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.

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

I 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…

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.

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 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 sticks bet­ter than most. I’m sur­prised to find out 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…

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…

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).

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.