the RSS a-list

Marco Arment, in defense of good RSS habits:

RSS is a great tool that’s very easy to misuse. And if you’re subscribing to any feeds that post more than about 10 items per day, you’re probably misusing it. I don’t mean that you’re using it in a way it wasn’t intended — rather, you’re using it in a way that’s not good for you.

I’m pretty much on board with most of what he recommends. RSS is still a vital technology for me, and while I know only a few people who use an RSS reader, they’re my smartest, bestest friends.

I used to shuffle and sort my feeds in a carefully designed system, and only treat the “a-list” stuff like what Marco’s describing above. Then, if it offended me once, down to b-list, then maybe c-list, then gone. I unsubscribed to stuff that I wasn’t enjoying reading. Feeling obligated to either read or skip everything was overwhelming, though, and I used the system above to kind of manage the overflow.

My “a-list” is only a few things, but I made a bundle for you.

You have to decide for yourself whether you’re using RSS to see new stuff, or so that you don’t miss great stuff. “New” seemed like a fire hose to me, so I mostly avoided it.

I learned, eventually, that you can ignore things. Google Reader doesn’t mind. 1,000+ items will sit there, and you’re not costing anyone anything. Google’s “magic sort” works really well to find you the occasional item that you really should see it.


state of the blog

Administrative posts. I hope my readers love them, because they’re what I’m best at.

Yesterday I installed the new WordPress 3.0, and today I dropped in the new Twenty Ten theme. I updated the commenting system, although what’s being said about comments over at DF also makes a lot of sense. When I write three posts in two years and get one comment, that’s maybe an indicator I’m thinking about it too much.

I want to get back to this. I like it. I’m being encouraged at work to write more (and things of a more technical nature), and rather than start up another blog (and shutter this one completely) I think I’m going to stay here.

A few months ago, I got pretty excited about Tumblr. My site,, is basically more short-form stuff and maybe less personal than this. It is perhaps funnier. The thing I wrote the other day about one exclamation point per email should maybe have gone over there.

Or it probably would have fit on Twitter, too. Short-form goodness is over there. I recently weeded out some chatty Twitter friends. I am absolutely guilty of tweeting too much, or while intoxicated, and I don’t blame you if you bounce me. I deserve much worse.

Delicious is dead to me. I never really reconciled its purpose – was it for sharing things for other people, or keeping things for myself for later? Sharing seems far more worthwhile over at Twitter, and I had no process for regular review over at Delicious. I opened a Pinboard account, and I’ve found a way to work that into my workflow.

Speaking of all this, I deleted my Facebook account. I should say I “deactivated myself”, because you’re never really gone from their servers. And besides, it wasn’t a messy breakup. Mostly my fault. Didn’t know what I wanted when I got there, except maybe a huge audience, and then I was turned off by how impersonal it all was. I really liked the connections from Facebook to other apps, but then every movie I rated on Netflix showed up in some “feed”. Again, I initially got on it because everyone else on the planet was there, but in the end, that wasn’t enough. I’ll probably head back there one day, trim my friend list down 90%, and feel okay about things.

I sort of stopped sharing stuff on Google Reader, too. I have a few followers there, but there’s not much of a feedback loop. Again, I think I’d rather tweet something and take my chances. I think it all shows up on, but I haven’t checked, honestly.

So, keep track of me on here (infrequently), Tumblr (lolz), Twitter (short lolz), and that’s basically it.

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lala replacements

So I wrote about Lala, and the excellent album-format streaming they do. A lot of people told me about alternatives I wasn’t aware of, so let me talk about those for a sec.

One friend said that Zune does everything Lala did, or at least lets you stream some stuff. Another said that (new) Napster also did that. Both have a reasonable monthly fee, so they differ in that regard (part of the appeal was the open nature of trying and sharing, and even $4.99/mo would have dented my initial interest in it).

