The demise of Google Reader came as a surprise to many, but not David Smith. David had been working on an RSS service for a few months before Google announced the retirement of Google Reader. The timing of the announcement however, forced a significant change in his plans. He quickly ramped up development with the goal of an April release to give users plenty of time to migrate before the July 1st shutdown of Google Reader. After months of hard work, David’s alternative to Google Reader, Feed Wrangler was released on Tuesday, April 30.
Feed Wrangler is not simply an RSS reader; it is an RSS platform. A Feed Wrangler subscription is $18.99 a year and gives you access to the Feed Wrangler website, the iOS (iPhone and iPad) app, and an upcoming Mac OS X app. David is also planning on releasing an API that will allow third party developers to integrate the Feed Wrangler service into their apps. Since the users are paying David directly for the service, he isn’t concerned whether you are using the official Feed Wrangler apps or third party apps. I hope that Feed Wrangler develops a large following and the API garners a healthy ecosystem of apps and services built on top of it.
Feed Wrangler handled my migration from Google Reader nearly seamlessly. It did change my In Focus feed to the generic The Atlantic master feed, but this was easily corrected. One of the first things I noticed in Feed Wrangler was the lack of folder support. I was taken aback for a moment until I discovered the Smart Streams. Smart Streams are much more powerful than folders in that you can create a group of feeds based on a filter. For example, you could create an Apple Smart Stream that only contains posts mentioning Apple. I am currently using Smart Streams as I was using folders in Google Reader. I created a smart stream for Tech that only has feeds from a select group of technology-related sites that I manually selected.
The Feed Wrangler website is pretty minimalist. The website focuses on enabling users to quickly process their feeds and succeeds flawlessly in this goal. I find that I am able to scan through my feeds and process them faster with Feed Wrangler than I could with Google Reader. The only issue is that the website is lacking more powerful features like keyboard navigation, direct sharing, and mark unread. I would also like to see a small post preview beneath each title with one or two lines of the post content.
The Feed Wrangler Website
The iOS apps are also not as full featured as many other top RSS readers in the App Store today. I would like to see more gesture controls and a better focus on reading. Adding some additional fonts and possibly a dark theme for late night reading would go a long way. Despite lacking some of these features, the iOS apps are very fast and like the website, excel in allowing you to quickly get through your feeds.
Feed Wrangler for iOS
Overall Feed Wrangler shows some great promise. I know David has been working hard to get the service ready for launch and has a large feature-rich roadmap in front of him. Since the Feed Wrangler revenue comes directly from user subscriptions, he has every incentive to continue making Feed Wrangler a world class RSS service that will stand out in an ever more crowded market. Do yourself a favor and check it out. There is no trial version, but if you sign up for Feed Wrangler from the website, you are guaranteed a refund within 14 days if it’s not the service for you.
There are so many things that we want to and can accomplish but a lot of us are sitting around waiting for permission. Permission that seems to never come. The kid in the ninth grade isn’t waiting for it. The acting student has already decided he’s an actor without anyone telling him he could be.
…So what are you waiting on permission for?
Open the other door already. I don’t think it’s locked.
An inspiring read. Instead of waiting for your job, finances, or life to change; put yourself out there, take a chance, and try to do something about it.
March 26, 2013, 7:26pm
Favorite Weather Apps
I would like to begin a series featuring some of my favorite iOS and Mac OS X apps. I’m always on the lookout for innovative apps that can increase productivity, help you get things done, and add to the usefulness of your computer and devices.
To begin this series, I’ll feature two of my favorite weather apps. Both of these apps feature innovative ways to quickly present weather data to you. There is no shortage of weather apps on the App Store, but these two are worthy of your consideration.
Dark Sky is not your typical weather app. You won’t use Dark Sky to view the day’s highs and lows or check out the 7 day forecast. Dark Sky is a short-term rain forecasting app. It will tell you, to the minute, if it is going to rain within the next hour.
Dark Sky predicts precisely when it will rain or snow at your exact location and has the most beautiful radar visualizations you’ve ever seen. - Source
We like to take our dog on a 40-45 minute walk each morning. Nothing is worse than getting halfway through the walk and becoming trapped in a spontaneous downpour. Dark Sky is the app I rely on to insure that never happens again.
When you open Dark Sky, you are presented with a precipitation graph and rain predictor. A common predictor will say: “Next Hour: Rain starting in 3 minutes, stopping 30 minutes later.” The accuracy is usually spot-on. As an added bonus, you can configure push notifications to allow Dark Sky to notify you shortly before it rains in your current location.
One of my favorite general purpose weather apps has become Check the Weather. Check the Weather is an app designed to give you the most essential weather data at your fingertips. The iPhone version implements an innovative gesture-based system to provide the hourly forecast, 10 day forest, and radar. The radar screen gives you access to a Dark Sky based rain predictor. It is one of the first weather apps that utilizes the Dark Sky predictor.
