Not so much moving on as being pushed – after Google Reader

Back in July of 2012, Google announced that its much-loved customizable homepage, iGoogle, would be shutting down in November of 2013. Along with others, I searched the heavens for further signs of the end times—a rain of toads, a column of fire, dogs and cats living together. Nothing. Apparently it was just a commercial decision by a large corporation that could no longer see a financial advantage in sustaining the iGoogle environment of widgets and gadgets and whatnot. Not a lot of ad revenue in widgets, I suppose (at least not the ones I was using).

Today, Google has announced that Google Reader—its RSS feed reader—will be shutting down in July 2013. I’ve checked the heavens and once again it appears this is just a corporate decision. Well then.

I’ve never loved Google Reader. It was only ever functional. When I would come across an RSS feed that I wanted to keep track of, I would “subscribe” to it in my Google Reader. It provided a means of grouping one’s RSS feeds, labelling them in a common fashion. But that was never truly useful since Google Reader’s user interface was never convenient for a quick scan of RSS items.

What was useful, however, was the fact that I could take an output feed from Google Reader—a conglomeration of all the RSS feeds to which I had subscribed within Google Reader—and feed it through an iGoogle gadget so that my entire set of RSS feeds would appear on my homepage in abbreviated form (just the feed title). I have no interest in reading the vast majority of items that appear in my RSS feeds. I just scan through the titles of the items and when I find one for which I would like to see the full content, I just click on it. Simple. When I’m done I mark all of the items “as read” and they are whisked away leaving me with a nice clean, empty, Google Reader gadget on my iGoogle homepage waiting for the next batch of items when they arrive.

I don’t suppose I am a big user of RSS feeds. I have 76 feeds currently in my Google Reader. Collectively they produce between 150 to 200 items in my Google Reader gadget on my iGoogle homepage per day. Of those, I probably look at maybe 10 or 15.

But now my need for finding a viable replacement for my iGoogle homepage just moved from “pending” to “urgent”. (Not panicky urgent, just ordinary urgent.) I already know about a few alternatives, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking that I should just do my own thing, probably within a Drupal installation on a site I already use.

Change comes to all of us, with or without heavenly signs. I just don’t enjoy being chivvied.

Deaccessioning

What is the first thing you do after adding a new bookcase to your home? I mean after you sort out precisely where to place it. And after you shift books from other bookcases in order to fill the new bookcase.

In our house that shifting this time introduced a bit of breathing space for British and European fiction. They were getting cramped and, in places,  were doubled stacked. Spreading out over three more shelves must feel good for them.

But now that the bookcase is in place and the books have been shifted (shifting also includes dusting), what is the first thing you do? For me, it is time for deaccessioning. By which I mean the annual cull of books.

Annual because each year in the Spring we donate one or two boxes of books to the CFUW Annual Book Sale. The CFUW is the Canadian Federation of University Women. Their book sale raises money for scholarships for women at institutions of higher education. A worthy cause, and conveniently their book sale is located just around the corner from where we live. There are two days in which you can drop off your books (only items in good condition are accepted), and the next day the madness begins.

Did I say “madness”? I mean book sale. But it truly is mad. For two days ravenous book bargain buyers hunt through thousands and thousands of books (usefully sorted into fiction and numerous non-fiction categories). People leave with bags and bags of books, all purchased for two dollars per item, whether it is a hardcover in pristine condition, or a much-loved (but still in good condition) trade paperback.

The CFUW book sale is coming up in April. So it is now time to embark on the annual, and painful, cull. On the other hand, soon there will be more space on the shelves for whatever exciting new books come along this year.

Exodus by Lars Iyer


W. and Lars are back for the third and final instalment of Lars Iyer’s besotted double-act. After Spurious and Dogma, Exodus follows the put upon philosophers on a conference tour of Britain. W. has retained his post at Plymouth University by means of a technicality, though he has been relegated to teaching Sports Science students Badminton Ethics. The much abused Lars persists in his damp, underground flat in Newcastle (though thankfully the rats are gone) but he has just as little hope of surviving the desecration of Humanities faculties, and most regrettably Philosophy departments, across the country. All that’s left to them now is despair. Despair and Plymouth Gin.

W. and Lars meander across the country and across the (continental) philosophical landscape. W. is ever nostalgic for his postgraduate days at Essex University, though he appears to be the last hanger-on from those days still in academic employment. Will his early experience of life in the wilds of Canada(!) sustain him in the thoughtless wilderness of modern Britain? Is thinking even possible anymore? Or are they all now on the long march from Egypt heading toward a Canaan that W. and Lars will never be able to enter? If so, it is a curious exodus that leads to London and Edinburgh and Oxford and Dundee only to bring them back to Plymouth and one long, last drunken dark night of the soul and dreams of Plymouth Sound glinting like utopia.

It’s over. It’s been a desperate journey across the three novels, full of philosophical musings, sly observations on the state of tertiary education in Britain, exultation of the generative properties of Plymouth Gin, and endless abuse by W. of his erstwhile companion, his Boswell, his inspiration and exasperation, and ultimately his one true friend.

Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel (revisited)


It seems years ago now since I first read Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software. That’s because it is. The book, made available at producingoss.com in 2005 and published by O’Reilly in 2006, was one of the first to offer an accessible and thoughtful look at how to run a successful free software project. Back in 2005 and 2006, that was something I was keenly interested in, not least because I was working for OSS Watch at the time.

Time passes. Things change. Even the world of free and open source software changes over time.

I was delighted to learn recently that Karl Fogel is setting about producing a revised and updated edition of Producing Open Source Software.  What’s more there is an easy way that interested individuals can help this project come to fruition. Karl has posted his project on Kickstarter, which is a funding platform for creative projects. Check out Karl’s video on his project page. And then consider making a small contribution to help kickstart the project. It’s a great opportunity to make a small contribution to the ongoing success of free and open source software.

Plus, just as with the first edition, the new edition will be released online under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike licence so it too will be freely available to read and share with others everywhere and anywhere.

Very much looking forward to the new edition of Producing Open Source Software.

Tenth of December by George Saunders


Astonishingly assured writing of characters so hesitant and fragile that your heart breaks for them. This is George Saunders at his best. With stories so lean that each individual word is vitally important. And even the nuance is nuanced.

Every story in this collection deserves mention as both typical of Saunders’ earlier style, and adventurously striking new ground. With “Escape from Spiderhead” and “My Chivalric Fiasco” we see the satirical Saunders’ alternate future, complete with chemically induced mood, emotion and diction. These are at once lighter than some of his previous satires but perhaps (or because of that) even more cutting. A Saunders protagonist may hope for, even expect, at least within in his own mind, the world to bend itself to his needs and goals, but will find himself almost invariably brought back to reality, or lower, when the world insists on its own integrity.

Saunders is a master of the exorbitant monologue, here represented by “Exhortation” and “The Semplica Girl Diaries”, or the sad sack “Al Roosten”. But perhaps even more impressive are the stories which function as dualistic monologues—not dialogues, to be sure, but rather alternating monologues. Both the opening, shockingly surprising, story, “Victory Lap”, and the concluding title story, “Tenth of December”, take this form. The latter must surely stand as one of the finest, saddest, and bravest short stories I have ever encountered. With characters so vulnerable, so susceptible to destruction by themselves and others, only Saunders’ love for them can sustain them, even help them succeed beyond their own imaginings.

The writing is so swift and spare that a story almost sweeps past you. So take the opportunity to read it again and you will find that you will want to read it yet again, even. Highly recommended.