Jamie's Notes

Currently browsing the month of June, 2019 ⤵

2019/02

I have moved the 43 bags of mud to my front garden, bringing them closer to their eventual but yet to be decided destination.


I threw caution to the wind and installed the iOS 13 beta on my iPhone and iPad. It’s a bit rough around the edges. Dark mode is nice but I don’t know why people wet their pants about it.


My RSS feed has been spewing out all sorts of content that shouldn’t be in it. Sorry about that. I have never professed to know what I’m doing.


Blog discovery is broken, but this Google-fu works okay for finding search terms within blogs: inurl:/blog/ [search term]


The domain name that this blog sits under has changed to reflect the title. Everything should work as normal.


We had lunch with friends of ours today. They’ve just bought a house which has a large and elaborate pond in the back garden. They intended to fill it in but it has since been occupied by a pair of horny frogs and a multitude of their children. We gazed upon this microcosm of life for quite some time. Amongst the tadpoles I spotted one that was in a weird stage of development, possessing a long, functioning tail as well as fully grown legs. The poor thing looked like it didn’t know what to do with this surprising amount of limbs. It couldn’t swim properly because its tail would either get in the way or inadvertently change the intended trajectory – but it just carried on, doing the best that it could, muddling through to some sort of destination but possibly not the one that it intended. Sometimes I feel like that frog.

☀️🕶⛱

2019/01: Blue Rinse

On Monday morning my work laptop spent forty three minutes installing ‘essential updates’. I took this as an indication of how the rest of the week would progress.


I also have 43 large bags of mud in my back garden, the result of removing our lawn.


Amazon have announced an updated Kindle Oasis. I had an Oasis but sold it to get a Kobo Forma. I’m happy with the Forma but having considered the pros and cons for about ten seconds I’ve decided that I’ll buy the new Oasis. I’m a slave to consumerism.


Boris Johnson is going to be Prime Minister. I’ve come to terms with it.


I’ve been reading Wolf Hall for three weeks. Three. Weeks.


On Friday I saw an old lady with a blue rinse. For some reason this made me happy.

RSS makes the web tolerable again

Back in the halcyon days of the early web the large internet portals, like Netscape, Yahoo and AOL, were starting to think about how their customers would access the ever-growing amount of content being produced on the internet. The answer they came up with was ‘syndication’. From the user perspective this was as simple as adding a BBC News or Wired widget on your homepage. If you are as old as me you might even remember doing it. Behind the scenes these content transactions were powered by a syndication protocol called RSS (which stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’ or ‘Rich Site Summary’, depending on who you ask). Theoretically this was good for everyone: content providers were able to to reach people they would never have reached before, users had control over how and where they receive content, and the portals kept customers on their sites for longer by offering personalised experiences, like this:

For a while RSS was ubiquitous, but it faltered when the larger social networks became the main vehicle of syndicated content – and it didn’t help that it has never been particularly user-friendly. Most people now get their news from social media but recent years have shown that this can be problematic: social media platforms are not neutral content providers. They manipulate how, when and what content is delivered to end users for their own ends and you have to sift through all the ads, outrage and general horror of social media to get to the content you want to see.

It’s not all bad news. In fact there is very good news: RSS never actually went away. Most websites, whether they advertise it or not, still provide an RSS feed and you can use it right now to take control of how content is delivered to you.

Here’s a screenshot of my RSS aggregator this morning:

Readkit for macOS

I subscribe to nearly two hundred feeds. That sounds overwhelming but while some sites publish multiple times per day, some only put out a handful a year. I can scan through the headlines of all of these sites in a few minutes. It would be very difficult to keep track of that content without RSS.

I use RSS to keep track of:

  • Blogs
  • Twitter accounts & hashtags
  • Instagram accounts
  • Reddit subreddits
  • Newspapers

My feed reader can do clever stuff like filtering out certain key words or phrases. I can, for example, make Boing Boing tolerable by filtering out posts about Trump or those authored by Cory Doctorow. I can organise my feeds into folders – so if I want to avoid the news one day I can just skip that folder, or mark the whole thing read and pretend nothing happened that day. One of the biggest benefits for me is that I’m less likely to open my browser and get lost down the rabbit hole.

Getting started:

It’s easy to get started with RSS:

Step 1:

Sign up for an account with one of the many feed aggregators. Some of the more popular ones are:

All of these have mobile applications – some have desktop companions too. I use Readkit on OSX and Fiery Feeds on iOS. Many people like Reeder. There are options for other operating systems too and the web applications don’t care what OS you use.

Step 2:

Subscribe to some feeds. Most readers will automatically find the feed if you put in the address of the homepage. If you’re short of inspiration you could take a look at my blogroll.

Step 3:

Marvel at your technical wizardry, the amount of time you save and your new found freedom from algorithmic content delivery.

A walk around Welton

My friend Dave and I took a walk around Welton on what turned out to be a sunny evening. We’ve walked the various routes around Welton before but this route was new to us. The first small climb offered up some great views over Ellougton Wold and out across the Humber that we hadn’t seen before.

The route took us back down to our starting point through Welton Dale – which has sadly been fenced on both sides now so it feels like you are being kettled as you walk down the valley. If you’re prepared to jump off the path for a bit you’ll find the Raikes Mausoleum hidden within the woodland. The structure is two hundred years old and sadly in need of some attention now, which is a shame as it still houses the remains of some of the family. It was a bit spooky at dusk and we didn’t hand around – so no photo.

I told Dave that Welton was quite posh, but I don’t think he believed me until we walked past a million quids worth of helicopter parked on someones lawn.

Auribus Teneo Lupum

For those that don’t follow the machinations of British politics – and I would understand if you chose not to – a leadership election is about to get underway. Between general elections and ill-conceived referendums, leadership elections are about the only other thing that breaks up the monotony of parliamentary democracy. As the party holding the election is currently in power the winner will become Prime Minister. Why anyone would want this job is beyond me, but that’s how it is. The next Prime Minister will be (probably) the biggest influence on the direction that Brexit takes from this point forward.

One of the underdogs in the race is Rory Stewart. He’s had an interesting and varied life outside of politics (Brad Pitt bought the rights to a film about him) and appears to be clever & coherent. This means that he’s got no chance of winning, but his ground campaign is pretty interesting and he’s doing a good job of putting some of the Brexit nonsense to rights. Rory is against a no-deal Brexit (yay), but he also thinks that a second referendum would be a mistake (boo). A couple of months ago I would have strongly argued that he is wrong, but acceptance sets in as time goes on and I’m developing some sympathy for this view. His reasoning is straightforward and nothing to do with sovereignty or democracy or any of the other tropes that Brexiteers wheel out, simply that there’s no point in an exercise where the result will only tell us what we already know: the country (or at least those that vote in these things) is still split. A referendum only solves the practical issue of whether we stay or leave – it does nothing for the social or political fallout, which will far outlast it.

The latin term auribus teneo lupum translates to ‘hold a wolf by the ears’ and is used to describe situations where doing nothing and doing something are equally risky. A more modern interpretation would be dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. It feels fitting for our current predicament.