The Assassination of Google Reader by the Coward Google+

reader

I’m pretty excited about the visual shakeup that’s going on at Google these days. Gmail and Calendar are prettier than ever, and it looks like there’s even some cues that align with Android now. Google Reader was one of the last properties to get the overhaul, and I was rather nervous about the announced Google+ integration.

I was totally unprepared for the scorched earth tactic Google employed, though. It appears that Google, after applying the new look, systematically uprooted every pretty little flower that made Reader what it was. Google then ground up all the flowers into mulch, burned the mulch, and salted the ground.

What made Reader so great? The social stuff. For every feed item you could click “Share”, and other Reader users who followed you would then get a customized RSS feed with your shares. You could even add a small comment to the top of the shared feed item. This spurned quite a lot of discussion, some of which I’ve archived here. From a “simplify your product line, focus on fewer products”, I completely understand why Google did this. Google+ already supports sharing and commenting, so why not share directly to Google+ instead of to a dedicated RSS feed? Unfortunately, that’s whiteboard philosophy at its best, and it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of why Readers social ecosystem worked so well. Ironic, because Google+ is Googles social initiative. It’s really quite embarrasing.

I started writing a long blog post about how Google could fix reader and keep the Google+ integration. I thought long and hard about solutions to every problem introduced by the massacre. In the end, the frankenbuild that would have resulted from my advice would have been terrible. I even  went in to detail as to what exactly was massacred, but most of what I had to say has already been said elsewhere.

There’s a saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let me be clear, I loathe that saying. It’s shortsigthed, backwards and reactionary. It stands in the way of progress, and indicates the previous iteration of whatever is being referred to, “ain’t broke”. Let me tell you a secret it took me half a lifetime to learn: nothing is ever perfect, and everything can be improved upon. The notion of “perfect” is silly and highly philosophical. Reader wasn’t  perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Finding people to follow was a ridiculous hassle, and advertising the fact that you were sharing on Reader was nigh impossible. But once you did follow someone in Reader, once you did start sharing and commenting on shared feed items, the experience was easy to follow, highly intimate and very enjoyable.

What remains is a good feed-reader, but everything social about it has been scrubbed. Good feed-readers are a dime a dozen, and the sharing features while really well-implemented, are not that hard to copy. It is not unlikely that someone will eat the lunch Google left on the table here. Perhaps Google is fine with that. Or perhaps they’ll listen to sense:

Dear Google,

Reader is about reading RSS feeds, so please make shared items show up in an RSS feed again. +1 buttons are fine, but “Share” and “Note” should append to your shared feed and nothing else. Google+ is also a fine way to advertise that you’re curating an RSS feed. A theoretical integration with the circles might even make sense. But keep discussions, feed items and shares in Reader — where it belongs.

Running Windows On The Mac: Did It Ever Work? [Update 3: Returning It]

Just last week, I bought myself a brand new unibody Macbook Pro 15, a rather expensive piece of hardware. I bought it, expecting it to run Windows natively via multi-boot; Apple advertises that their Boot Camp feature will do just this:

[Mac OSX] Leopard is the world’s most advanced operating system. So advanced, it even lets you run Windows if there’s a PC application you need to use. [...] Setup is simple and straightforward – just as you’d expect with a Mac.

As it turns out, sure, setup is easy, but that’s pretty much where the trademark simple and straightforward ends. Windows, running on my late 2008 Macbook crashes, freezes and Blue Screen Of Deaths me constantly, as in at every 10 minutes of plain use. To preempt your question, “Why run Windows at all?”: gaming.

There are a number of problems:

  • Windows doesn’t seem to control the cooling fans at all, and so it overheats
  • Windows can’t switch between the two (fast or power friendly) graphics adapters
  • Windows freezes when simply browsing websites

So overall, Windows on the Mac is a consistently unpleasant experience, which brings me to the purpose of this post. I need to decide whether I should return the Mac for a full refund and buy a different laptop for half the price, or alternatively, establish whether it’s likely that Apple will address all of these issues given reasonable time. It would really be a pity to return the unit, as I have already grown quite fond of the hardware. Furthermore, despite prior gripes, I can actually now see myself switching to OSX for day to day work, only to boot Windows for the occasional game of Fallout, whereas I bought this Mac with the expectation to do both while in Windows.

