Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reading too much

I've got some good news and some bad news - I'm back, but my good friend Google Reader is dying. Let me tell you the story of my relationship with Google Reader. It's a bit long, but I promise this is all going somewhere.

Warning: some self evaluation ahead.

I was never really away, but mobile data speed, format, reliability and bandwidth were very restrictive. I managed to stay more or less in touch on Facebook, read important emails and do critical things like pay the rent, but not a whole lot else. Naturally this means that things built up in a big way. It's happened before, I've coped before. It's frustrating but nothing that time and patience won't solve.

But then it got interesting. About halfway through the wait for my internet connection I heard that Google Reader will be retired in June.

Initially I was horrified. I use this thing daily on both my PC and my phone. I follow 152 RSS feeds which range from near dead to high volume updaters. Before I started using Google Reader it was a nightmare to keep track of my blogs - and there were considerably less of them then.

I wasn't completely disconnected from Google Reader while I was waiting for my internet connection but I was only able read a tiny  minority of posts, focusing on webcomics and text-only blogs, otherwise I risked running up a large phone bill. This meant that when I turned on my PC with the new internet connection up and running I saw the dreaded new post count list - 1000+. After that Google Reader stops giving you a precise count. I don't know how many were there exactly but the Android app had been giving me that number for quite some time.

I decided to put off other things and start tackling what I saw as the problem. I started reading the webcomics, they're always my first stop in Google Reader and the site's learnt that - it always lists them first on the home screen no matter what is most recent. After that I started at the newest post and just started working my way down, but I wasn't really getting anywhere. I entirely cleared a few blogs that are only occasionally interesting and then picked the two largest post count offenders. These were Craft Gossip and Laughing Squid.

Craft Gossip is a huge blog that aggregates craft tutorials and news from all over the internet. I blitzed through it pretty quickly, considering there were over 500 unread posts. I starred maybe twenty of the most interesting posts for later reference and then moved on.

Laughing Squid is another aggregator, this time of news, memes and all sorts of tech/geek focused bits and pieces from all over the Internet. It started at just under 600 unread posts. Sorting this was considerably harder. There are a lot of videos, links onward and a much higher proportion are of interest. I watched short videos I was interested in - those up to maybe three minutes (mostly cats) - but more of them, all the way up to two hours, I starred to watch when I have more time. I also starred a number that I intend on sharing with friends later. I can only put so many on Facebook at once without borderlining on spam, after all. Eventually I looked at the clock - and it was pretty horrifying. What's worse, there were still over 300 Laughing Squid posts unread, and the total was still at 1000+.

At this point I began to realise that falling behind and the demise of Google Reader might not be the issue here. I actually wrote some dot points for this article because I couldn't stop thinking about it. This didn't really help the getting to bed problem.

When I woke up in the morning, feeling somewhat average and having trouble waking up, I picked up my phone and started again from there. Just from the top, not from any particular blog. In just under an hour I knocked off all of the posts that had appeared overnight by either starring to read later or discarding. I began to work on getting the numbers down again.

By the time I raced out of the house with only a banana for breakfast and not even time for a glass of water let alone a coffee, there were 858 posts.

Right now, 5:51 p.m., my webcomics have been read and there are 914 unread posts remaining - 297 of which are Laughing Squid and 34 of which are Craft Gossip.

This is becoming a chore. I'm not enjoying it. I'm at risk of falling out of some good patterns I've been able to set for myself since moving in, and there are still hours of reading ahead. I'm not getting to enjoy the books I've borrowed either. It is consuming my life, my energy and more.

Possibly worse, all of those starred articles, recipes, craft tutorials and videos are still waiting. It's not just the ones I've done in the last 24 hours either. I have been building those up for more than a year. There must be thousands. Every now and then I watch a few but the list grows far faster than I deal with it.

There are other readers out there. Google Reader is not unique. The Old Reader appears to be particularly similar - I can even import my subscriptions. I cannot, however, find a way to import my list of starred items. When Google Reader goes, they go.

Preserving them can be done - either Evernote or OneNote would be a good candidate. As a bonus it'd be cloud based, not subject to the blogger's alterations and nicely organised. But like catching up with these posts and watching the starred videos, it would be hours and hours of work and an absolutely vast volume of data to capture it all.

I started thinking about the hours and hours (heck, weeks) catching up, backtracking to see things I've put aside for later and backing up the parts I want to keep might take. The picture below is a reasonable approximation of how all this had me feeling. The article from Naldz Graphics that it's from is getting at the problem here.

This is not freshly out of control, it's just that right now it's ramped up even further that it's really struck me. I'm spending  amounts of time bordering on insanity just trying to keep up with this. It's getting backlogged more and more with time. It seems a bit ironic that someone whose business is information management has such a bad case of out-of-control information overload.

I think I spend more time reading craft tutorials than I spend crafting and I have a vast list of tutorials waiting for me. And even if I tried a new saved recipe every meal it'd take me months to try all the ones I've saved.