MOG came out with their all-you-can-eat offering maybe a week before I discovered Lala, and if you caught me in that week, I certainly talked your ear off about it. MOG’s still up, but their library is less complete than Lala’s, their interface is C+ (but slowly improving), and they also hit you up for a monthly fee. I pay that, but I’m sort of on the fence about it.

Rdio also streams albums, has a very nice interface, some social features, library matching, and a sweet mobile client. Also: a monthly fee (larger if you plan on using the mobile client). They’re in beta.

There are probably a dozen others, but one of the first is still one of the best: Pandora. I pay them every year and I’m delighted to. They don’t stream albums, but for free, they put together one of the most compelling music offerings. The stuff I find on there – really, on a weekly basis – is worth mentioning here again. Making jambalaya for dinner and tuning into a station dedicated to Delta Blues – one where you can skip tracks, up-vote ones you like, and by doing so, modify it – is sufficiently futuristic for me.



If you talked to me in December, chances are I told you about, a site I became aware of when Apple bought it. Apple shuttered it a few weeks ago, likely to introduce their own iTunes website where you can listen to all kinds of music, but I’m bummed out that there’s this gap we’re living it. It was great.

I frequently would tell people my favorite five things about Lala, and in the excitement, forget some killer thing. There’s not much of a point in telling you now, but in case Apple’s forthcoming and not-even announced replacement doesn’t have the following, you can expect a blog post for each.

  • Tracks you don’t have can be listened to once for free. Just sign up for an account and you can listen to every song in the (large) library once. Free.
  • Songs you like more than that, pay ten cents, and they’re unlocked forever. Or until the service shuts down.
  • Songs you want to keep forever were between .79 and 1.29. Maybe not even 1.29, I forget. They were one of the cheapest online places to buy MP3s.
  • The MP3s got on your hard drive via a client that ran on the desktop, and it did a pretty good job of throwing them into iTunes. That’s not magic, but this is:
  • The client also scanned your hard drive for artist / title matches, and when it found them, unlocked those songs on the service. (It did a poor job of this.)
  • Songs it couldn’t match up, it uploaded. For a while. So if a record you liked didn’t exist on the service, as soon as the client had a chance to work, it only existed for you. Pretty amazing.
  • It also had a social network that wasn’t bad. A few friends of mine were on there and it was a nice balance of finding out what they were interested in without feeling like a creep. (Or being buried by “Now Playing” data.)
  • Your “queue” could be hundreds of songs long, so if you read about something you might like to hear (once), you just queue it up and it plays eventually. Once. And then maybe you unlock it, or maybe you don’t.
  • Every album, playlist, song, etc. on the service could be plugged into a widget that you could drop in any HTML, so like a facebook post, a blog entry… you could shoot someone a whole album on Twitter, say “check this out”, and they could. Once.

So, in essence, in theory, every song you had was now in the cloud. No matter where you went, if you had a browser with Flash, you could listen to your music. If you got halfway through a record at work, you could come home, and your queue would be played up to that specific point.

I shouldn’t say that they shut the thing down without mentioning how that happened: they sent iTunes store credit, rounded up, for every dollar you spent on “unlocking” tracks. I didn’t do that a ton (I mostly bought MP3s) but I still got $20 back.

And my hope is that Apple brings that all back, hopefully soon, and fixes the things that were kind of broken about it. The promise of excellent streaming music (in album form) is too excellent to have been swallowed up by Apple in an anti-competitive way.

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the single exclamation point rule

One rule I try to live by: one exclamation point per email. I encourage you to do the same.

Marketers agree!


@WCCOBreaking my heart

Here’s what I want: some notification system for important news. I am not chained to the grid of mainstream news and that’s a conversation for another time, but if someone rolls up and says “woo hoo, America elected a black president” I want to not be all “what-lected a black presi-what?”

I believe in the business they call it breaking news. I also think that they might define breaking news as “anything happening on cable right now”, as searching for “breaking news” on Google brings up every cable news organization in the country.