Because I genuinely want to make this thing work, I have a number of questions I would love to hear your opinions on, and preferrably before thursday this week where my 14-day right of return expires:

  • Do you have a late 2008 Unibody 15 Macbook running Windows, and are you having similar troubles?
  • Do you have any other Mac running Windows, and if so, is that unit running perfectly?
  • Have you had problems like these on older Mac hardware, which Apple fixed with firmware and software updates?
  • If you are running Windows on a Mac, is it Vista or XP, and did switching from one to the other fix your troubles?

Please note again that I’m referring to Windows running in Boot Camp, not in emulation or virtualization like Parallels or VirtualBox.

While I have done some a lot of research on the topic and found that quite a few others are having the same troubles, and even articles on Apple supposedly working on a fix for these issues, I would love to hear updated feedback on this. As a point of note: OSX runs just fine, doesn’t crash and cools the machine aptly, which leads me to believe this is mainly a Boot Camp software / driver issue, rather than solely a hardware issue.

So there it is, the current state of my fling with The Mac. Please help me turn this into a love-affair. I’ll end this with a Steve Jobs quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

If you’re reading, Steve, right now it doesn’t work.

Update: I’m putting a signed print of your choice on the line for the author of the comment that fixes the problems I’ve been having—not that I think that’s possible without Apple actually getting involved, but it’s worth a shot.

Update 2: After reading an article on The Inquirer, I’m now finding it likely that this Macbook and many others are suffering from bad Nvidia hardware. Please help me decide whether I should return the unit, or request a repair.

Update 3: Returning it. More to follow.

Why iTunes Really Really Sucks, Part 2

It’s been a while since I happily flamed and subsequently ditched iTunes in favor of Floola for adding stuff to my otherwise beloved iPod Shuffle 2G. Alas, Floola—while able to add stuff to the iPod—is neither able to update it nor not crash intermittently. So I decided to try iTunes one last time. I shouldn’t have, because I was reminded how much iTunes on Windows absolutely fucking sucks.

The task seemed fairly simple at the time: add music to the Shuffle. One could argue (and I have, on numerous occasions) that adding files should be as simple as opening the iPod as a drive and dragging files to it. It’s not, so I installed iTunes, or rather, because iTunes is not available separately, I installed QuickTime as well. The suck-o-meter chirped there, but I dismissed that as being simply an inconvenience.

Installing iTunes + Quicktime, I was given the option to automatically update iTunes and Quicktime. This was checked by default, so I unchecked; I don’t need the bleeding edge versions for copying files, and I certainly don’t need another system service running all the 99% of the time when I don’t have iTunes open. Result: fiercely unchecked along with an option to take me to the iTunes Music Store every time iTunes opens.

The installer completes and asks me to reboot. Suck-o-meter is now at 1. Two if I couldn’t probably blame some of the reboot-need on Windows.

With the computer rebooted, I plug in the iPod and start iTunes. Upon program launch, iTunes kindly tells me it’s noticed my iPod is plugged in. It even sees that there are files on it that weren’t added to the Shuffle via iTunes (correct, because they were added using Floola). Unfortunately, iTunes doesn’t support adding music to the iPod from multiple computers. The (only) solution: Erase & Sync. With an insatiable urge to spew torrents of swear-words, this brings the suck-o-meter to 5. Seriously? Who the hell is iTunes to tell me what to put on my iPod, or from where?

