up to the minute so I chose 60 seconds.

Click OK to close out the Advanced Options window, then click OK to close the PageScraper plugin window. You should be back at the main Config Editor window. As a bit of housekeeping, click on the Display tab and remove the ‘Plugin:’ from the Text section. Scroll down the page and check the box ‘Word Wrap’ to display the full headlines.

There you go! It’s finished!

16. Go up to the file menu at the very top of the page and save your project in your My Documents folder. Got back to File and select ‘Launch Instance Manager’. When the Instance Manager has loaded, right click on it and choose ‘Select Config File’. Load your configuration and there you go!

However, as you can imagine from going through all the options avaliable to you you can do significantly more interesting things with Samurize. This only scratches the surface. So, experiment! I’ll end with a couple of screenshots of my desktop to show some other projects you can do. The ToDo list, the clock and the music display are all easy projects that can be completed with the plugins included with Samurize, and the System monitoring section requires the Speedfan program and a plugin for Samurize you can download from the Samurize website.

If you have questions, I highly recommend the Samurize forums.

Below is what I call my ‘Aggressively Simple’ desktop.


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Why you need an Information Professional – Checking your Sources

I watched an episode of CSI a few nights ago, # 180 – The Theory of Everything.

The episode itself is pretty amusing, for a former physics geek like me the name-dropping of famous scientists was a lot of fun. The big issue with this episode (and it’s huge) is their choice for the portrayal of certain small, ground dwelling animals. The ground squirrels were miscast.

The first image is the ‘ground squirrels’ depicted in the CSI episode. This is a Grey Squirrel. It lives in trees.

Grey Squirrel

Below, is the ‘Ground Squirrel’ I grew up with in Alberta. This particular variety is called the Richardson Ground Squirrel.

Richardsons Ground Squirrel

There are a great many species of ground squirrel around the world. None of them looks like the Grey Squirrel. Bushy tails are of little use underground.

I’m confused as to the reasons for this error. There are times when the ground squirrels appear to be CGI, and some where they appear to be trained animals. Perhaps it was an executive decision to use the cheaper trained Grey Squirrels with the assumption that very few people would notice.

Have businesses done the ‘squirrel swap’ thinking no one is going to notice? When are two products interchangeable? Even more important, when are two sources of information interchangeable?

In the knowledge economy, simple errors in information like this can have significant implications. Take the example of the Mars Climate Orbiter. Lockheed Martin used English measurements to program the Orbiter. NASA has been using metric since the 1990s. When the two systems tried to communicate, an error happened an a $125 million dollar project became an example in textbooks.

Solving these problems is what Information Professionals do.

External Learning – Finding Trusted Sources

One of the classic examples used by librarians to emphasize the importance of their profession is to type something into Google. Try this example

Paris

The context sensitivity of the results has increased significantly since the last time I tried this experiment, but the question still remains. Which Paris am I searching for? Paris, France; Paris Hilton, The Paris Hilton (as in the hotel) or Paris Idaho? I would then draw your attention to the number of results (580,000,000 as of 4:30 PM Eastern Time). The purpose of this example would be to show ‘JUST HOW MUCH INFORMATION IS OUT THERE!!!’.

Of course, research has shown that most people don’t click beyond the first few pages of a Google search and use strings of search terms that limits the amount of information pulled up by search engines.

One way to limit your overflow of information is to identify a number of trusted sources to go to for specific information. For example, when I am looking for information on American business trends, I tend to use Business Week. For international business, I turn to The Economist. For Web 2.0 software in public libraries, I turn to Jessamyn West at librarian.net. For business Knowledge Management software I like The App Gap . For general software, computer and personal information, I turn to MetaFilter.

I use my RSS reader, Google Reader to pull information from all of these sources into one central inbox. From there, I share any information I really like and will probably read again on my Google Reader share page. As you can see; American and Canadian politics, feminism, business, history and religious studies all interest me a great deal.

What you can do to ‘externalize’ your learning:

1) Identify individuals and groups providing information that you can depend on.

2) Aggregate that information any way you can. Clipping services, Factiva’s reminder service, RSS feeds are all solid and proven aggregation tools.

3) Review your sources periodically and remove outdated sources as needed.

Business 2.0 – The Power of Blogging

The Transport Security Administration has been tanned in the media today over the actions of some screening personnel. You can read the details here.

I was impressed with the way that they handled the news of this on their blog. You can read the post here, with the announcement of policy change here.

You can tell from the tone of these posts that the TSA is not enthusiastic about the news coverage. However, the post on their blog was direct, honest and clear. There are good reasons for their security rules, but policies can be modified to be more accommodating of differences between customers.

I’d also encourage a look through the comments on the TSA website. Corporate bloggers can run into as controversial situations, and the wide variety of comments will give you a good idea about what can and will be said about your own embarrassing incidents.

