Online Personas

Recently I had a little conundrum about what persona I wanted to present in some online communities I’m in.

When I first got online – around 1989 – this wasn’t really a concern. I mean, it was for some people, I’m sure, but for most people the need and the tools weren’t really there. I didn’t participate in any dial-up BBSes, and on USENET and on mailing lists it was usually the case that your e-mail address and real name were right there in anything you posted. By today’s standards those communities were very small, and safety and privacy was not much of a concern for most people. There were a few communities which developed anonymizing posting systems, but they were in my experience very much the exception.

I had a brief fling with changing my display name on USENET in college to “Night Watchman”, because I was often online late at night posting stuff. It seemed cute at the time, but kind of dumb now.

(I have one friend who to this day refers to me as ‘rawdon@rex’, since ‘rex’ was the name of the machine I posted from in college. Machines in Tulane‘s computer science department were named after Mardi Gras parades.)

I’ve never been shy about posting under my own name, on USENET, on mailing lists, on social media, and on the web, including my journal. The one thing I’ve generally avoided doing is posting my address and phone number. Not that these things are particularly private – I have a listed phone number1 – but I figure that a lot of shenanigans and mayhem are largely because of opportunity and convenience, and I can save myself most of those potential headaches by not making it trivial for people to find me. (Of course I have no idea whether these precautions have had any effect at all.)

People who want to remain anonymous or appear under an alias is much more common today – and often for good reason – but it’s still not really a concern of mine. What triggered the recent conundrum is the growth of services where you only appear under a “handle”, which by convention tends to be short and memorable. The two sites I was interested in were Magic: The Gathering Arena and Twitch, which only show users under their chosen handle. I think this grew out of online video games of the 1990s and 2000s, and a lot of people who were active in those communities have consistent and often (?) memorable handles. I wasn’t active, and so I don’t – and I kind of envy them.

I could have simply used my name ‘MichaelRawdon’, as my handle – and on Twitch I did for a while. The advantage on Twitch is that when I interact with a streamer they could call me by my name. The disadvantage is that almost no one else uses their name as their handle, and so it felt out of place and a little lame. I also wanted both of those to have the same handle, so in the event I interacted with the same people on those platforms they would possibly recognize me.

My first attempt at a distinctive handle was ‘mRawd’, but that didn’t feel right. After several months I hit on the following: My account on Twitter is mrawdon, and I realized I could capitalize it like “MrAwdon”, in theory pronounced like “Mister Awdon”. That felt a little clever and a little more sensical, so that’s what I went with.

It’s worked out… okay. A couple of Twitch streamers end up calling me “Mister”, which is a little odd but at least a name they’re not stumbling over. So I think I’ll stick with it for a while.

(Why didn’t I go with ‘rawdon’? Mainly because it’s already taken on Twitch and on Twitter, and maybe even on Arena. It’s an uncommon name, but common enough that it’s already taken in many online sites.)

I wish Twitch did what Discord does, which is allow you to choose a default handle, but then to customize your display name for each channel. I’d definitely make use of that by having a recognizable handle for Twitch channels who know me from other area (e.g., who I interact with on Twitter, or support on Patreon), but having something else for most streams where they have no reason to know me.

Anyway, maybe too many words about too small a subject. I bet hardly anyone else ever worries about this sort of thing.

1 Kids, ask your parents what a ‘listed phone number’ is.

Trying the Official Twitter App

(This post is an adaptation of a Twitter thread I wrote on the subject last night.)

A few days ago I decided to try out the official Twitter app for macOS and iOS. Twitter has been slowly cutting back support for third party apps, so I was curious whether their app was any better than what I’m currently using.

For me, the answer is… a little yes, a lot of no.

For a while Twitter had dropped their macOS app entirely, but the Mac Catalyst technology prompted them to port their iOS app to the Mac. I probably wouldn’t have tried this experiment otherwise.

My current Twitter client on both platforms is Tweetbot, which is great, and would probably be even more great if Twitter weren’t slowly crippling it by cutting back on what third party clients can do with their APIs.

Here’s what I thought of the official clients, across both platforms:

The Good

  • Being able to see the count of responses and likes to a tweet (the “ratio”) is nice. Tweetbot shows like count but not retweet count, presumably because Twitter’s API doesn’t provide it.
  • Being able to see polls inline is very nice. I often see tweets where someone asks a question and I just respond, and sometime later realize it’s a poll.

