Category Archives: Tech Stuff

Out of Touch ID

Touch ID is Apple’s fingerprint recognition technology on the iPhone 5S that allows one to train the home button to learn one’s unique fingerprint(s) so as to unlock the phone by touch rather than passcode. Very slick idea and a great selling point on the iPhone 5S.

Here’s a post on Apple’s Touch ID on the iPhone 5S that is exactly my experience:

Dr. Drang on Touch ID

1. Train it according to spec. To be sure, multiple times on a single finger plus other fingers.

2. Works like a charm a few times.

3. Degrades over time and in a day is almost worthless.

This has been my experience since day one with Touch ID, my wife’s as well. I’ve tossed out all my saved fingers dozens of times and retrained, etc. Works, then degrades. And, I have iCloud Keychain turned on so I can’t leave my iPhone unlocked (well, I can but that would be asking for trouble).

I have little doubt that we’re not alone in experiencing this but others seem to have a much better experience with it. So, either some people have finger prints that cause problems for Touch ID or some iPhones have Touch ID systems that are different from others.

Don’t take this the wrong way: I love the iPhone 5S and I’d have bought it without Touch ID: it’s fast, it has great connectivity, and it’s one slick device. But, Touch ID is one of the technologies Apple is bragging about with this product and at least for me, my wife, and Dr. Drang, it’s not reliable at all.

What Screens Want

What Screens Want

This is a brilliant presentation/essay by designer Frank Chimero on designing for the internet and a lot more. It’s well worth taking the time to read through and best on a device that will allow the various videos to play in line. The design of the presentation/essay is first rate and an example of exactly what Frank is talking about.

[via Shawn Blanc]

Reunion

This is a brilliant advertising piece by Google that I found embedded in the following article on Medium: Why did Google make an ad for promoting “Search” in India where it has over 97% market share? by Himanshu Gupta.

The gist of the Gupta piece is that Google is all about getting everyone, including mobile users to use browsers for everything, including running apps. This makes sense, they get to serve up ads and control quite a bit of the back end of what we do with browsers. However, on mobile devices people use connected, client apps as well as browsers and Google has no control in this arena.

This is the same struggling going on at Twitter now: Twitter would like to make it tougher for third party client apps to use its service because those apps can filter out ads and Twitter would like to make money serving ads. So, if you use Twitter via a browser or via an “official” Twitter client app, you’ll see ads and Twitter will be happy. Otherwise, no ads and you’ll be happy. Google, Twitter, and Facebook, among others, are struggling with this stuff right now.

The funny caption under the image at the top of the Medium article also caught my eye and it underscores the idea that in mobile, it’s about apps: “Why didn’t you just Skype with me Dumbledore?” Brilliant.

The Wall Street Code

I first posted on vpro digital’s excellent documentary Money and Speed: Inside the Black Box a year ago. This is their new piece on the people who design the black boxes, a group of people called “quants.”

This new piece is also is a very well produced one hour documentary that has the feel of a Frontline piece mixed with the excellent movie Margin Call.

I love this stuff, even though the ideas presented here scare the shit out of me, both as an investor and as a citizen of the world, the economic health of which is more and more in the hands of machines competing against one another.

What I’m doing about RSS

With the demise of Google Reader on July 1st there’s a mad scramble to corral the users who are going to be cast adrift when they no longer have a stable cloud based RSS feed home.

As I said in an earlier post on this, for me, readability is at the top of the list of attributes of the application(s) I use to scan feeds. For many years, the Reeder app on Mac, iPad, and iPhone was my primary way to collect, organize, and read everything from personal blogs to various news services to flickr photo streams and more. RSS as a technology and Reeder as a tool to harness it has made reading, an activity that comes hard to me, much easier.

But, the various Reeder apps are not going to be ready to sync with a cloud service and with each other by Monday. Only the latest Reeder for iPhone is going to work with a few of the various cloud services out there but Reeder for iPad and Mac won’t (yet).

