Pulled Out of an RSS Rabbit Hole By a Hawksey Genius Card

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by xJason.Rogersx

Does anyone set out to go down such a hole? It all started because Matt Rafalow contacted me- he was hoping to use medium.com to publish his work for Connected Courses. Simple, I thought. I knew medium publishes RSS feeds for user accounts. RSS is RSS. It should Just Work.

medium rss faq

Well, these RSS feeds do work in a Feed Reader. Because they are generally forgiving on the format of the feeds.

But Matt reported an interesting problem. He tested his URLs. But when he puts it in the forms on our site, he gets a message that it’s not a valid URL


It looks like to me that the URL validation code on the Gravity Forms plugin is failing on the “@” in the URL, although technically, it is a valid, though not common, construct for a URL.

The thing is, I cannot contact Gravity Forms Support because I did not purchase the plugin, it was the folks who run the site.

The hole got deeper as I failed to validate the medium.com RSS feed, could not get Feed WordPress to process it, and even unable to cleanse it through Feed Burner. I wrote a detailed post on medium about how their feeds are messed up.

And then there was a bright light in the rabbit hole. I got a detailed response from Nick Santos, apparently an engineer who helped build medium.com, and got a lot of answers to my questions.


But I am still left hanging without a way to add Matt’s medium content to Connected Courses.

And then I heard from the Genius in Scottland

Martin Hawksey strikes again, he found an end around. I’ve set up a Yahoo Pipe where you can put your twitter handle / medium user name (same thing) and it will fetch the RSS and route it out again as an RSS feed from Yahoo:

medium pipe

I can then get the RSS Feed for Matt’s medium content from Yahoo Pipes, hook that into the Connected Courses Feed WordPress, and BOOM! Matt’s got syndication.

I agree with the title of Nick’s response, it not only takes a village to read an RSS feed, you might need a Scottish Genius.

Thanks Martin, your card’s value has just gone up.

genius card

An Extra Large @medium Response

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Tracy Lee

After a bit of a rant posted on medium how medium’s rss feeds are messed up, I was pleased to see the post published there getting probably ore recommends than anything else I published there.

Not that’s what I aim for.

But I could not wag a tail more from getting a response from Nick Santos, wo essentially is the person who knows best how medium works

It Takes a Village To Read an RSS Feed

I appreciate the detailed response. Some of the points I raised (readability of source HTML, lack of presence of RSS buttons) are minor points. I didn’t know that there were WordPress related brute force attacks that caused Medium to shut off their site from curl requests.

I am not quite sure how I would know that.

What I do know now is (a) I was aware that medium had RSS feeds (b) I told someone who submitted their medium site to Connected Courses that their site would work (c) I found out that the Gravity Forms WordPress plugin will reject a URL like medium.com that has am “@” symbol in it (although it is a legal character in a URL) (d) that all of this is moot because there is no way for my Feed WordPress sites because medium.com blocks curl requests (what I do not know is how then are Feed Reader sites requesting RSS content).

Also, what I like is getting a rather rapid response from the source, thanks Nick.

Quite the rabbit hole.

In Which I Chase Medium.com Up a Tree

Cagey cat.

Lazy cat, cannot even generate output to provide valid RSS feed.

@medium your rss feeds are @ mess

Technology like RSS dies not because of failure, but neglect.

You get what you ignore.

Looking Through My Own Time Tunnel


This is not just a presentation prop for my presentation nostalgia trips to the past, pleasantly seated at my hosts breakfast table in Auckland, I am drinking coffee in your future. I tracked on the flight over not just the crossing over the International Date Line, but the way it jags, we actually went over, back, and over.

In the old TV shows, at such junctures the ships would violently lurch about.