Alright, so I erase everything that’s on my iPod in order to be able to update the firmware and add new music. Because unless I do that, the iPod doesn’t even show up in iTunes. Erase completed: okay, it shows up now. That, and a banner in the bottom called “iTunes Mini Store”. I thought I disabled that during the installer? Not so. I have to close that again. So I enter the preferences to see if I can’t disable it there, after all, I just want to update and add to my iPod. The preferences tell me dark secrets; despite my having unchecked (fiercely) the option to automatically update my software, a big checkmark remains in a box that says “Check for updates automatically”. That’s like an eighties TV-show cliché of having too many dates for the one evening; it’s bound to go wrong, hilariously so. Except when iTunes is doing it, it’s not hilarious. It’s 2 points on the suck-o-meter. We’re now at 7.

The suck-o-meter stops at 10. We still have a ways to go before everything implodes. The status is an erased and synced iPod, ready to be updated and recieve a few files. The update goes smoothly. As for the files, in this case, they are rather large audiobooks, so i simply open the folder containing the three files instead of have iTunes index my entire system to add them to my music library. Dragging them from the folder to the iPod icon in the iTunes sidebar seems logical right? Not possible. Oh right, my friend whom I had an almost heated iTunes discussion with, yesterday, told me that iTunes is all about playlists. Fine, I drag the file to the playlist area: success (albeit an unintuitive one)! Dragging that playlist to the iPod in the sidebar works. The iPod is syncing. While syncing I decide to rename the playlist “Audio Books”. Not knowing or trusting whether renaming in iTunes works like it does in Windows (select and wait or select and press F2), I right-click the playlist. No rename option. Can’t I rename? Even if the Windows standard way of renaming works, a context-menu option should be there as well to provide discoverability. Not so, but F2 works. The undiscoverable-in-the-name-of-optimizing-and-simplifying interface design still earns iTunes a total of 8 points on the suck-o-meter.

The iPod is updated and full of audiobooks now. The experience getting there has been an ugly, way-above-average 8 on the suck-o-meter. Comparing iTunes to most other media players excluding Real Player (that would just be unfair, or would it?), getting there was Adobe Photoshop CS3 Etch-a-Sketch slow, confusing and excrutiating. That’s another point on the suck-o-meter.

Now that everything is updated and added, I don’t expect to add files in a while; it takes time to listen through three audiobooks, after all, so simply closing iTunes should settle my woes and remind me that while the iTunes experience can be excrutiating, it is only brief.

I would like to tell you that story of the happy little elf who could simply close iTunes and be done with it. I really would. But this is not a happy story.

What does “closing an application” mean to you? To me it means that the entirety of that application is unloaded. Apparently Apple chose a more beatnik approach to this question, adding services that continue running long after the red X has been pressed. In fact, iTunes secretly installed three permanently memory resident programs: iPodHelper, AppleMobileDeviceService and iTunesHelper. For the computer un-initiated those might be all you’d discover running. But there’s more. Installed in the hidden service layer of Windows, we find Apples Bonjour network service. If we look for it, we even find installed a separate Apple Software Update application (despite us twice having told iTunes we don’t want to update anything, ever). Poor suck-o-meter that only goes to 10. This one goes to 11.

Let’s summarize. Wanting to update my iPod and add three audio book files, required me to reboot, uncheck update services I thought I had already unchecked and erase all my non-iTunes-added-music, all the while having to suffer through arrogantly unintuitive slow interfaces and Music Store ads until finally having to deal with unwanted memory resident applications. Be honest now: is that even remotely defensible coming from a company that’s supposed to be “big” on intuitive interfaces and easy to use hardware and software? I mean, think about it, and really get it in there. If you were not allowed to use the arguments “Get a mac”, or “App X also sucks”, could you even begin to explain why iTunes on Windows must reek like this? Because that’s what it does, reek!

I want you to imagine, for a second, a world wherein Apple did not require you to use iTunes with your iPod. I know it’s unrealistic, but for the sake of it, explore the what if. Do you see more iPods sold? I do. I see more iPods sold, and I see myself having an iPhone. And then I wake up and smell the coffee.