I’ll repeat below my principles for dealing with a public crisis in the internet age

  • Be honest, your company reputation can be significantly harmed by a lie
  • Negotiate with this customer in good faith
  • Communicate your side of the story with the website publishing the accusations
  • A crisis management officer empowered to monitor and address these concerns can reduce the stress level of the entire board

Communication, Communication, Communication!

Yes, the TSA situation is embarrassing, titillating (sorry) and practically made for making the front page. The announcement here, however, was well done, clear and correct.

Frontiers of Business – Reputation Management – Custom Google Search

To continue this series on using free, web based systems to easily monitor the online business enviroment I am going to focus on creating custom Google searches to find what is being said about your company and products online.

The simplest method, of course, is to search for your products on Google’s News site. For an example, we’ll use McDonalds.

Note how scattered this search is, as of 4:00 today news results from New Zealand, the UK, Virginia and California in the first results. If your product/company name is unique, simple and localized this may be all you need. To tighten up the results, we can limit this search in a number of ways.

The first, is to restrict the search to a single website. I’ll use McDonalds and my favorite consumer affairs website, the Consumerist. This works from the standard Google search, not the news site. Google uses ‘site:’ to limit searches to a single site, so our search string will be

Mcdonalds site:Consumerist.com

Notice how much more focused this is. There is specific, negative responses to McDonalds promoting through blogs and on elementary school report cards. This could be applied to any consumer affairs site.

The second way in which I’ll show you how to limit search results is by using – and +, what us library nerds would call Boolean logic. I’m going back to Google News now, and I’ll show a couple of search strings. Let’s imagine that I’m looking for news stories relating only to the coffee McDondalds sells, nothing else.

The search string:

McDonalds +Coffee – hamburgers -burritos -salad

This is a silly example, and as you can see the results are not that effective. I’ll give another more effective one.

As part of my religious studies hobby I follow news stories on a variety of religious groups, including the LDS Church (Mormons, Latter-day Saints, the guys with the white shirts and nametags at your door). Part of the problem I ran into with a simple ‘Mormon’ search was the incredable number of Mormon Roads and Boulevards that are out there. I was getting an overwhelming number of crime reports from Kansas. Also, LDS is an acronym used in farm futures, so I got a lot of data regarding hog prices and wheat futures in my religious studies RSS feed. Over time I tweaked the search to go like this

Mormon OR LDS -Road -Boulevard -Blvd -“DTN Cattle Close/Trends”

Note what happens there, Road, Boulevard and Blvd are excluded, as is the specific title of the report that kept popping farm data up.

You can target these search strings down until you are pulling in exactly what you want. When your done, grab the RSS feed for the search and let your RSS reader do the work of pulling everything together.

Frontiers of Business – Reputation Monitoring on a Budget

Reputation management companies are a small but growing community, listing services that monitor blogs, forums and the mainstream media to alert a company about disgruntled customers publicizing their grievances. With a little experimentation you can get similar service from an RSS reader and some careful internet searching.

rss

The symbol above is something you might recognize. It is the symbol for RSS, Really Simple Syndication, a service that broadcasts the changing content of a website. Often you can click on the RSS symbol to subscribe to the site using your RSS reader. Try it above, you’ll open the RSS feed for this website.

RSS readers come in a variety of different setups and interfaces. My preference is Google Reader, a web based system. I read over 500 individual articles every day, a heady mix of business, religious studies, politics, news and comics. Yes, you can even get the funny pages via RSS. The link above leads to the FAQ for Google Reader, I’ll leave you to peruse it and decide if it fits your needs. There are a wide variety of different RSS readers, and I would be glad to help find one to suit your needs.

For reputation management, you can take a number of different approaches. Subscribing to a consumer affairs website like the Consumerist can give you a overview of what is going on across the business community. Custom Google searches allow you to specify to a greater extent and scan the majority of news sources out there. I’ll feature a how-to on custom Google searches on Monday.

Frontiers of Business – Reputation Management in the New Media

This post from the Harvard Business School blogs reminded me of the problems that business can get into interacting with the ‘New Media’ of blogs, forums and internet discussion. I’m a regular reader of the Consumerist, my featured link today. This blog has emerged as one of the top consumer affairs blogs and has attracted increasing media attention. You may remember the storm of media attention surrounding the Comcast technician videotaped sleeping in a customers house, the story broke on the Consumerist.

The first time your company interacts with this world it may appear chaotic, unprofessional and foreign. Threats  and legal action will rarely work in this world, and will likely bring more negative attention to your company. Every company will need to discuss and create contingency plans for the varieties of these emergencies.

Some general principles

  • Be honest, your company reputation can be significantly harmed by a lie
  • Negotiate with this customer in good faith
  • Communicate your side of the story with the website publishing the accusations
  • A crisis management officer empowered to monitor and address these concerns can reduce the stress level of the entire board

Reputation management software and services are available however for smaller corporations simply monitoring some RSS feeds can provide enough of a early warning system. Look for how to manage RSS feeds in my next post.

The Consumerist