Pimp my Reader

I am a fan of the Google Reader application for managing my RSS subscriptions. The advantage of having all my feeds organized in one convenient web repository is proving to be quite handy (much as del.icio.us has been for bookmarks) and I like Readers’ own ability to produce new RSS feeds from my content categories.

But the UI, much like a lot of Google’s apps, leaves a lot to be desired. (Gmail – I’m looking at you.)

Fortunately, Jon Hicks has put some lipstick on this pig. Enter Google Reader Theme. Installation is fairly trivial, and the result is a more pleasant and usable interface. As of this writing, it works for Firefox, Camino, Opera, Omniweb, and Safari.

Nice work! Looks much better now – thank you.

Jon also mentions he was using CSSEdit for the skinning work. I like this tool – have been using it since somewhere in the 1.x days. I find it very useful for quickly digesting the styles in an existing theme, such as an open-source project that I want to skin by leveraging existing styles. For starting from scratch, nothing can beat TextMate or Dreamweaver for cranking out standards-compliant XHTML and CSS in rapid-fire mode.

This is a great capability, to be able to create your own skins for sites you visit frequently. User customization supports even further the idea that we as web developers need to continue to separate content from design as much as possible, to produce semantic, meaningful markup, and to make our code as simple and as well-documented (self-documenting/semantic) as you can.

Acrobat Reader Feature Requests

I find it easier nowadays to use PDF documents and other screen-based formats for my reading needs than to use books. The reasons are that I can enlarge the fonts, I can scroll with minimal effort in a comfortable position (which helps with speed-reading), and text-to-speech features found in Acrobat Reader and the Mac OS X system-wide speech service.

The text-to-speech feature is particularly helpful for me. I have a very slight blind spot at the point of focus in my right eye, probably gained from neglecting to use the polarization filter during late-night moon observations with my telescope many years ago. It is difficult sometimes for my eye to focus on a line, especially if I’m a bit tired. The text-to-speech feature helps keep the focus moving along. For Mac OS X’s Preview application, I set a keyboard shortcut to start reading, although I couldn’t seem to get a shortcut to take hold to stop the reading. Good enough though. I keep Preview as my default PDF application on my system, although I would consider Adobe Reader again if it could address some of my concerns.

So on to my feature requests for the Reader freeware:

  • Add a feature to read aloud only the current selection.
  • Give me a way to change the voice and speed of the voice that is reading. It is not picking up my system preferences for speech and it reads way too slow for my tastes.
  • Get rid of the infernal Adobe Download Manager for installing and let us just download a binary package installer. The download manager does not work with my firewall configuration.
  • Make software updates a standard download and install feature rather than forcing it to go through the broken Adobe Download Manager. (No I am not going to disable my firewall to download your security updates. That is the wrong solution.)

The Download Manager really bums me out. This is probably the number one reason why I gave up on Reader.

Slava

During the Cold War, one of the few ways that a dissent could be heard from within the Soviet Union was through the voice of prominent, famous musicians – musicians who only spoke through their instruments and their music, like Shostakovitch.

Mistislav Rostropovich was one of the last remaining individuals from these tumultuous times. Individuals like this truly show the connection between music, politics, and human culture. Music is, as Michael Tilson Thomas is fond of stating, a snapshot of how people see themselves through the annals of history. Mistislav’s passing is met with sadness, and much reverence.

Had to do it

After upgrading WordPress, I decided I couldn’t stand the old design any longer. I clobbered it. This theme from the WordPress Theme Viewer is called ChinaRed.

In the next year or two, I’ll start to redesign this blog again. Like I have time…

I thought about going naked on this blog and redesigning from scratch, but I know I won’t have much time over the next five weeks as I finish classes.

It has also become painfully clear that I have too many categories going on here. I must have confused that taxonomy feature with free-tagging, which I think should probably be a separate feature.

Va de Vi

I judge a restaurant based on a) how much I enjoyed my experience and, b) how well this restaurant caters to celiacs on gluten-free diets. Va de Vi Bistro and Wine Bar in Walnut Creek, California gets full marks and a tip of the hat for their performance last Friday night.

First off, our waiter was excellent. Despite the fact that the place was packed, he was always around when we needed him, and spent time to clearly articulate our options and elaborate on any of the dishes we had questions on. As for the gluten-free menu, I simply asked and he consulted with the chef, returning with a menu marked up with the chef’s recommendations for me. More than half the menu was entirely acceptable with little to no modification.

The wine choices were great. I went with a couple of shiraz choices, and the Jade Mountain was delicious. I have never been disappointed with this winery so far.

For dinner, we started out with the Thai Chicken Papaya Salad. It was a delicious crisp starter with an interesting and unique flavor.

Next came the Pommes Frites, basking in garlic and parsley, but not greasy at all. Those were too awesome.

I ordered the Sauted Savoy Spinach, which just barely blanched in hot grapeseed oil, garlic, and lemon, garnished with some delicious cherry tomatoes. This may have been my favorite, were it not for…

The Organic Hanger Steak was Kobe beef and just about perfect. Yes, I think this was my favorite.

That was not enough for us, so we ordered the Grilled Korean Style BBQ Wagyu Beef to finish it off. This was the same Kobe as the Hanger steak, and extremely tasty. I liked the Maui sweet onion kimchee on top.

Dessert was an espresso. All in all this was well done and I’ll go back again real soon.