Friday, March 22, 2013
Tracking bills on your smartphone with a free RSS reader
by Larry Geller
A couple of people have tried my bill tracking method described in How to track bills in the Legislature by email, SMS or even telephone calls (3/18/2013) and reported that it does work, after the minor pain of setting it up.
I’ve also asked if people know they can use an RSS reader either on their home or office computer or on their smartphone, and it looks like almost no one is doing that. In truth, the simplest way to go, given what the Capitol website offers, is to use an RSS reader on the smartphone instead of the method described in the article.
Why don’t more people use RSS? I don’t know. Probably iTunes largely replaced RSS as a way to get podcasts. Anyway, this is Hawaii, and so some technical things are slow to catch on here.
Let me say upfront that neither this method nor the previous one should be necessary. Tracking bills would be easier if the Capitol website would work properly, but this is what we have. The website is already so much better than what we used to have, I’m willing to hope that they work better notification methods one day as well.
This method is really easy, and I recommend it. No external programs are required. Just your smartphone and a downloaded RSS reader. I can talk about Android phones—if you have an iPhone there is something for you also, but I don’t know what to recommend. So everyone can do this, even though I’m only speaking to Android users here.
First, you need an RSS reader. If you don’t already have one, for an Android phone, go to the Play Store and try the free version of RSS Demon, for example. Others will work as well, or perhaps even better. Free is good, that’s one of the reasons I selected this one to begin with. Even if you already use an RSS or podcast reader, you may want to leave that one as-is and download another just for bill tracking. At the end of the session you can simply un-install it.
Let’s go through the steps assuming you have RSS Demon, but others will not be too different.
Step 1 - The program comes with some feeds already selected. You can keep them, or just uncheck them and they won’t bother you again. To do that, use the Menu key on your phone (Menu > More> Manage Sources).
Step 2 - You’ll also want to set up notifications via the Settings selection on the menu (Menu key > More > Settings > Notifications). I picked a ring tone and asked it to flash the LED as well. Ok, now the program is set up.
Step 3 – search the Capitol website and find the bill you want to track. I’ll use this one. Note the little orange thingy at the right—that’s the RSS feed link. Click it.
Step 4 – Grab the feed. Up in the address bar on your browser, copy the URL. On my phone, I lean my finger on the URL (long press) and it offers the option to copy.
Step 5 – Back in your RSS reader, add the feed (Menu > More > Manage Sources > Feed URL > +). Paste the URL into the text box and Save it. To paste, of course, you just lean your finger on that orange box and it should give you a Paste option.
You should now be in business. You can check under Settings for the interval you want to check, for example, every hour. Of course, your phone must also be set to allow sync, which it probably is unless you previously killed that. That setting is in the phone options menu.
Some programs have an option to only sync when Wi-Fi is available. RSS Demon has a setting like that. If you want to have it check over your data connection when Wi-Fi isn’t available, you can have it do that (Menu > More > Settings > Article Updates).
Once the program is set up, this is a very efficient way to track bills. When the status for a bill changes, you will get a notification from your phone in the way you have set it up.
The Capitol website could make our lives much easier if it would simply set up notifications by email in addition to the RSS method. Also, it is a royal pain that the RSS icon does not have a link, because if it did, many RSS readers can pick it up automatically when you click on it, without the steps above. In other words, you’d be on the bill status page and click the RSS icon, and the link would open in your RSS reader. Piece of cake.
But that’s not what they’ve given us.
So try this, or the previous method.
P.S. While typing this, my phone told me that the PLDC bill will be amended and is moving on. Now, if only we knew what the amendment is. Perhaps something about that will be on Twitter…. yup.