    I believe Tweetbot can’t show polls due to Twitter’s API deficiency. I always have to open a poll in a browser to vote.
  • Pinned lists are very nice, probably the one feature I don’t think Tweetbot really has which I wasn’t expecting and immediately found useful.
  • The bookmarks system looks nice, but I haven’t really used it. I had no idea it exists. Presumably because Twitter’s API doesn’t vend it for third-party clients.

The Odd

  • The iOS client has a sidebar which is just the search field and “what’s happening”. Not very useful. I miss the responses sidebar from Tweetbot.(Which used to also show most notifications until Twitter’s API dropped support for that.)

    So I mostly hid the search bar in my trial. Which was weird because then the timeline doesn’t get any wider, it’s the same width with a whole bunch of whitespace on either side, and no way to adjust it. Seems like poor design.
  • Tweetbot has a nifty muting system where you can choose where people are muted (everywhere, only in lists, etc.). I use this a lot to manage my lists, following people and then muting them in my timeline but not elsewhere. I was concerned the Twitter wouldn’t give me that control, but muting only mutes from the main timeline, so it’s fine, but took some trial and error to figure out. I’m not sure whether more fine-grained control here is something I’d need.
  • It’s annoying that I can’t (AFAICT) mute individual accounts for limited periods of time like in Tweetbot – that functionality only seems to be available for keywords. I use this a fair bit (e.g., if someone is going on about some subject I don’t care about in volume I’ll mute them for a day), so I would probably miss it at some points.
  • Tweetbot seems to have its own separate mute list data, so I had to go through and re-mute dozens of people. I don’t know whether this is because of Tweetbot’s richer muting system, or a deficiency in Twitter’s API. But it was annoying.

The Bad

  • The client doesn’t show me the number of unread tweets for my main timeline or whatever list I’m viewing. I missed this a lot.
  • The client doesn’t keep my reading spot in lists. So at some point when I open a list it will scroll me to the top, no matter how many tweets in the list I haven’t read yet. This is extremely annoying and on its own almost enough to send me back to Tweetbot.
  • It seems my reading spot in lists and the main timeline are not synced among my various devices. This is also extremely annoying, as scrolling down to find where I’d last been reading is not really feasible.
  • Sometimes when I come back to Twitter after a while away (such as overnight), the client shows a “Show more tweets” prompt above my last spot in my timeline, but clicking it almost always shows me the newest tweet in the gap, not the oldest, so I have to scroll back down to get to where I was.
  • The threading in the client is nice in some scenarios, but pretty annoying when scrolling upwards, to see the most recent tweets in a thread first (i.e., at the bottom). This seems like a poorly-thought-out user experience. It would make sense if one scrolled down to get to the latest items in one’s timeline (which, TBH, is kind of what I want anyway, but they’re never going to do that).
  • The notification system is pretty annoying, as it supplies a lot of customizability but most of it I don’t want. I pretty quickly figured it would just be easier to deny it notification privileges at the system level. This needs some user-quality-of-life evaluation to simplify these settings, probably cutting about 75% of them.
  • Holy cow there are a lot of ads, excuse me, “sponsored tweets”. I felt like I saw 2x-5x more ads on Twitter than on Facebook. Tweetbot shows me none of this nonsense (which is presumably why Twitter doesn’t want you using third-party clients).

    Ads might be more bearable if I could assign them a different background color or something.
  • There’s no way in the app that I can find to set a show/hide keyboard shortcut on macOS, which I use all the time in Tweetbot. Maybe I could do it through a macOS system pref, though I did a short search and couldn’t figure it out. It would be a much more useful app pref than all the notification stuff.

I could probably live with a lot of the Twitter app deficiencies if it remembered my reading spot in all lists and synced across devices. But overall it needs a lot of polish, so I’m likely heading back to Tweetbot.

I’m not sorry I tried it out, but I am kind of surprised that the app – on both macOS and iOS – feels like it has a lot of maturing to do.

New Internet

Tuesday we upgraded our Internet service for the first time in, well, a long-long time. How long? Before the upgrade we were getting 6 mbps download speed. Good enough for a lot of things, but downloading sizable things like, I don’t know, apps, took a long time. Good things there aren’t a lot of apps in the world!

