August 21, 2002
The quest for the ideal news aggregator (part 6) - AmphetaDesk revisited

Some of you might have seen my recent series describing my hunt for the ideal news aggregator... So far I've checked out fyuze.com, news is free, BlogHog and FeedReader. I addressed AmphetaDesk in the first article, but didn't give it a thorough review.

Last night, however, I had a very polite and helpful Morbus Iff approach me online on ICQ, offering some suggestions for my use of AmphetaDesk and options for feedback. In line with the recent rant on publicists approaching bloggers, I'll post the relevant extracts of the conversation (ICQ/email) here before posting any updated views :-)

[20:07] Morbus: hey there - i'm the creator of amphetadesk.
[20:07] Morbus: do you have an email I can respond to?
[20:08] andersja: Hi there! <address> should work fine :-)
[20:08] Morbus: thanks. you should get an email from me shortly.
[20:08] andersja: Nice to hear from you - you might have noticed my reviews posted in my blog?
[20:09] Morbus: yup, that's what I'm responding to :)

[...]

[20:10] Morbus: part of the goodness is cos I take the time to hunt down mentions like yours, and then challenge your assumptions
[20:11] Morbus: or else work with you to get what you want.
[20:11] andersja: Great... ;-)
[20:11] andersja: look forward to hearing from you, and I'll certainly compile a list of answers as soon as I have the time
[20:12] Morbus: awesome. let me know if you do.
[20:12] andersja: sure thing

[...]

[20:15] Morbus: yup, some of the things you ask for are already possible in amphetadesk.
[20:15] Morbus: i'm giving you links in the email.
[20:16] andersja: ok great. thanks!
[20:17] Morbus: nearly done.
[20:20] Morbus: alright. sent.
[20:20] Morbus: lemme know if you respond or metnion it on your blog. anything in the email is yours for publicaiton.

Here goes the email; my responses are below:

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 14:23:09 -0400 From: Morbus Iff To: andersja Subject: AmphetaDesk and News Aggregators

Note: you can post most of this stuff on your blog if you wish, but it's easier for me to throw it into an email than posting on your site. Concerning your 8/18 post on AmphetaDesk:

 >I downloaded AmphetaDesk, set it up with a bundle of my favourite blogs &
 >newsfeeds but quickly stopped using it; I want new headlines to be on top,
 >no matter where they're from. Didn't find an option for that, so I moved on
 >to Meerkat but was struck by the inability to add non-predefined feeds. Out

The "new headlines to be on top" is planned for the next release of AmphetaDesk - it's really the only thing stopping AmphetaDesk from a version 1.0 release. You can, however, *kinda* duplicate the "show me new headlines only" functionality with l.m.orchard's custom AmphetaDesk template:

http://www.decafbad.com/news_archives/000223.phtml
http://www.decafbad.com/news_archives/000228.phtml

 > * Ultra-configurable, for example by being able to:

I'd say AmphetaDesk is ultra-configurable, mainly because all of the source code is shipped with AmphetaDesk - it allows people like decafbad.com to create the sort of thing above. Other people have created other nifty add-ons as well: http://www.cantoni.org/software/amphetadesk.html

 > o sort by blog or by date (for each news-item,
 > for each blog update or anything else

The problem with this is that items aren't required to contain any date based information. So, 90% of the feeds out there don't give me any knowledge what so ever of when an item was posted. In essence, I've got to bootstrap this information when I download the feed, not necessarily when the item was added. The decafbad.com template does this to determine when an item is old. In the next version of AmphetaDesk, that'll be built in, and you'll be able to do what you want (maybe not by a GUI option, but by instructions I post for "expert" users on the AmphetaDesk site).

 > o config whether I want to see excerpts or not (maybe
 > just for the top 5 stories, for example)

Already possible. See the quickie hacks here (if they're not perfectly understandable, just let me know, and I'll help you out with it).

http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/forum.php?thread_id=827853&forum_id=9314

Since all the display of AmphetaDesk is handled through templates/default/index.html, it'd be easy for you to say "only show me the first 100 words of an item", just by modifying the $item->{description} variable before display. I can help you with this as well, but something like: $item->{description} = substr(0, 2000, $item->{description}); would display ONLY the first 2000 letters of a description.

 > # lean layout

How can I improve the current layout for you? On the other hand, the HTML for AmphetaDesk is totally modfiable - it's all in templates/default/index.html, and you can see some mediocre instructions on how to tweak them here:

http://www.disobey.com/amphetadesk/skinning.html

Let me know what else I can do for you.

Thanks Morbus!

Ok, here's how it went: I installed the hacks from 0xDECAFBAD to replace my default templates, created the channels_meta subfolder and ran AmphetaDesk again. New layout seems a lot more powerful, but maybe trying to accomplish too much? When I try to click on a URL, some funky counting mechanism is triggered, but for me this only enters into an eternal loop of refreshes, and I never reach the news source I was looking for...

Sorry, Morbus, I did give it a try... Let me know when 1.0 is out - I'll try it again then!

[ I still chose post all the above information from you in case others give it a try or work it out :-) ]

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D'oh. A few other people have reported that behavior to me with the counter page. It's supposed track when you click on an item, with the idea that channels whose items you visit often are more interesting in general.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to replicate that behavior on any of my own machines, Mac or Windows. I don't suppose you see any errors, or want to troubleshoot a bit. If not, no sweat.

When next I work on that template (maybe in a week or so), I'll be including a slew of configurable options to selectively use or not use all the whiz-bang features.

Posted by: l.m.orchard on August 21, 2002 05:52 PM

l.m.orchard - it looks like Morbus has posted a solution to this problem in the comments section already: l.m.orchard has:

META HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" Content= "0;[$ $GLOBAL::url $]"

When the standards state it should be:

META HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" Content= "0;URL=[$ $GLOBAL::url $]"

I haven't tried to fix it yet, but Morbus was on to me on ICQ saying this was it :-)

currently testing "Aggie" and will return with a review of it shortly!

andersja

Posted by: andersja on August 21, 2002 07:08 PM

D'oht again! I thought I had this fixed in the tarball on my site, a week or so ago. I will have to check that out to be sure.

Enjoy the news aggregators, and I look forward to seeing which one you like best!

Posted by: l.m.orchard on August 22, 2002 12:29 AM

"On your advise" I tried Aggie, but think with the last outline skin of 0xDECAFBAD (be very sure to get it here: http://www.decafbad.com/twiki/bin/view/Main/AmphetaOutlines) Amphetadesk is *much* nicer than Aggie with the pixelskin. Really! try-it!
Lawrence

Posted by: Quadsk8 on September 11, 2002 12:34 PM
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