In which we grouse about RSS readers

So Google Reader is going away in 20 days, which is troubling. I’ve been a big fan of it for a long time, but — like Gmail — I only use it as a back-end service. Just as I never log into Gmail to read mail, I never log into Reader to read sites. I use nice, native clients way cooler, nicer, and more fully featured than a web app. GR just provides the back-end sync.

For most of my life with GR, I used the Reeder app on my Mac, my phone, and my iPad. It’s really, really great. A while back, though, the Mac version developed a problem where it wasn’t able to sync with GR anymore. No idea why, or if I was the only one with the problem, and I got no support from the author, so I fell back to using the venerable NetNewsWire on the Mac (which can sync with GR) and kept using Reeder on my iOS devices. I do most of my reading on the iPad anyway.

Except now I have to change, and change nearly always sucks. Especially in this case, as it turns out that my use case is that of a power-user, and nobody wants to take my money.

Following the glowing coverage, I looked first at NewBlur, and was about ready to make the jump until I discovered something troubling: Apparently, NewsBlur quietly and automatically marks any item more than two weeks old as read, and there’s no way to change that. Hope you weren’t saving that! That’s a serious dealbreaker — I leave items unread all the time as ticklers for later action — but at least I discovered it before I signed up for an annual subscription. NewsBlur is also wasting time and money (from my point of view) building out a sharing-and-discovery featureset I find utterly uninteresting. I’m already on Facebook and Twitter, and I post here. I don’t need to have a dialog with other users in my feedreader, and I don’t need to “train” my reader to find sites for me. Just work the list I give you, and be done with it. I have American money. I’ll pay you.

Then I looked at Feedly, which is one of those high-concept things. The first troubling aspect is that it’s apparently free, and I’ve been burned on that before (and in fact I’m being burned by that RIGHT NOW). Secondly, the app is just a disaster of overdesign. Where Reeder is quiet, minimalist, and fast, Feedly is cumbersome and too pleased with itself by half — really, I just want the text. I don’t need you to reformat the stories into a facsimile of a magazine, for Christ’s sake. Feedly also appears to be just a browser, not a reader that grabs your subscription updates and presents them to you locally. This matters, because sometimes, I don’t have a network connection. Also troubling: Feedly is built to use Google Reader, and while they’re working quickly they still haven’t launched their in-house sync back-end. The end of the month could be a very messy time for them. No thanks.

Finally, I looked at Feedbin, which is probably the most promising option since it’s the one the Reeder author is working towards, and if he gets done I’ll be back with the right apps again. However, at present there’s no acceptable way for me to USE it — the Reeder author has only completed the Feedbin port for the iPhone version, which is my least-used client. Feedbin itself has a web interface, but it’s pretty crappy. The only iPad client is something called “Slow Feeds” that insists on sorting your subscriptions by update frequency, not by subject, which seems utterly useless. (The stated point of SF is to keep the rarely-updated feeds from being lost in your subscription list. This is a problem I never, ever have with Reeder, because its default mode is to show you ONLY feeds with new stories. This seems like a much better way to solve the problem.)

As of now, I’m assuming that Reeder for Mac and iPad won’t be ready in three weeks, and that I’ll be back to running NetNewsWire on my Mac (which can’t sync with anything but GR, but is still a workable stand-alone reader) and not reading news at all on my phone or iPad, at least until Reeder finishes with the ports.

Just like 2004. Yay! Giant steps backwards!

Yet another reason to hate the TSA

They tried to fuck with Chewbacca.

Peter Mayhew, the man who played Chewie, is over seven feet tall and, like many very-tall men when they get older, needs a cane. Given his height, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that his cane is rather long.

The TSA in Denver apparently thought the cane as too long, and were threatening to confiscate it — and would have, if Mayhew hadn’t Tweeted about the incident, and had enough Twitter followers to make sure the situation came to the attention of American Airlines, who prevailed upon the TSA to stop being douchebags.

This, of course, is only possible because he’s a celebrity with tens of thousands of Twitter followers, and because he’s a million-mile flier with American. Remove either of those factors, and the TSA would’ve bullied a man out of his goddamn cane.

Why You Should Shop At Costco

BusinessWeek: The Cheapest, Happiest Company in the World.

