Category Archives: Technology

RSS: not dead. More like Doritos.

Sam Diaz over at ZDNet recently posted his death knell for RSS, claiming that it was “a good idea at the time, but there are better ways now”:

The truth of the matter is that RSS readers are a Web 1.0 tool, an aggregator of news headlines that never really caught on with the mainstream the way Twitter and Facebook have. According to a Forrester Research study about the reach of social technologies, only nine percent of U.S. online adults said they use an RSS feed monthly, down from 11 percent the year before. By contrast, 50 percent are visiting social networking sites, up from 34 percent last year and 39 percent are reading blogs, up from 37 percent a year ago.
Sam kind of misses the point about RSS. RSS isn’t a technology designed or implemented for the non power-user. RSS is an aggregation tool, designed to make it easier to blow through the Top 10, 20, 50 or 100 sites you visit daily, weekly, so on. That’s not really in line with people who use the internet as a communication tool, not as an information or entertainment one.

The common complaint with RSS as a technology is a valid one. RSS is a massive firehose; the sources never turn off, the reading never ends. I’m reminded of the Jay Leno Doritos commercials: crunch all you want. we’ll make more.

Reading RSS can be disheartening, because no matter how much you crunch at it, content providers will make more. Eventually, you will get full, and sick of checking. Many RSS users (Sam Diaz and me included) dread those high unread counts because they don’t symbolize what we have accomplished (staying informed) but what we have yet to accomplish (read the ninth article in a row about duck fat).

This is a problem not with RSS, but in the readers that use the technology. RSS readers universally have one major fault: they present information like it’s e-mail. There’s subjects, tags, folders, filters, and (worst of all) those unread message counts. Here’s a popular email client side by side with a popular RSS reader:

rssreader outlook

RSS is not e-mail. Thus, the successful RSS reader will present the information in a way that does not make it look and feel like e-mail. Unlike work, or even personal, e-mail, RSS doesn’t have to be read. Sure you might miss a fun recipe, or insightful political argument, but if your blog or friend network is robust enough, and the content is “important” enough, you’ll probably catch it later. And, unlike your bosses or clients missives, if you miss it, it’s not the end of the world.

Here’s a fun thought: since it’s got the potential and ability, why not make RSS the real replacement for the daily newspaper, with emphasis not on news, but on daily. Every morning at, say, 6 AM (customizable for early or late risers), your RSS readings are generated and aggregated from the sources you define. You can print it out, read it, ignore it, do whatever you want with it, but that’s all you’re getting so don’t come back until tomorrow.

There are all sorts of tremendous advantages to this: a bit of time delay allows authors to get the story right and make those post-publish edits. You eliminate the firehose feeling and can, if you do it right, present the information in a scheme that feels more analogous to RSS’s newpaper cousin instead of its e-mail one. You could also, I suppose, have some sort of algorithm to pick the “best”/”most popular”/”for you” stories up front, instead of the chronological layout of current RSS readers.

The iPhone is beautiful.

After two years without a data smartphone, I finally took the plunge and bought an iPhone. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase! I was very sad to leave Verizon, but I am so glad with what I can do. In fact, I am writing this on it right now.

When I went out for drinks last night, I didn’t get lost on my way to a bar I’d never been to. I can listen to music, make phone calls, read books, and write blog posts all on a handheld device. So, so sweet.

Drug Compliance Genius

I think Steven Leavitt (of Freakonomics) best distills this idea to its very core.

“So if you take the drug and pee on a special piece of paper, a secret message appears. If you don’t take the drug, you can pee on it all you want, but it will not reveal the secret message.”
I can definitely see this extending to doping at the Tour Du France, only the message would be “Allez directement en prison, vous porcine américaine.”

via An Ingenious Approach to Drug Compliance – Freakonomics Blog –

Bump Technology: The Business Card Enters The 21st Century

This is nothing short of amazing:

BumpTM makes swapping contact information as simle as bumping two phones together. No typing, no searching a list for the right person, no shaking your phone, no modem noises, no mistakes.

via Bump Technologies LLC. Finally, a business-card replacement that makes sense. Bump provides seamless transfer of information using a shared, secured, authorizable medium. You can’t have my contact information unless I want you to have it. I get to pick what contact information you recieve, and there’s no chance for error at data entry.