After my arrival yesterday, my hosts Richard and June took me on a sunny walk where I think they’ve taken me before, Milford Beach, and I could see a familiar landmark.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I’d seen it from a different point, Campbell’s Bay Beach almost exactly 10 years ago, on a visit here in 2004

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And if you squint you might see me here in 2000

Alan and Rangitoto 2000

If you zoom in on these photos through my time tunnel, way on top of the not so old volcano, way way in, from a trip out to hike Rangitoto in 2000

I was trying to remember other places I went on that trip in 200, which was the start of a 2 month journey around both New Zealand Islands. While my memory is fuzzy, I have recorded all kinds of details in my more reliable memory, a web site of that time period. In every essence this is a blog, though it had no name in 2000.

I knew I visited someone north of Auckland, spent a weekend at a lovely estate, but could not remember who it was, where it was, or how I even knew the person.

Fortunately I have some backup — on September 17, 2000 I took a bus from Auckland to visit a guy named James in Orewa. And, as I read my own notes, he was the best friend of Paul, the first New Zealander I knew. Paul as a researcher at ASU when I was in graduate school, who became a friend too, and I was present sometime after grad school at his wedding in Tucson. James, was best ban at Paul’s wedding, and when I planned this trip to New Zealand, I must have contacted Paul (someone whom I cannot now even recall his last name).

What really were likely just a way for me to process my daily happenings on the trip (and to communicate to family home), now turns out to help fill in the memory gaps:

Orewa is a beach town on a stretch of white sand, nestled between some low forested headlands. Like most of the beach towns here, it is relaxed and devoid of any crass commercialism. James’ house is farther north, and I was curious as we drove off the highway up a steep gravel drive through the woods. We drove, and drove, and some 1/4 mile later we had reached then end of his driveway! His house is in the lush forest of some 60 acres, above its own beach. The views across the bay to Orewa are spectacular. I was also introduced to a 20 year-old house cat named EPROM.

That night we watched the entire opening ceremony to the Sydney Olympics, from the lower “cottage”– actually the original 1930’s era homestead for the property. If you were among the 3 billion television audience, you know what a glorious spectacle this was. If you were among the 110,000 in attendance, then you know even better than me about it. I cannot even imagine planning such a production.

Does this data matter to anyone? Not the point.

Now, 14 years later, I treasure my compulsion in recording the “bits and bobs” of what likely are mundane details at the time.

But looking back through the tunnel, well I find it incredibly valuable to have the bits. And the bobs. And the James.

And so I wonder, in my current state of writing, posting, what I am I making that will be of value to myself in the future? My blogging has changed, and I find much less of details of places I go, things done. More goes into my flickr stream, which is now my own memory box. But what about the time spent that we put into social media statusing, the Mike Caulfield StreamMode — does that go anywhere useful, or just does it stream on by?

Am I the only one who cares about this? Or is everyone scrambling for the next thing?

I don’t actually care, I am going out to a market.

And remembering a 20 year old cat named EPROM.


WordPress Hidden OPML Gem

I often don’t know what I don’t know. Ben Harwood posed a question this morning

Basically to export the sites you have in a Feed WordPress site, all you need to do is export the WordPress links, that us a kind of data originally built into the software when people were big on doing these things called blogrolls (a list of recommended blogs).

Links are a useful thing I have used time to time to built collections of sites, you can put them in categories and use widgets/shortcodes to push them to your site. On the bottom right of my site are two widgets to list sites “other webs” and “stuff I’ve made”; these are generated from the link structure. Rather than manually enter URLs in an editor, I put them in the links, create a category, and wham! I can tell wordpress to display all links in the “stuff I’ve made” category.

Well Feed WordPress stores all of the sites you add to it as links too. It stuff a bunch of other data in the notes field.

And 1-2-3 Google it and I found that WordPress has a built in way to export those links and then re-import them into another site. You can see this in action just by taking wp-links-opml.php on the end of the home url of a WordPress site, so you can see all the ones for Connected Courses by going to http://connectedcourses.net/wp-links-opml.php.


If you look at the OPML (yep that’s bare code, all angle brackets and stuff), I notice it organizes them into categories, and if you have been following the Feed WordPress 101 series, you might remember that Feed WordPress stores all of its feeds in a Link Category named Contributors

You can then use the WordPress Import tools to bring those into another site.

