Three Days in the Hospital – Not Exactly a Vacation

At the Hospital - View from the Bed

These are some (blurry) pics from where I spent the last three days of my life, on the cardiac floor of Bayshore Community Hospital in Holmdel, New Jersey. Over the history of my life, I’ve spent a good deal of time at doctors offices and healthcare facilities, but mainly as a result of my active lifestyle and my years spent playing various sports: broken arms, broken fingers, bad knees, pulled rotator cuff, hyperextended elbow, dislocated finger, etc. I’ve never really spent time in the hospital for a true emergency, however, which, unfortunately, changed earlier this week.

I woke up on Monday morning with a noticeably “different” heart rate. It seemed like it was fast, but it also seemed somewhat “exaggerated” and inconsistent. Oddly enough, I could not assess a good pulse, which was alarming. I had been taking some medicine under my doctors advice to address some ongoing chest and sinus congestion that I had, and knew that increased heart rates and possible palpatations were side effects, so I called the doctors and saw him first thing in the morning. After listening to my heart, he quickly advised that I go to the emergency room ASAP, as he was quite concerned about what he was hearing. After being admitted to the emergency room, it was quite clear that my resting heart rate was extremely high – up to 160 beats per minute. My resting heart rate is usually around 70 bmp, and I typically peak at 155 bpm after running 3 miles on the treadmill. In addition, my heart rhythm was extremely inconsistent, which caused a good deal of worries.

The doctors believe that my heart was reacting to the medication, which caused a severe increased heart rate, as well as a cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) known as atrial fibrillation, (“a-fib”, for short) which, if not addressed, could lead to serious blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Some people have persistent a-fib and require surgery to correct it. Other people have it only temporarily, when caused by some sort of external factor, such as medication, as in my case. The doctors hoped that this was only temporary and that I would “convert” to regular “sinus” rhythm after being given a dose of Cardizem (a calcium channel blocker used in the treatment of high blood pressure, angina and rapid heartbeats). I was given Cardizem for about 18 hours. In addition, I was given 50 hours worth of Heparin to thin my blood and reduce my chance of blood clots. The results were positive, as the a-fib rhythm converted to normal sinus rhythm after about 15 hours. For the next day and a half, I was given a small dose of blood pressure reduction medication, but no other cardiac medications.

For the final 30 hours, my heart rate, blood pressure and rhythm were normal without the assistance of any cardiac medications. I was given two echo cardiograms, five electro cardiograms and a number of blood tests (I was stuck 15 times in 3 days!). The final results of each of these tests were very positive.

This is particularly worrisome for someone like me, who exercises regularly, snowboards 30-40 days a year, limits my overall fat intake, has low cholesterol and low blood pressure. And, of course, I was the youngest person on the Cardiac floor of the hospital by about 30 years. The cardiologist is convinced that my medication is root cause for this and that I am “100% healthy”, but I will continue medical follow-ups just to be sure.

For now, I’m taking it easy at home, waiting for 50 hours worth of blood-thinners to wear off…can you say “light-headed”? ūüėČ

Parsing Flickr and Blogger Feeds with Perl and XML::Parser


Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow for clean formatting of code examples.  Therefore, formatting on this page is a bit messed up.   You can go to my website for a clean example of this.


You may have noticed a few places on this site where there is a table that looks something like this:

New on CJU.comLatest from the blog:The Wynn Las Vegas: Snack Anti-theft Technologies, Luxurious Suites and Free Drugs During your Stay (added: 2008-MAR-08)-New York Giants Win; Hoboken Madness Ensues (Update: February 5, 2008) (added: 2008-FEB-05)-The St. Regis San Francisco: When Your Hotel Room Needs to be Rebooted (added: 2008-JAN-22)-London New Year (added: 2008-JAN-03)-2007 Hoboken Accolades and Videos (added: 2007-DEC-27)-Christmas Day in New York City (added: 2007-DEC-26)Latest pics from my Flickr Photo Gallery:Super Bowl Sunday (added: 2008-02-17)-iSight is Dead (added: 2008-02-17)-Lake Tahoe, N. California and Nevada (added: 2008-01-26)-Lake Tahoe, N. California and Nevada (added: 2008-01-26)-Lake Tahoe, N. California and Nevada (added: 2008-01-26)-Lake Tahoe, N. California and Nevada (added: 2008-01-26) Mini-sites:The Definitive Guide to Purchasing a SnowboardThe Deep Thoughts Server – served over 20 million Jack Handey Deep Thoughts since 1996