Many will feel differently about this but in my case, my MacBook Pro is my primary device for using Reeder, dealing with this blog, and more. I like a real keyboard and a mouse and the various services that Mac OS provides me (vs iOS). So, for me, the primary tool I’m interested in is an RSS reader on my Mac. My iPhone and iPad, while heavily used, come second.

So Reeder is on hold for the time being because the Macintosh version can’t self-host feeds and it won’t work with any of the ongoing cloud based services. As I said in my earlier posts on this, I don’t really care about Google Reader but I really do care about Reeder because that’s the tool I interact with and it gives me no joy to pull it off my Mac’s dock.

Mr. Reader looks like an excellent app for the iPad and it will work with various cloud hosting services. But, it doesn’t have a Mac or iPhone version.

I made an account with Feedly and imported all of my Google Reader feeds, moved over to Feedly in the cloud and turned off the old Feedly Safari extension. I downloaded Feedly for iPhone and iPad and got everything all hooked up. Feedly is working for me, but, I’m not crazy about it because there is no native Mac app (it’s a web app on the computer) and it’s more magazine like than I prefer, even when customized to get the most list-like views out of it. I’m using Feedly as my backup tool and cloud service, hoping that maybe someday Reeder will sync with it.

My very first RSS Reader was an early version of NetNewsWire and I stuck with it for many years until Brent Simmons sold it and at about the same time, Google Reader came along and I switched to it and then later, Reeder.

I decided to give NetNewsWire another try a few days ago and it’s on sale for the moment for $10 so it’s not an expensive experiment. I must say, I’m enjoying using it. Very similar to Reeder with a simple interface and simple controls and decent (and adjustable) typography. At the moment it doesn’t sync with anything but it does hold onto all of your feeds and you can import your Google Reader account with all folders and feeds intact. If you’re not sure what to do and you’re a serious Mac user, I highly recommend buying NetNewsWire and getting your feeds out of Google Reader. This way you’ve saved all of your feeds and any structure you have for reading them and you can wait out the syncing issue and iOS app issue.

If I find myself in a place where I need to see my feeds and can only do it on my iPhone, I’ve got Feedly running and can always dig through feeds to find what I want. But, for now, my primary way of reading

In the end, I’m hoping that Reeder is brought back to life with various possibilities for syncing via the cloud but until then, after a struggle testing a lot of solutions the past few weeks, I think I’ve found a collection of tools that will make this transition tolerable.

Apple announcements today

I watched various Apple folks present the keynote at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference today and I have to say, I got really excited and was cheering like many do watching sports games.

You can watch it here: WWDC. June 10, 2013.

I wasn’t really looking for new stuff, I was looking to see how Apple was going to refine and enhance the things they already have out there.

Mac OS X (Mavericks) looks fantastic with lots of integration with life outside of one’s computer (namely, one’s other Apple devices). But, little things like tabbed Finder windows and tags at the system level look extremely useful to me. Maps is now an app on the Mac with easy syncing to iPhone and/or iPad and something that I’m very much looking forward to is iCloud Keychain: passwords and logins are shared between all devices immediately and automatically. Oh, and iBook is now an app on the Mac. Yes!

iOS 7 looks great to me and while the new flatter look isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the integration of the design throughout the OS and standard apps is apparent. A lot of thinking went into the small stuff and these kinds of things won’t be apparent until we get our hands on it. I noticed and particularly liked the new Photos app. Very nice update to an app that was in sore need of one.

I particularly liked the demo of iWork for iCloud: Open or create iWork documents (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) in a browser window on iCloud and share them easily with all your devices. Even work on the document on a machine running Windows 8 in IE. Very cool.

I’m a fan of Pandora so iTunes Radio looks great to me and it will integrate well with my existing iTunes library. I doubt I’ll leave Pandora over it but I see no reason they can’t coexist.

The new Mac Pro looks fantastic, especially its size (when compared with the existing Mac Pro). Note: It’s small. I have no use for it myself being a MacBook Pro kinda guy but I have friends who are drooling over this thing. And, one of its nice new “attributes” is that it’s assembled in the USA. I hope Apple sells a ton of them.

