Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011


I feel I should say something about Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant mind that has left us way too early. There have been many tributes to him on virtually every newspaper I read today, all of it well deserved.

I first learned of him after having read, enjoyed and agreed with most of his thinking in 'God is not great'. As I learned a bit more about him, I became a fan. I would invariably take the time to read his Salon column every Monday morning (it would arrive via RSS) and always come out impressed with the breadth of topics he would cover, the poignancy of his comments and clarity of his thinking. I deeply admired his stance as his own man, not simply aligning himself 'right', 'left' or anything in between.

Watching him (unfortunately never live, but online or listening afterwards via podcasts) on debates such as Intelligence Squared and the Munk Debates was uplifting: here was the personification of 'applied intellect' - the perfect combination of erudite knowledge, moral clarity and unflinching delivery. One would almost - almost - feel bad for the opposing side. A lot more to be found at and google elsewhere.

There's surely others who will write much better prose to honor him, but let this be my simple contribution. Some of us will praise him for his positions, some won't, but we should all praise him for his courage and contributions.

Thanks Hitch, we'll miss you dearly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Instapaper or Read it Later? Both!

As I battle to keep up to date with everything that happens in my industry (IT, specifically security/networking), one of the best tools I use is a 'to read later' application: basic premise is that if you come across something that you think might be interesting but you just don't have the time (or resources) to check it out now, you can mark it for later. Then, when you have moment (yeah, right...), you just go back through your unread list to check them out.

There's a few of these apps out there - Apple actually included the functionality in the latest Safari with iOS 5.0 - but the ones I'm more familiar with are Read it Later and Instapaper. They both have support for tags, multi-platform support and free/paid versions (though Instapaper offers virtually all functionality for free so 'paid' really means donation, which I find totally worth it).

One of the more interesting thing about both of these apps is that they have a stable API so other applications can hook into them. This has led to a variety of applications supporting direct "one-click" integration, allowing things like sending a link to the 'to read later' queue while browsing your Twitter feed or Facebook news, for example.

That - sending off to 'to read' list while browsing Twitter - is primarily how I use this functionality. My preferred Twitter client is 'Oosfora HD' (paid) on the iPad and I'll happily bookmark links for reading later from within that app.

But which one do I use? The answer (as per the title of this entry) is both! Wait, what? Why both? Heresy!
As with every other 'battle' in IT (Windows or Mac? Chrome or Firefox? iOS or Android?) there *must* be one choice. Your entire self-worth as an individual is tied to choosing the ONE app that is clearly BETTER.

Well,no. One of the benefits of using BOTH apps at the same time is that you can easily curate your collection so that you end up with two distinct 'flavours' of bookmarks to check out and can then review them according to your mood, resources at hand, etc...

As an example, I use 'Instapaper' for industry-related links that I either have to be in the right mindset to review or that I want to take notes into my Personal Knowledge Management system (future blog post...). I use 'Read it Later' for more 'generic' links that I want to check out but not necessarily 'study'.

Why not use one and just tag things instead? Simple answer: the process of tagging something is not well integrated into the other apps I use and frankly just slows down the process. It is a lot easier to just select 'Read it Later' or 'Instapaper' from a pop-up than actually type a tag.

Anyway, I hope this helps others who face similar situations.