NewsBlur update

Since my last post, the new Android developer for NewsBlur has discovered the problem and identified a possible solution:


I tried it, and it and it seems to work. Unfortunately, there are other issues it doesn't fix:


Oh, well. At least the combination of Feedly and the FeedMe app is handling my RSS needs admirably for the time being.

Edit, one week later (2019-05-15): Still no resolution on this issue. I have nine days left to decide, but I think I'm going to stick with Feedly and bid adieu to NewsBlur due to their completely inadequate, hapless, and possibly incompetent response to this issue. Time to move on.

The NewsBlur debacle

I’ve been a loyal and generally satisfied user of NewsBlur ever since Google Reader was killed off. While Google didn’t think a web-based RSS reader was something worth having, not all of us agreed, and NewsBlur was an early beneficiary of that questionable decision. When you live in the 21st century and move from computer to tablet to phone and back, it’s nice having your feeds in the cloud and not tied to a single device.

So for the last several years, I’ve been recommending NewsBlur to anyone who asked about RSS readers, and was generally happy. Then, two months ago, rendering broke in the Android app; all articles were showing a big, undifferentiated black box, a situation only remedied by switching to the dark mode. Dark mode fans are legion, and anyone who uses it regularly wouldn’t notice, but I’m old and prefer black text on a light background to avoid giving myself a headache. I was, therefore, less than thrilled to be forced into using dark mode as a workaround.

Here’s an example of what I mean:


Now, I understand that problems happen, and things don’t always get fixed overnight, but as the weeks dragged on, I was getting more than a little annoyed. This isn’t just an app I use regularly; it’s a service for which I pay an annual subscription fee. After a month, I was wondering about alternatives; after almost two, I was sufficiently irritated to post my annoyance on the support website, after the owner1 posted that if it wasn’t fixed in a week, he’d look into getting another developer. Really? Seven weeks wasn’t long enough already?

Shortly afterward, I said the hell with it, downloaded Feedly, and set up a subscription. It’s been an adjustment; I’m used to things working a certain way, and the UI is sufficiently different from what I was used to that it was initially off-putting until I figured out the flow. After a week, I’m starting to like it; it works well, has fewer little glitches than NewsBlur, and just generally looks more polished and modern. NewsBlur still looks like an iOS 7 app, even on Android. It works (well, until recently), but it isn’t pretty.

The downside is that Feedly Pro is about twice the price of NewsBlur Premium on an annual basis. And I just renewed NewsBlur for another year shortly before the app broke. Ouch.

So this morning, the NewsBlur owner announced that he’d finally hired another Android dev and was hoping the problem would be fixed within the week. Hey, great. Wish he’d done it about five weeks ago. But now I have another decision to make, and that’s whether to stick with NewsBlur, assuming the problem actually gets fixed, or to bite the bullet and migrate permanently to Feedly. I’ve got until May 24 to decide; on that day, they’ll bill my credit card if I don’t cancel. NewsBlur will save me money, but their reputation has just taken a huge hit. It’s been unusable on my phone for two months, and I can’t shake the feeling that if it was the iOS app that broke (i.e., if the owner used the broken app), it would have been fixed a long time ago. I’m very tempted to walk away.

And therein lies a lesson: if you take too long to fix something that’s broken, don’t be surprised when your customers start looking at the competition, and figuring out if keeping their business with you is worth the hassle. Because at the end of the day, your customers have choices, and they don’t have to choose you.

  1. I’m not going to call him the dev in this case; he created the service, but he farms out the app development to others.

Biden jumps in

At long last, Joe Biden has declared his candidacy for the Presidency. On paper, he would seem to be a logical candidate. And yet…

And yet, my gut tells me that he’s on a fool’s errand. Biden will appeal to a certain segment of the electorate, certainly; he will appeal to the segment that is largely older, and remembers a time when we had a broad consensus in this country about what was right and wrong, and our divisions were mainly on issues of policy. Those days, sadly, are gone forever.

