What’s all the PubSubHubBub hubbub?

Generally speak­ing, I’m a fan of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies and stuff like that. I just don’t al­ways get it right off the bat.

I first heard of RSS/Atom in 2002 or 2003,  when­ev­er LiveJournal start­ed ac­tive­ly push­ing syn­di­ca­tion, mak­ing feeds on jour­nals dis­cov­er­able. I looked up­on these alien terms with in­ter­est, but some con­fu­sion. Wait, I can sub­scribe to a blog? Why would I want to do that?

I know what I prob­a­bly sound­ed like back then. Perhaps in a cou­ple of years, I’ll be laugh­ing at my­self, won­der­ing what I’d do with­out PubSubHubBub. Just per­haps.

For now, though, I’m not quite sure I get it. Since Google Reader now sup­ports the for­mat, I went ahead and found a WordPress plu­g­in to en­able it here on writegeek. I un­der­stand that to an RSS sub­scriber, it means faster or near-instantaneous up­dates. And to a pub­lish­er, it mean not on­ly faster up­dates for one’s read­ers, but less load on the serv­er, since mil­lions of desk­top feed-readers won’t be reg­u­lar­ly re­quest­ing one’s RSS file. (Not that that ap­plies to me… yet.)

Yeah, I’m a bit in­trigued at the in­stant pub­lish­ing, but have a bunch of unan­swered ques­tions. Which servers should I be ping­ing? What mo­ti­vates one to run a serv­er? What are their busi­ness mod­els? A cou­ple of years down the road, when they re­al­ize that they’re run­ning the most pop­u­lar servers but still aren’t mak­ing mon­ey, will they be putting ads in my feed? And I think I read some­thing about servers talk­ing to each oth­er; how does that work?

There seems to be noth­ing to lose, no lock-in or sin­gle bas­kets in which to place all of my prover­bial eggs,  so I’ll try it out. (That was ba­si­cal­ly the point of this post.)

Time to click Publish and start jab­bing my F5 key…

I basically have the mobile phone I want, and that is awesome

My G1, in its rooted gloryI just re­al­ized that I, ba­si­cal­ly, have the mo­bile phone I want. I use a T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream), root­ed, SIM-unlocked, and run­ning the great CyanogenMOD.

I could not re­al­ly say this about my pre­vi­ous phone, a Palm OS Treo. Though it had its strengths (read: the or­ga­niz­er fea­tures), I bought it pret­ty much right be­fore the first iPhone was an­nounced, which, for bet­ter or worse, re­de­fined what a smart­phone would be.1

My affin­i­ty for the G1 re-occurred to me as I opened the Terminal app to check some­thing. I slid the screen open with a sat­is­fy­ing click, typed su and checked that some­thing. I want­ed to go back a bit through my shell’s com­mand his­to­ry, and a quick flip of the track­ball made easy work of that.

Sure, I have my gripes… it’s a lit­tle slug­gish some­times, com­plete­ly short on app stor­age space (root­ing fixed that) and takes the crap­pi­est videos I’ve ever seen (worse than my circa-2001 Nikon CoolPix). And now that new­er Android de­vices are out, I com­plete­ly have 1 GHz CPU-envy, high-res screen-envy, and Android 2.1-envy (Google Earth, want!).

But for the fore­see­able fu­ture, my G1 and I are cool. Its form fac­tor is per­fect. Its phys­i­cal key­board is un­matched by new­er de­vices with cramped lay­outs. It’s clear­ly no svelte iPhone, but it’s not too chunky ei­ther.

My sat­is­fac­tion is matched on­ly by my an­tic­i­pa­tion for what­ev­er could ma­te­ri­al­ize in the fu­ture and top this. Bring it, fu­ture!

  1. By this, I most­ly mean “have a re­al web brows­er,” not “have no na­tive app sup­port and a charis­mat­ic CEO try to con­vince you that you don’t re­al­ly want apps on your smart­phone, any­way.”

Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it

When I was young, I just didn’t get it.

