Angry Robot

Fever and the Feeding Thereof

Man. I had a post ready about how I deal with feed overload.That all changed on the weekend as on Ram’s recommendation I switched to the new self-hosted feed reader, Fever.
I’ve been rocking NetNewsWire since way back in the day. I paid money for it when it first came out of beta. It’s great, it’s now free, and totally packed with features. Problem is, it hasn’t seen any new development in quite some time. I think the free Google reader took the wind out of the feed reader market. At the height of it all NNW seemed about to sprout a bunch of feed management features. Ranchero was bought by Newsgator and they had a ton of ‘other people are reading x’ capabilities and everything seemed promising and then… nothing.

To step back: the problem with feedreaders is you wind up adding too many damn feeds. You realize a feed reader allows you to check more news than you could by manually hitting all those websites. So you add more feeds. Gradually, those unread counts pile up. We’re conditioned from email to imagine missing an item as THE END OF THE WORLD, and so those unread items translate into stress.

So, inevitably, the net was awash in articles a couple years back about how to cull your feeds, sort them into priority lists, etc. etc. And at the same time, feed reader development ground to a halt.

It seemed the best way to use a feed reader was to not use it at all.

It could have gone a different way. I mean we’re sitting here using computers; perhaps the computers could step in and lend a hand and do something a little more taxing than displaying lists. The computer could determine what news is being talked about across all your feeds. Like Google News, except without the Kansas City Star and Voice of America and all the sources you don’t give a shit about.

Fever represents a step in this direction. You dump in your existing feeds, which are in typically gimmicky fashion referred to as ‘kindling.’ You are encouraged to add ‘sparks’, which is to say, link-heavy, high noise-to-signal feeds you might otherwise ignore. Fever then scans the feed data to determine which links are being referenced the most. It presents this to you in the ‘hot’ list, which is sorted by most inbound links:


The idea – and it is a noble one – is that you can at a glance get a sense of the biggest news items being talked about, sorted by priority. The other associated ideas are a) this diminishes the need for unread counts (although they can be toggled on globally or individually), and b) this works better the more feeds you throw at it. Get it? you “feed a fever”. This calculus of optimal sources to perfectly tailored hot list is actually really fun to set up. Presented with a list that was too tech video game heavy, I went looking for film and news sites. Fever isn’t a feed reader, it’s a feed management game.

Ready for the downsides? Fever, an idiosyncratic app if ever there was one, has many. It costs $30. It’s a web app that must be installed on your own server. The only portable option is a less-than stellar iPhone web view. And for best results, and for the iPhone version to be at all useful, you have to set up a cron job. I had never had reason to do that before.

I can live with all of those issues. (I’m confident the iPhone view will see improvements – hopefully its own app.) The biggest drawback though, as mentioned here, is that Fever only sorts according to links. Sure, this is the web and links are the currency. I duly note the idealism. However, actual real life feeds often fall short of our ideals. For one, find me a newspaper feed with a goddamn hyperlink in it. For two, many feeds (like the link-rich Greencine Daily) only give excerpts, and Fever sees only that and not the full post. Fever works well on tech news and the like, and falls short with real life news where there may be no definitive hyperlink.

This could be fixed. Can small developer Shaun Inman add headline-parsing algorithms that rival the goliath Google News? It would be awesome, and I hope so, but I have no idea. Frankly, I feel we need legitimate personal data sorting tools that don’t involve huge friend lists and massive privacy violations. News is not the only area of our lives in which we grapple with data overload, and Fever is an excellent new weapon that just needs a few tweaks.

Now does anyone know any good news blogs with lots of links?


Saw Bruno on the weekend. It’s got some hilarious parts, but it seems almost like a collection of skits that would be better enjoyed on YouTube.

It’s almost all embarassement humour in the same mold as Borat. Part of the time Bruno is successfully provoking and lampooning hetero gay panic. But often he is doing this by playing into straight stereotypes of gays. I think my favourite scenes were at the beginning, when the victim of the meatspace trolling was the fashion industry, and not so much later in the movie, when the victims are southern US men. In general Bruno felt a lot staler a character than Borat – we’ve all seen hilarious gay stereotypes in our entertainments before, and we don’t need Bruno to point out that yes, wrestling is pretty gay.

The Most Interesting Nerd in the World

Video, from Hardcore Nerdity.

He can speak Elvish – in Klingon.
(via the King of Canadian sci-fi Mark Askwith)

Dear World,




Al Jazeera's Detroit Doc

Take a look at this rather good half-hour doc about Detroit from Al-Jazeera’s English station. This one is hosted/narrated by Avi Lewis. It’s a little too newsy and focused on the auto crisis for my tastes, but it’s pretty excellent. Isn’t Grace Lee Boggs a total champ?