We now find ourselves in a reality where right and left no longer talk to each other. We are in a reality where a significant minority of the population is fine with building walls, imprisoning children, suppressing the votes of people they don’t like, and look up admiringly to a brass-plated wannabe strongman. These people didn’t get there on their own. They had help from a network dedicated to propaganda. They had help from an economic system that took their homes, and left the people who sold them the bad loans in the first place largely alone and free to carry on. They had help from cynical, power-seeking politicians who pandered to racial prejudice and told lies about a legally elected President, who placed party above country, and who told them that they would make everything wonderful again, and that their problems were not the fault of the massive corporations that rule their lives, but of the poor brown people who were coming here to find a better way of life, using the classic reactionary tactic of setting worker against worker.

With all of that, you can’t expect a 76-year-old, white, male, business-friendly neoliberal to present much of a compelling case to the people who voted for Trump. You also can’t expect him to be an attractive option to the base of the Democratic Party, which has shifted leftward to embrace far more progressive positions than Biden is comfortable with, such as Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. He’s yesterday’s man, and although yesterday’s world has its attractions, it’s not coming back.

Blog wish list

Since my blog provider had to do an emergency upgrade to the beta version (v5) of their software, there are numerous things that are still in the process of being restored or recreated. Overall I'm pretty happy with the upgrade, but it's definitely still in beta. This is just a handy list for me (and Jason, if he reads this) to keep track of what I'm hoping for.

  1. Archive/Contents page - This is done.
  2. Restore the "About" and other custom pages from v4.
  3. Ability to delete blog posts. - This is done as of 2019-04-19
  4. Preview function for blog posts.
  5. "Save as draft" functionality.
  6. Ability to click on post title and be taken to that post's page, with correct URL showing. - This is done as of 2019-05-06
  7. WYSIWYG editor for blog posts. Yes, Markdown is nice, but I always get something wrong.
  8. Post a link on Twitter when a new blog post is published. Right now I have IFTTT set up to do that, but it's a bit of a kludge and it would be nice to have something more reliable.

And down the road:
Additional themes. I'm happy enough with the default, but choice is always good. Consider this of secondary importance.

To be continued…

Five things I saw before they changed forever

  1. The Berlin Wall before it fell
  2. Yugoslavia before it split apart
  3. The Spruce Goose before it was cut apart and shipped to the PNW
  4. The world before the Internet
  5. Notre Dame avant l'incendie.

"Notre-Dame de Paris en proie aux flammes"

Such were the words of French President Emmanuel Macron today. Part of the shared cultural heritage of all mankind has been destroyed. If this does not make you weep, I do not know what to say to you.


A bit of disruption

If things look a bit different around here, and you find something not working, it's because my hosting provider experienced a technical issue this week that necessitated a sudden and unexpectedly early move to a new version of the platform. It's not quite fully baked yet, but he's working on it. In the meantime, please bear with us while we sort things out.

Updating the blog

As of today, this blog is secured with SSL--see the lock icon up there in the URL bar? After eight-plus years of running my domain's DNS through ZoneEdit, I've moved to Cloudflare, which gives me SSL capability (the main reason I moved it, frankly).

Anyway, for anyone who wants to send me a message through my contact page, your message is now secure end-to-end. Glory be.

The last Indian pudding

I went out to dinner last night with my family. As a delayed birthday celebration, my mom, my brother, and my wife joined me at a local chain steakhouse to celebrate the conclusion of my latest trip around the sun. The prime rib was delicious, the bread tasty, the baked potato delightful. It was an enjoyable evening.

While we were dining, another restaurant on the other side of the country was serving its final order of prime rib. Durgin-Park, a Boston institution since 1827, founded when John Quincy Adams was president, closed for the last time. A dozen or so years ago, its longtime family owners sold out to a New York-based corporation, and apparently it was no longer considered to be profitable enough for the new owners to keep in business (and yes, when a place has been around for 192 years, a mere 12 still qualifies them as the new guys).