Funny story: @cnnbrk actually used to be somewhat good at this. Then, honest to God, someone at CNN found out. Go, see what they post there. Wouldn’t you be mad if you got two text messages because they didn’t include their self-promoting URL the first time through? If they’re only going to cover important stories, with no unnecessary interruptions, isn’t some of that stuff profoundly inessential?

Anyway, I’m generally finding that @WCCOBreaking fits my peculiarities better than @CNNbrk now. But it’s still a terrible fit. What I’d like is to get mobile alerts for important things, but since that seems to be hard, let’s review a couple of things I need out of this service.

  • Positively configurable for time of day. It’s possible to set Twitter up to instantly text you when selected accounts update, but they wisely allow you to set a window that it’s okay to update, and never text you outside of that window.
  • Never update breaking news. Not for new body counts, not for a delay, not for late-breaking election returns, not because the president has finally and predictably chimed in. Your first breaking news alert says “whoa – turn on a TV” or “seriously, it might be a good idea to come to the website”, not “stay tuned” and certainly not “prepare yourselves to become interrupt-driven news consumers”.
  • I don’t care if you mistyped your URL. Do not send another update.
  • While we’re on URLs, and this might just be me, but Twitter is semi-sort of designed for mobile devices. Most of them don’t play Flash video on websites, and if they do, it’s YouTube or nothing. Just saying. Linking me to a Flash-based video page is bad.
  • Speaking of videos, do not self-promote. I got this Palin-related update last week. Go ahead. Check it out. Mixed in with the news is a “Bombshell!” about the ex-VP-candidate’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend’s media tour. Early Show exclusive! But certainly not news, and not breaking news. Oh, I was mad about this one. While I think most of us understand that network news is propped up by the entertainment on those same networks, don’t rub our noses in the fact that you occasionally have to repay the favor. It’s hard to imagine a non-CBS outlet pushing the Letterman story in quite the same way as WCCO did. (@CNNbrk left it completely alone.)
  • Please be right. WCCO (in their 12 Fort Hood updates) wrote that there were shots, no Minnesotans were involved (as if that mattered), that one shooter was dead with others in custody, that the suspect (now singular) had been identified, that he wasn’t dead, and that there actually was a Minnesotan in the injured. Now, nobody expects you to debunk balloon-boy shenanigans mid-shenanigan, and God knows there’s a push to get the scoop, but with only 140 characters and a commitment to saying relatively little relatively infrequently, it’s really important to not be way off base.
  • I’m going to gently put forth that you don’t get hash tags. CNN signs everything “#cnn”. You know who else (besides CNN) uses the #cnn hashtag? People who are talking about CNN. I don’t even know why they occasionally slip into “#newcnn”. And while I actually appreciate a shortened URL to a news story, ending every update with “” is dumb. You’re CNN. We know what your URL is.

Now I’m just picking on them. But this isn’t hard. I’m not asking you to adapt to my news preferences (more NFL, less NHL, yes Britney, no Paris), but just respect the fact that I’m letting you interrupt me. When the phone dings, I pick it up. Make this work for both of us.

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from power user to developer

Note: I intend to include more technical, work-related stuff in the blog now. That shouldn’t be terribly distracting to two or three of my readers, but I’d like the other two or three not to give up just because this is getting nerdy.

I was visiting a nine-month-old SpaghettiCode podcast the other day, and they were talking about the gap between an application’s users and the developers that wrote it. (They were trying to pick trends for 2009, and focusing on a Microsoft offering that will allow more business-line users to build application-like things out of developer-approved building blocks.)

The conversation turned to the topic of power users, who exist in between the business line user (who basically wants to get his work done) and the developer (who lives in the technical world, maybe to a fault). The power user writes long Excel macros to get his job done, or constructs an Access database / application that does 90% of what an enterprise app might do. 90% of his day is spent on business and working, but he’s willing to use every tool on the desktop to get that work done – he won’t wait for the IT department to put the app on his desktop to start working on it.