The table above shows the last five entries posted to¬†my blog,¬†as well as the last six photos posted to my photostream on Flickr. If you’re reading this, you probably already know what Flickr and Blogger are, so I won’t waste our time going into that, but you may not know that the content you post on both of those sites can be syndicated via RSS and Atom-style feeds, both rather easily. If you’re not familiar with what RSS is, take a quick read of the Wikipedia article, which addresses both RSS and Atom technologies.There are many ways that you can read syndicated XML feeds: Web browsers, such as Safari and Firefox have built in support; Third party applications like NetNewsReader provide robust interfaces for reading feeds; Portals such as Google customized front-page allow you to have these at your fingertips every time you fire up your browser and go to Google’s homepage. Reading RSS feeds is no problem, but what happens if you want to use the contents of these feeds for something?The good news is that RSS and Atom feeds are both XML-based and both have standard, well-documented formats, although the technical documents can be a bit tricky when you just want to bang out a quick web app without getting into the nitty-gritty of the protocol spec. this article talks about how you can use Perl to retrieve, parse and utilize these types of feeds.For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be focusing on the Atom format, which is easier to parse, IMO and is the only format currently available via Blogger. Flickr, thankfully, provides flexibility to syndicate feeds in just about any XML/RSS/Atom format available today.Determining the URL of Your FeedFirst and foremost, you must figure out what the URL is for the feed that you are trying to grab.For Blogger feeds, it’s pretty simple. The format of your blogger feed is always:¬†¬†¬† example, my blog URL is, so my Blogger Atom feed is Flickr feeds, it’s a bit more complicated. Flickr allows you to specify feeds for many different attributes of the site, which can include feeds for specific users and tags. Flickr has a specification for how to configure your feeds here. To get you started, however, it’s easy to use your photostream feed, which represents the last ten photos that you’ve uploaded to Flickr. The feed’s URL uses the following format for Atom feeds:¬†¬†¬† the red colored “your_flickr_nsid” should be substituted with your Flickr NSID, which is a unique number that identifies you on the Flickr site. Note that this is NOT your Flickr username. You can have Flickr automatically generate this URL for you by going to your photostream and clicking on the “Feeds for (your username’s) photostream Available as RSS 2.0 and Atom” at the bottom of the page. Copy/Paste this URL and keep it in a safe place. Note that your Flickr NSID will be in the URL after the “id=” token of the query string. My feed URL, for example, looks like this:¬†¬†¬† Perl ModulesThere are a few methods to attack the parsing of the feed with Perl. Many people still parse XML “manually”, by writing their own parsers that use a lot of regular expressions and pattern matching. This can be a lot of work and you’re always at risk of slight changes in the feed format, which might throw your parsing routines off. There are several Perl modules written for RSS and Atom feeds, such as XML::Atom, but I have found that interfaces to these modules only allow you to pull out certain attributes about feed, which limits what you can do with it. All of the RSS/Atom modules, however, are built on top of Perl’s XML::Parser modules, which is a generic, event-based parser based on the Expat C XML parser. For flexibility’s sake, I’ll be using XML::Parser to do all of my feed parsing. No parsing libraries, however, provide methods to retrieve these feeds via HTTP, so you’ll have to do that yourself. The easiest way is to use the libwwwperl package, which provides you with the “LWP::” module namespace. Therefore, to get started, you’ll have to march down to your local CPAN and pick up XML::Parser and LWP. To validate if you have these installed, issue these two commands:

perl -MLWP::Simple -e "print;" perl -MXML::Parser -e "print;"

They should both return nothing. If you see something like this, however, you don’t have the module installed:

Can't locate in @INC (@INC contains: /System/Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level /System/Library/Perl/5.8.6  /Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level /Library/Perl/5.8.6  /Library/Perl /Network/Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level /Network/Library/Perl/5.8.6 /Network/Library/Perl /System/Library/Perl/Extras/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level /System/Library/Perl/Extras/5.8.6 /Library/Perl/5.8.1 .). BEGIN failed--compilation aborted.