Update: Welcome Reddit’ers. Let’s hope the server can handle the traffic and please feel free to vent in the comments.

Conservapedia, The Encyclopedia Re-written For Idiots

Mentioned in the news these days is Conservapedia, a wiki written by “conservative christians”. In a nutshell, scientific concepts such as evolution are rewritten at religious leisure to be more fitting for people of faith.

On Conservapedia, “Evolution” redirects to “Theory of Evolution” and, among other things state:

that there is an abundance of scientific arguments showing the earth and universe are both approximately 6,000 years in age

It’s also interesting to see the history of edits to an article such as the one on Atheism, which early on contained this jewel:

Since atheists have no God, as a philosophical framework atheism simply provides no logical basis for any moral standard. They live their lives according to the rule that “anything goes”. In recent years, this has led to a large rise in crime, drug use, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, pedophilia and bestiality.

If it wasn’t for the fact that some people believe this insanity, I’d get a good laugh out of this.

My Brush With Database Death

If you visited Noscope last night between 23:20 and 23:50, you’d see anguish and pain. Well, actually you’d see the body of every entry ever written simply say post_content, but the former more accurately represents what I saw.

In five seconds, everything I had written over the last 5 years was gone.

The story began with a simple wish on my part, to move some images and update the paths to these in WordPress. Hey, I figured. A quick MySQL search & replace will do the trick. While it could have worked, the result was quite terrifying. In five seconds, everything I had written over the last 5 years was gone. 572 entries of variable quality was reduced to binary rubble.

The story ends rather well, fortunately. Prior to performing said search & replace, I had backed up the lot. Twice. I had done so the week before, and the month before that. Even so, there could have been problems with the backups (MySQL exports), there could’ve been UTF-8 problems, this and that. The fact that this log remains unfazed by yesterdays tumultuous events seems a miracle.

The moral of the story is, of course: backup. Make copies of your stuff. Keep it in various places. Email it to your Gmail. Automatize it. Most importantly: do it now, or in the words of Mao Zedong: Get to work!

Why Do People Pick Annoying Ringtones?

I have discovered that people who use cellphones a lot tend to pick the most annoying ringtones of all. Be it plain rings that echo like tinnitus, or snippets of songs your neighbour listens to Thursday nights when you want to sleep. What is wrong with the picture? Shouldn’t users trained in the arts of telephony file down the corners of their habits with prolonged usage; learn the do’s and don’ts of telephonism?

I asked my colleague one day why he had chosen this jazz-track that sounds good when played at a bar, but just really, really fucking annoying when it explodes through the office. He answered: “isn’t it cool?”. No, it’s a ringtone! It’s not cool.

Orientation: A Scientology Information Film

You are at the threshold of your next trillion years. You will live it in shivering, agonizing darkness or you will live it triumphantly in the light. The choice is yours. If you wish to leave the room after seeing this film, walk out and never mention Scientology again, you are free to do so. It would be stupid, but you are free to do it. You can also dive off a bridge, or blow your brains out; that is your choice. It is your future.

This is the closing statement of Orientation: A Scientology Information Film, which you can now view in its entirety, online. If you ever, in a moment of weakness, doubted that Scientology was a bad idea, I’d recommend you watch the movie and read up on what Scientology actually entails.

What the film entirely fails to mention is that Scientology is based on a story by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The story tells of a “Galactic Confederacy” ruled by the dark lord Xenu who, to cope with over-population problems, brought billions of aliens to Earth in starcruisers that looked like DC-8 planes, dropped these aliens around volcanoes and then proceeded to hydrogen bomb them. According to Scientology, these lost alien souls inhabit our bodies, even today, and cause all the problems we face in life.

Instead, “Orientation” advises you buy a stacks of books, get auditing and maybe even make Scientology auditing your career.

Incidentally, L. Ron Hubbard has been quoted as saying:

The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion.

Scientology claims to have the answers, yet this orientation film seems to omit facts that are less easily sold. As such, this information gets honorable mention here: knowing is half the battle.