Our ISP is Sonic, which is one of the few ISPs which has stuck up for net neutrality over the last few years. I signed up with them for DSL when I bought my townhouse in 2001, and later upgraded to their service called “Fusion” (which I think is basically ADSL), which was pretty good at the time, but not really up to the level of Comcast at the time. But I was happy with them because their customer service is great. And they don’t have any bandwidth caps. And frankly at the time there wasn’t really a better non-cable service available.

But now there’s fiber. Sonic has been rolling out their own fiber service, but it’s not available down here. Instead they resell AT&T fiber. So I signed up for their gigabit (1000 mbps) service. Which is 167 times faster than what we had, because that’s how math works! AT&T sent a tech out to install it Tuesday morning, and he showed up 5 minutes after the beginning of our service window. He was also great: We walked through the house showing him how things were laid out, and he was able to connect to our house’s in-wall ethernet easily enough, and from there it would connect to my AirPort base stations to use our existing wireless network. The service info said it could take up to 4 hours to install, which I had a hard time believing until he told me they had to run a cable from the telephone pole to our house. All told, it took about 2-1/2 hours to get everything set up and tested. The testing had a couple of glitches – a few devices needs to be rebooted to work correctly, not sure why, but things seemed fine and he left shortly before noon.

Well, there were a couple of follow-on issues:

First, I got a box for Voice Over IP phone service for our land line. (You can tell we’re Gen X because we still find having a land line useful. Although if it weren’t bundled with the service I’m not sure it’s that useful.) It turned out that it had a new phone number – annoying! I e-mailed Sonic, and it turned out that it was a temporary number and they moved our old number Wednesday night. So that was easy!

The other issue is that we’re only getting 100 mbps on our network, not a gigabit. And this is a bit harder to solve, because it turns out that the AirPort Express base stations we have only support 100 mbps on their ethernet ports. I’m not sure what’s up with the AirPort Extreme upstairs which shows the same behavior, but I suspect one of the three switches we have on the network might also only support 100 mbps. Still! It’s 17 times faster than what we had! (Because that’s how math works!) It’s already pretty great!

But, it seems I’ll want to upgrade our network sometime in the not-to-distant future, once annoyance at not getting full speed overcomes my inertia of having a network that already works. A couple of friends recommended UniFi, while another strongly recommended an Asus router. I know several people like Eero, but I’m a bit reluctant to go with an Amazon-owned product (or Google or Facebook, for that matter, all for the same privacy-related reasons). It sounds like UniFi has a lot of knobs which I probably don’t need (or maybe just don’t yet know that I need!), so we’ll see. I should probably audit the ethernet switches first. One thing at a time.

Anyway, it’s so much faster than what we had. Suddenly updating apps on our phones is blocked more on the installation step than the downloading step. Downloading podcasts is super-fast. Hopefully we won’t have any more “why is the network so slow?” issues. And while we’ve never had a serious problem streaming TV at the slower speed, this ought to relieve any concerns we might have, especially since we’re not 4K TV viewers yet.

Look at us, joining the 2010s just in time for 2020! Because that’s how time works!

Social Media

I have some thoughts on the turmoil in corporate social media recently – meaning, in particular, Facebook and Twitter. For posterity, the precipitating events are:

I’m hardly the first – or the five hundredth – person to observe that this is the natural development of handing over our online social connectivity to a few corporations who are mainly driven by profit motives and which mainly make money through advertising. The details of election manipulation were perhaps harder to foresee, but it seems clear that there was plenty of room for badness.

So what now? While there’s a movement to delete Facebook (#DeleteFacebook), it is still a tremendously useful resource for keeping in touch with friends and family. (My observation is that it’s especially handy for generations older than mine.) Twitter is less useful for that purpose, but it’s more useful for keeping up with people involved in or who share my hobbies and interests.

Frankly I trust neither of these companies, as both have long histories of not caring about their users. Facebook in particular I think is deeply untrustworthy as Mark Zuckerberg’s 14-year apology tour indicates. Twitter I think is at least as incompetent as they are untrustworthy, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse – probably it just means they’re going to sell to some large, more solvent company in the next few years. (My guess is Google will buy them.)