There’s an upgrade to the MacBook Air which looks great and a redesign and upgrade to Apple’s wireless router: AirPort Extreme and router/backup device, Time Capsule. The new AirPort Extreme appeals to me as it has a smaller footprint, is taller and has better (and faster) coverage. I’ll probably be getting one.

I have to say, I loved today’s announcements and while Wall Street seems to have been disappointed, I’m done thinking that there’s any coincidence between AAPL and Apple, Inc. I’m a user first, an investor second and as a user, I’m totally psyched.

AirPort wifi issue solved

For the past few months I’ve had sporadic drop-offs on our home network which is provided by a cable modem and an AirPort Extreme base station. I figured this was our cable provider although to be fair, we rarely have issue with cable unless there’s a severe storm.

Then I read Marco Arment’s piece Wi-Fi connections stalling on AirPort Extreme with 7.6.3 firmware and noted that I was running the latest (7.6.3) firmware. I didn’t do anything about it but saved the link to Marco’s piece.

Last week I was out in California visiting my mother and noticed that the AirPort Extreme router I have set up in her house was also running the latest firmware and in the past I’ve noticed that her network ground to a half at odd times.

So, I followed Marco’s directions and downgraded her AirPort Extreme to version 7.6.1 (extremely easy to do) and everything seemed to work fine. I don’t know if it did anything good but it certainly didn’t do anything bad. Next time I’m out there I’ll know better.

When I returned home I downgraded our AirPort Extreme and while I can’t say it solved the problems we were having they have not re-occurred since.

Marco seems to have been having problems with an iPhone dropping off and we may have had this too but I noticed it on my computer which I use much more at home.

I think this is worth trying if you’re running the latest firmware on an AirPort Extreme and have had any kind of noticeable drop-offs or slow downs.

Could Apple clean up my living room?

Why Are TV Remotes So Terrible?

This short NPR piece is interesting and it overlaps nicely with the speculation that Apple is cooking up something in the TV area beyond the current AppleTV.

I don’t agree that the primary reason remotes suck is because there are now more channels, it’s easy enough to plug any channel number into a remote number pad. The reason remotes suck is because there are now more devices and each has it’s own operating system and remote, most of which have no clue about the others. The assumption in the NPR piece is that everything I want to watch is on cable or the internet but in fact, most of Netflix’ movies are still DVD-only and I own a lot of DVD/Blu-rays that I like to watch as well.

Also, I am watching at least some content via my computer although that’s less a matter of choosing the computer or the internet, more a matter of how I find out about it and where I’m sitting in my house when I do. However, even though I thought Apple might do this a while back, the last thing I want is a huge iMac in my living room. While there is no doubt that TV will get more interactive, I’d prefer to use my MacBook Pro or my iPad to get non-TV content while sitting in the living room. The idea of surfing the web on an HD TV while sitting on a couch, driving the entire thing with Siri (voice) or an iPhone remote app doesn’t appeal to me. I prefer to do that kind of stuff which involves a lot of reading in a more intimate setting.

Our TV/media process (in the year 2013)

Everyone has a different setup and a different process, this is what we have at the moment. We do not watch a lot of TV and when we do watch TV it’s usually a single channel. We don’t channel surf looking for content. But, we watch a lot of movies and so, we have a collection of remotes and interactions to make it all work.

We have a three year old 52″ (should have bought a 55″) Sony “Bravia” HD TV set that has a great picture and incredibly bad operating system software and a bad remote. Deciding on it over other models was very much like buying a camera these days: do you want image quality or do you want a decent user interface, because there is no one camera or TV set that has it all. Frankly, the user interface on almost all TVs sucks so the analogy isn’t all that good.

Connected to our TV we have an old Bose 3-2-1 DVD/stereo system with speakers, a cable box from our cable provider, a DVD/Blu-Ray player, and an AppleTV. Each of these things has a remote and while we don’t use all the remotes all the time, they have to interact with one another in small ways to make it all work. This is much like the old days when one had to switch the TV to channel 3 or 4 to get the VCR to show through, which my wife finally got just as things changed to what they are now.