Not that I’m a massive Nader fan, but he apparently has a point about GM using bankruptcy to move its operations to China, which is actually fairly scandalous. Anyway, take a look.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Vote for Yrs. Truly in the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge Thing, Please

Dear Robot Readers,

I could use your help with something. I have a film in this year’s Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge. (I admit it, I’m a huge nerd.) It’s called “Bad Day For Vader”, and I’d love it if you voted for it. It’s only a minute long so that part ain’t hard, but you may have to register on atom first – not sure. You should be done in a couple minutes regardless.

Those of you with weblogs, newspapers, megaphones and/or skywriting businesses, I’d also appreciate your help spreading the word.

Voting stops at noon on friday, so if you could, make haste!

Here’s the link

Thanks and I owe you one.

Lonely Robots Art Show


Ooo, my robot heart just throbbed a little at this: “Showcasing the talents of some of our favourite artists from Toronto (and one from Sweden), over 20 illustrators, painters, sculptors, graphic designers, photographers and a blacksmith have produced a stunning array of work with LONELY ROBOTS as the theme.”

Lonely Robots – group art show

It opens at Magic Pony sat. the 16th of july.

Cop Notice

Saw this for the first time on YouTube today:


My copywriting mind went immediately to how police state/patronizing this sounds, and how it could be rewritten to sound less so. “This audio track violates copyright laws, so it has been disabled” seems slightly better, but there’s no way around it seeming like a dick move by YouTube. Because it is. A better mechanism might be to disable copyright-breaking works* only once they breach a certain viewership, say 100,000 views. This video has only 450 views – why bother messing with that?

*At that point, it seems like everyone is better served if an ad-revenue sharing deal is worked out, and the work kept intact.

GH1 Update 2

Dude Buys the Singing Fish

I love the feel of this camera in the hands. I love old school film cameras with all their manual doohickeys and I don’t like bad digital compacts with all the navigating poorly-laid-out on-screen menus. This thing has got old school buttons and levers, and where you need to go into menus, they are very well designed. The flip-out LCD is from heaven. Only thing I don’t like is the absence of focus marks on the lens. Still getting used to manual focusing with this bastard – the autofocus is good, so I’m not complaining too much.

It takes a bit to get used to the video. I got into the stills part right away. As I mentioned I have plenty of experience with shooting stills, and so I saw the improvements a camera like this makes possible right away.

On the video capture side I have few skills, other than general knowledge of photography (well, plus a wealth of skills in post, but that’s anoher matter). Also, this camera’s advantages in cinematography are tricky to unlock.

The post workflow is one thing. For me, it actually takes longer to get my tapeless footage off this camera than it did with tape. That’s because you have to convert at least once from AVCHD -> ProRes if you want Final Cut to be able to digest it (here’s one video task that may actually be better on windows systems). You need to convert again if you want to remove the 30i wrapper from your 24p footage. You can shoot slomo since the camera has a 60p mode, but that involves some trickery again.

Capture has its own challenges. I certainly saw the AVCHD ‘mud’ (compression junk as a result of the codec breaking down) that happens with fast pans. This is disappointing to say the least, and hopefully panasonic can address it in a firmware update, perhaps by upping the bit rate.

I personally needed to get a ND filter for daylight shooting; if you’re looking for ‘film look’ bokeh, you want some filters going. Once I had that I got better-looking footage.

Finally, camera shake is an issue in something this small. It’s okay if you’re shooting slomo. But if not, you either want to stay wide or get some means to stabilize this badboy. I had okay luck with the camera on my lap or otherwise propped against something, but i’m also looking into either a shoulder brace or steadicam-y type thing, and there are many options that I’m still shopping around for.

Once you figure out some of these things, you can get some excellent results. Here’s two vids of test footage. (You can’t watch them in HD through these embeds, so perhaps click through to the vimeo pages.) Here’s an early, not great one:

GH1 test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

I’m happy with the footage on our back patio (the girls chatting), but little else. That footage looks great because the camera’s stabilized, I’m able to get some bokeh, in part because it’s not too bright. The footage on queen street in direct sunlight is pre-ND filter and so the aperture is closed down, meaning there’s too much DOF. A lot of it was too shaky to use, too.

Here’s a later vid, with footage from Pride last sunday:

Pride 2009 Camera Test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

As you can see, the slomo works great. It smooths out the camera jitter awesomely. Also, I had the ND filter by then, and it was cloudy, so backgrounds are all pretty n’ soft. I look at some of these shots, and think I shouldn’t be able to get them, the camera being so cheap, and me being nearly unskilled.

The other nice thing is how people deal with the camera. It’s small and has the body of an SLR. I think at the AlternaQueer tent people thought I was a news photographer. And out on the street there were so many cameras I was more or less invisible. Because of the massive proliferation of cameras these days, the incredible 280mm zoom this thing can do, and the appearance of the camera’s body, I found myself able to go pretty much anywhere and take pics of anything with no problems. That was a nice surprise.

Anyway, I hope to shoot a few more tests this week as there are still things to figure out and questions to answer. Dealing with sound is one of them.