So instead of thinking about how daunting this is and wishing that Google Reader was staying around I choose to look at it as an opportunity. I'm clearing this thing up and retaking control.

Make no mistake. I'm not going to stop reading blogs. There's some great professional reading in there, I look forward to a number of webcomics, there are some really inspiring crafters blogging and when this all started out I was really enjoying myself.

But some of these have to go.

Craft Gossip, you've shown me all kinds of amazing things. But I can't keep up with five new craft projects added to my to do list every day even if I don't spend all that time reading about them. Those five are less than ten percent of the posts I trawl from this subscription.

Laughing Squid, the content linked is really wonderful stuff - funny, interesting, though-provoking... but the volume of it is so vast that most of the interesting stuff winds up being saved for a later that never comes. Part of me is sad to loose the fantastic content but I just can't take this.

I'm not just talking about removing things either. As I type this line at around 6:15 those two are gone. But I'm not done yet. There are still 584 unread posts still on the list. Some represent blogs that will stay. Many do not.

I estimate this has already halved the rate of incoming posts. That estimate may be conservative.

So although it'll take a little time to sort the rest out it's probably less time than it'd take to read them. I'm about to get started. The fitness blog that occasionally posts an interesting recipe but mostly posts workouts I'm not interested in? The mommy blogs posted one craft tutorial I liked over a year ago? The free vintage graphics feed that usually gets the 'mark all posts read' treatment? More smaller aggregators that still churn out a dozen or more posts a day? Other blogs that have mostly become something to click past?

It's time to say goodbye.

So losing Google Reader is not a tragedy. And being partially offline for more than two weeks might have been frustrating, but it wasn't blinding me to the world.

All of this has given me an opportunity to start over. To clean out, take control and stop losing hours and hours of every day.

When I'm done I should have a manageable list of the things I most want and need to read about. Taking back control feels pretty good.

Email subscriptions, I've got my eye on you.

P.S. I asked a friend to read this over to make sure it made sense to others too. While he did that, I kept working. I'm down to 402, with more than twenty listings gone. This doesn't clear the lists of saved articles, but I'll get onto that soon, probably just deleting most of them. I'll tame this beast yet.

Monday, March 18, 2013


The photo project will resume when I have regular internet access again - in the meantime, here are some miniaturised book reviews. I had intended to do more mini-reviews tonight but things did not go to plan - everything is okay, but I had to suddenly leave this and am only back some hours later.

These books are both excellent though unlike some I have reviewed in the past, are not necessarily books I'd recommend for all people.

I read Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey some weeks ago, it's gritty, bloody and pulls no punches. The man character talks hims toughness up, then proceeds to get the snot kicked out of himself repeatedly. Last time I read a book that did that I was seriously unimpressed as the supposedly super-powerful hero proved to be about the flimsiest thing out. Not so in this case. Stark, our serial-car-thieving anti-hero, gets away with this as he takes a lot of damage but just keeps on going anyhow.

An interesting world and a great (if seriously nasty, angry, revenge obsessed and all-round messed-up) anti-hero. I do have a couple small gripes - notably concerning a fictional weapon that just seems too convenient and the fact that I can't help but relate the name Stark to Iron Man and George R R Martin. But on the balance of things I really enjoyed this book. This is very much at the horror end of the urban fantasy/paranormal spectrum - which suits me just fine as I prefer to avoid the romance end of the genre. If graphic violence in books is a turn-off this is not the book for you as it is frequent and intense. If you can handle it, it's good fun and well written.

I've started on book two, Kill the Dead, and while it's good as well it's failing to catch me as much as the first book. I can't place my finger on why, exactly. I'm hoping it'll pick up as despite loving the genre, at least in principle, there are precious few urban fantasy series out there that I enjoy and this has potential to be added to the list.

Volume one of Saga by Brian Vaughan is probably one of those graphic novels that gathers complaints in libraries. Notably from those who open to a page and gasp in horror, not quite realising that it's okay to read comics after the age of fifteen, and thus okay for comics to be adult in nature. Or is that my cynicism showing too much?

This beautifully illustrated comic holds up a sci-fi mirror to some of the long-term conflicts in our world and does so in an original and interesting universe. The characters are well developed - I particularly liked Izabel, a teenage ghost (or at least the upper half of one). I enjoyed this and recommend it for any adult who enjoys graphic novels. If I were introducing someone to comics I'd probably choose something else. A number of scenes are sexually or violently graphic or just... really unusual. But the worst thing about this book? Volume two is not out yet. I want to know where this story goes next!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Found Alphabet - I

Running a little late this week - I had the photo taken in time, but there's a lot going on at the moment. I saw this on the way to a Fringe show - the light was just right in that moment to highlight the shape of the sign against the background. A little unusual to use an object with writing on it, perhaps, but I love the way the light worked in this shot. Couldn't have asked for much more.

Anyhow. I'm moving house in the next couple days and it may take a while to get the internet in my new place. So I'm going to resume posting the alphabet when I can - I hope I won't miss more than one or two weeks but I can't be sure.

So see you with J when I am moved and sorted out!