Now I have already built a custom coded bit into the Connected Courses site to generate an OPML file for all syndicated sites (see right side of http://connectedcourses.net/all-blogs/). I am thinking that is still better than this WordPress thing, (on a quick check, I see duplicates or inactive feeds). I hope when I get in one place to turn my custom code into a plugin.

But this WordPress OPML-links tool might help Ben in a pinch.

From the Wop Wops of Arizona to New Zealand

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I won’t get to see Milford Sound again on this next trip, but I will get a whirlwind swirl around the North Island of New Zealand. The journey into the future has me leaving home at 10am, driving to Phoenix, flying to San Francisco for the first leg. I have a 6 hour SFO layover, and believe me, after missing my connection there last year on a trip to Japan, I am more than happy to chill. I fly out at 9PM and get to Auckland 5:30am Friday morning.

Who knows what time that is for me.

I have a 2 week circuit starting in Hamilton, keynoting and presenting twice more for the Shar-E-Fest 2014 conference Sept 29-30 in at Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton.

There’s no resting; they have me on a circuit!

Holy smokes! What was I thinking?

I greatly appreciate the invitation and hospitality I know I will receive from the guy who invited me, Richard Elliot.

It was Richard who arranged part of my first trip to New Zealand, hosting me at UNITEC in 2000 as part of my 2 months in the country for my sabbatical. If you want to know how long ago that was, check out this clean shaved kid

That was me at the top of Rangitoto, a volcanic island just off shore of Auckland.

Look at this cutting edge technology I carted around.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Old as it was, the iBook did have an airport card in it, not that there were many wireless networks. I paid for a dialup national ISP plan.

I had some nostalgia going through my web log before there was blog software records, and laughed at my cheesy animation in the presentation I did at UNITEC on the Maricopa system and what we were doing to support faculty with technology.

mcli preso

Note the visual metaphor — a PALM PILOT! That was my peak of Flash animation work.

Richard also arrange for me a return visit to UNITEC in 2004

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I will get to spend the first two weekends of the trip visiting Nigel Robertson, who I got to meet last May in the UK.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

There might be some beers poured, and I look forward to reconnecting with his colleague at University of Waikato, Stephen Harlow, who I last met up with in Tasmania.

It will be a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad trip– and I could not be more excited about it, despite the amount of prep sitting in front of me (getting a cold the last few days was not in the plans).

I’m pleased with the new iteration of the system for the StoryBox (my version of a PirateBox), I have most of the major parts if it tricked out. I will be doing a session with it at each stop.

story box e

The new site is pretty much what runs on the web server inside the box, although you will need to be on the StoryBox network to see the wiki, image discussion board, and all of the media that will be collected.


Enough blah blah blogging! I gotta get my beauty rest.

More stuff as we go, of course.

When You think That Tech Is More Awesome Than Possible, yet…

Flash! Poof! I thought I just discovered a hidden search gem in my OS X Mavericks system. One of the coolest things in Evernote is uploaded photos with text in the picture, becomes searchable for those words (it does some magic OCR on your images).

Now that is magic.

This morning I was seeking an image on my computer that I as not sure is there– I had used it on a post about the saying “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”. On a whim I put “cobbler” into the Spotlight search in the finder. I did not find the image I was looking for (insert Star Wars robots reference), but was surprised that an image titled IMG_9119.JPG would appear on the search result- in a photo with the word “cobbler” in the picture.


Before I got excited and tweeting like a proud papa, I wanted to check a few things. This is one of my own photos, and because of the way I process and save my photos in Aperture, the titles and captions get written to the image file as meta data. Maybe Aperture was only picking up the word there.

How do you find meta data? Well I remembered the Get Info command on the file icon gives some data, and look, under “More Info” is the title and caption I composed n Aperture

cobbler meta data info

What is useful about this, and why I use it, is that this info is nicely used if you upload the image to WordPress, if the title, and caption are in the meta data, it populates the Media Fields:

cobbler meta data

So while my dreams of Spotlight actually finding text to search on in my image, I am glad to know that the meta data that travels with the image go with it everywhere. I also include a creative commons license statement in there, but its a field that the Apple OS or WordPress does not extract.