One of the defining features of the app is its distinctive typography. The app features 4 distinct typefaces: Idlewild, Futura, Helvetica, and Avenir Next. When combined with the 5 different color choices, you can drastically change the look of the app. The developer David Smith is an independent iOS developer and will continuously work to enhance the app.
One of my favorite year-end traditions is revisiting my favorite albums of the last year. The fact that I track almost every song, artist, and album that I listen to via Last.fm makes this a much easier task every year. It’s always a joy looking over my Last.fm charts.
2012 was an interesting year for me. I bought fewer albums this year than I ever have, while consuming most of my music from streaming services like Spotify and Rdio. I can’t help but feel a sense of guilt looking over my Favorite Albums of 2012 list knowing I only own a handful of them. I’m a happy subscriber to Spotify, but the revenue sharing of these streaming services still leaves a lot to be desired. I doubt any of the artists I listen to will be making a living wage from streaming revenues.
Enough of the perennial lamentation about the state of the music industry, let’s get to my favorite albums. Here they are in alphabetical order according to the artist:
Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
Ever since hearing about this North Alabama band from a post on the semi-obscure blog Aquarium Drunkard, I’ve been addicted. Their first EP came out in 2011, but their first LP Boys & Girls was released this year. In his post about the band, Justin Gage had this to say:
I’m hunting for ‘the real’ — the stuff that can’t be faked…the happy accidents, the sound of strings out of tune from humidity, Ike Turner’s busted amp on “Rocket 88,” blood, sweat, tears, what-have-you.
I don’t think I could say it better myself. The Alabama Shakes are the real deal. Here’s one of my favorite tracks from the album Boys & Girls - “I Found You”.
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
The Steve Albini produced Attack On Memory is probably the rawest album on this list. They’ve got a harsh sound backed up by some amazing melodies. I first heard about this band when their album leaked at the end of 2011. The 9 minute song “Wasted Days” picked up a good bit of buzz and is no doubt the anthem for many youth. The track “Stay Useless” is more typical of the rest of the album, full of gritty melody.
Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
Singer / songwriter Damien Jurado has been releasing albums for almost 20 years now. For his last two albums, he teamed up with one of my favorite aritsts and producers Richard Swift. Their latest album Maraqopa is a masterpiece. As always with Jurado, the song writing is top-tier. The production this time around is an evolution of what we saw on their last collaboration Saint Bartlett, with more psychedelic tones and instrumentation. You should definitely check out the album opener “Nothing Is the News”.
Father John Misty - Fear Fun
Father John Misty is another artist I was introduced to this year. Joshua Tillman took on the Father John Misty moniker for this album and is a former member of Fleet Foxes. The album Fear Fun sounds like a mushroom-tripping, dream sequence. It’s full of interesting instrumentation and songwriting. Without a doubt, one of the more varied releases this year. Due to the variety in this album, it was difficult for me to narrow down one track to share. Ultimately I chose “I’m Writing a Novel.” Check it out.
Grizzly Bear - Shields
Sheilds by Grizzly Bear was one of my most anticipated albums this year. Their last album Veckatimest was a feat of nuanced production and I was excited to see what they would do as a follow-up. Sheilds did not disappoint. Do youself a favor. Find some good headphones and listen to the album opener “Sleeping Ute.”
Menomena - Moms
I’ve been a huge Menomena fan since their 2007 album Friend and Foe. They have a unique sound derived from their unconventional recording techniques. Most of their songs are composed one fragment at a time then looped through a Digial Looping Recorder. Moms is their first album without founding member Brent Knopf and is a bit of a departure. The production and mix of the album seem to be a bit sparser. Here’s one of the album highlights “Don’t Mess With Latexas.”
Metric - Synthetica
My buddy Stephen Biernacki got me hooked on this band. Their 2009 album Fantasies was one of his favorite albums that year, so I was sure to give this new one a listen. The album does not disappoint. Both the song writing and production of this album are stellar. I listened to this album non-stop for at least a month straight because I could not get these songs out of my head.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill
If you love Neil Young’s crunchy guitar noodling and voice, you’ll love this album. If you don’t, skip it. For me, I was excited about his reunion with Crazy Horse and the album was exactly what I expected. The album opener “Driftin’ Back” clocks in at an amazing 27:37, but could have gone on another 30 minutes.
Or the Children’s Crusade - Football Season Is Over
I don’t know what’s in the water here in North Alabama, but having two local bands be in my year-end favorites list is quite the feat. Or The Children’s Crusade’s debut album Football Season is Over is full of anthemic songs that I have thrown my voice out singing to. They are in good company being described as post-Springsteen and similar to bands like The Gaslight Anthem. While the two previous artists have New Jersey as a recurring theme in their albums, Or the Children’s Crusade have Huntsville, AL “The Rocket City.” Do yourself a favor and check out this band. Head over to their Bandcamp page and get their album for whatever you want to pay for it.
