Over the weekend Google announced they will be shutting down Google Reader (their RSS Aggregator) on July 1, 2013. This may or may not be a big deal to you. If you don’t use RSS, it’s not a big deal to you. I use RSS feeds every day. It’s a big deal to me.
If you don’t use RSS feeds, allow me to explain. Imagine you are the manager of a newspaper in a small town. In this town, there are 200 businesses. There are two ways to get news stories for your newspaper. One way is, every morning you could go visit every single business and ask the owners if they have any news for you. Or, you could set up a voice mailbox and have the business owners call and leave a message if they have any news for you.
That’s what RSS is. It’s a system that allows you to subscribe to updates from websites. I subscribe to RSS feeds of roughly 200 websites. Some of them are news sites like CNN and ABCNews. Some of them are tech sites, like Wired and Tech Crunch. Some of them are blogs, some of them are podcasts, and some of them are functional. Netflix has an RSS feed of new releases. You know those annoying websites that only seem to update once or twice a month? When they do, my RSS reader (Google Reader) adds a little “(1)” after their name in my list. That’s how I know something new has been posted. I don’t have to visit the site day after day after day wasting my time to see if something new has been posted. When they do, well, “Joshua calls me.”
There are dozens if not hundreds of RSS readers out there, most of them free. Some of them you have to install, some of them are browser plug-ins, and some of them (like Google Reader) are web/cloud-based. The reason web-based RSS readers work best for me is because I use multiple computers throughout the day. I use my laptop downstairs, my main workstation upstairs, my work computer, my phone, and my iPad. What’s so nice about Google Reader is that it keeps track of what you have read on their server so when you move to a different device, you don’t get the same news stories again. Remember our newspaper editor? Without RSS it would be like having to call all 200 business owners every time you moved to a different room. RSS isn’t used by everybody, but for someone like me who tracks a couple hundred different websites it’s indispensable. Some of you may be thinking, “Who cares? I get my updates from places like Facebook and Twitter!” Ah, but guess where the people posting the links you read are getting them from? That’s right, RSS feeds.
Google Reader is free, which makes it tough to spend too much complaining about its demise. For its part, this is not unprecedented by Google. They’ve set up lots of free projects before only to pull the rug out from under their users and shut them down. Without going all sour grapes, it does make you question the stability and security of Google’s other products. The reason Google offers free services is so they can glean information from your data and use it to market things to you. Apparently the information being gleaned from Google Reader wasn’t enough to keep it up and running. It does make you wonder what’s next.
Years ago I was using an online service to keep track of all my “favorites,” so that I could access them from whatever machine I happened to be using at the time. When that service closed down, I found an open source solution and installed it on my server. I’ve been using it for years and couldn’t be happier. No matter where I am, all I have to do is visit a page on my webserver and all my favorites are there waiting for me. There are other cloud and web-based RSS aggregators out there, but each time you get burned it makes it a little harder to trust the next guy.
Feedly, another online RSS aggregator, reported 500,000 new users over the weekend. Digg also announced that they plan on launching their own RSS aggregator. I think Google missed the mark here. RSS is nowhere near dead.
Early this morning after camping at Lake Murray, Susan broke out the metal detector and the four of us headed down to a spot near the lake known as Buzzards Roost. We didn’t know why it was called that until, well, we saw the buzzards.
Susan and the kids wasted no time in scavenging the area. Susan works the metal detector and whenever she gets a hit on some metal, the kids take turns digging up the dirt and sifting through the piles to find their treasure.
The “best” find of the day were these old, broken eye glasses.
The worst was this underwear strap.
The fact that this was an old, used strap of elastic that was at some point in time attached to someone else’s underwear did not prevent Morgan from picking it up and swinging it around.
Other bits of treasure included this old beer can.
Somebody somewhere thinks this is fun.
The final tally, according to Morgan, was “28 nails, 2 cans, 5 pop tops, and 2 unidentifiable pieces of metal.”
The best find of the day were these brand new sunglasses, which we did not need a metal detector to find. Someone had left them sitting on a rock next to the boat dock.
I think we can clearly see who the winner of this adventure was.