Simply brilliant. Another reason I’m still impressed with the iPhone and the developer talent.

Laundryroom Twitter

Saw this list of Twitter uses the other day; kudos to Olin for the top spot (though the list might be unranked) for the 3rd-Floor West Hall laundryroom Twitter agent. Anyone familiar with this know how it works? I don’t remember how the LaundryView system works, but if I recall correctly, there’s e-mail functionality. It’d be interesting to learn more. Reply in comments if you’ve got the details.

2 Quick Strikes Against Windows

You’d think my work laptop would have all the bells and whistles ready to go. After all, I run cygwin, the Linux emulator, as well as have full (legal!) installations of Office 2003 Professional and the latest updates from Microsoft. Apparently, my installation has issues, both of which are font related.

First, with cygwin. I tried to set up LaTeX, and hit wall after wall. Getting past using TeTeX instead, I still hit issues with installing Ghostscript, both the windows executable and the binary from cygwin. Something, deep within the belly of the machine is going haywire, but it pains me how easy it is to set up LaTeX and GS in Ubuntu: GS comes pre-installed in Hardy Heron, and after 10 minutes with the CLI I had a full PDF version of Professor Allen Downey’s How To Think Like A Computer Scientist, compiled from source. As of this writing, my windows/GS problems are still unresolved, so thanks, Windows.

The other issue is with unicode boxes in Firefox. Even in FF3.0, you can run into problems with boxes instead of text like this: さんぽ (if you’re seeing boxes here, you’re seeing the problem.) Apparently, Widnows doesn’t have full-on unicode support on by default, so you’ll have to get a full sans-serif Unicode font and install it. A simpler way might be to follow these instructions for Office installations, though YMMV. Don’t forget to restart FF if you go this route.

Even with years of experience, I still slap my head when it comes to understanding the pains and hassles Windows environments face. One of these days…..

Violent video gaming made chilling

You owe it to yourself to spend the next 4 minutes or so watching this clip. Photographer Robbie Cooper has a series of video captures (beautifully lit, I might add) of kids and young teens playing video games. Titled “Immersion”, one possible way to interpret the video is a damnation of the incredible magnetism of violent, borderline pornographic realistic video-games out today, and more importantly, the impact such immersion has on today’s youth. There are some particularly chilling, almost scary, clips, but the one that drove it home for me was the wide-eyed youngster in the Nike uni… no flinching from that one.

Link and vid from Geekologie

Boy Howdy Balsamiq is cool

Before I switched over to full time software development,  I used to write functional specs for some of the applications at ATG. The most frustrating aspect of this wasn’t the text itself, since describing what happens when you click a button is pretty sweet, but being blocked waiting for the UI designer to update the wireframe models. He and I used Microsoft Visio, a bulky, awkward product on a good day, and we lost quite a few days to his creating prototypes. (It didn’t help that he was three time zones away.) Continue reading


Toyota makes a silly.

Toyota, the undisputed champion of the hybrid-world, is contemplating adding solar panels to the next generation of Prius cars even though they know they’ll get a scant amount of electricity from it. It’s already being called a “symbolic” gesture.


Dear Toyota: really? You want to have Prius owners excommunicated from the driving public even more? (“Look at that ass with the fancy schmancy solar panel on his car.”) You’re willing to handle the additional electrical maintenance costs in your base warranty? Do I have to worry about washing the car differently? Does the additional weight of the solar panel even get offset by the energy it produces?

With all these questions, how is something “symbolic” at best worth it?

Toyota’s next generation of Prius hybrid cars will be fitted with solar panels to power on-board electrical items such as the air-conditioning system, it is reported. [From Toyota Prius may get 'symbolic' solar panels - tech - 07 July 2008 - New Scientist Tech]