What I kept thinking during the conversation was that power users become developers. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that there is a pretty sharp dichotomy between the developers that trained in school / under a mentor, and those who picked up software development through more and more advanced business problem solving methods.

I am one of the latter, even though I was introduced to object-oriented programming in college. If that doesn’t count, I was certainly introduced to professional software development by someone who came in the Access / Excel door. I feel like power users who become developers have some advantages over purebred developers, but there are disadvantages, too.

Hire That Hack…

The self-taught ex-business developer has one huge advantage, if he can take advantage of it. He is a user, so he understands the user. He has user empathy. The purebred developer can certainly learn the domain, but if she hasn’t lived and breathed it, it’s a different kind of understanding. Business logic and user experience should be his strong suits, and it’s possible that he’ll be more versatile and diplomatic in interfacing with the business user.

Self-taught developers are self-starters, and won’t necessarily lean on “their way” of doing things. They clearly remember a time when they “didn’t know”, so with any luck, they’ll be flexible about new ideas, new approaches, and even new languages. If your developer’s developer was taught C#, she might feel like she’s specialized in that area and not comfortable or confident stretching into a new area.

…But Not Just Any Hack

The self-taught developer, left to his own devices, can build some seriously complicated stuff in whatever macro language he picked up. He may have found object-oriented principles in time to prevent the whole thing from collapsing. Whatever he knows, there are things that the purebred developer does that he’ll have to learn.

First, formally educated developers are taught to work in teams. (That doesn’t mean that they necessarily learn it, but they’re at least exposed to it.) Your developer might lock herself in a Mountain Dew-fueled cave of code, but she’s an order of magnitude more transparent than your self-taught developer ever had to be. He only ever had to code anything for himself, and as the only developer, he never showed the code to anyone. Collaboration might come naturally to him, but he’ll start out behind.

His vision of requirements was “what I needed to get my job done”, and then “what I felt like was missing”. Again, that develops a strong sense of user experience, but it doesn’t practice any of the areas of the brain required to read and understand someone else’s project plan. Having only developed for himself, he probably hasn’t ever documented anything. And if he ever ran into a problem, he probably ran to Google to solve it. While those long lectures on pointers and tree structures seemed unnecessary to her at the time, she’s got a foundation in principles that he can’t pick up by copying other people’s code. (There is some seriously weird advice out there on the internet. Google helps you find it, but sometimes that’s no help at all.)

All of these skills are learnable across this divide. There are certainly productive, happy developers on both sides, and both camps count their share of woeful wrecks. But developers that operate at a high level in both the technical and business-facing sides of their jobs, no matter where they came from, are always a joy to add to the team.

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gear (time capsule)

I am, I suppose, inspired, a little bit, but mostly Scott just reminds me that I’ve wanted to make a list (regularly) about this stuff. And not for you – for me, and for me-in-two-years to look back and laugh.


At press time, I was not a PC. I’m using an almost three-year old MacBook Pro – one of the first Intel Core Duo Macs, which won’t go forward with us into the pending 64-bit revolution. (I have worked on a few 64-bit machines, and the difference between the two platforms caused a few headaches on a recent ASP.NET project I worked on.) I am looking forward to replacing it, and also looking forward to doing that with my data in place, since Time Machine (theoretically) makes it easy to back up and restore. My AppleCare expires in eight weeks, I think.

There is a six- or seven-year old PC in the basement that doesn’t like to turn on without a warmup. It runs XP and I don’t mess with it that often. I have XP on a Parallels image I can use in emergencies, but that’s (over the past year)

  • 50% time-waster games / apps that won’t run in Mac OS X
  • 50% Visual Studio.

I also find myself doing more and more “general computing” (games, email, websites, Twitter, Facebook) on my iPhone, which is the third generation (3G S) iPhone. About half the time I’m reaching to take my computer out of a bag, I’m remembering that I can just go to my pocket. It’s useful.

At work, I don’t know. It’s a Mac Pro, but it’s running XP. It has two screens, and I’m fond of it.


We’re using Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 at work. That’s my job. There’s also Outlook.

Every other waking minute, I’m using a mix of:

  • Quicksilver. Just got back on this one, actually. Spotlight served my needs for a year or more, I think, and it wasn’t an unhappy year. QS is a little snappier, I think, a little smarter, and has cool tricks Spotlight won’t do. (I append to a file called inbox.txt when I have an idea and don’t want to lose it.)
  • TweetDeck. If you follow more than a few people on Twitter, or you just want to quarantine the high-volume high-chatter people from your real friends, you want TD’s categories. Twitter will implement that functionality someday soon, but again, at press time, we don’t have it.
  • iCal. Again, this is a new experiment, but as cool as Google Calendar’s online functionality is, it’s not useful to me offline. Even with the iPhone, I’d rather trust the nearby calendar, the one that can alert me without using the text messaging network, than the one in the “cloud”.
  • Gmail. Sometimes I pop open accidentally. Sorry, Didn’t mean to get you excited. If you’re visiting from 2014 and I’m not still using Gmail, something very bad must have happened.
  • Evernote. About six months ago, I decided I needed to keep notes. I wasn’t wrong about that – frequently looked up, temporal, never-know-when-you’re-gonna-need-it notes are helping me stay productive, but I didn’t find Evernote until a few months ago. In this case, I’m cool with the cloud.
  • Safari. I’ve gone back and forth on this, too. I was pretty strict about Firefox until I fell under the “Safari just seems more like a Mac app” spell. Somehow, the little things it insisted upon stopped irking me so much. I have learned to live without my nest of plugins, and I’m none the worse for it. At work (XP, remember) I use Chrome almost exclusively.
  • Google Reader. I’ve been steady with Reader for years now. Whichever one you choose, choose an RSS reader, and quit wasting your time “visiting” sites to see if they’ve changed. Your brain has much, much better things to do.
  • OmniFocus. I don’t do a daily review, but I do have the ceremony of a pretty important weekly one. I’m not strict GTD, but I do enough there that I really miss it when Sunday comes and goes without me thinking – alone – about where I am and where I want to be.
  • TextMate. I needed a higher-test text editor than what comes for free on the Mac, but I no longer write emails, blog posts, or anything but text files in there. It’s in the dock because I forget its name. That’s how fervently religious I am about text editors.


  • Over the air digital. We’ve been DirecTV/cable-bill free for a year now. A lot of TV sneaks in on DVD / Netflix. The rest comes off the DVR.
  • TiVo. Probably a little undersized for high def TV, but they sell external drives. That upgrade will happen soon enough.
  • Netflix. We don’t mess with high-def media or downloads. I guess I’ve seen a couple high-def rentals from the Xbox Marketplace, but I have to have a couple of beers before the whole money-for-points-for-movie-rentals economy starts to sound reasonable. But four Netflix movies at home at a time, plus a giant online library through the Xbox and TiVo is silly for the amount we pay for it.


  • iTunes. If I didn’t like it, I’d still pretty much have to use it, on account of the iPhone. Fortunately, I still think it’s the most forward-thinking, fully featured app for music collections. And anything can play music these days.
  • Pandora desktop. They started talking about a desktop app for a yearly fee and that was a day one no-brainer. You have my money.
  • Pulsar (XM online). XM / Sirius is a car standby (and a road-trip workhorse), but I don’t use it on my computer a ton. Still, the online service is perfect for what it is.


  • Xbox 360. I really hoped to usher in a new generation of casual arcade-style gamers with the Xbox. “Casual” means that you jump on, play for 15 minutes, or maybe grab a friend and rock for an hour. The kids didn’t pick that up. (Although there’s an argument to be made that Xbox game design itself leans towards “play forever and order a pizza”.)
  • iPhone games. Casual. 15 minutes. Arcade-style. Perfect. (But not the slightest bit social.)
  • A big TV. Plasma. They were cheap last year. And it’s almost paid off. If I had to do it again, I’d probably go LCD. In 10 years, I probably will.
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on email addresses

I’ve had the same email address for over 11 years. I know people who switch up every year, and I’m not that guy. I couldn’t do that. But with about 30 spam messages a day coming into my original ( address and my Gmail address, I started to think about what I’d need to do to move my life to a new email address.

See, a new email address will kind of reset the spam clock. (But, oddly enough, not eliminate it. I set my daughter up with an email address – – and without ever hitting the internet at all, it’s already getting a ton of spam. Some addresses I’ve set up get none, but hers was apparently already on lists.) There’s a question of who you tell: some people maintain personal accounts (for friends) and then give another address to faceless corporations they don’t trust. You can try to notify everyone that you’re changing addresses, or you can selectively check the old account for any email that is still coming in, and notify people as they use the old address. But how aggressively? That would add a whole “weeks to months to feel truly done with it” dimension that I wouldn’t like.

There are also the archives. I grabbed a bunch of important emails when I switched over to Gmail (and some not important, but I didn’t do a full import), but I honestly don’t know how valuable old email is to me. That might be a benefit of the new account, honestly: “if you sent me an email before mm/dd/yyyy, I don’t have it. Sorry.”

And I don’t see a way to move filters over. I have an extremely long list of companies and domains that, while they aren’t spam (like watches, Nigerians and Viagra), still aren’t anything I need in my capital-I Inbox. And I love the Vikings, and Apple, and Crate and Barrel, but the filters let me not unsubscribe from them. They can be processed later. Closer to later-never than later-this-week, actually, but still, I don’t think that’s being dishonest with myself.

In the end, the facts are:

  • I get 30 spam messages a day, and maybe 10 real messages
  • Gmail filters work about 99% of the time (missing 1% of spam)
  • It would be a giant hassle to move my email to a new account

…so for the time being, I’m staying put.


hi there

A whole year and one comment. From my brother, saying “also, your face”. Which I hear all the time, in my head, anyway.

Whatever happened to the posts?

The regular posts were never all that regular, were they? If they made a difference to your day, you never called, you never wrote. The album of the week posts were a bad idea anyway. I’d love to do an MP3 blog, still, but I have a lot of other ideas, too. It all still seems vaguely illegal, and yet still completely just? If that makes sense?

I would love to get on board with Tumblr one day, and I’ve actually signed up for a posterous blog, but those still seem like new tools to do a dead or dying thing: write “articles”. I love stories, and I love to narrate, but nobody does that any more. Nobody makes the clackity. (Genius, but if I’m saying what I’m thinking here, I’m going to be saying that Merlin Mann is a genius a lot.) We’re a nation of Facebookers and rebloggers and Twitterers.

How’s life, otherwise?

The kids (twins, they are, if you’ve forgotten) are starting first grade in five days. We’ve already been by, once, to drop off fifty pounds of school supplies in five plastic Target bags. The upcoming weekend is

  1. the last of summer
  2. the last without NFL football
  3. the last where the kids don’t have bowling league. Seriously.

The wife has a fabulous librarian job. Starting any minute now, we’ll have two incomes again for the first time in three years. It’s a little unnerving, actually: things will be tightly scheduled. There will be no room for error. And yet I think we’ll adapt.

And what about your work?

Well, I got to a point at the beginning of the year where I started feeling comfortable calling myself a contractor. “This is going pretty well,” I’d say to myself, “and I suppose I can start really embracing that part of what I do.” Then I signed a deal to convert to a full-time employee, which is excellent, because I’m at the happiest place I’ve ever worked. It’s really ideal.

Let’s talk about Three Dog Night, the history of Three Dog Night.

That’s not a very good question for me, but I did hear someone ask that on the radio this morning, before I’d heard that he was a member of Three Dog Night. He says that they were the most popular band in America at one point, which I think I disagree with. That’s still a lot of records, though.

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