Passion Pit - Gossamer
Gossamer is a powerful album of contrasts. I always struggle wondering if an artist’s back-story should be taken into consideration when evaluating their work. For some albums it’s hard to separate the two. See Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness at the Edge of Town as a prime example. Listening to Passion Pit’s Gossamer, it’s hard to not sense the manic sense of desperation in many of the album’s tracks, but after reading Pitchfork’s cover story on Michael Angelakos’ struggle with mental illness, the desperation takes on a new dimension. This is a rare album you can put on at a party and dance to, or play in a dark room in solitude.
She Does is Magic - My Height In Heels
This band and album kinda came out of nowhere for me. I’m a big fan of the independent Bloomington, Indiana based label Flannelgraph Records and happened to stumble upon My Height in Heels. I’ve always been a sucker for instrumental album openers and this album features one of the catchiest ones around. The album is full of great songwriting. Support indie artists and labels by checking this band out! Here’s one of my album favorites “You’ll Miss Me.”
About 3 months ago, I was bored and looking for something to watch on Netflix when I came across the Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home directed by Martin Scorsese. For anyone even remotely interested in Dylan, it would be well worth your time to watch it. The documentary follows Bob Dylan from the start of his career up to his famous 1966 "electric" world tour. The documentary closes on one of the most legendary performances of all time. The May 17, 1966 version of Like a Rolling Stone.
On this tour, Dylan performed the first half of the set in his traditional format, alone with only his guitar and harmonica. During this set he held the audience captive and earned unanimous adoration. For the last half of the set, he brought out his touring band, soon to be known as The Band. As soon as the guitars were plugged in to the amps, the mood in the audience quickly shifted. Bob Dylan and The Band performed the last half of the set to a mixture of cheers, boos, and jeers.
The Judas Moment
During the end of his May 17 concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, the jeering Dylan received became legend after an audience member shouted “Judas!” Dylan paused before responding “I don’t believe you … you’re a liar!”, turned to his band and said “Play it f*ckin’ loud!”1. Mickey Jones, who replaced Levon Helm on drums for the tour, hit his snare as hard as he could, starting a vicious version of Like A Rolling Stone. That snare hit is easily one of my favorite pieces of recorded music.
In my introduction post, I mentioned that the inspiration for starting this blog came to me after a self-evaluation of my time-management. This evaluation brought me to quite an unsurprising realization. I’m an addict. More specifically, I’m addicted to my inboxes.
My inboxes are not solely related to email. They are all the online services I use each day that are collecting data and beckoning me to check them. I can easily spend hours simply catching up with my twitter followers and reading blogs in Google Reader.
To be addicted to our inboxes is the path towards errors of omission. Or, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson: Inboxes are good enough in their own right, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for work.
Those of you who don’t know me very well may not realize that I am a very compulsive person. Back in college, I wore a phone cord around my neck because I liked the way it clicked. I would fidget with that thing ALL day long. This compulsion quickly turns to anxiety when I feel that I may be missing something. This is why my wife finds me staring into the glass screen of my iPhone constantly. I’m always checking twitter, reading my Instapaper articles, reading blogs from my RSS reader, or checking my email. These are my inboxes.
My inboxes: Reeder (RSS), Instapaper, Facebook, email, twitter.
My goal this week is to reduce the amount of time I’m spending on my inboxes. The best way to do this is to reduce the amount of information flowing into them. Since I spend most of my time in twitter and Instapaper (reading articles I found on twitter), I’m starting there.
This morning, my twitter account was following 332 users, but after the first pass it is down to 211. The act of un-following over 100 accounts is actually quite liberating. This must be what it feels like when you throw away that last pack of cigarettes…until the withdrawals kick in.
For me to have time to write for this blog and not have it cut into family time and other commitments, I’ve got to do a better job controlling my inboxes. Twitter was today. Tomorrow will be some blogs in Google Reader. I look forward to seeing what I can do with this extra time.
May 05, 2012, 3:14pm
Hey folks! So…this is a blog! I’d like to compose this short post to get the formalities out of the way. My name is Mint Shows. I’m a father, husband, software engineer, tech enthusiast, and music geek. I’ve always loved writing and thought that I would enjoy having a blog, but never made it happen.
Last week (after encouragement from my wife), I took an audit of how I spend my time and wasn’t too happy with the results. I realized that of all the non-family or work related things I do, none are a creative outlet. As a professional programmer, I’ve often considered my programming as a creative outlet, but lately I’m not getting the same satisfaction from my work. I hope my writing for this blog can become a creative outlet for me.
I’m working on a couple drafts for some future posts right now. Whether this blogging endeavor stops at 2 posts or 2,000 posts, I’m excited about the prospects. Wish me luck!
May 03, 2012, 11:24pm
Software Engineer. Indie Music connoisseur. Dad. Geek. Lover of all things Politics. I like s