But the metadata goes with the image.

Not quite super magic, but still neat.

Imagine me, getting excited about metadata. Weird.

Grasping for the Holy Comment Grail

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by RobotSkirts

Blog comments. Once the only social network, the way we conversed among blogs, wikis in the pre-twitter, pre-facebook era. It was, really, where the interaction happened.

Now, thanks to Google providing the link bait incentive, blog comments are the honey pots for bot gibberish; Akismet snags some 10,000 spam comments per week on this site.

comment spam

But they are still rather important in Connected Courses– nothing, absolutely nothing, motivates someone new to blogging, reflecting in their own space than getting feedback. Especially when it comes from a person they do not know. It cracks open the “why” of what may appear to be pointless blabbering.

We seek to be hear, to be acknowledged. Blog comments do that in a simple, but effective way.

There is, and has been, for a long time a desire to be able to “track” comment activity. Because they exist elsewhere on the web, and are formatted, stored in variable formats, there is really no simple means to track one’s comments elsewhere.

Way back in those web olden years, there was an attempt at a few services; I recall trying cocomment which, is DOA, but you can find shreds in the Internet Archive

coComment is a service for managing, powering and researching conversations online. When using coComment, you can keep track of your comments across any site, share them with friends, and get notified when you get a response.

Have you ever posted comments or questions on articles and blogs and then forgotten where you’ve left them? By tracking your conversation with coComment, you can see all your comments on one page and get notified. You will never miss a response, and will always be part of your online conversations!

If you’re blogger or site owner, you can integrate coComment to power or track your conversations, while becoming part of the growing coComment community.

Great idea, execution? Well, the downfall, was to make it work, everytime time you went to a blog to comment, you had to remember to click a JavaScript bookmark tool to register the comment.

People, especially me, are too fallible for that.

I was intrigued when I saw Gordon Lockhart’s tweet:

It was something he had done previously for #rhizo14 What I did not realize that I learned from reading his documentation was that Blogger provided RSS feeds for comments- for some reason I thought that only WordPress had that feature.

He’s put it into motion for Connected Courses- see the results at http://iberry.com/cc.htm

comment scraper

What it does well is that it allows you to see somewhat the conversations happening on the distributed blogs of Connected Courses, like a high level scan. If I understand his approach, he is taking the feeds from all WordPress and blogger sites, and checking the posts for having a “ccourses” label/tag and matching the comment feed action to the posts (some python magic).

Its definitely useful, but of course, you have to keep in mind it is missing the blogs that do not have comments at all (tumblr) or the platforms that lack comment RSS feeds (everything other than WordPress/Blogger).

Still, compelling.

I rigged up something similar for the Thought Vectors site, a Thought Vectors Comment reader:

I have some gnarly technical notes on how this was done — essentially, from the main site’s collection of syndicated feeds, I was able to do a database query to identify the blog generator (essentially a way to find which of the feeds were wordpress), then wrote the script to output all of those feeds as an OPML file, with the RSS URLs re-written to reflect the blog comment RSS URL — essentially for an RSS feed from http://cogdogblog.com/tag/thoughtvectors/feed the comment feed is http://cogdogblog.com/tag/thoughtvectors/comments/feed).

I probably could do the same for Connected Courses, but augment the code to check as well for Blogger sites, since I know now how to construct RS feeds for its comments.

I always used an RSS reader when I taught ds106 as a way to see and respond to the comment activity on my students sites. It truly is the one valid time saving piece of technology.

That all said, I have a pretty laisez faire feeling about comments. A few clicks back I had a back and forth DM conversation with Maha Bali about this. To me, being able to organize and track comments is really not something I crave. I think of comments as conversations, I certainly do not want a database of every conversation I had. I think of conversations as ephemeral, and happy if I can remember having a conversation, not really needing to have total recall.

We had a laugh because she tried to recall a comment IO made on her blog expressing that ;-) just google recursion.

