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.