Should I stop using them? Yeah, probably. Will I? Probably not. But I have been making some changes in how I use them:

  • I recognize that making political posts is not going to change the opinions of my followers on these platforms. So I’ve been cutting back on doing so unless I think I have something novel to say.
  • More seriously, I’ve been trying to avoid sharing political posts unless the post’s originator is someone I know and trust. The means of political manipulation has been to promulgate divisive political propaganda – at both extremes of the political spectrum – and while I’m solidly left-liberal, I see little reason to help them.
  • I’ve also been cutting back on following people whose main social media activity is to share political content which they didn’t write. So if that’s mainly been what you’ve been posting, then there’s a fair chance that I’ve stopped following you. I follow people mainly for what they have to say, not for them sharing content from others.
  • I also use an ad blocker (AdBlock on the Mac, 1Blocker on iOS), and also a tracker blocker (Ghostery). Since ads can be a vector for malware, using an ad blocker is also a security measure. Moreover, if I visit a site which doesn’t let me read its articles because I’m using an ad blocker, then I stop visiting that site.
  • My Twitter client on both Mac and iOS is Tweetbot. If Twitter drops support for third-party clients and doesn’t come up with a good client of its own with the features that I want, then I’ll probably stop using Twitter. I’d probably do the same thing with Facebook if they ever remove the live feed.

In the long run we’re going to have to move away from corporate-owned social media networks, or at least move to ones which we pay for, where we, not the advertisers, are the customers. Maybe something like or Mastodon is the future. It seems like something like that should be viable, but whether it will become popular is something else altogether.

The bottom line, though, is that it’s got to be something each of us owns. Because if you don’t own it yourself, then you don’t own your own presence on the Internet.

Which, despite my relative inactivity here lately, is why I still have this blog.

(Oh: This is the second post I’ve written titled “Social Media”. Things have changed a bit in the 9 years since I wrote the first one.)


This past weekend I finished playing Obduction, the latest game from Cyan, the folks who made the MYST series of games. I backed it on Kickstarter and played it on the Mac through Steam, starting with some of the, well, I guess post-beta but pre-final releases.

Not to bury the lede: It’s a fine game which I enjoyed thoroughly! But I wanted to write a little historical perspective about my experience with Cyan’s games.

A friend of mine introduced me to the original MYST back in the mid-90s, and I powered my way through half of it, got stuck, put it away for a few months, then came back and finished it. While I enjoyed the puzzles, to me it was primarily an experiential game, the first game I ever played where I had genuine moments of feeling like I was really there – in hindsight an amazing accomplishment since the rough edges due to the technology of the day (texture mapping, animations, etc.) were quite apparent.

I played the sequel, Riven, when it came out, and while the technology was considerably improved (the renderings were gorgeous), the story felt less expansive and a little more awkward than the first game. (I wrote a little about it at the time.) A few years later I picked up the third game, MYST III Exile (which was not made by Cyan), and felt that it shored up the deficiencies of the previous games, and despite the thrill of the new of the original game, I think Exile is the best of the MYST series. (A bit more here.) I was also a big enough of the fan of the series that I read the three novels they published (which were okay).

I thought things went off the rails a bit with MYST IV: Revelation (also not by Cyan), which, despite having a good story, had some puzzles that were very unintuitive and frustrating to try to get through without a help from a story guide. And then I only barely cracked MYST V: End of Ages (which was by Cyan), in part due to some serious problems it exhibited with a lot of Mac technology at the time (some graphics cards would cause it to freeze the whole machine regularly), and also due to a disenchantment with the rendered animated people, which felt like a big step down from the interleaved live action footage from other games. (Sadly, I bet it doesn’t run on newer Mac hardware, and it looks like the Steam version is Windows-only, so I may never return to it.)

Despite that finish, ten years later I was pretty stoked for Obduction!

It took me a little while to get into it, partly because the early releases seemed to have some bad performance problems on Mac hardware, requiring me to ramp down the resolution quite a bit to get decent performance, so I played a few hours of the game late last year and then put it away for a while. I picked it up again a few weeks ago and played a couple of hours per week before finishing it. The final version has much better performance and I was able to get pretty nice resolution out of it with only a couple of moments of stuttering (some of which I suspect involved loading resources from disk). For reference, I played it on a late 2013 model MacBook Pro, so it might play better on a newer Mac. (I did find that the “seed swap” devices were often tediously slow, though.)

Obduction has a premise similar to MYST but arguably a little more grounded: Rather than mysteriously arriving on an island, you-the-player are one of many people who have been plucked from your time period and dropped into a bubble of Earth in the middle of another world. The game’s title plays on the sounds-like word “abduction” as well as the dictionary definition of obduction (“an act or instance of drawing or laying something (as a covering) over”) and the tectonic definition (in which layers are flowing above or below each other), all of which are appropriate in the story. You find yourself in a nearly-abandoned town called Hunrath, with chunks of Earth from different time periods lying around, messages from the former inhabitants, and signs of a battle from the recent past.