I know others feel differently and would like better tracking and documenting of comments. It’s a feature of known that intrigues me because in that system, comments are stored primarily on your own personal site and pushed out to the site you are commenting on, likely a more logical data flow.

There are some low tech approaches one can try. For while I was trying to add a custom string of mishmosh characters as sort of a tracking code to my comments. In theory, I could run a google search on that. But it is my own downfall that I did not remember to do it everytime (the same problem as cocomment), so much I cannot even recall my secret code.

I also have gotten in the habit thi last year of always putting in the name field of a comment box:

Alan Levine (@cogdog)

On my own computer it is usually filled in as autocomplete. If I was smarter I might do something more unique, but I can try a rough Google search on that string (filter out results from my own blog)

google alan

It does bring up a lot– but is it everything?

So for me, I’m okay if I have an incomplete record of my comment activity– its really ore important to be contributing conversation than trying to ensnare it like some obsessive accountant.

It’s messy.

But essential.

So please, leave me a comment? Or better yet– find a random syndicated connected courses post


and give someone else some comment love.

This is How My Health Insurance “Works”

Image found on http://shazruns.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/day-18-square-wheels/ questionable of reuse rights, sue me

Image found on http://shazruns.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/day-18-square-wheels/

Unlike many tea partiers I’ve been pleased with my experience getting ACA Healthcare (get the name right, willya, labeling it ObamaCare gives your bias away). I found the signup smooth, and have had above par service when I have called them with questions.

As a self-employed Type 1 Diabetic, without it, I’d likely be (a) without healthcare or (b) without a home for the cost of care the TPers would leave me with. For a shade under the monthly cost I paid until March 2014 for a COBRA insurance plan (it expired), I was able to get a comparable Blue Cross / Blue Shield health care plan plus a Cigna Delta insurance one. I kept my doctors, but had to shift to a different prescription provider.

By the way, this is costing me, out of my pocket, $500 per month. Please thank your employer, give them a hug, for covering your plans.

Getting the plan is one thing, and I am finding that getting benefits brings up unexpected challenges, that make me wonder is about HealthCare or InsuranceCOmpanyCare?

Case 1: The Blood Test Strip Monopoly

A key part of managing diabetes is regular checking of blood glucose levels. Like razors, computer printers, they give away the device, but collect on the refillables- vials of blood test strips.

So I test my blood levels on a device like this

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

and the particular meter, a LifeScan one, was built to send the results wirelessly to my insulin pump

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

From there I can estimate how much I plan to eat for a meal, and the pump calculates a proper insulin dosage based on that and the number sent by the blood test meter.

My challenge happened last year, because I accidentally left my blood test meter on a plane. When I looked into getting a replacement, I found it was not available; in fact I had to switch to a different meter, a Bayer Contour Next, which actually worked better.

This was all fine, because on my previous plan, I could order the Bayer Contour Next test strips from my mail order pharmacy.

Then everything changed with my new plan. I ordered some of these as done before via my new provider, Walgreens. I got a message that said that my insurance company denied coverage for the Bayer blood test strips. When I called, I found out that Blue Cross would cover LifeScan strips at Tier 1 for $15/month but Bayer strips were considered Tier 3 costing me $80/month. In the letter I received:

Based on our review, we cannot approve this request for the non-Lifescan blood glucose meter test strips. This finding is based on the terms of your benefit plan and the MCMSAZ Pharmacy Coverage Guidelines for the non-Lifescan blood glucose meter test strips.

If someone can explain the difference between

one touch



I would sure like to know. I might suspect that the LifeScan company ponies up something to get an exclusive line to patients?

To me, having the numbers sent from my blood test meter to the pump is a nice feature that streamlines the process, but honesty, not totally critical- I can manually enter them. I could just switch to the LifeScan meter that tests but does not send the data.

Of course, there is another option. As my diabetic friend suggested, I can order the Bayer test strips on Amazon.com for $15/monthly supply. Cut out the pharmacy and the health insurance completely.