The precis is simple: WalMart pays its workers badly, treats them poorly, and is in trouble. Costco is the anti-WalMart:

Despite the sagging economy and challenges to the industry, Costco pays its hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour, not including overtime (vs. the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour). By comparison, Walmart said its average wage for full-time employees in the U.S. is $12.67 an hour, according to a letter it sent in April to activist Ralph Nader. Eighty-eight percent of Costco employees have company-sponsored health insurance; Walmart says that “more than half” of its do. Costco workers with coverage pay premiums that amount to less than 10 percent of the overall cost of their plans. It treats its employees well in the belief that a happier work environment will result in a more profitable company. “I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits,” says [CEO Craig] Jelinek. “It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country. It’s really that simple.”

Generation X is Tired of Your Bullshit

We’re old enough now that the “they’re lazy, they’re not like us, yadda yadda yadda” crap about the next generation is actually about somone other than us, and, frankly, most of it’s shit that was said first about us, and we don’t particularly want to put up with it:

Generation X is beyond all that bullshit now. It quit smoking and doing coke a long time ago. It has blood pressure issues and is heavier than it would like to be. It might still take some ecstasy, if it knew where to get some. But probably not. Generation X has to be up really early tomorrow morning.

Generation X is tired.

Must-Read Krugman on Obamacare in Red States

The Spite Club:

Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the law’s constitutionality also gave states the right to opt out of one piece of the plan, a federally financed expansion of Medicaid. Sure enough, a number of Republican-dominated states seem set to reject Medicaid expansion, at least at first.

And why would they do this? They won’t save money. On the contrary, they will hurt their own budgets and damage their own economies. Nor will Medicaid rejectionism serve any clear political purpose. As I’ll explain later, it will probably hurt Republicans for years to come.

No, the only way to understand the refusal to expand Medicaid is as an act of sheer spite. And the cost of that spite won’t just come in the form of lost dollars; it will also come in the form of gratuitous hardship for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s Prince’s Birthday

In his honor, take time for at least one of these two amazing vids. Both have been on Heathen before, but they’re both worth a re-look.

First: The short one: this version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is from the all-star tribute to George Harrison on VH1 some years ago. Prince handles the solo duties like the incredible player and amazing showman he’s always been. My favorite part: at the end, when he’s done, he throws his guitar up and struts off the stage.

The guitar never comes down.

Second: I found this a while back on Metafilter. It’s a story covering this video (note: not the link from the Hilobrow story; that one’s been DCMA’d off the net) of Prince and his band from the early 80s. He’s much younger; Wendy and Lisa are with him, and he’s not quite yet the superstar he’d become. That process starts with this performance, because it’s the very first time anyone ever heard Purple Rain.

It’s long. Make time. It’s the man’s birthday, for crying out loud.

What You Need To Know About the Xbox One

From Twitter via Imgur via, probably, Reddit; no credit is obvious:


It must be connected to the Internet every 24 hours, or you can’t play at all. You cannot disconnect the Kinect sensor. You cannot lend, rent, sell, or trade games easily, because fuck you. It’s basically designed to destroy the used game market entirely.

How about no? Is no good for you, Microsoft?


We’ve joked for years that the NSA was reading your mail, but it turns out they really are — and your providers are helping them.

PRISM is complete bullshit, and must stop.

The Times today, in reaction, echoes something I said after Bush’s power grabs: no Executive ever gave up power. Bush did lasting damage that subsequent presidents won’t undo:

“The administration has now lost all credibility,” the Times’ editors write. “Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”

More from The Verge; providers allowing the NSA unfettered and direct back-end access without proper warrants (the only court oversight is, of course, a secret court) include Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Skype. AOL, too, which is kind of adorable. Dropbox is said to be joining the program soon.

These companies, when asked for comment today, are denying their participation — but one would do well to recall that even Senators could not discuss the program before due to legal prohibitions. It’s entirely possible that the PR flacks speaking for Microsoft, Apple, etc., either don’t know, or are legally enjoined for speaking truthfully. (It’s certainly well-known that PR folks can live without souls, so this is hardly surprising.)

Dear TSA, and everyone who works there:

Eat SHIT, you know-nothing, cowardly whiners. Hysteria and idiocy reign, again.

Let’s play a game. It’s called “measure risk with math!” I know, I know: the TSA is no good at either measuring things OR at math, let along rational thought, but bear with me.

First, let’s figure out how many airline passengers there have been in this history of American commercial aviation. It’s going to be a big number, since the FAA reports that there were 732 million passengers in 2012 alone. Let’s assume we’re talking on the order of 10 billion, then, which is probably low, but is also probably in the right ballpark (though I will eagerly accept corrections, provided they come with a clear rationale or, better, data).