The Sony TV set has four HDMI inputs and we use three of them:

HDMI 1: Cable box
HDMI 2: Sony DVD/Blu-ray player
HDMI 3: AppleTV

Watching cable TV

The cable box is powered on all the time and it has an awful remote which we use mostly to switch between two PBS stations: Connecticut Public Television (09) and New York Public Television or “13″ (22). if there’s a big event we might watch CNN or MSNBC but that’s rare. I watch John Stewart and Rachel Maddow on my computer. If we lose power the cable box usually resets itself but it defaults to a channel we don’t watch so I’ve got to reset it to 09 using the awful remote. For the most part, the awful cable box remote is tucked away, out of sight. Thank god, it looks like a ray gun out of a Flash Gordon movie.

Since the cable box is on all the time all we have to do to watch TV is turn the TV on with its remote, wait for it to warm up (yes, it has to load its settings and if you jump the gun it gets cranky) and if it’s not already set to HDMI 1 (cable box/TV) cycle the inputs to HDMI 1. The Sony TV is so sluggish in responding to hitting the input button that it can be frustrating and even though I know it’s sluggishness well, I find myself going around the cycle numerous times to get what I want. We don’t (well, I don’t) like the sound that comes out of the TV speakers and so I mute them and turn on the Bose and make sure it’s set to “TV.” Usually I leave the Bose on and set to TV so this step isn’t always necessary but muting the Sony TV always is and I’ve not found a way to tell the Sony TV that we have other, primary speakers (this may be possible but I’ve not figured out how to do it). I also have never found a way to mute the TV’s startup sound, which is obnoxious. But, this means that once the TV is set to the right input the remote that gets used most is the Bose remote to control sound volume.

Watching a DVD

If I want to watch a Netflix DVD I turn on the TV with its remote, cycle to HDMI input 2, mute the TV’s sound, open the DVD drawer of the Sony DVD/Blu-ray player, drop in the DVD, and close the drawer, turn on the Bose (sound) if it’s not on and make sure it’s on TV. One of the reasons we stopped using the Bose DVD player, besides wanting to watch an occasional Blu-ray which it can’t play, is that the HDMI port on it was very finicky and if you didn’t get the TV cycled to HDMI 4 (it’s input) before putting in the DVD, the handshake sometimes didn’t happen. The Sony Blu-ray player doesn’t suffer from that, thank god. But, it has the same Sony user interface as our TV (called Bravia). Most of the time putting in a disc pushes through the Sony operating system and it simply starts playing. I attempt to end-run previews when I can with a single button on the Sony DVD/Blu-ray remote or, if the DVD locks me out of that I fast forward through them (again, using the Sony DVD/Blu-ray remote) if we don’t get caught up in them.

Hitting a single “play” button on the Sony DVD remote will start things and unless we want to pause or get to a particular scene, I don’t need that remote anymore. I pick up the Bose remote to control sound.

Watching streaming content using AppleTV

If I want to use AppleTV to watch a Netflix streaming video or some other piece of AppleTV content the process is similar: Turn on TV with its remote and cycle to HDMI 3 and mute its sound, turn on AppleTV with its (too small) remote, find the content I want and start playing it, controlling sound with the Bose remote and pausing with the Apple remote.

I have the AppleTV remote app on both my iPhone and iPad and while it’s novel and sometimes useful I don’t use it all that much. I don’t like the size of the AppleTV remote (too small in my hand) but I find using it’s physical buttons easier than the virtual buttons on it’s iOS counterpart.

But, that could easily change and it’s a heck of a lot easier to change a software interface than to put out a new physical remote every time someone comes up with a better idea.

In short, I have a pile of five remotes lying around, all of which are necessary, all of which are hard to use and using them in conjunction with one another is akin to having to have a TV tuned to channel 3 to watch a videotape plus layers of other conditions. It’s all rather stupid.