As in the MYST games, you need to find clues to what happened and solve puzzles to get things working in the village again, until you eventually unlock the secret as to what’s been going on and how to get beyond Hunrath to start fixing things. There are a lot of clever bits, including ones that make you feel clever when you figure them out.

The game’s biggest problem is that some of the puzzles are still too hard, in the sense of being basically unintuitive: You need to stumble on the right thing, or put together pieces which don’t logically go together. I relied on the player’s guide which came with the Kickstarter reward for some pieces, because I just wasn’t interested in endlessly wandering around some parts of the world to look for something I’d missed. I also found the puzzles involving the alien number system a little too annoying. But, your mileage may vary. Unfortunately, the final puzzle of the game I found utterly unintuitive and ended up going onto the web to find out what I had to do to solve it the “right” way (as it leads to multiple endings). They do need to walk a fine line between making the puzzles challenging and making them understandable, and I think Obduction is just a tad over the line to not understandable, though better than MYST IV. The first three MYST games all nailed the balance, I think, but maybe they just made it look easier than it is.

Experientially, though, Obduction is a pretty amazing piece of work: Wonderfully envisioned and executed, with only a couple of spots that feel a little glossed over (in some cases by necessity, since you still can’t really interact with the few characters you meet in the game). The sense of history and tragedy conveyed in Hunrath is extremely well done, particularly the bits in Farley’s house.

So, while slightly flawed, I found it perfectly enjoyable and rewarding, and while I might not run through it a second time for a few years, many bits have stuck in my memory, as with any good story.

I hope that Obduction isn’t Cyan’s swan song with this genre of game (which has fallen out of favor since its heyday around the turn of the millennium), but if it is, then they’ve gone out on a high note.

(image from the Obduction web site)

15-Year Appleversary

Today marks 15 years since I started working at Apple.

Coincidentally, as part of the 30 Years of Mac celebration a month and a half ago, Apple put up posters with the name of every employee. I believe there are 12 posters, and I’m in the very top row of poster 3. (That’s actually too high off the ground for me to get a good picture with my iPhone; what I need is a camera with a good optical zoom.) I guess that means I’ve been at Apple longer than over 85% of all employees. That’s a long time, especially in Silicon Valley.

I remember back when I was going to interview, I told two of my friends at my old company. One of them immediately said, “Oh, you are so out of here.” It didn’t seem to clear to me at the time, but she was right!

15 years ago it was me and my two cats moving into temporary housing. The Dot Com boom was in full swing. Mac OS X was under development but wouldn’t be released for another two years.

10 years ago Debbi and I had been dating for almost three years, and she had a couple of kittens. The Red Sox were about to embark on their first championship season in 86 years. Macs still ran on PowerPC chips and Apple stock was riding up on the strength of the iPod.

5 years ago Debbi and I were still living in the townhouse. My cat Jefferson would pass away a year later. The iPhone was already a big thing and I think its App Store was available by then, but the iPad was still in the future.

1999 feels like a different era, yet it wasn’t so long ago. It feels like so much has happened, yet it all felt like a series of manageable transitions while it was happening. (c.f. John Gruber’s “This is How Apple Rolls” piece – for the most part, that’s how a person’s life rolls, too.)

Where will I be in another 15 years?

Refugee from Google Reader

It was just under a year ago that I chose a new RSS reader when Safari dropped its syndication support. But at the beginning of this month Google Reader was end-of-lifed. While my reader of choice, NetNewsWire, still works, I’d have to either start syncing my bookmarks myself (such as using rsync via Dropbox), or sign up for a new service for syncing.

(Why is syncing important? Partly so I can subscribe to a new feed in one place and it will appear in other places, but more importantly so I can read articles in one place and they will also no longer be unread in other places. “Places” for me mainly means my Macs at work and at home. I do read feeds on my iPad, but that’s not essential.)

TidBITs had a nice summary of available replacements. And by “replacements” they really meant the services providing syncing, not the desktop- and device-side clients. It seemed like Feedly and NewsBlur were the services which best matched what I was looking for. Feedly is a free service. NewsBlur is ostensibly free, but you don’t get a lot for free – in particular, you get a lot less than I use. But you can subscribe to it for $24/year.

