Really Simple

Posted in culture, programming, technology, web, work by johnsnavely on February 17, 2009

A few days ago, I gave a little presentation at work on how I use my RSS feeds. Most of it was stuff I’ve learned from T-Bone. Today, T shot me a tweet asking if I had written any of it down. Which I had not. So I thought I’d try.

First, most of this is going to be old hat for people who read this blog. Most of you probably have better solutions that me or are using software that I’m still late-to-the-party for. Anyway, here goes:

Several years ago, I was completely ignorant of RSS and readers. I had sites– blogs, news sites, social networking sites (Friendster!), etc. that I was interested in. Many, I would check daily for new updates. Then T introduced me to Google Reader, an RSS feed reader. With a feed reader (there are many out there– I use feedly these days), I read updates to websites as if they were emails in an inbox. This means I can check all those sites in one place and only when there’s new stuff! (Switching browsing modes to a push-pull strategy).

But RSS isn’t just the content of blogs. All manner of things come in the RSS flavor. For example, any search in Craigslist (and Ebay too, although it’s harder to find) can be saved out as a feed. This is how I found my apartment here in Seattle. I went to Craigslist, searched for Fremont / apartments  / 1+ Bedrooms / price range / dogs and stored the resulting RSS in my reader. Whenever a new listing appeared, it showed up directly in my reader, I didn’t have to check Craiglist. I stored several searches in different neighborhoods and called them as soon as listings came up. I got the house I’m renting now, because I “was the first to call”.

I still use this technique for shopping. I’ll create some search feeds on Ebay and Amazon of stuff I want at a price I want, if there’s a hit, I see it in my feed reader. Easy! And you can do it with jobs, services, and *ahem* dates, if you’re into that.

Another type of site that offers feeds that I keep track of are social networking sites. I’m not a huge fan of facebook, but I do like the updates. So I grab the updates as a feed. For my closer friends, I track their twitter updates, flickr photos, delicious links, locations (with dopplr), etc etc. Delicious is a nice site because, like Craigslist, every page has a feed. You can follow tags, people, people networks– combinations of those. Using a feed reader, I can finally unify the content that all these disparate social networks are supposed to connect me to anyway. I can also know if someone sends me a link in delicious or comments on my photos… those are feeds too. Now I don’t actually have to go to the site to know what’s happening, all that information comes to me.

But what if you want something different than what a given feed can offer? Say you like Slashdot, but the feed has a ton of posts that you’re never going to read. It would be great if you could filter them. Luckily you can use something like Yahoo Pipes or MS Popfly. These web services take RSS (and things that aren’t RSS, but can be converted) and let you use a graphical programming language to manipulate a data stream into an RSS feed that you can be happy with. (T has a great little tutorial on Pipes.)

The last thing I do with feeds is package up my own. I use Swurl, which isn’t great, but it does the trick. Now I’ve got a feed with my blog posts, tweets, delicious links, netflix queue etc– basically everything I’m spamming out on to the interwebs. I put that feed back into my reader. Now when I want to search for something I’ve forgotten or should know, I search my reader instead of a Search Engine or Delicious. My reader has all of my stuff and all the stuff of the people and places that I care about.

These days I’m trying to do some of the same sort of things– taking streams and modifying them– with Twitter’s version of a reader: TweetDeck. The flow is surprisingly similar in places. We’ll see how it turns out…



Posted in architecture, culture, work by johnsnavely on December 19, 2008



I’m back from a 3 day business trip to the Herman Miller Headquarters in Michigan. It was really fun. We talked with them about their design process, saw some interesting work they’re doing at the architectural scale, and toured their factory, designed by Cradle to Cradle’s  infamous William McDonough.

I also got a chance to meet and chat with Chuck Hoberman about parametric design. I did not know he’d moved to buildings.

All in all, it was a fantastic visit and hopefully soon I can talk more about what will come out of it.

More pictures from the visit are here. (I’m a pretty poor photographer and I use flickr for storage more than gallery…apologies for the blurry pics!)

Auto Raves

Posted in books, culture, programming, technology by johnsnavely on December 13, 2008
Cover of Gibsons Neuromancer

Wikipedia: Cover of Gibson's Neuromancer

In a recent conversation, Johnny Lee mentioned (and I think he was referring to Desnee Tan‘s work) that sensors could be all over the place and still not give us all the information we need. For example, we could have a camera in our car but it might be hard to recognize with computer vision an “accident” ahead. But if we placed sensors on someone’s body we might be able to record their heartrate or adrenaline as they “sensed” the accident ahead. We could sense of lot of information through the body.

The first thing I thought of in the back of my mind was Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Billed “Artificial Artifical Intelligence”, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk basically provides an interface and market for people to divide computationally complex tasks into small Human Intelligence Tasks. For example, if you come up with a question that fits a given statement, you’ll get $0.03.  Spammers have used this service to bypass the “test” to see you’re a real person on blogs and forums.

But one big problem with Turk is that the HIT’s generally require conscious effort, which is slow and time-consuming for both Workers and Requestors…  I think you see where I’m going here.

People hooked up to sensors could “automatically” be turked, selling data gathered subconsciously (thanks for the link T). For example, I want to do a quick test of a new ad campaign. I flash the ad up to some Workers. They just look at it for a second. I gather bio-feedback. And we’re done! They get some pennies in their accounts. I get results instantaneously.

The whole thing feels sorta Neuromancer-like, which means it’s probably going to happen.

Dog Blog

Posted in culture, dog, technology by johnsnavely on October 13, 2008

She was on dogster, but now Mattie has her own blog. (Thanks to Jill, our lovely dogwalker.)

Petit Mode

Posted in culture, fashion, sports by johnsnavely on August 20, 2008

My brother sent me a link to an article on Naomi Yotsumoto, a young Japanese table tennis player who wears outfits of her own design. She’s in the Olympics playing TT for Japan.

image from Imprint Blog.

She’s a pretty talented player and also pretty, which are great reasons to watch her. Ping pong could use a little more style in the uniform department. I’m glad she’s taking this on.

Ping pong, as I read in the NY Times last Sunday, is on its way out–its popularity has slowly decreased over the years and there’s a little worry that we might not see it in a few Olympics down the road.

I used to play on the team at Dartmouth and for a few shameless semesters filled in as the team captain. My borther and I both have fond memories of going to the “Church of Ping Pong” when we were in highschool in Western Mass. There was old church (in Bathesda I think) with a gymnasium where some really awesome players would gather to play in the evenings. Like old boxing clubs where a shabby outpost might indicate a lonesome enclave of quality play by a washed-up old star, there are ping pong clubs like this all over the United States. I went to one in Windsor (and even played in a tournament there.) I found another one when I lived in NYC in Manhattan on the upper west side. I got to hit a few (literally) with a former olympic player. I’ve been told there’s a club somewhere here in Seattle but I’ll have to find it.

Hats Off

Posted in art, culture by johnsnavely on June 23, 2008

For George Carlin.

At one point I realized that much of the advice my father had given me when I was young was stolen from a George Carlin stand-up routine. It was one of the happier moments.