See, I was lo­cat­ed square­ly in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of de­vel­op­ment, and some­thing fun­ny seems to hap­pen there: you’re on­ly able to take things at face val­ue, miss­ing out on sub­tle­ty, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stat­ed blunt­ly. Once you’re a ful­ly cog­nizant in­di­vid­ual, you can ap­pre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slight­ly ear­li­er, I was sud­den­ly able to see these sorts of things for what they re­al­ly were. Well, most things. But for a cer­tain class of things that I first ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing my pre-op stage, I con­tin­ued hav­ing trou­ble see­ing them for what they tru­ly rep­re­sent­ed. Here’s an ex­am­ple:

the classic Burger King logoWhen I was grow­ing up, this was the Burger King lo­go. (I al­so walked up­hill to school in the South Florida snow, both ways. Kids these days.) It’s pret­ty sim­ple, right? The words rep­re­sent­ed the meat, be­tween a cou­ple of buns. To whom was that not abun­dant­ly clear that the lo­go is a burg­er?

To me.

I didn’t re­al­ize that un­til I was a bit old­er (high school, maybe), at which point it just hit me. It was not for lack of ex­po­sure; I had been eat­ing at Burger King prac­ti­cal­ly since birth. I had a birth­day par­ty there in el­e­men­tary school. I was in the god­damn Burger King Kids Club!

The fact that I was ex­posed to this lo­go so ear­ly in life is pre­cise­ly why I took it for grant­ed. I missed the vi­su­al pun; as far as I was con­cerned, the lo­go looked the way it did be­cause that was just what the Burger King lo­go looked like. I sim­ply couldn’t imag­ine it any oth­er way, or hav­ing any oth­er pur­pose than telling peo­ple who see it on the side of a build­ing that they’re look­ing at a Burger King lo­ca­tion.

I had no such dif­fi­cul­ty with the stupid-simple McDonald’s arch­es. It’s just a big “M.”

old-school Milwaukee Brewers logoHere’s an­oth­er ex­am­ple of a lo­go I didn’t ful­ly un­der­stand or ap­pre­ci­ate. For the record, I wasn’t a Milwaukee Brewers fan, but at the age of four or five (and thanks to a friend’s fa­ther) I found my­self with a huge col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary base­ball cards. Again, un­til I was much old­er, all I saw in this lo­go was a styl­ized base­ball and glove… which to a child, seems a per­fect­ly ap­pro­pri­ate lo­go for a base­ball team. And your av­er­age sports-team lo­go is on the lit­er­al side.

I be­lieve it was at some point in col­lege that I no­ticed the sub­tle let­ter­ing in the Brewers’ lo­go. What a bril­liant de­sign!

There’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent class of lo­gos that are more sub­tle, with some­thing in­ten­tion­al­ly hid­den with­in. You don’t need to be a young­ster to miss it.

These tend to be great:

the Goodwill logothe FedEx logoAmazon.com logo

The FedEx lo­go is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed, its pun mas­ter­ful­ly sub­tle. It on­ly oc­curred to me it a few years ago, while dri­ving to work one day. I was be­hind a FedEx truck. Then it hit me. (Thank you, I will be here all week.)

As for the Goodwill lo­go, this blog com­ment made me see the light, or rather, the huge “g” in neg­a­tive space. I had al­ways just seen it as a face.

The day I re­al­ized that the Amazon lo­go wasn’t mean to be a smirk was the day I saw the A -> Z.

Can you think of any oth­er good ex­am­ples?

The right way to eat a Reese’s

Perhaps as a copywriter, but more likely as a consumer of media, ads tend to stick in my head, and the tagline that claimed there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s has stuck better than most. I’m surprised to find that, at least according to the Wikipedia article, the tagline hasn’t been in use for some time now!

I’d still like to challenge the claim… or at least propose that one method may be superior to others, if you value chocolate-free fingers. I understand that there is sometimes enough overhang from the paper lining so that it’s possible to remove it without getting chocolate on one’s fingers, but this is hardly a sure bet.