And, that leads me back to speculation about what Apple might be doing to clean this up.

AppleTV in the big sense

Now that Apple is a big company, has millions of customers who are hooked into iOS, and is known for its design chops, there is an opportunity here and I think they’ve got their foot in its door with AppleTV and the (for now) crude iOS Remote app.

I’ve never been one to think that Apple is building a new, self-contained television set (and yes, I’ve been reading the recent speculation about Apple and LG doing just that), Sony, Samsung, and others and others have that covered and there are too many variables in the TV set market to have the kind of small, tighter offering there that Apple would typically present. Best to let people buy their own screens and treat them like computer monitors, going after the experience of building a platform for the control of what gets presented on the screen.

By connecting the current AppleTV to a television set and allowing it to end-run much of the television set’s operating system, Apple is at least some of the way there. In order for the grand scheme to work both the current AppleTV box (or some future one) and the iOS Remote app would simply need to learn about more things connected to AppleTV, and/or, the HDMI interface would need to be able to do things that it currently can’t do.

Or, maybe the reason people think Apple is working on an all in one solution here is because it’s not possible to control all of this disparate stuff with a single box and software.

I’m wondering how successful Bose has been with their VideoWave offering. This certainly solves at least some of the remote and speaker problems but one still needs a cable box, a DVD/Blu-ray player, and an AppleTV and/or Roku to get streaming.

If, in some future world, all movie and TV content was streaming over the internet then Apple could easily build control of it into a box like AppleTV and have a single remote control it all, be it a physical remote or an iOS app. If one wanted better sound than a TV has then somehow that sound would need to be controlled by whatever controls the TV. No doubt this is doable now.

But, as Netflix subscribers know, there is a large offset between its content available on DVD and the amount of that stuff you can get via streaming with a lot more content available in physical form. No doubt one reason for this is that if everything was streamed the internet would melt under the weight of it all. We haven’t had a streaming “choke” in over a year now and no doubt there would be plenty of choking if Netflix put it all out via streaming. But, the other reason they can’t is akin to why Apple can’t get control of the cable box: content providers have rules about distribution that Apple and others can’t get around.

So it remains a big mess.

Grand Unification

On the one hand, we absolutely love our big TV and sound system and watching a movie like Avatar on a smaller screen with TV set sound is just not the same experience. But, as it is, the process of making that happen is currently a kludge and there is an opportunity for Apple and/or others to make it better. I think it’s just a matter of time before they do.

For me there is a tension between having a company like Apple build a TV set/media center that does it all and putting together my own system of pieces that do each piece better. The liability of separate pieces is five different operating systems, five different remotes, etc. The liability of one company building a TV that does it all is that no doubt some of the all won’t be what I want. Apple is pretty good at figuring out what I want so if there’s a company to do this kind of thing it would be Apple, but as both a user and a stockholder it makes me both hopeful and uneasy.

Reeder helps me be a better Reader

There’s an interesting backstory to why I’m so interested in the fate of Google Reader, RSS in general, RSS vs. Twitter and the evolution of tools for collecting, organizing, and reading news. In the various pieces that I’ve read about this issue in the past week (all of them excellent) none has touched on the issues that concern me.

Google Reader is two things:

1. A cloud-based RSS feed aggregator that allows client applications to subscribe to its output (plumbing)

2. A web-based RSS feed reader (an appliance)

What I care about preserving is the way I read news and I care less about who handles the plumbing involved in keeping my various news reading applications in sync with one another. I haven’t interacted directly with Google Reader in years, preferring to interact with a client application: Reeder (more on this below).

Because I use Reeder (an “appliance”) on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad to to connect to my Google Reader account, I’m only interested in keeping Google Reader alive because at this point it’s the only synchronization service that Reeder uses. I care about Reeder, my reading tool. I’m hoping that the folks behind Reeder decide to use iCloud or DropBox or their own cloud-based service to synchronize accounts, this would be a relatively painless transition. My guess is this will happen. I’m not worried, Reeder is an extremely popular application on all three platforms.

