Brexit, Italy, twitter bots, Germany, blogs: five links I liked

My Exodus from Google Reader

Like many fellow information junkies, I was shocked that Google is killing Reader, then realised that I had not used it very regularly  lately. This is partly because I rely a bit more on twitter these days, partly because last year I began using feedly, a Reader frontend that looks good on my various devices and pushes the more popular stories to the top. While feedly quickly announced that they would replace Reader by a backend of their own, Google’s move prompted me to reconsider my reading habits. Although feedly is great for the lazy Sunday afternoon reading experience (flipboard is even more tempting/worse in this respect), I sometimes want to check those feeds that publish new items every other week, or to make sure that I really see the headline for every post published on the Monkey Cage in the last couple of days or so. For that, one needs a proper feed reader.

Feedreaders as a species were mostly extinct by Reader’s advent in 2005. Synchronisation in the cloud is a killer feature when you are reading on more than a single device, but Reader was also fast and never missed an item (because it pulls feeds centrally and continually), and had early social sharing features and content suggestions. That’s why most people are now looking for cloud-based replacements like the Old Reader.

At the margins of the nerdosphere, however, people kept muttering about Tiny Tiny RSS (ttrss), which is an odd-beast: an open source online RSS reader. Since spring is not coming this year, I decided to give it a spin. Somewhat surprisingly, I like it rather well.

ttrss requires that you have access to a webserver with PHP and a SQL demon. I installed it on my office machine, which is almost constantly online, but these days, you can probably build your own cloud  on a Raspberry Pi that you attach to your router. Installation was mostly painless. Once installed, ttrss looks not too different from Reader and almost feels like a desktop application (with lots of keyboard shortcuts – good!). It is somewhat sparsely documented, but importing my feeds was no big deal, and as a proof of concept, I quickly managed to set up a filter that collects all items mentioning Cyprus. Like Reader, it monitors my feeds continuously, so if I really want to catch up with a feed that I have ignored for a month or two, I have the complete backlog. There are more goodies under the hood, I suppose. Phones and tablets are supported out of the box, but there is an even better webapp available here that needs to be installed separately.

Just for the fun of it, I then installed newsbeuter, which claims to be the Mutt of RSS readers. If that statement does not make sense to you, newsbeuter is probably not right for you. It is the antithesis to those apps that turn feeds into a pages that could be taken from glossy magazine. It lives in the text-based world of the console, is keyboard driven and blindingly fast. It has macros and its own language for filters. And its newer versions happily sync with ttRSS, so that I can casually read on the phone or the tablet, and slash through hundreds of feeds on the laptop or the office machine.

I’m not sure if I will stick with this slightly geeky setup. I like the way feedly and flipboard integrate social signals, but the echo chamber effect is quite pronounced. In ye olden days, I thought nothing of running my own mail server. Perhaps it’s time to get off that pampered cloud.


ECPR Joint Sessions Social Programme Taking Shape

With just two months to go until the 41st Joint Sessions of Workshops at Mainz, the local team is getting super-excited, if not slightly panicky. We have finally found funding for two drinks/finger-food receptions: a welcome bash at the university on Monday evening (5-7), and another reception on Wednesday night at Mainz City Hall following the Rokkan Lecture and price-giving ceremonies on Wednesday night. Would you please put this in your diaries? We would hate to miss you!

As always, you can follow us on facebook, on twitter (hashtags #ecprjs2013 and #ecpr), on this blog, or simply via the conference website. If you know someone who is going to the conference yet is blissfully unaware of  this whole social media shebang, be a chap and pass on the word.

Guttenberg-Gate: When Politics and Science Collide

The story has now been picked up by just about every news outlet on the planet: A German law professor was supposed to review a monograph on European constitutional law for a learned journal. He soon discovered that various pages were not properly referenced, to says the least. The twist: This monograph is based on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s PhD thesis. And that man happens to be the German defence minister. The review has not yet been published, but the proofs have been leaked. From what you can read there, you would think that the minister cannot have been in his right mind.

While this is a scientific debate, the internet has of course exploded. I’m not sure how far we can trust the wisdom of the crowd, but it would seem that even the introduction bears an uncanny resemblance with some old editorials and even an essay by an anonymous student, all readily available online. That looks very bad.

But do normal people care? How can you explain that copying text verbatim is very bad while copying text verbatim and adding a name, a year and a page is absolutely ok? How can you explain that rephrasing someone else’s ideas and adding a name, year and page is even better?

Another, not totally unrelated question: If the rules of academia are so opaque to normal people, why is so much social status attached to a doctorate? Why should people who have no ambition to do research (inside or outside academia) strive for a higher degree?

At any rate, zu Guttenberg has done a lot of harm to German science: too many of us have already wasted too much of our time, er, researching the affair on facebook and twitter instead of producing stuff that could at least potentially be plagiarised.

Guttenberg-Gate: When Politics and Science Collide 1

Twitter and Exit Polls in Germany

Believe or not: in Germany, it is illegal to publish results from exit polls before the polling stations close (at 6pm – we’re German) on polling day. Last Sunday, state elections were held in three Länder, and someone leaked alleged results on twitter while the stations were still open. The political class was outraged and suggested just about anything from banning exit polls to suing twitter, which inspired me to rant against these draconic and silly proposals over at Andrea’s and Thorsten’s Wahlen nach Zahlen blog (in German).

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