Parsing the FeedsWe’ll start with the Flickr Feed. You may just want to jump to the “Summary” part of this article if you’re not interested in how the code words, but just want to get the code and the details on the supporting files. The code we use to parse the Flickr feed is as follows:

#!/usr/bin/perl#(c) 2005 Christopher Uriarte# rssflckr.cgi - parses a flckr atom feed to show the most recent MAXENTRIES, links and date addeduse LWP::UserAgent;use XML::Parser;#####Static Values####$MAXENTRIES = 6;$url = '';#Tag Trackermy $thistag;#Track if we're in an <entry> blockmy $entryflag;#count the number of entriesmy $count = 0;#####Retrieve XML Date####my $data;my $ua = LWP::UserAgent->new;$ua->timeout(45);$ua->env_proxy;my $response = $ua->get($url);if ($response->is_success){$data = $response->content;}else{exit;}my $parser = new XML::Parser(ErrorContext => 2);$parser->setHandlers(Start => \&start_handler,End   => \&end_handler,Char  => \&char_handler);$parser->parse($data);#We start here when we encounter an HTML Tagsub start_handler {my $expat = $_[0];my $element = $_[1];#print "Encountered element $element\n";#If we enter an <entry> tag, we have a new element#Increase the county by 1 and set the entry flag to 1if ($element eq "entry"){$count++;$entryflag = 1;#print "Count is now $count and entryflag is set to $entryflag.\n";}if ($element eq "title" && $entryflag == 1){$thistag = "title";}#Grab the title and href element of the second "link" tag#exclude service.edit links, we want the "alternate" tag link#print "Encountering Element=$element,entryflag=$entryflag,dollar_1,2,3=$_[1],$_[2],$_[3] \n";if ( ($element eq "link") and ($entryflag == 1) and ($_[3] eq "alternate") ){$ENTRIES{$count}->{link} = $_[7];#print "Link: $_[7]\n";}if ($element eq "issued" && $entryflag == 1){$thistag = "issued";#print "Added: $_";}}#This is where we handle the values within the tagsub char_handler {my ($p, $data) = @_;#print the modified dateif ($thistag eq "issued" && $entryflag == 1){#Get the first 11 Chars of the date, that's all we care about$date = substr($data,0,10);#print "$date\n";$ENTRIES{$count}->{date} = $date;$thistag = "";}if ( ($thistag eq "title") and ($entryflag == 1) ){$ENTRIES{$count}->{title} = $data;$thistag = "";}1;}sub end_handler {my $expat = shift;my $element = shift;#If we're at the end of an <entry> block, clear the entry flagif ($element eq "entry"){$entryflag = 0;#print "\n\n";}1;}#Determine how many entries to display#If our set maximum amt of entries is less than what we encountered#we only display up to $MAXENTRIESif ($MAXENTRIES < $count){$MAX = $MAXENTRIES;}#Otherwise, we display what we encounteredelse{$MAX = $count;}#Map through the %ENTRIES hash from 1 to $MAX  to display the linksfor ($c=1; $c<=$MAX; $c++){#print "Loop is $c, count is $count\n";$title = $ENTRIES{$c}->{title};$link = $ENTRIES{$c}->{link};$date = $ENTRIES{$c}->{date};print "-<A href=\"$link\">$title</A> (added: $date)<BR>\n";}

Here’s a walkthrough of some of the code:

Lines 13-14: Configurable ValuesThese are the only two configurable values in the script. The $MAXENTRIES variable indicates the maximum number of entries you want to print out after parsing the feed. If your feed contains 100 entries, you may only wish to print out, say 5. The $url variable specifies the URL to your feed.Lines 24-47: Parser Setup and TimeoutsThis block initiates the XML::Parse object, retrieves your XML feed via HTTP and sets a timeout of 30 seconds on the HTTP retrieval. If the retrieval fails, the script exits.

Lines 50-85: The XML::Parser Start Handler¬†This block is the tag start handler for XML::Parser, which is the sub-routine executed when a new XML tag is encountered. For the Atom feeds, we’re really only interested in the tags contained within and XML tags. If we find a new entry, we add a new element to the %ENTRIES hash array on line 75, which uses a global counter as the key. We make this hash multi-dimensional by setting $ENTRIES{$count}->{link} to the URL of the photo, which is the 7th element of a tag for that entry, e.g. If we’ve encountered the title of issued date tag, we set a variable ($this_tag) that indicates what we’ve encountered and wait until the next sub-routine for further processing of these tags.

Lines 88-110: The XML::Parser Char Handler¬†This block is the tag char handler for XML::Parser, which is the sub-routine executed when we are examining the data contained between a start and end XML tag. As noted earlier, we’ve set flags for when we’ve encountered the issued date and and title tags. When we encounter the contents of each of these, we add them to the %ENTRIES hash array using the same key. The issued and title tags are added as $ENTRIES{$count}->{date} and $ENTRIES{$count}->{date}, respectively.