After back-to-back 60-hour work weeks with two more months of them ahead, it’s hard to remember a time when I was more exhausted by work. Working at Oklahoma Graphics still tops it, of course. The summer I worked there I worked 12-hour shifts, between three and seven days a week. It was 12 hours a day of doing physical labor while standing on the concrete floor of a warehouse with no air conditioning. The summer I worked there I doubled my food intake and still lost over 30 pounds — an effective weight loss plan, yes, although a difficult one to recommend. Oklahoma Graphics was a different type of exhaustion than what I’m doing now. Although it was a physically demanding job, mentally it was quite boring. Also, that was the summer of 1993. I was 19 years old that summer; today, I’m 39.
Excluding Oklahoma Graphics (and what I’m doing now), I think the most exhausting week I ever spent at work was in 1994 at Best Buy, when I joined the store’s “O-Team.”
“O-Team” stood for “Opening Team.” A week before a new Best Buy would open, nearby stores would deploy their O-Teams out to help get the new store ready for opening day. I remember one Friday in the Fall of ’94 my supervisor (Tracy) asked me if I would like to be a member of our store’s O-Team. “Sure,” I said. “Great,” he answered. “We’re going to Tulsa next week.” And that is how I joined the O-Team.
In exchange for traveling, Best Buy paid us (I think) $30/day for meals and put us up (two to a room) in the La Quinta Inn next door to the new store. In return we were expected to do whatever was needed and work as hard as we could. Personally, I was in hog heaven. No one had ever paid me to travel before that. Being handed $30 cash for food when you were making $5/hour made me feel rich, and being put up in a hotel made me feel like downright royalty. What, I got to travel, and they paid for a hotel room and they gave me extra money for food?!? Royalty, I say.
Most of us carpooled up to Tulsa. I don’t remember who all drove, but seeing as how at that time I owned this dune buggy, I did not. Our first stop was the hotel. My only knowledge of college dorm parties comes from 80s movies, but based on that, the atmosphere at the La Quinta wasn’t far off. The convenient store around the corner from the hotel was more than happy to sell cheap beer to guys in Best Buy shirts, and most nights after work all of our room doors would be propped open so people could come and go freely. Nothing got stolen because none of us owned anything worth stealing.
We showed up at the store Monday morning, eager to work and slightly hung over. All the guys I traveled with worked in either computers or electronics, and a few of the guys (in retrospect, probably those with seniority) got picked to hook up all the display computers. The rest of us (including me, “he with no seniority”) were handed dollies and told to head the the rear of the store. There, we began unloading semi trucks full of goods. Not just one truck; dozens, hundreds perhaps. People inside the truck sorted the incoming piles of goods roughly into store departments — a pile of computers here, a pile of televisions there. My job was to pick up a stack of goods, wheel it to the department where it belonged, and come back for more until the truck was empty. After the truck had been unloaded, it was our job to report to our respective departments (computers, for me) and start putting those boxes onto shelves. We stocked shelves until the next truck arrived, and then we grabbed our dollies it was back to that.
And wouldn’t you know it, while on Monday there were more people there to unload trucks than there were dollies available, by Wednesday or so there were a lot more dollies than there were people showing up to unload the trucks. By mid-week, whenever someone announced that another truck had arrived, like roaches when a light flicks on, people would scatter into whatever available nooks and crannies they could find, not to emerge until the truck was empty again.
I don’t remember what time we started each day — 8 or 9 in the morning seems logical — but I remember working through dinner every single evening. I remember one night the store bought a bunch of cold cut sandwiches, cut into small (3″) sizes. They brought them in while we were unloading a truck, so after dropping off a stack of 486 Packard-Bell computers I stopped by the break room to grab a bite. I set my dolly down outside the break room door and stepped in to grab one of the sandwiches. As I took my first bite a manager stuck his head in the door and said, “hey, this truck needs unloading, let’s go. Don’t just sit around eating while everyone else is working.” I specifically remember sticking the sandwich into the front pocket of my khakis and going back to get my dolly. I think by this point in the week there were only a handful of us unloading trucks, I finished unloading the truck with that sandwich in my front pocket the entire time. When we were all done I went back to the break room only to find a line a mile long of people waiting for food. They ran out of sandwiches long before I ever made it to the break room again. From there I went to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, pulled what was left of the sandwich (which was a complete mess by this point in time) out of my pocket and finished it off.