But for me there’s another much more important aspect of this than these relatively technical details: the process of reading the news itself.

I’m slow and distractible

I’m an extremely slow reader. I can read and I can understand what I’m reading, but my comprehension is fragile, I lose decent comprehension with any kind of distraction. Yes, I’m definitely a card carrying member of the ADD club.

It’s also important to note that I do not skim when I read, or, if I do, I pick up very little. If I want to understand what I’m reading I have to take my time.

As web sites have gotten more encumbered with crap besides the main content, my ability to read things on those web sites has been hampered. Flashing ads, brightly colored backgrounds and text, popups, crawls, and all the rest of the stuff that makes up many news sites makes it much more difficult for someone like me to scan headlines, zero in on what I want, and then read deeply. Even a clean magazine or newspaper layout is less useful to me than a simple list where everything in the list is the same weight and typeface and I’m simply scanning down differentiating content, not colors, images, or some other attribute that has nothing to do with that content. For me, separating the content that I want from the container that I don’t want is important and over the years there have been various ways to do this.

The early days

For me, the most significant technology for doing this has been RSS and applications for aggregating and reading one’s collection of RSS news feeds. But these RSS news readers do more than just organize disparate feeds into a list. They also make it easier to know what I’ve read and what I haven’t without having to scan a magazine/newspaper layout looking for new things (remember, I’m a slow and distractible scanner). For a reader like me, this technology may be the most significant access tool I have and I spend more time in my RSS “appliance” than I do in any other single application on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

I started using RSS as a tool to track things with an early version of NetNewsWire before it had any syncing/cloud capabilities and before Google Reader existed. There were far fewer feeds to subscribe to in those early days and many of us didn’t get hooked on this way of aggregating and reading news until a few years later. This was long before there were iPhones and iPads and most folks were using desktop or laptop computers and had little reason to sync unless it was to another computer they used.

Still, during this time the list-based format that NetNewsWire presented news in with ways to organize feeds into folders was a definite fit with my needs as a fragile reader with a big appetite for information on a wide variety of topics and I started spending more time in NetNewsWire than almost any other application on my computer.

When NetNewWire started using NewsGator for cloud-based syncing I had no use for it and didn’t use it. No doubt it was a forward thinking thing for Brent Simmons (the author of NetNewsWire) to do given what came later. I had already moved from desktop/laptop to just a laptop as my sole computer so I had nothing to sync to.

But, what NetNewsWire did was hook me on a way to pull a lot of different sources into one place to read. It was revolutionary really, and it fit both my reading style and my need to feed disparate interests.

The other thing NetNewsWire did was allow me to time-shift reading news and this time-shifting, for a slow reader like me was and remains crucial.

RSS in the cloud with Google Reader

My friend Steve Splonskowski had turned me onto NetNewsWire and after he moved over to Google Reader he told me about it. At that point I wasn’t all that clear about the current and future usefulness of having my collection of RSS feeds (or anything else) in the cloud but I moved over to Google Reader (using it with Safari on a PowerBook) and there were aspects of it that were great compared with the then older and in some ways stodgier NetNewsWire.

So to be clear, initially I was using Google Reader as both the container for my news feeds and as an appliance for reading them. However, I never stopped looking for and trying desktop clients that connected to my Google Reader account like the updated NetNewsWire and Newsfire. I kept looking because while initially reading directly on Google Reader was novel, there were limits to the kinds of controls Google could build into a web-based tool, and, over the years Google’s web tool designs have gotten clumsier, at least for me.

I didn’t fully get the power of having things in the cloud until I got an iPhone as another device to get mail and RSS feeds on. Having moved over to Google Reader put me in a much better place to embrace the growing collection Google Reader iOS client applications running on the iPhone and I tried many before settling on Reeder.

Reeder

Reeder is one of many “appliances” to Google Reader’s “plumbing.” It’s an application that presents one’s collection of news feeds in a (arguably) cleaner and simpler form than using Google Reader (as an appliance) via a web browser. Reeder came out first for the iPhone, then then the Mac, then the iPad and I have it running on all three.