Lines 113-125: The XML::Parser End Handler¬†This block is the tag end handler for XML::Parser, which is the sub-routine executed the close of an XML tag is encountered. In this sub-routine, we mainly just do some cleanup of state variables. If we’ve hit the end of an ENTRY tag, we set the state variable accordingly.

Lines 131-151: Printing the Contents of your FeedIn this block we determine the number of feed elements to print out, based o the number of elements encountered in the feed and what you’ve previous set $MAXENTRIES to in line 12. The format of the printing is done in line 150, where each entry is printed out in HTML format. This line can be modified accordingly to fit your requirements. All output is made to STDOUT.

The strategy for parsing the blogger feed is similar, which you can explore by examining the code itself (see SUMMARY section below).Using the Output of the FeedsNow that you’ve parsed the feeds and have the output, you need to incorporate them into your webpage, email or whatever your delivery mechanism is for this information. As I noted earlier, the script above outputs to STDOUT, so you can easily “catch” the output into a file by using simple re-direction, e.g.:

perl > flckrfeed.txt

You can then incorporate the contents of this text file into your website by simply reading the contents of the file. In order to keep the feed up-to-date, however, you will need to run this script automatically, which can be done through a standard UNIX cron job. I have separate cronjob entries for both my Flickr and Blogger feeds, which run every hour, e.g.:

0 * * * * perl ~chrisjur/www/cgi-bin/ > ~chrisjur/www/cgi-bin/blogfeed.txt  0 * * * * perl ~chrisjur/www/cgi-bin/ > ~chrisjur/www/cgi-bin/flckrfeed.txt

Since I have several pages that call the display the same feed information, I like to keep the interface to these feed files consistent. I do this by using a simple ‘include’ perl route, which returns the contents of the feed based on a feed “keyword” that is passed to it. This script is the “roadmap” to all my feed files and how I access them. A simple example is this type of file follows:

1:      #!/usr/bin/perl 2: 3: - returns HTML code pulled from RSS/Atom feed grabbers. 4:      # use: 5:      # 6:      # require 7:      # $blog = dumpfeed('blog); 8:      # print $blog; 9: 10:     sub dumpfeed { 11: 12:             # Configuration Hash uses key => value, where key is a keywork passed 13:             # to the routine, specifying what feed you want and value is the file 14:             # containing the feed contents 15:             my %feeds = ( 16:                     'blog' => 'blogfeed.txt', 17:                     'flckr' => 'flckrfeed.txt' 18:                     ); 19: 20:             my $requestfeed = shift(); 21:             my $feedfile = $feeds{$requestfeed}; 22: 23:             # Open the feed file 24:             my $text; 25:             my $failed; 26:             open (F, "$feedfile") || ($failed = 1); 27:                     while () 28:                     { 29:                             $text = $text . $_; 30:                     } 31:                     close F; 32: 33:             if ($failed == 1) 34:                     { 35:                     $text = "Error:  Could not open feed with token $requestfeed using source $feedfile."; 36:                     } 37: 38:             # Send it back. 39:             return $text; 40:     } 41: 42:     1;

You can call the subroutine as many times as you want from within your .cgi script or whatever is driving the display of your feed content. These 3 lines assign the contents of the blog feed to the $blog variable, which can be printed out at any point in your .cgi:

1:      require 2:      $blog = dumpfeed('blog'); 3:      print $blog;

Summary Information and FilesRequired Perl Modules:

Files from Examples Above:

  • – Parses Flickr Atom feeds and prints summary output to STDOUT. Modify the $url variable to specify your Flickr feed URL. Modify the $MAXENTRIES variable to specify how many entries you want to print.
  • – Parses Blogger Atom feeds and prints summary output to STDOUT.Modify the $url variable to specify your Blogger feed URL. Modify the $MAXENTRIES variable to specify how many entries you want to print.
  • – include subroutine used to access various local feeds that you wish to incorporate into your output.

New Version of My Homepage: Online Again

I put up my first homepage on the Internet in 1993 and registered (my initials) a year and a half later. Since 1995 has been my personal homepage site, used for lots of useless (and sometimes useful) things. For the last 4 months, I have had a shell of a site up, while I was re-working some of the guts of this new site. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff dealing with RSS feeds (including flckr and blogspot) and such. I’m happy to have it online again, as I’ve recently been playing with lots of newer web technologies (including lots of stuff related to content syndication and AJAX programming).