Now let’s estimate the number of knife injuries or attacks that have happened on planes, ever. That number is harder to get, so as an upper bound let’s just start with the entire death toll on 9/11. It’s obviously risible to consider all those deaths as the result of the box cutters, but using that enormous number should put to rest concerns that I’m underestimating actual knife attacks in the air.

So, out of an estimated 10 billion passengers, we had about 3,000 injuries/deaths.

Good thing the TSA is protecting us!

Let’s look at this another way, which is to compare average knife injuries per year to the number of passengers per year. By annualizing the data, we can compare it intelligently to the chances of death or injury from other unusual events, to better understand what other activities we should ban or limit using “knives on planes” as the clear, logical border for permissible vs. impermissible.

Again, I’ll put my thumb on the scale against my position here, and count all 3,000 losses in 2001 as knife losses, but I’m going to divide it by 13 to pull an average per year since then. That yields a laughable 230, but vs the 700 million person-flights a year (here, at last, I may be using a slightly-too-high figure for average person-flights, but I think it’ll come out in the wash).

Using these ludicrously-overstated figures, we see 0.00003 percent chance, per year, of a knife injury or death on a plane. You are significantly more likely to die in an accidental plane crash. Or be legally executed. Or be struck by lightning. Or die from a bee sting. Or an earthquake. Or be killed by a dog.

Obviously, the next logical steps should be to ban going outside in the rain; eradicate bees; forcibly relocate folks from fault zones; and euthanize any dog over 15 pounds, as all these ideas have as much logical backing as keeping small pocketknives off planes.

People are insanely, irrevocably stupid. And the TSA is worse than most.

The best thing I have EVER seen on Facebook, bar none

In the “travel reports from far-flung Heathen cousins” category, we find this:

Screen Shot 2013 06 05 at 9 59 43 AM

Marijke is my mother’s first cousin’s daughter, which I believe makes her my second cousin (but you can check my work). I went to her parent’s wedding twenty-mumble years ago, but I think I’ve only ever met her as an infant.

Her father’s a Dutch banker who’s recently taken a job in Zambia, but it’s more fun without context, isn’t it?

So, yeah, about that IRS thing…


When CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, applied for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, its biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.

The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.

And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.

Political groups are not eligible for tax-exempt status.

HOWTO: Come out as a Douchebag

It’s easy! In a needlessly fawning profile in a more or less worthless glossy for the rich and shallow, be quoted thusly:

  • “Houston has a crush on Austin.” Seriously?
  • “In L.A., there’s like a thousand food trucks [. . .] so I wanted to bring that here.” Well, thank god for that; God knows there were NO food trucks AT ALL before this clown showed up OH WAIT.

I’ve been to Bermudez’s “flagship” bar, Royal Oak, once — but only as a meeting spot for the Karbach Brews Cruise monthly bike ride. At 6, it was okay, but it’s also pretty clear that by 8 or 9 it’d be completely jam packed with wall-to-wall douchebros.

I will say this: the article IS useful for providing a list of spots to skip if one wishes to avoid funding this kind of weaselry: Royal Oak; the new Pistolero; a variety of resale shops on Westheimer; and the Koagie Hots and Golden Grill trucks. Me, I’ll spend my money with the Clumsy Butchers.

My bet is you can’t find a cooler sounding language than this

This video shows a native Zulu speaker discussing the local shibboleths used to tell local from foreigner.

Also, this may be the only time EVER I use the word “shibboleth” in its Biblical sense. Which is cool.

I was going to describe it as the “original, literal sense,” but that would be wrong; as you may recall from bible school or the West Wing, the term is actually a Hebrew word that was difficult to pronounce properly for nonnative Hebrew speakers:

Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right . Judges 12:6

It wasn’t a made-up word; it meant “the part of the plant with grain in it.”

Exhibit Eleventy Billion in People v. Microsoft


Screen Shot 2013 06 03 at 6 07 49 PM

“But Chief Heathen,” you must be wondering, “surely there’s a preference screen or something where you can change it to something sensible!”

You’d be wrong. Check it out. While it will, apparently, respect the formatting of text pasted into a sticky, the default is hardcoded and cannot be changed short of really goofy hacks.


By contrast:

Screen Shot 2013 06 03 at 6 07 00 PM

Moreover, you can create a new default at any time by formatting a note’s color, font, etc., any old way you like, and then choosing “Note -> Use as Default” from the menu bar.