Live Chat Room for Richmond, Again

IMG_2256.JPGI'm trying out a concept for a new local website,, and I want to get your feedback.

The main point is pretty simple: provide a real-time discussion room for Richmond/Wayne County citizens to talk about the issues of the day, chit-chat, and whatever else seems useful, any time, day or night. The way it's set up now, a "robot" will periodically insert a headline, weather report, event, etc. from local sources into the room for those joined in to talk about. Users can carry on private chats with each other if they choose. Real names are encouraged, relative anonymity is certainly possible.
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Live chat for and about Wayne County citizens

I spent some time tonight getting a live chat feature working on the website. I believe it might be the only live chat room up and running that exists for Wayne County citizens in general...correct me if I'm wrong.

Hmmm, I wonder if we're ready for that. There's been some demand for it over time. On other community websites I've been involved in, it was quite a useful way for folks to connect, but that's often over a geographical distance. I don't want to make it any easier than it is to isolate ourselves from each other when we don't need to be, but for those who might not have time or inclination to meet in person about the issues at hand, an online chat can sure be handy. We'll see.

Homegrown RSS feeds for local news sites

I recently wrote in the Summersault weblog about how website content syndication is changing the way we use the web. Of course, if the sites you care about aren't syndicating their content, the phenomenon is a little less exciting. For me, the only ones I cared about that were in this category were local news sources. For a few years I'd been running hacked up Perl scripts that tried to retrieve headlines from the sites of local papers, but it tended to be hit and miss and I never really took the time to take a more structured approach until now. Using the Template::Extract Perl module and a handy article from Simon Cozens about spidering hacks, I was able to formalize and simplify the creation of custom RSS feeds scraped from sites without them built-in. So, here are the first few, to which you are welcome to point your own newsreader:

Please avoid refreshing these more than once an hour. If there are other feeds you'd like to see, let me know. I'll add new ones on my feeds page as they come. Enjoy!

Read your congressperson's blog

The eminent and celebrated E. Thomas Kemp points us to a wonderful and clever use of news aggregation and weblog technologies, Plogress. Using Perl and WordPress, the apparently anonymous administrator has created a site that sucks data out of the Library of Congress and displays a blog of the doings of individual Senators and Representatives. Now I can keep an eye on Mike, Richard, and Evan through my RSS newsreader! I'm sure they all read my blog, right?

Switchers Everywhere

There's a whole lot o' switchin' going on. I spent some time last night helping one of my recently-moved-in housemates, Damon, set up his new PowerMac G4, which is his first real experience with Mac and OS X, coming from the world of Windows. I was able to re-live my own excitement of that first switching boot-up a few years ago, and as I took him on a tour and showed him New Ways of doing things (including the Firefox browser) our session was filled with Damon exclaiming things like, "you mean, that just works?" and "oh my gosh that's pretty" and "I'll never use another f#@$@! PC again". Okay, so maybe I said some of those things too. 🙂 And then this morning as I was listening to NPR, the 7:50 story was about the increasing popularity of Apple, Macs, and the rumors that bubble up around the forthcoming Macworld Expo. The 7:56 story was about Firefox, the browser that I use exclusively these days because it is faster, better, and helps me browse really does everything I want it to (a surprisingly recent development in the world of browsers from my standpoint). The NPR story used the key phrases: "open source movement" and "eating away at Microsoft's market share". It's fun to see smarter/faster/better at work and taking hold in a world that often prefers mainstream-but-broken.

Perl script to check Sprint PCS minute usage

After a few incidents of going over my Sprint PCS minute usage without any warning, I hacked together a Perl script that will log in to the website and check my minute usage for me. It e-mails me a warning if I go over a certain usage percentage. I thought I'd post it in case anyone else might find it useful: (link removed March 4, 2017, no longer works). I believe Sprint charges something like $3/month for a similar service. Note that you need a few extra modules installed, and you need the components for WWW::Mechanize that allow SSL connections. Consult your local Perl expert for help with this if you need it; I can't provide support here. It may well require tweaking depending on how standard your calling plan is, or other variations that I don't know about. And of course it's subject to breakage when Sprint updates the HTML code on their site.

Any comments or refinements are welcome. Enjoy!

Sprint PCS needs to run cron jobs more often

Fair warning: this post is pure rant.

I have a Sprint PCS phone that I use as my primary, and only, home phone line. There are tons of reasons why I like this arrangement, which I won't go into here, but I've been a loyal, pay-on-time Sprint customer for several years now. Which is why it was maddeningly frustrating to go to make a call today and get a note that my account had been shut off because I was over my spending limit.
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