For the time being I’ve decided to go with NewsBlur I was disappointed that Feedly didn’t support exporting your feeds to OPML when I was looking (though I guess they’ve added that), but NewsBlur had a couple of compelling points:

  • Its Web interface allowed me to get a “combined” view like NetNewsWire had – I really hate the master-master-detail interface that many readers have.
  • It supports nested folders, which I find useful.

It also has an iOS client. However, the only supports Mac client seems to be ReadKit. I would describe ReadKit as “bare bones”. It doesn’t have either of the NewsBlur web reader features I mentioned above, and I wasn’t too impressed with the interface overall. Perhaps it will improve, but I think it has some distance to go. Your mileage may vary. (I know people who chose other services because they’re supported by Reeder. I was not impressed with Reeder a year ago; perhaps it’s improved. I don’t think the Mac client has been updated for a while, though, and that’s the one that matters to me.)

So for now I’ll mainly be reading feeds through the web. And while it’s taken me a little while to adjust to the keyboard shortcuts in NewsBlur, and the fact that it’s not a separate app, I’m getting used to it. It’s pretty good, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a syndication reader whose interface I’d characterize as “great”, so there’s an opportunity there for someone to seize.

Here’s what NewsBlur’s web interface looks like, in the configuration I’m using:

Newsblur web interface
(click for larger image)

And yes, I subscribed to Newsblur. I think it will give me value for my money, and I am increasingly skeptical that free services are worth my time investing in: I mistrust companies based around advertising and don’t want to get locked in to them. I would rather pay for the service. And I’m especially doubtful that free services which aren’t supporting themselves with ads and don’t seem to have a clear path to financial stability will be around in a year or two. (I’m not completely consistent about this, but I’m taking stock of the services I’m using over time. I recently bought the premium service for Evernote, for example.)

Marco Arment makes some good points about where syndication support has to go. In particular there will have to be syndication services with available, documented and supported APIs, and there will have to be clients which support multiple services. There’s some money to be made on both sides. It’s still early days, though. Five years from now I bet the landscape will be completely different.

Oh, and NetNewsWire? Arment had a few words about that at the link above, but I tried out the NNW 4 beta, and noticed that the combined view – the killer feature that made me choose it a year ago – is gone. So they’re going to have to really step up to get me back.

So overall I’m pretty happy where I’ve landed. I’d be lost without RSS feeds – how would I ever keep up with all the Webcomics I read? (And don’t say Twitter – I’d have to laugh in your face.)

Choosing an RSS Reader

Ever since the Safari browser for Mac OS X added support for viewing syndication feeds (e.g. RSS and Atom) I’ve been a voracious user of the feature. I follow literally dozens of blogs via feeds, and dozens of webcomics as well.

Sadly, syndication support is going away in Safari 6.0 (which is the version that comes with OS X Mountain Lion), and that means following feeds will require turning to a third-party app. So I’ve been looking into various apps to decide which one works best for me.

(Apparently the Firefox browser also supports syndication, but I didn’t really want to switch to another browser. Also, since syndication support was IMO the killer feature in Safari, I’ll be more open to considering other browsers in the future once it’s gone. I used to use Camino from time to time, but pretty much stopped once Safari gained syndication support. On the other hand, bookmark syncing is also very important to me, so maybe I won’t switch.)

I started out with a fairly specific set of requirements. For example, I wanted not to use Google Reader, mainly because I limit my use of Google products since I don’t really trust them to use data they collect from me responsibly. (I am pretty suspicious of any large company which is mainly supported by advertising, actually.) But my requirements morphed as I looked around, and what I ended up with doesn’t entirely resemble what I started out looking for. For instance, the synchronization ability of Google Reader (to keep my feeds synchronized on multiple machines) was just too good to pass up, so I ended up going with that, as it has become a de facto standard.

(I had originally hoped I could find an app which would sync via Dropbox, e.g. by keeping its data file in Dropbox, but I couldn’t find an app that would support that. So Google Reader it is.)

My ultimate requirements were as follows:

  1. I wanted an OS X client, as I consume most of my web content on that platform. An iOS client would be nice, but was not required. Indeed, I haven’t even looked at iOS clients so far.
  2. I wanted to be able to organize my feeds hierarchically in the manner that I prefer.
  3. I wanted a reasonably robust UI experience, and of course an app that would work and not crash frequently.

