Nope nope nope

The History of Philosophy is an interactive tool enabling users to dig into a visual timeline of 2,500 years of philosophical thought and discover lines of agreement and divergence.

~ Ahmed Kabil from,

I glanced at this when it appeared in my RSS feed and I had two simultaneous thoughts: “Wow, I should really dig into—” And, “RUN AWAY!” Because, this is exactly the sort of maximally complicated data visualization that I would create.



Then I noticed a huge mound of stones stacked on the flat-topped summit, a clearly man-made production, tight as an Inca battlement and resembling a stone obelisk or maybe an altar. How someone scaled that red junker to stack those stones in that manner rather confounded me.

~ John Long from,

This is an amazing story told about rock climbing— actually it’s about rock not being climbable, except for the fact that people, who were not modern rock climbers clearly did climb these things. A simply amazing story.

Also, and not at all related, some web sites have these visual “hide” affects that tease you with some initial content. Some web sites do that the lazy way, by sending all the content along but then telling your web browser to hide it visually from you. Also, some web browsers have a “readability version” feature that will turn a hot-mess of a web page into easy-to-read text. If you use that feature on one of those sites, you can read all the text. Furthermore, some web sites actually include the full text of things in their RSS feeds even though they hide it if you go to the web page directly. Curiously, all of these things are completely not at all no way nuh-uh related to this article that I’m sharing today.


Podcasts and good old RSS

Once I started seriously listening to podcasts, I quickly reached the point where there are more podcasts, (entire shows, not just episodes,) than I can possibly keep up with. I’m left with the choice between staying subscribed to podcasts where I want to listen to only some of the episodes, or unsubscribing and knowing that I’m missing some gems.

…and then I remember this is all just RSS.

In my podcast player, (which is Overcast,) I now keep only the shows that are my dedicated favorites; shows that I generally listen to every episode. I moved all the other podcasts into my RSS reader, (which is Reeder.) I even added a bunch of shows which I had completely given up hope of being able to even follow them looking for gems.

This had two huge benefits:

First, it improved my podcast listening experience: Not keeping all of those podcast shows subscribed in my podcast player, means less downloading and less skipping. I don’t like having to wait, so I have everything set to pre-download, and removing a lot of podcasts makes a big difference. But even more important, there’s now much less distraction. When I’m in the mood, (or the time, or the place,) to listen to podcasts, I tend to continue listening by default. I’m more likely to listen “just a bit farther” to see if this episode is going to be good, whereas if I had read the summary I might have skipped it altogether. So my podcast listening experience winds up having far more great episodes because it’s just the shows I love.

Second, it actually leads to me finding more gems: When I open my RSS reader, (as I do every day,) I’m in “skimming mode.” I’m looking for things to queue for later reading. (Pocket and Instapaper for the win.) There’s very little effort for me to skim the episode descriptions, and when I find one that looks good I add it to my podcast player. This does require me to switch apps, search, and then add a specific episode. But this small effort helps ensure that the episode is likely to be one I would really like to listen to.

There’s one detail that is a slight snag: How do you find a podcast’s feed URL? We’re all so used to searching in our podcast player apps, but you need the actual podcast feed URL to add it to your RSS reader. You’ll discover that none of the podcast player apps, and none of the directories, (Stitcher, Google, Apple, etc.,) make it easy to find the shows’ underlying podcast URL. The easiest way to do it is to use the handy search on James Cridland’s, (no relation/benefit to me.) It pulls the show’s information from the directories, and explains all the details about that show’s configuration including a handy RSS link icon that has the URL.

So, unpacking this idea a bit more, with some visuals we have…


If you don’t already have a favorite RSS reader, the easiest way to start is to use a web site which will corral all your RSS subscriptions. It will show you a nice web front end with all your feeds together. Later, if you want to run a dedicated RSS reading application on your phone or computer, any of the good ones will let you say, “I have my subscriptions in Feedbin,” and boop! you have all your feeds: Feedbin.

RSS in action

Here’s an example of what it looks like when I encounter an updated podcast feed in my RSS reading application.

Here’s the “stream” of RSS items. Sorry, I have the font size on my phone super-huge; so this only shows a few items. But the first one, under “Today”, is from a podcaster friend’s show.


Touching it leads me to the full RSS item’s view. Exactly what you see in this view depends on exactly what each RSS feed chooses to include.

I’m still not on the web here—still simply looking at the data in the RSS feed.


At this point, my brain goes, “oh yes! David put out his next episodes!” Let’s see what he’s written up… (swiping left) I get an in-app web browser view of the item from his web site.

I could even press play, right here, if I had 11 minutes.

If this were an episode I wanted to listen to—in my “I’m listening to podcasts” mode, as I described above—then I’d flip over to my podcast app and search for this episode and add it to my listening queue. In reality, it’s even easier: My podcast player app remembers the shows I’ve listened to before, so I can just touch the show, scroll to the episode and hit ‘download’ for later listening.

You can keep an eye on a LOT of podcasts this way—looking at their descriptions—without piling up more in your podcast player than you can possibly listen to.


There’s nothing small about the world

(Part 67 of 73 in series, My Journey)

Now I realize I was not giving up anything of any use to anyone. The news never really added to my knowledge in any meaningful way. It just added a steady stream of limited and unsubstantiated viewpoints on select issues to my head, which is already full of limited and unsubstantiated viewpoints. The news doesn’t inform you about what’s happening in the world. The news only informs you of what’s on the news.

~ David Cain from,

One of the first steps I ever took in turning my life around was to get a handle on my information “diet.” In the beginning, there was TV. I was horribly mistaken in thinking that it was possible to obtain any useful news from TV. (There’s plenty of entertainment on TV if you’re willing to guzzle advertising with it.) Early on, perhaps around ~1993, I realized you could use RSS (and it’s many descendent flavors) to watch [as in, “notice when things are published”, not “mindlessly stare at”] information sources of my choosing.


A fight for survival! An RSS revival!

While millions of people may be happy getting their news from Facebook or an aggregator like Apple News (which I also use, occasionally, for more mainstream headlines), the resiliency of RSS makes me happy. There was a time when I thought all my news could come from social feeds and timelines; today, I’m more comfortable knowing that I – not a questionable and morally corrupt algorithm – fully control hundreds of sources I read each day.

~ Federico Viticci from,

Hear! Hear!

Ok, but how do you use this?

The SUPER easy way is to go to There you can tell it what sites you want to follow, and FeedBin will “consume” the RSS feeds. It dove-tails them together into a linear stream of short snippettes and excerpts. You skim along only seeing things from sites you wanted to follow.

Some site annoys you repeatedly?
…just remove that feed.

See something you like?
…click through and you’re taking to the original item on the actual site. THIS is why all sites provide RSS feeds. Huge sites, (like the BBC’s,) provide various feeds you can choose from; just international news for example.

Take five minutes to figure this out — you can thank me later.


Does free work?

If you don’t understand what all the hubbub is about Google Reader, RSS, free services… here are three bits to get you thinking:

The Customer Is the Product

What if someone invented a service where, instead of having to check all your important blogs, instead of having to check Twitter and Tumblr a million times a day, you could get all the updates in one place? Great idea!

~ Ryan Holiday from,

Free is so prevalent in our industry not because everyone’s irresponsible, but because it works. … In other industries, this is called predatory pricing, and many forms of it are illegal because they’re so destructive to healthy businesses and the welfare of an economy. But the tech industry is far less regulated, younger, and faster-moving than most industries. We celebrate our ability to do things that are illegal or economically infeasible in other markets with productive-sounding words like “disruption”.

~ Marco Arment from,