What makes Reeder work for me?

1. Very clean and spare user interface: it has the right balance between information and tools, favoring information and allowing the tools to fall into the background.

2. Large, easy-to-read headlines on each item with date and attribution in a lighter typeface so that it’s not distracting. This may seem trivial but it’s not. The designer, Silvio Rizzi, not only has a clean, minimalist aesthetic, but he has a good feeling for how to design with type to make reading easier.

3. Easy navigation tools that all have keyboard equivalents so that using Reeder on the Mac feels very much like using Reeder on the iPhone and/or iPad. I can move through hundreds of stories quickly without taking my eyes off the headlines.

4. A simple “services” bar that allows easily adding articles to Instapaper, posting on Twitter, emailing and more.

5. Not all RSS output is the full post but when it is, I tend to read it on Reeder because RSS strips out most of the extra information and Reeder presents text in a consistent typeface. Also, reading a site through a newsreader like Reeder allows you to just read content, not be distracted by sidebars with ads and indexes and flashing dingleberries and such.

6. Reeder caches Google Reader output so I can read things without being connected, then once I am connected update my Google Reader cloud collection automatically with what I’ve read, what I’ve saved, etc.

Alternatives

Since Google announced they’re discontinuing Google Reader many friends and many web sites commenting on this have recommended a number of alternatives.

The most common recommendation has been Flipboard which is a magazine-like app that runs on iOS and Android (but not on the Mac) and pulls together Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader and other content in a book/magazine-like format. Flipboard is beautiful and well designed and for what it is, it’s also minimalistic. The problem with Flipboard for me is that it’s a magazine format and I’m looking at a lot of information at one time, like I might on a web site. This looks great aesthetically but I find myself distracted by too much information on my screen at any one time.

Any other feed aggregator that looks like a magazine is not something I’m interested in, although I understand why others are. I’m just not that kind of reader.

For my fragile reading style, a list where everything is presented in the same weight and only the content changes seems to work best if I want to actually understand what I’m reading and move through a lot of information relatively quickly.

These days, with Twitter and Facebook feeds moving by in real time, I’m convinced that many people, even decent readers, skim so lightly and so quickly they don’t stop long enough to think (enough) about what they’re reading. For me, reading comes hard enough so that if I’m going to do it, it better be worthwhile and lead to understanding. So, I protect my slow approach because it leads to better understanding.

Now that you know how I read most of my news, let me go further.

Choosing reading environments

Most people (reading this) don’t choose their reading environments. If you email them a link to an article they’ll follow the link and read the article on the site it’s published on. I do that too at times but if I find the site too busy and the article is good enough to warrant some attention, I’ll hit a single button my my browser’s toolbar: Read Later. That button is something that comes with an Instapaper account.

Instapaper is a cloud-based service that allows you to collect things that you’d like to read later or on another device. Like Google Reader, Instapaper is three things:

1. A cloud-based container for web content that I send to it that I want to read later.

2. A web site for reading that content (on a computer).

3. iOS apps for iPhone and iPad for reading the content of one’s Instapaper account.

And, there’s a Macintosh client that can tap into one’s Instapaper account as well: ReadKit.

So, why would I want to send an article to Instapaper and open it up in ReadKit on my Mac or in the Instapaper app on my iPad or iPhone?

Simple: readability.

Instapaper provides a distraction-free, clean environment to read longer articles in. It feels much like reading a book with Apple’s iBooks app which is an incredible way to read a book. There’s plenty of control but it’s only there if you need it. What you’re looking at is the content you’re reading and you’re not distracted by web content like sidebars, flashing icons, or advertising.

I realize to many the process that I’m describing sounds cumbersome but in fact, it’s not. Here’s how it works.

I’m scanning my RSS feeds in Reeder and find an article I want to read that’s not pushed out in its entirety so I can’t read it end to end in Reeder.