This last one was the trick, because it seems like most of the syndication readers for OS X basically suck. Many of them have pretty dire reviews in the Mac App Store regarding stability and features. I didn’t want to spend $5 here and $7 there trying out various readers which didn’t seem reasonably promising to start with.

I ended up trying three: NetNewsWire, Reeder, and Cappuccino.

And the winner was… NetNewsWire.

Without going into detail, the big reason for choosing that app was that its UI was just much more robust and configurable than the others. Both Reeder and Cappuccino were limited in allowing me to organize my feeds, to configure their UI, and even just to make fonts smaller. Their workflows (where to click, how to mark articles as already-read, etc.) also didn’t quite work for me. Now, Reeder in particular seems to be quite popular, so perhaps I’m in the minority there, but overall I liked NetNewsWire the best. (Some folks have told me that Reeder seems better suited for use on iOS, so if I ever decide to start consuming feeds there I’ll give it a try.)

NetNewsWire was originally developed by Brent Simmons, whose blog by coincidence I’ve been reading for a while anyway, though it’s now owned by Black Pixel (which also has an interesting blog,).

Some things I like about NetNewsWire:

  1. It uses a clever hack to support hierarchical folders. I wish it didn’t have to use a clever hack, but I infer (from my experience with other readers) that Google Reader doesn’t natively support hierarchical folders.
  2. I can sort the items in the folders chronologically, so I can read them from oldest-to-newest. (I don’t think Safari supported this, actually. Or maybe I never discovered it.)
  3. It supports several configurations of the main window: Three-column master-detail (“Widescreen View”, common in other readers), master-detail with the article list above the main reading view (“Traditional View”, but since vertical real estate is more valuable than horizontal real estate, not my choice), and a simple master-detail with feeds on the left, and when you select a folder all the articles for all feeds appear on the right (“Combined View”).

    The Combined View was actually the killer feature that made me choose NNW. The other two readers didn’t seem to support it.

Traditional View

Widescreen View

Combined View

Choosing the Combined View

The thing I miss the most moving from Safari so far is that NetNewsWire (unsurprisingly) doesn’t support the Safari AdBlock extension, which means that feeds that contain ads show those ads when I’m viewing them. That’s a bummer, but not a backbreaker. I did set NetNewsWire to “Open Links in Default Web Browser” so I don’t have to view the ads when going to pages from a feed.

The other thing I miss is that in Safari I was able to mix feed bookmarks with web page bookmarks, which was useful for reading webcomics since some of them don’t have feeds (such as Blip, whose feed has always been broken, and newspaper comics from Comics Kingdom). This isn’t a failing of NNW specifically, but rather is the nature of syndication reader generally – they don’t replace web browsers.

I also find that NNW is a little light on shortcut keys (for example, renaming an item in my feed list requires choosing a menu item, which is annoying cumbersome). I could probably wire up additional shortcuts in System Preferences, but haven’t looked at doing so yet.

Overall I think NetNewsWire will be a pretty good solution. NetNewsWire is free-but-ad-supported, but I’ll probably purchase it (it costs $14.95) in order to support the developers (and because I really hate ads).

By the way, if you don’t want to use Google Reader, then NNW doesn’t force you to do so (many other readers seem to require a Google Reader account). How you sync your feed lists among your devices in that case is an exercise left to the reader, however (I haven’t looked at how it might be done, but I imagine it involved some import/export magic to something like Dropbox).

Oh, if it looks good to you, then you will need to download it from the web site as it isn’t available in the Mac App Store (at time of writing, anyway). It appears to have an auto-update facility, though, which is nice because I have a terrible track record at updating apps that don’t tell me when a new version is available!

My One Little Steve Jobs Anecdote

So Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO yesterday, and people far and wide are sharing their stories of the man. Mine might be the smallest of any you’ll read, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

The reason I tell it is that once I started working at Apple (in 1999, a couple of years after Steve returns to the company), people started asking me if I’d met him. Something about the way they asked, or a look in their eye, made me realize what they really wanted was a “blood in the water” story about the CEO with the famous temper, or temperament, or something. I’d heard stories myself (one is that he’d sometimes ask people he encountered in the elevator what they worked on, and basically make them justify their job right there and then), but they were just stories to me. Oh, I had no doubt that he was emphatic in arguing about things, but I didn’t know any credible stories of him really laying into an employee he’d met at random.

