Category: Tech

Laura Kalbag: “How to Read RSS in 2020”

This was a good, short overview of RSS, some RSS clients, and feed services. I like how Laura emphasizes the way that RSS cedes the control to the user:

You get to choose what you subscribe to in your feed reader, and the order in which the posts show up. You might prefer to read the oldest posts first, or the newest. You might group your feeds by topic or another priority. You are not subjected to the “algorithmic feed” of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, where they choose the order for you. You won’t miss your friends’ posts because the algorithm decided to suppress them, and you are not forced to endure ads disguised as content (unless a feed you subscribe to includes ads inside their posts).

This is purely anecdotal but it seems like when Google killed Reader, it ended many folks’ use of RSS (well, that and the dominance of platforms like Twitter and Facebook). The last couple of years I’ve seen people come back to publishing on their own websites, which has been encouraging. I wonder, though, whether the folks doing this are people who were around for blogging’s heyday, or if there’s younger people picking up the indieweb spirit.

As for my own RSS usage: I’m definitely switching to Feedbin (also recommended by my friend Ethan) after using Feedly for years. I like the way it grabs full articles, not just excerpts, and that it’s explicitly committed to users’ privacy. That’s worth the minimal subscription fee to me.

The Verge: “Emotional Baggage”

Wow, did this article by Zoe Schiffer about the work culture inside Away bring up so many traumatic memories from my first startup job. It’s simultaneously shocking in its details, and yet completely unsurprising in the larger context of tech startup labor exploitation.

This Slack message from co-founder Steph Korey to the customer experience team (denying upcoming PTO requests) is, well, something else:

“I know this group is hungry for career development opportunities, and in an effort to support you in developing your skills, I am going to help you learn the career skill of accountability. To hold you accountable…no more [paid time off] or [work from home] requests will be considered from the 6 of you…I hope everyone in this group appreciates the thoughtfulness I’ve put into creating this career development opportunity and that you’re all excited to operate consistently with our core values.”

I’ve worked in tech for over twenty years. It’s struck me, over and over, how so much of our industry’s “innovation” is often about coercing additional, unhealthy labor out of its workforce. That’s not innovative or groundbreaking at all, it’s just the age-old capitalist playbook — hidden behind better branding and marketing communications.

nvUltra

A successor to nvALT, you say?

The biggest difference is that it works with multiple folders and sub-folders. You pick a folder, it indexes it, and you can use it just like nvALT. But then you can open another folder, or create a new one and start editing. It allows you to create folders anywhere, maybe one on Dropbox or iCloud Drive that’s shared, one on an encrypted disk that’s private, one for work, one for home, one for every writing project. You’re not limited to tags (though you can search by and sync with macOS tags within the app), and you can sort your notes into subfolders as well.

nvALT is one of those tools that’s not as polished on the UI front as, say, Bear or Ulysses — but it’s so fast that I still use it for note-taking (especially when hooked up to another editor like Byword for writing longer notes). Speed is a big part of UX.

Upgrading From an iPhone SE to an XR

Michael Tsai (whose SpamSieve I used for a very long time) writes about his experience going from an iPhone SE to one of the newer iPhones. I currently use an SE, and this paragraph on the tradeoffs between physical size and screen space is particularly relevant:

I wasn’t sure whether I would like the size of the screen. With the iPhone SE, I could easily reach everything with one hand, and this wasn’t the case even with an iPhone 6s. The iPhone XR is quite a bit larger. In fact, I found that it’s so large that I hold and use it in a different—unapologetically two-handed—way, and the adjustment has been easy. Being able to see so much at once is an incredible advantage. I’ve long known this on the Mac, where I’ve always tried to get as much screen space as possible. But, in a way, it’s more true on the phone because it’s so cramped to begin with. Modern iOS and apps are less information dense than before, and they no longer seem to be optimized for 4-inch displays like when that was the flagship size. I miss those days, but at this point I don’t think even a new small phone would bring them back.

FWIW: I shifted from Android back to iOS to return to a smaller form factor, and that very same year Apple released the iPhone 6, inaugurating a new “standard” size for the iPhone. I am doubtful that we’ll see an update to the SE-class size.

But perhaps that isn’t something to mourn too deeply. As Om Malik notes while surveying the advent of foldable phones:

We have gone from voice to app-centric form factors. The next form factor will be multi-modal and very visual. A device that marries a wearable, a pocketable and a hearable could become the catalyst of the next shift. Let’s use Apple as an example. Imagine an Apple Watch, AirPods, and augmented reality (AR) glasses married to a phone serving as an edge server. That could be the next form factor, and who knows if we would even need the intermediate device.