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Roger Binns
Lives in Santa Cruz, CA
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Roger Binns

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This is my last G+ post since Google don't want me as a reader or writer.  The good news it spurred me to do a major personal website revamp (the first in a decade).  You can even follow it using good workable open RSS.
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Roger Binns

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I switched from Google Reader to tt-rss two weeks ago.  It works well and is my permanent solution.  That also means I don't have a page permanently open at Google any more, which means far more conscious effort is needed to hit Google Plus which still remains unreadable.  The screenshot shows just how many of the two million pixels on my screen are devoted to actual content in yellow.  Compare to Reader or tt-rss which come in at close to 100%.  I'll probably give up on Plus completely. 

On the topic of a Reader replacement, tt-rss pluses are that I can run it on my own server, there are two Android clients (I like the non-official one), feeds are automatically sorted into alphabetical order, the mobile web view is good, there is a well engineered and extensive plugin mechanism, updates are easy, and you can import your Reader feeds and starred articles.  There are lots of little pleasant touches here and there.  It is fully open source.

On the minus side the UI lags when showing articles are read.  The developer says this is because the Javascript rate limits hits to the server, and they don't update the UI until the server has been told.  This means it takes up to 15 seconds from when an article is read until the UI updates to show that.  They also grey the text instead of a border like Reader.  The Reader approach is better UI especially if you are part way through reading the article.  The main developer can be quite abrasive, but anyone can fork the project if that turns out to be too much of a problem.
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Roger Binns

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Ok Google, I give up.  First you made G+ unreadable on Android due to putting every article in boxes with large images, making it impossible to actually read what people had to say.  Now you have done the same to website making it impossible to follow sequence (boxes going horizontally and vertically of arbitrary different size and packing).  Yes newspapers do that, but their articles are longer than a few sentences, the content is curated, and the layout is overseen by humans.

If you want to know how to make content easy and productive to read, then I suggest studying an excellent product that is very good at that.  It is called Google Reader.
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Ah, the use less than 30% of my monitor width option.  It is less worse but still unpleasant.  When they kill Reader I'll end up completely disengaging G+ anyway - I have the first tab of my first browser window open with Reader, and that is how I occasionally remember to click on + or see notifications.

They also let Android games hook into G+ today - several games I have updated for it.  The UI mostly consisted of me saying "no they can't be intrusive like that", before giving up.  I only allowed one app to use G+ in the end.
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Roger Binns

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I bought some software today, and their license agreement contains a rather odious term.  They get the right to use your name and similar details including trademarks in marketing without getting permission at the time, or any notification.  Fortunately if they do that I have enough counter material that would make them regret it.  Oh, they also get to pull the software any time they feel like with no notice period, including remotely disabling it.

I guess most companies are lucky that no one actually reads these agreements since they pretty much consist of a list in legalese of how the company can be hostile to its users.
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Roger Binns

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What happened when 50,000 Google Reader readers tried an alternative.  It is the usual narrative that when there is a major change in demand, a lot of things that worked perfectly before fail.  And that some of the new things you put in place to react to the demand also have bugs and fail.
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Roger Binns

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It turns out that I am extremely competent at picking future dead technologies when buying Lenovo laptops.  My T61 purchase a few years ago included wireless USB.  The same wireless USB that failed.

My most recent acquisition last year included Thunderbolt.  Well that is dead too.

I wonder what I'll be picking next time...
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Don't buy the same connectivity interfaces I buy.  My old laptop also had Firewire (RIP) and a modem (RIP), neither of which I ever used.  At least Thunderbolt degrades to DisplayPort.
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Roger Binns

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A pet peeve is company websites that demand personal details before telling you anything useful.  You can't read case studies, get product details or even download SDKs to see if they would fit with your project.  They are insisting on something of high value from you - your personal details and the implied access to you that gives. But in return they offer nothing first. You will still be spending your time to determine if what is being offered is what you are looking for, and if it provides value to you.

This is a terrible way to start a relationship. From previous companies I've worked at and from friends, the reported rate of junk information entered is between 40 and 100%. I was even advised by one company to “enter junk, everyone else does”.  The usual rationalisation is that it is better to ignore the junk (and annoy the people who had to provide it), than miss a single lead.  The latter is measurable but the former not, since you have no idea how many gave up and left for the competition.

Hiding content also prevents indexing by search engines, and people can't link to it.  The solution is easy - it is perfectly okay to ask for details (but not require them), and to ensure people can communicate with you once they have found you are a good match.  Ironically many of those sites that provide the terrible start to the relationship also make it hard to continue once you know you do want to proceed.
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Roger Binns

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I used to be the kind of person the computer industry cared about.  Hardware makers kept trying to give me more: cpu, memory, storage, screens, pixels etc.  Software makers kept trying to harness that extra capability, providing new things for me to do, removing limits on existing ones and new ways of combining, mashing up and remixing what I have.  They came up with multiple different ways of doing things so you could pick what worked best for you.

Those days are completely over.  Hardware comes with built in obsolescence with non-expandable memory and storage.  Screens have regressed in resolution and surface area.  Software makers are optimising for small tablets using one program at a time with a finger.  They are battling to contain you within their walled garden.  They only provide one way of doing things, which helps reinforce the walled garden and makes other systems seem alien.  (Some changes have been for the better which is apparent because everyone adopts them - an example is typing a few letters and getting all relevant applications, documents, contacts etc.)

This is even happening in the open source/free software world.  Canonical/Ubuntu has a CLA which ensures an unequal advantage to them if you want to collaborate.  Parts are kept private to keep up that walled garden (Ubuntu One).

I'd been sticking to Gnome because it had historically been usable and didn't have a walled garden agenda.  Unfortunately the most recent release (3.8) has finally become unusable, because they provide only two modes - one completely unusable unless using a small screen with fingers (that approximately no one has), and the second that imitates the earlier more usable interface from back when things kept getting bigger and better.

The latter fails because the developers so focussed on the first mode completely missed what it was about the second that made it productive.  My main workstation has 4,000 square centimetres of display space (compared to 160 for an iPad Mini 7 inch).  Things are hidden (eg system monitors and dropbox icons) that should be always visible.  Huge swathes of horizontal space at the top of the screen are wasted.  Attempting to use multiple copies of the same program are an exercise is frustration.  Even task bars (so far the least worst UI paradigm for managing lots of open windows where many are from the same app) is broken (eg can't drag and drop to reorder).  Doing anything involves more mouse movement, and more steps.  Even the workspaces don't show their contents or have keystrokes to switch.

The usual answer is that it is open and I can fix it.  This is true in the abstract sense, but not practically because it is obvious I am no longer welcome.  Heck I didn't really even want any changes, just for things to be left as they were before they got too much worse.

Designers seem to be on a parallel course to make things worse.  The new esthetic is "flat" ui which means fewer pixels devoted to highlighting the difference between ui elements.  And the colour schemes involve using various shades of gray on top of and next to other shades of gray.  4,000 square centimetres of gray is not usable.  On laptops with worse colour differentiation it is even hard to distinguish what is going on.

I've got six months to find the least worst productive environment.  O for the days when it was all about users like me.
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Although some of what I do is developer centric (eg lots of terminal windows), others aren't such as opening csv files with over 100k rows.  Or combining sound, images and text.  Application sandboxing and cloud storage are what stymie those.  The sandboxing does have good security reasons, but limiting what the app can access also hinders their usability.
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Roger Binns

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Anyone know how to get more throughput from AppEngine database?  We'll pay!
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Sadly of no help.  I'm still baffled as to why Google gives you the same database throughput whether you pay them $0 with one low front end instance or thousands with several high front end instances.
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Roger Binns

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Several people have asked me what I am going to use instead of Google #Reader .  I know what I definitely won't use - the majority of the alternatives out there, because they are obsessed with with showing items as rectangles with as much of the rectangle taken up with pictures as possible.  (That is also why I gave up on G+ on Android.)  My RSS feeds do not constitute a pretty magazine.  For example look at http://feedly.com and notice how the screenshot of the mac is showing 6 articles - all that space for 6 articles!  Pulse's home page has way more articles but all as images.  99% of my RSS articles have no images.

Reader has three important parts.  One is the backend which means you can read from any number of computers and devices and a centralised location keeps track of your feeds and which articles have been read.  There is no open standard protocol for this and I'm hoping that in the next few months one is born.  (Reader was used by many but as far as I can tell the API was not official, arbitrary and reverse engineered.)

The second was updating the feeds (a background task).  Having worked on consuming RSS feeds before, it turns out that many only have the most recent few articles which could turn out to be a few hours worth or at most a day.  If you don't regularly poll the feeds then you will miss out on articles.  This rules out pure clients like Liferea.

The final part is the presentation which worked well with a hierarchy of folders, feeds, articles and article, making it very easy to jump around hierarchy.  UI that blends it all together into a single stream does not work (eg G+) because that only works with a low volume of articles.  (I do not follow many people on G+ due to their posting volume.  I would happily follow them via RSS feed but G+ doesn't export the data so I don't.  Google loses by being a closed island.)  So far only http://tt-rss.org shows that hierarchical context and navigation UI.  Others like http://theoldreader.com/pages/tour seem obsessed with the whole social side, and note there is no screenshot showing the actual reading experience!

Oh, and the presentation part needs to work in disconnected mode on mobile too.

My plan is to punt for a few months hoping that someone comes up with the sweet spot of openness and readability.  If not I'll just write my own.  The database side of things can be solved in a home grown manner, but a toolkit like https://www.parse.com could be used instead to solve the data problem keeping web (Javascript) and mobile clients all synced up with state.

However I realised that it would be even easier to use +Dropbox  as the state and synchronization mechanism.  Each article becomes a file, and gets deleted by a reader when done.  The poller just keeps adding the files from feeds.  (Yes, that is the same principle as Maildir.)  Dropbox released https://www.dropbox.com/developers/sync recently so that solves the offline  mobile clients sync problem.  I just wonder how well they will cope with hundreds of little files being created and deleted every hour.
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Another benefit of the dropbox approach is it solves a secondary problem I have with podcasts.  Several of my feeds are for podcasts with some being one time listens (eg talkies) with others being multi-listens (eg dj sets).  Reader allowed me to track "read" status but I still had ot manually download the podcasts.  That wouldn't be needed.
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