(This… erm, lifehack, is suggested for use with Reese’s Minis. The same principle could be applied to full-size Reese’s, but as we will see in step four, these are missing something important!)

step one

1. Place candy on a flat surface and admire it. (Optionally photograph it, if unwrapping for the purpose of a how-to blog.)

step two

2. Unwrap foil as normal.

step three

3. Fold two opposite corners of foil inwards.

step four

4. (The important step) Grip the two folded corners with thumbs, with the folded corners service as a buffer between your thumbs and the chocolate. Apply force with thumbs and forefingers to separate paper lining from chocolate.

step five

5. Admire, but only for a moment. There’s candy waiting to be enjoyed!

step six

6. Enjoy (assuming you enjoy this sort of thing)!

Happy Valentine’s Day

To my small in size, but large in stature, read­er­ship, I would like to take this op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­mind you that I love all of you. <3

(n.b. This of­fer of one (1) unit of pla­ton­ic love ap­plies to cur­rent read­er­ship on­ly, as of the mo­ment of pub­lish­ing. Whether this of­fer will be ex­tend­ed to fu­ture read­ers re­mains to be seen, and is ex­press­ly not guar­an­teed. While ex­ten­sion to fu­ture read­ers is de­cid­ed on a reader-by-reader ba­sis, sub­scrib­ing to my RSS feed would not hurt your chances, and al­most cer­tain­ly puts you on the fast track to my heart. Offer not avail­able where pro­hib­it­ed. Your mileage may vary.)

The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary

I was a vo­ra­cious read­er from a rather ear­ly age. I re­call hav­ing had my read­ing lev­el, in first or sec­ond grade, as­sessed at that of an eighth-grader.

My read­ing prowess could be at­trib­uted to a few things, like my par­ents read­ing to me from a young age, and of­ten en­cour­ag­ing me to read to them. More im­por­tant­ly, if I came across a word I didn’t know and asked them what it meant, they al­most al­ways made me go look it up in the dic­tio­nary. I had a children’s dic­tio­nary that I adored, but for words that didn’t ap­pear in there, I’d use their musty col­le­giate dic­tio­nary. This fos­tered an en­vi­ron­ment where lit­er­al­ly no word was be­yond my com­pre­hen­sion, an em­pow­er­ing feel­ing for a pre-geek with a single-digit age!

As I grew up, I didn’t al­ways man­age to keep read­ing with such vol­ume and tenac­i­ty, and to­day, while I read tons of bits and blogs from the Web, long-form con­tent isn’t some­thing I take in a lot of. When I do, it tends to be an e-book. (I read these, in epub for­mat, on my Android phone us­ing the ex­cel­lent open-source FBReader. Yes, read­ing off of a small back­lit screen sucks, but this is mit­i­gat­ed by a nice serif font and the knowl­edge that, as I’m of­ten read­ing in the dark, I wouldn’t re­al­ly be able to read any oth­er way.)

As I read, still I come across the oc­ca­sion­al word I don’t know. These days, my main dic­tio­nary (ei­ther Free Dictionary Org or Lexicon Lite) al­so lives in­side of my phone. FBReader doesn’t have its own built-in, and to switch to an­oth­er app is kind of a pain, so I’ve late­ly been find­ing my­self shrug­ging off un­known terms. I have be­come the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.

This both­ered me, so I de­cid­ed that, damn the in­con­ve­nience, I would start look­ing up words again. Once I tried, I learned that it ac­tu­al­ly wasn’t so hard, af­ter all.

The se­cret (if you could call it that) was to long-hold my phone’s Home but­ton. This is the equiv­a­lent to the Alt+Tab key com­bi­na­tion in Linux and Windows, which al­lows you to flip through open apps (on­ly, in Android, it’s a list of the six most re­cent­ly used apps, open or oth­er­wise). As long as the dic­tio­nary is among the last six, it’ll ap­pear in that list… as does FBReader, when it’s time to switch back. This is much more en­joy­able than go­ing back to the home screen, flip­ping open the apps draw­er, etc.

I guess that’s a pass­able not-so-new-anymore year’s res­o­lu­tion: to leave no word un-lexicized.

More introduction (this time, the geek side)

I un­der­stand that self-identifying as a geek in 2010 makes me nei­ther cool nor spe­cial, now that geeks are con­sid­ered… you know… cool and spe­cial. But hav­ing laid out my blog­ging cred, I’d still like to make the case for the geek side of the equa­tion (equa­tions be­ing some­thing I ac­tu­al­ly know very lit­tle about).

Yep, a dis­taste for math­e­mat­ics cur­tailed dreams of study­ing com­put­er sci­ence, or some­thing along those lines, in col­lege. Back in mid­dle school, how­ev­er, I was hap­pi­ly hack­ing BASIC in my school’s Apple //e lab. I had sort of a knack for it; in com­put­er class, I raced through the pack­et of pro­grams we were re­quired to tran­scribe faster than any­one else, and be­gan spend­ing my time writ­ing my own pro­grams, which would do things like tell my friend that his fa­vorite foot­ball team sucked, re­peat­ed­ly, through the mag­ic of 20 GOTO 10.

I didn’t re­al­ly ap­ply this knowl­edge very well at the time; it would still be a cou­ple of years be­fore I had a com­put­er at home. And even when I fi­nal­ly did, a com­plete­ly awe­some Pentium 166 MHz IBM Aptiva1 run­ning Windows 95, I didn’t quite know how to get start­ed pro­gram­ming on it.2

Another de­vice ap­peared in my life a few years af­ter the com­put­er; I re­ceived a TI-83 graph­ing cal­cu­la­tor for use in Algebra II. I ini­tial­ly found that it made a great mo­bile Tetris ma­chine, but it wasn’t un­til read­ing Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead, in which he re­count­ed his ear­ly days pro­gram­ming prim­i­tive com­put­ers, that I found my­self in­spired to do more with it.3

The cal­cu­la­tor seemed like a good place to start pro­gram­ming, es­pe­cial­ly be­cause the user man­u­al con­tained an en­tire chap­ter de­vot­ed to teach­ing the TI-BASIC lan­guage! I picked this up pret­ty quick­ly, since I still re­mem­bered a lot of con­cepts from Apple BASIC. In my ju­nior year of high school, I was soon writ­ing pro­grams to help me take short­cuts to solv­ing math and sci­ence prob­lems. But most im­por­tant­ly, I want­ed to make games.

So I made a game. How I did so could be its own en­try, and very well may be in the fu­ture.

This in­spired me to sign up for the Computer Programming I elec­tive in my se­nior year. They taught us Visual Basic, and the class was nei­ther in­ter­est­ing nor fun. This, paired with the re­al­iza­tion that study­ing com­put­er sci­ence in col­lege meant tak­ing lots of math (some­thing I’d al­ways heard, but col­lege course cat­a­logs as­sured), made it clear that I should fo­cus on the oth­er thing I liked do­ing: writ­ing.

I ma­jored in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and the rest is his­to­ry. Except for a fruit­less for­ay in­to Python a cou­ple of years ago, I haven’t pro­grammed much late­ly.

But I still em­body, I think, the hack­er ethos. For me, 2005 could al­so have been called the myth­i­cal Year of Linux on the Desktop, thanks to the then-nascent, but still quite amaz­ing, Ubuntu dis­tri­b­u­tion. While it was alien to me, and didn’t quite ‘just work’ on my lap­top, I per­se­vered (smug Windows-using friends would say I “suf­fered”) and use it to this day. I love Ubuntu, and it still… al­most just works.

Along the same geek lines, do­ing more with the de­vices I own seems to be a re­cur­ring theme in my life. These days. I car­ry in my pock­et a root­ed Android phone (run­ning CyanogenMod), and at home have a homebrew-enabled Nintendo Wii and DS, a Canon PowerShot sport­ing CHDK, and Linksys routers run­ning the dd-wrt and Tomato firmwares. My (lack of) skill-set means that you won’t find me help­ing the cause of hack­ing open a new de­vice, but I’m glad to file the oc­ca­sion­al bug. In short, I like to get as much as pos­si­ble out of my de­vices, in­clud­ing, quite lit­er­al­ly, my da­ta. Backup is a top­ic I’ll be com­ing back to, for sure.

I think that about sums up my geek side (and un­in­ten­tion­al­ly makes a pret­ty good case for my navel-gazing side).

  1. Mine looked ex­act­ly like the tow­er pic­tured there!
  2. Let’s re­mem­ber this when we talk about the iPad.
  3. My 2010-self is a lit­tle em­bar­rassed by hav­ing drawn geek­spi­ra­tion from Bill Gates, but you’re read­ing a truth­ful blog.