Still, after just a few years it had become kind of ridiculous how many people asked me if I’d met Steve, who seemed to have an expectation of a good, juicy Steve story. I think at least a few of them asked if he’d yelled at me.

Indeed, I did pass Steve from time to time on the Apple campus. At least twice we simply made eye contact, smiled, and said “Hello” to each other, and continued on our ways. Once I saw him approaching with a look on his face that said “I’m on a mission and no one is going to get in my way.” I got out of his way and he walked on by.

But here’s the real story I have to tell:

In 2003 I started biking to work regularly. For a number of years I worked in Infinite Loop 1 – 2 floors below the CEO’s office. Despite being only on the second floor, I always took the elevator to bring my bike to and from my office: My office was big enough to hold my bike comfortably (so I didn’t have to lock it up outside), and it was awkward to carry it up and down the stairs; I was always afraid I’d damage the wall or the bike. I would wait for an empty elevator if someone else was waiting so I didn’t inconvenience them.

So one warm summer day (2004, maybe?) I’m leaving work, in full “biking dork” regalia (biking shorts, helmet, gloves, clip-on shoes), and I go to the elevator and hit the “down” button. The elevator arrives and (of course) there stands Steve. I think, “Great, he’s wondering why I can’t just walk my bike down one flight of stairs rather than stopping his elevator.” But since it would be truly stupid to let him go on without me (“I’m going to inconvenience you and do so for no reason whatsoever because I’m an idiot!”), I get in the elevator. The doors close.

Steve looks at the bike, looks at me, and says, “Beautiful day for a bike ride.”

I’m not very comfortable talking to famous or powerful people (you should see me stammer when I meet a science fiction author whose work I admire). Thinking quickly but not clearly (in other words, being something of an idiot), I say something like, “It’s nice. A little warm, though.” Steve is having none of this and responds along the lines that I’m picking nits. I allow that he may be right. By this time we’ve left the elevator and walked out the front doors of the building.

I remember thinking as we went outside that it was a little warm, but in the grand scheme of things, here we were in Silicon Valley where it’s almost always a beautiful day for a bike ride. So what did I really have to complain about?

I bet there are lots of employees with stories like this. The “blood in the water” stories seem more like legends (or, more likely, the stuff of high-level meetings among people whose job descriptions include going at it tooth-and-nail with the CEO, meeting a line worker like me would never hear about). Maybe he was different his first go-round at Apple, but if so, he’d grown a lot by the time he returned.

Oh, and no one I’ve told this story to has seemed disappointed by it. So maybe they didn’t really want the blood after all.

Teatro Zinzanni

Those of my readers who know I work on Apple’s developer tools may have heard that we recently shipped Xcode 4. But this entry isn’t about that (since, well, this isn’t a work or an Apple blog). Rather, it’s about our ship celebration, which was dinner at Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Debbi and I decided to take the bus up with most everyone else, mainly because driving into the city during rush hour wasn’t attractive, but also because driving home after dinner wasn’t real appealing either. It only took a little over an hour for the bus to get there, so it wasn’t much of a compromise.

Teatro Zinzanni is – literally – dinner-and-a-show, the show being similar in some respects to Cirque du Soleil, but with a dash of vaudeville and audience participation thrown in. The show alternates a comedy bit – usually plucking an audience member for their involvement and a little embarrassment – with a musical and/or acrobatic performance, and one of the five courses of the dinner. While the style of the comedy bits were not really my thing (although seeing my cow-orkers’ involvement was greatly humorous, which made up for it), the other performances were very impressive. I was particularly amazed at the feats of strength and acrobatics performed by “Les Petits Frères”, which were frequently amazing.

(I’m amused that Zinzanni’s slogan is “Love, chaos and dinner”, since in order to perform these stunts in a dinner setting what they’re doing is anything but chaos.)

Almost worth the visit all by themselves are the available mixed drinks (PDF), of which I think I had one more than I really ought to have had. (Another excellent reason to have taken the bus.) I think the “Bella Donna” was my favorite.

We had fun socializing before dinner. Debbi met many of my cow-orkers, whom she mostly hadn’t met since I moved to a different team last summer, and we caught up with a few people we don’t see very often.

It was around midnight by the time we made it home, but it was well worth it. We have some friends who are big fans of Teatro Zinzanni, and I can see going back sometime.

I’d just rather not be one of the people picked to participate in one of the comedy bits!