Breakfast was included for free at the La Quinta. I don’t remember buying lunch, but I must have. Most of that $30 daily per diem went to beer and dinner.
What time I didn’t spend unloading trucks was spent up front giving the loss prevention (LP) folks a break by watching the cameras for a few minutes. I never caught anyone stealing anything and I don’t think they expected me to. The point I think was to simply have a body sitting up there in front of the cameras. I enjoyed pressing the buttons to switch between views and controlling the cameras with the joystick. I also enjoyed sitting on my rump and not unloading trucks for a few minutes at a time.
The store’s grand opening was Saturday, and I ended up working in the outside tent sale. Anything that got damaged throughout the week ended up out in the tent, where it was sold at a discount. Lots of employees bought damaged electronics (mostly just smashed boxes) at steep discounts. I walked away with a Sonic the Hedgehog stuffed doll. It should surprise no one that I still have it. Here’s a picture of his old haunting grounds, my old arcade.
Currently he’s sitting out in a box out in my garage. He deserves better than that.
That was the only time I was deployed as part of an O-Team. I left Best Buy in the spring of 1995 for a job with a help desk that eventually turned into the career I have today.
A one line message from Susan popped up on my screen at work at 3pm on Wednesday:
Just got a call from the school. They think Mason broke his leg.
I managed to bang out “on my way” before locking my computer and trotting out to my truck. I drove, mostly like an ass, as quickly as I have ever driven from my work to Mason’s school. I weaved in and out of traffic, honking and flashing my lights along the way. When I arrived at Mason’s school I threw the truck into park and left it running as I ran into the school. The mental image I had in my head was of Mason laying somewhere with a bone sticking out his leg. I also wondered if the school had a wheelchair or if I would have to carry him out to the car.
When I entered Mason’s room I found him laughing and walking around with is friends. Walking. It was at this point that I realized a wheelchair would be unnecessary.
Once out in the car, the story I got was that Mason had fallen on his knee while playing basketball. There was no doubt to this part; his entire kneecap was already a deep purple. How we got from “bruised knee” to “your son’s leg is broken” it still a mystery.
Susan arrived a few minutes later. She asked how badly his leg was broken and I said, “well, in my day they called it a bruise and gave you some ice.” Mason got out of my truck and got into Susan’s car. I went back to work, and Susan decided to take Mason to the after hours clinic, “just to be sure.”
PART TWO – THE CLINIC
The after hours clinic on Mustang road felt Mason’s kneecap and then told Susan that they thought it was broken after all. Three x-rays later, they confirmed that Mason’s kneecap was broken. Two of the x-rays didn’t show anything but the third apparently showed part of Mason’s kneecap missing. Based on this third x-ray, Mason received a knee brace and a pair of crutches. We were told to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. We were also given the three x-rays on a CD-R, which we were to take with us.
PART THREE – THE ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON
The following day (Thursday), Susan got Mason squeezed into a 1pm appointment with Orthopedic Associates. With a kid on crutches and a CD full of x-rays in tow, we arrived for Mason’s appointment.
After viewing the CD, the doctor told us that he could only see x-rays 1 and 2 — number 3 was corrupted. Number three was the one that apparently showed the break. The doctor had Mason do a series of tests, took another x-ray, and then said, “It’s not broken.” So, now we’re back to that diagnosis. His advice was to ditch the crutches immediately and get Mason walking on the leg. He said the brace was optional — Mason could wear it if he wanted, but for no longer than two weeks.
PART FOUR – TWO DAYS LATER
It’s Friday morning. The kids are off school, and I’m staying home with them. Mason and Morgan are currently playing “Nerf Wars,” a game in which they run around shooting one another with Nerf guns. Mason has run up and down the stairs at least a dozen times at full speed, firing Nerf bullets over the railing at Morgan who is hiding behind the cat’s climbing toy.