If you're not a New Englander, you probably haven't heard of Durgin-Park. They were renowned for their prime rib, their baked Indian pudding--a traditional New England dessert made with cornmeal and molasses, and something they may have been the last to prepare and serve in the traditional way--their communal seating, and their often surly waitstaff. I may be a Californian, but my mother's side of the family are all New Englanders, and she was a Bostonian herself for two years after high school. It was considered mandatory that when you went to Boston, you dined at Durgin-Park. There was simply no question about it.

Unfortunately, not enough people felt that way in the end. I've seen some Bostonians dismiss it as having been a tourist trap, and there was an aspect of that, but it was something more. It was a connection to a time long past, when workers and politicians and the occasional Beacon Hill blueblood ate together at long tables, perched on benches, eating traditional New England cooking, and were treated all alike by waitresses who brooked no nonsense from anybody. Yes, it was a bit of a put-on, but we were all in on the joke together.

Because of its location, across from historic Faneuil Hall on the Boston waterfront, I have no doubt that the space it occupied for so long will once again become the site of a restaurant, but it won't be the same. My guess is that it will probably feature healthier options, with locally grown produce (although good luck with that in Boston in February), and possibly be run by a celebrity chef. It will no doubt be embraced by foodies and accompanied by articles talking about a fresh new start for a historic location. It will be more in tune with the tastes of the modern world (fusion cuisine, anyone?)

But it won't serve Yankee pot roast and Indian pudding. It won't be as egalitarian. It will not be Durgin-Park, for better or for worse. Something was lost yesterday, and it isn't coming back. I grew up in a place where historic means fifty years old, where things are constantly being reinvented. As a native Angeleno, I can't imagine Philippe's or The Original Pantry closing; this is so much more of a loss than either of those would be.

It appears I have eaten my last Indian pudding, and it makes me sad.

Watches, computers, and their fans


If you know me, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve gotten into collecting watches. It’s a reasonably harmless pastime, cheaper than collecting vintage Ferraris, and gives me something to do on the Internet besides reading about Cheeto Benito and watching my blood pressure skyrocket. I like it.

Of course, anyplace you go on the Internet is going to eventually have its share of drama, and recently there was a bit of it that erupted on one of the watch forums I frequent. Nothing too bad, however, and to get everyone back on track, one user decided to post a poll just for fun to see which Japanese watch manufacturer people preferred—Seiko, Citizen, Orient, or Casio.1

Each of them is a bit different. Seiko is the 800-pound gorilla of the business, with possibly the widest variety of products and a hardcore fanbase. Orient is a smaller watchmaker that’s part of the Seiko Epson empire, and they specialize in automatic (i.e., self-winding) watches. Citizen, which also owns Bulova, has carved out a niche with their Eco-Drive movements that are powered by light, as well as Bulova’s high-frequency quartz models with a sweeping second hand. Casio is most known for digitals, including the G-Shock line, which might as well be the official watch of U.S. combat troops.

The poll is in progress, and Seiko is ahead by miles, to nobody’s surprise. But there’s something interesting going on.

The conversation in the thread is full of people discussing the pros and cons of the various watchmakers. Many good points are being made all around, opinions are being stated, and it’s generally a very civilized discussion. People, it’s nice.

If you're so inclined, you can check it out here for yourself:

Now, just for grins, compare this to what happens in many places online when someone dares to bring up Microsoft, Google, or Apple in the wrong company. Most of the time, it devolves into a religious war, complete with insults implying that if you use the other company’s stuff, there must be something wrong with you. And all of that eventually gets old--very old--if you’re on the wrong side. Like the old saying--it was funny the first thousand times, but…

And that, right there, is why I spend a lot more of my online time these days in the places watch geeks (or as they often call themselves, WIS for watch idiot savants) frequent. They’re just as passionate, but much less likely to break out the insults, or to be tone-deaf. The tech crowd could learn a lot from them.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I own Seikos, Citizens, and an Orient, but I’m mostly a Citizen guy, as the photo above will attest.

  1. Yes, you read that right--to stop some arguing, someone posted a poll asking for people's opinions. Watch folks are a different breed.