I click through to the web site that’s holding the article, be it The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, Huffington Post, whatever.

If I find the web site too distracting, or, its type too small to read, I hit the Read Later button on my browser’s toolbar.

This puts the article (even multiple page articles) into Instapaper.

If I’m on my Mac I open up ReadKit, it automatically pulls new things in from Instapaper and there’s the article, beautifully typeset and much easier to read. And, Instapaper will hold that article forever so there’s no rush in reading it. In this way, Instapaper is a DVR for web content, it allows time shifting just like a DVR does for television content but it also allows for a distraction-free, well typeset reading experience which is what I’m after.

If I want to read the article on my iPad on a plane I simply run the Instapaper app and it will automatically update and pull in the new information from the Instapaper cloud. And, the iPad will cache the article(s) so even when I’m not connected on the plane, I have all of my information with me.

The Instapaper app as well as the ReadKit app on the Mac give me typographic control, margin control, and more, so I can set things up in any way I like to make readability easier for me.

The entire process: finding the article I want in Reeder, checking it out on the web (Safari), deciding to save it for “reading later” with Instapaper and opening it up with Instapaper on my iPad or iPhone or ReadKit on the Mac takes less than 15 seconds. If the internet is running slow at that moment it might take as long as 30 seconds but never much more. I not only do this every day with much of what I want to read carefully, I do it multiple times a day. It’s part of my reading process and it works (for me).

Endnote

No doubt these tools will evolve and there will be great solutions to the “problem” that the coming demise of Google Reader has brought about. But, tools are a means to an end and in this case, the end is reading and understanding the news.

For most people reading comes easily enough so that they don’t feel compelled to change the way the information they’re reading is presented. I envy those people. Over many years of struggling with reading I’ve learned that I can read and I can understand if I take my time and can get some control over the way the information is presented to me. This collection of tools and processes is my current way of taking that control.

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

More broadly speaking, Reader’s ultimate fail is the latest major rebalancing of the internet’s legacy symmetry of “push” and “pull.”

RSS has always been a useful time-saver for voracious internet binge consumers. Rather than circling among dozens of websites and suffering through tiresome page loads at each URL, RSS adherents can skim headlines at the hub of a giant content wheel, and in many cases (depending on how the feeds were configured) read entire articles without leaving the RSS service.

The whole arrangement, particularly that last part, was terrifying to publishers, who saw an ad-revenue future burned away in a stark landscape of text-only syndication.

Another well written piece on Google’s decision to close down Reader but also on RSS (vs. Twitter) as well.

That last paragraph is an important piece of this: RSS applications aren’t showing entire web sites with sidebars with ads, they’re just showing new posts in the body of a web page. Advertisers would rather you went to a site directly so they can serve you up ads. Another reason to love RSS and feed readers is they allow you to avoid loading web pages just to see headlines, you can browse those in the RSS reader only clicking through to sites you want to visit.

Chris Wetherell Reflects on Google Reader

Google Reader lived on borrowed time: creator Chris Wetherell reflects

This is a great history and commentary from one of the creators of Google Reader.

If there were things that went wrong, then there is a lot of positive things that came from Google Reader, Wetherell said. He believed that one of the main reasons why Google Reader could exist was because companies and entities with completely conflicting agendas came together, supported RSS and other standards. Google, MoveableType, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr and several other web-apps believed in creating RSS feeds for easy consumption. “In the end it helped the average users,” said Wetherell.

But all that is behind us and we might not see similar altruism again, Wetherell theorized. I agree with him. If in the early 2000s, Web 2.0 companies were building platforms that wanted to work with each other, today, we have platforms that are closed. We live in the world of silos now. Twitter and Instagram have broken up. Facebook is the Soviet Union of the modern web. The new systems don’t offer RSS or feeds.”There is no common language of sharing,” he bemoans. And rightfully so! And unless we have web giants speaking the same language of sharing, there seems to be no future of aggregation.

This last piece is rather depressing and it doesn’t speak well for the future of RSS which will only live on if it has broad acceptance and use.