My New Motorola SLVR L7 – Updated

I was a bit upset last week when my Motorola V635 phone crapped out. I got this phone from France and have had a good time playing with it over the past year. It had a full array of features, a nice, compact clamshell design and a fairly good 1.3 megapixel camera. One day, however, it decided that it was going to wake up and stop getting receiption. Since I never really played the pre-loaded version of Tetris, a cell phone without reception is of little use to me.

This wasn’t too big of a deal, however – I had my eye on the upcoming Motorola RAZR v3i for a while and, although it wasn’t available from a US carrier, the price had dropped significantly over the past 4 or 5 months. It essentally had the same features as the V635 with the sleek RAZR profile (the US version of this phone is supposed to have iTunes on it, although the European version simply comes with Moto’s MP3 player). I figured that I would just pick this up from an importer, assuming I could get it quickly – very quickly.

I was surprised, however, when I logged onto Cingular’s website on January 30th to find that Moto’s newest release, the SLVR L7 (pronounced “sliver”), was now available from Cingular for $199. I have been a former ATT-cum-Cingular customer for almost 10 years now, and have two lines that are both on month-to-month plans. When I went to the Cingular store to inquire about a phone upgrade, they told me they could give me an additional loyalty discount of $50, plus a free car charger (maybe this is because I have been a long time customer, but it’s probably because my monthly bills are often between $300 – $500 when you rack up my international calls and roaming). So, for $149, I figured “What the hell…”.

At first impressions, the design is sharp. The full-metal, brushed and polished steel case is sturdy and doesn’t seem as cheap as 98% of the phones on the market today. The screen is bright and large (just a tad bit smaller than the RAZR’s) and the buttons have a nice feel to them. I’ve read a few reviews where the revierwers complain that the buttons are too small, but I have large fingers and have yet to fat finger anything. The buttons have a nice feel and I can text as quickly as I did on any of my previous phones.

The Cingular kit preloads the phone with a 512MB MicroSD/Transflash card, which is handy if you are actually going to put music on it, or take a lot of pictures. The UI is pretty much the same as most of the Motos on the market today, which isn’t saying much (MOTO’s UI design is poor, IMO, but I have trained myself to get used to it).

It includes iTunes software, which wasn’t an important selling point to me, but is a neat little toy to have. I plugged it into my Mac and iTunes immediately recognized the phone, using iTunes 6. The SLVR has the same USB 1.1 data transfer limitation as the (failed) ROKR, but this isn’t such a big deal…you’re not going to use this thing like an iPod (well, at least I’m not, I own 3 flavors of the iPod as it is). There is also the same 100-song upload max as the ROCKR, so Apple ensures that you won’t use this as an iPod substitute. Sound quality via the included headphone is good, but the bass is very lacking. The dual-purpose handsfree-talk/music-listening headphones are not that great, but functional. The are much less comfortable than the iPod “white” earbuds. The phone comes with a headphone mini-plug adapter, which allows you to use standard headphones with the phone, although they must be removed if you want to accept an incoming call.

The camera has VGA (640×480) resolution – a step down from the 1.3MP camera in my old V635 and the upcoming RAZR v3i, but the cell phone camera novelty has worn off for me, so this isn’t a big deal. As I stated earlier, the RAZR v3i includes a 1.3MP camera, for those of you who really need the extra resolution and can wait for it’s “official” release here in the US.

The SLVR worked out-of-the-box with iTunes and Mac OS X’s iSync software (I was able to load my phone book via Bluetooth in less than a minute). It also paired with the hands-free bluetooth speakerphone in my 2005 BMW X3 without any problems, as well as my Motorola Bluetooth headset. The USB cable is included and the phone can charge from your PC with its use. The kit also comes with a standard wall charger. Moto uses the RAZR-style power/input plug for this phone…it looks like the old-fashioned, poorly-designed, 3-pin Moto charging plug is on its way out.

All in all, this is a sleek, well-built phone. I’m happy with the features and the sound quality. I think it provides a good bang for the buck, compared to other phones on the market today, particulary if you can get it for $150. Cingular seems to be pushing it hard and I’m sure this will be purchased by a lot of people who don’t know megapixels from MP3s, but who will want to “look good” while talking.

Here are a couple of pics taken with the camera (click for full size). As you can see, photo quality is a bit blurry:

Office Toys Philadelphia - Chris and Kurt, Feb 5, 2005 (camera phone)