Makes one wonder what the overhead is for? Or why this arbitrary rule that costs them more to enforce and administer in paperwork?

Pre-Existing Is Not Pre-Existing

My idea of the ACA was that it freed people from the constraints of restrictions for pre-existing conditions. But I found out that does not apply to my Cigna dental insurance.

In late February 2014, I went to my dentists under the care of my preceding plan. I was told I needed a filling, but I decided to wait until my new dental plan went into effect, March 1, 2014. As usual, I ended up putting this off, but ending up seeing my dentist on August 27, 2014 August 7, 2014. They supposedly checked my coverage– but.

The “but” was I got a call a week after from my dentist office letting me know that Cigna had a 6 month waiting period on any work beyond checkups.

Waiting period. Isn’t that like a pre-exiting condition exclusion?

My dentist office filed an appeal.

Yesterday a letter arrived from Cigna letting me know they declined the appeal, and thus I was responsible for the payment of dental care for which I thought I had coverage for.

Let’s check the calendar. Six months from the start of the plan is September 1; my visit was 5 days prior. My mistake, it was actually 24 days. That is, of course huge.

Five days.

I fired off one those I Have Twitter and Will Complain things, and got a rather quick response meaning that Cigna is listening for mentions of their company name in social media.

It looks like they are being responsive. Companies do this alot, then shuttle you to a DM or email, so their support/lack is never seen again. I pressed for a public response, got none.

I sent an email.

I resent the email, which was received somewhere on the internet.

I resent it 8 times.

I figured, well, if they do not know how to read email, I can just sent the info. Public.

They still pressed for email, asking for my email in a DM.

I refuse to take this into a private channel. Support me in public, will ya? I tweeted my email address.

Oh, I was supposed to use their “secure” email. This means that the https email I use all the time is much less secure than the web site I log into and read.

They will “be looking into this”.

Let’s see what they are on the table for. The bill from my dentist was discounted $100 insurance rate to $210. If covered on Cigna insurance, knock off $50 for my deductible, that gets it to $160 they might cover. Then knock off $32 for the 20% I would pay for the coverage.

This means Cigna is screwing me over a $128 coverage for treatment they might pay for a freaking technicality of 5 days too soon? (consider I have already paid them $180 in premiums this year).

Next year, I will drop Cigna like an anvil; I will brush and floss regularly and pay as I go for my teeth.

In both cases, I am lost to understand the efficiency of administrative overhead (the mailings, the staff cost of processing appeals) for what to me are extremely arbitrary rules that have nothing to do with healthcare.

Yep, it is a smooth operating thing of beauty.

sq wheelssq wheels

UPDATE September 23, 2014: No word at all from Cigna via twitter, their secure email, or any other transmission. I am spending my time tonight writing an appeal letter.

Farewell Cadu

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I got the sad news today from my ex that Cadu has left this earth. This loyal black lab was the sister of Mickey, the brown lab who stands in for me on my various avatars and this web site banner. We got both puppies in 2001, partly as a means of getting over the loss of a predecessor dog, MC Fudge.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Her name was chosen as a shortened version of Caduceus, the staff of Hermes that is the symbol of medicine, of health. Metaphorically, of the healing of the loss of Fudge. The irony was that as a puppy, Cadu was really sick! She was lethargic for a puppy, lost a lot of fur, and overweight. But thanks to the staff of Hermes and our veterinarian, she was diagnosed with a thyroid problem. A pill a day got her into fine dog shape, for 13 years of hiking, swimming, playing in the snow, and doing the stuff that dogs do.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I last saw her over a year ago, and while her muzzle had gone all grey, she was the same bundle of happy dog I always knew.

On the same day Cadu left us, I got word that my step-daughter gave birth to a son. There might be a virtuous circle of life at work there. Maybe.

Where-ever you go Cadu, I know it will be with ferocious life spirit.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

This photo (and the one at the top) was from was my last time with her here in Strawberry. I will try and hold into the caption I wrote for that photo 6 years ago– “We should all try going full speed and let our ears flop.”