I began experiencing intermittent internet problems the first week we moved into our new home (a little over a year ago). I’d be chugging along, reading Facebook or watching a movie online, and suddenly everything would stop. I tried all the easy things like changing wireless channels, moving my router, and resetting/rebooting everything, but nothing seemed to help. To make matters worse we were only experiencing the problem a couple of times a day, which made tracking down the issue even more difficult.
I figured out the problem one day while watching a movie in the living room on Netflix with the kids. While Susan was preparing dinner in the kitchen, the movie stopped playing. Just as I was getting ready to start my normal troubleshooting routine, the microwave “dinged” and the movie started. I didn’t put two and two together until she began microwaving something else. When the microwave turned back on the movie stopped again — and when the microwave dinged again, the movie started playing again. I have repeated this multiple times and have now positively confirmed that when the microwave is on, the wireless internet is off.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what to do about it.
I have a Linksys E2000. Without loading a custom firmware onto it, I can’t boost the signal. I can’t move it from the upstairs room it’s in, and I can’t really move the microwave. I guess the best solution right now is to find something else to do while Susan’s using the microwave.
I think the most disturbing part of this post is that our microwave is probably cooking our brains.
I routinely tell people that my family used to own an Apple II computer, but technically we didn’t. We actually owned a Franklin Ace 1000, which was 100% compatible with the Apple II. In fact it was so compatible that Apple soon sued Franklin soon after it was released for copying their ROMs.
In this picture which was taken at my parents’ computer store (Yukon Software) back in 1985, you can see the Franklin Ace 1000 playing Little Computer People. The computer in the background is I think our PC Jr. The printer in between the two computers was an Epson FX-80.
Oh, and those boxes of Bonus blank diskettes? I still have one. I still have that monitor, too.
Our Franklin Ace 1000 — the actual one in that picture — is long gone. When I began building up my own little retro computer empire a few years ago, I bought another off of eBay. They’re not super rare (there’s one new in the box on eBay right now for $300… plus shipping) but I think I paid around $100 for mine (again, plus shipping). I haven’t had a place to set it up yet so it’s been sitting out in the garage since I bought it.
Also out in my garage is my golf cart. I bought a golf cart several years ago because… well, I wanted a golf cart. I drive it around from time to time.
The problem with the golf cart is the roof. The roof is plastic and at just the right height where (a) it’s convenient to occasionally stack things on top of it, but (b) it’s difficult to see if anything is stacked up on top of it.
Stop me if you see where this is going.
I took the golf cart out for a spin the other day. I don’t remember stacking the Franklin Ace 1000 on top of the golf cart recently, but apparently I did. Despite the wind and bumps in the road, it appears the computer hung on for dear life for quite some time; until I hit the brakes, in fact. When I did, the entire thing flew off the roof and smashed into the pavement right in front of my eyes.
The back of the case broke; the front merely suffered road rash. The keys you see are the ones I was able to find and snap back on. The rest were either broken, or disappeared.
After pulling the few parts that weren’t smashed or destroyed from the fall, I begrudgingly and unceremoniously dumped the Franklin into the garbage.
Finally, we’re back on track with this week’s podcast.
This week’s show is all about the Nintendo Entertainment System — the NES, for short. In this episode you’ll get to hear about how and when I got my first NES and what games I used to play. You’ll also learn about the horrible television I used to own, how I built up my collection of 300+ cartridges, and the exact moment I realized my girlfriend was also my soul mate. I also answer questions from callers about Commodore RAM Expansion Units and the best retro computer to bludgeon someone to death with.
Here’s the second post that got gummed up in the system.
Episode 125 of You Don’t Know Flack is all about the video game crash of 1983. “It was a dark and stormy night…” or was it really? In this episode I talk all about the causes of the video game crash of 1983, and why I missed it. From the voice mail box I answer the question, “what’s the worst arcade conversion I’ve ever seen?”
I just realized that WordPress somehow ate the last few posts where I announced the latest episodes of my podcast. I’ll do “official” posts later this evening, but in case you want to get a jump on things, here are the links: