Work only we can do

No, this isn’t about AI. I mean the work that we want to do. That’s why only we can do it. I want to sift through a certain amount of things. (For example, I like to sift through all dogs.) I want to find things that are interesting and surprising. And I want to have way more books than I can ever read.

Because the meaning isn’t going to emerge on its own—you have to create it. The algorithms and tag searches and bookmarklets will only get you so far; afterwards, it’s work only you can do, work the machine has no need for. The reader is your own personal anthology, but you are the editor: you are the sum of its parts.

~ Mandy Brown from,

RSS Tip: Every Substack publication has an RSS feed. Go to the front of any Substack publication—the page after you ignore the sign-up dialog. Then copy the URL, and add /feed onto the end. (If the URL has an “?gobble-dee-gook” on it, trim that off before adding that /feed ) Add that edited URL to your favorite feed reader. (RSS nerds: Nope the RSS feed URL is not listed in any <link> tags. These are stealth feeds.) Ta-DAH! You’ll find the entire posts from the publication appear in your feed reader. This of course will only work until everyone starts doing it. Then Substack will modify those feeds to just be an excerpt of the article . . . and that’s still awesome, because that’s how web sites work on the Open Web. Protocols, not platforms.


RDF site summaries

…more commonly, Really Simple Syndication (RSS). If you don’t yet know what RSS is: RSS is a calm technology.

Introducing a quarter-century-old technology as if it were novel might seem a little strange. But despite the syndication format’s cult following, most internet users have never heard of it. That’s unfortunate, because RSS provides everyday internet users with an easy way to organize all of their online-content consumption—news media, blogs, YouTube channels, even search results for favorite terms—in one place, curated by the user, not an algorithm. The answer to our relatively recent social-media woes has been sitting there all along.

~ Yair Rosenberg from,

Of course, the real problem is that we’ve all had the idea that “newer is better” broadcast at us for years. The Amish don’t eschew all technology; rather, they’re very particular and intentional about what technology they adopt. The Luddites didn’t want to smash and rollback all technology; they were technically skilled workers who thrived via technology, but who had a specific bone to pick about a new technology.

In recent decades we’ve been fire-hose, continuously fed the idea of techno-optimism… except without the really critical part: one can’t simply hew to, “technology is good.” Technology is nothing more than a tool. There are excellent tools, poor tools, and all tools can be used for good or evil. It’s the consideration we put into our decision to adopt or eschew a technology that matters most.


New York after Paris

The truth is that New York is in the throes of creation. With infinite travail it is taking on a body adequate to its needs, — a feat Paris long ago accomplished. The operation necessarily involves disagreeable surprises, and the immediate result, viewed in its entirety, is, it must be confessed, much more grotesque than impressive. An orchestral performance in which each and every performer played a different tune could hardly be less prepossessing.

~ Alvan F. Sanborn from,

Items from The Atlantic are appearing more often here on the ‘ol blog. My reading goes through epochs as I discover things that interest me and begin following them via RSS.

However, I landed on this article after a few clicks from another place, and that’s odd. Generally, the things I read do not contain links to other interesting-to-me things. That sounds backwards, perhaps? You see, if I find a place that has something interesting, I follow it in some form or another. So usually, any interesting links I find, point to things I already have seen—or if they’re very fresh, I’m already about to stumble upon shortly. I’m not sure that itself is interesting to report, but there it is.


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.


There’s your problem

Read the headline, tap, scroll, tap, tap, scroll.

~ Shane Parrish from,

Well, there’s your problem. Right there in that first line of that article.

But it’s not your fault. There’s a huge asymmetry in the modern struggle.

The solution isn’t to flee, but rather to grab all the technology doo-dads by the, err… doo-dads and make them do your bidding. Notice when something annoys you, and then take the time—it might be seconds, minutes, hours or days—to solve that problem. Triple-word score if you can eliminate something entirely; delete your account from one social network that you’re ok with being without… that fixes annoying notifications. Delete an app. Find some web sites, (hey thanks for following mine,) that work the way you want them to. Subscribe to email if you like, use RSS if you like, etc.



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 66 of 72 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,