Quirky content considerations in RSS feeds

The separators I’ve been putting between each of the week’s end notes are HR elements styled as 3 blue dots. This is one of those seamless finishing touch things Gutenberg offers.

When output on the front-end of my site, several classes are added to the HR element so that it is styled properly:

<hr class="wp-block-separator has-text-color has-background has-vivid-cyan-blue-background-color has-vivid-cyan-blue-color is-style-dots" />

The style is then applied to a pseudo element:

.wp-block-separator.is-style-dots::before { .... }

This effectively accounts for a nice display in all modern browsers without me having to think about it.

When distributed via a feed, the styles are not included. The HR element remains, but feed readers may strip several of the classes that they aren’t using. This is similar to how email clients process HTML email.

Each feed reader makes its own decisions about this. The web version of Feedly includes the HR as a strong solid line with the wp-block-separator class intact. Feedly’s Android app appears to hide it entirely.

I’ve taken quick looks at Feedbin, Inoreader, Newsblur, and NetNewsWire and they all treat HR similarly: various shaded styles of a solid line.

Really, the only problematic one of these is Feedly’s Android app. Removing the hard line modifies the contextual display of each note. A reader may be confused when one line having to do with apples is suddenly another discussing beer.

One answer could be to replace HR elements in the feed output with an image that represents the break, but that seems a little silly. I like what Phil Gyford does with his week notes. Each starts with a § character that also acts as an anchor for direct linking. It’s probably more helpful to pursue an approach like that instead of altering the HTML just for the feed.

Another goofy example is emojis. WordPress provides full support for the capture and storage of emojis as well as a compatibility layer using the Twemoji project. This layer replaces raw emojis in content with hosted images on s.w.org. The pizza emoji becomes this in the feed:

<img src="https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/12.0.0-1/72x72/1f355.png" alt="{actual pizza emoji}" class="wp-smiley" style="height: 1em; max-height: 1em;" />

The alt text has an actual pizza emoji in it, but if I put it there, it gets replaced with an image, so that code blurb becomes its own mini pizza recursion.

What’s cute about this is when a feed reader (or other source) tries to find an image that it can display alongside an article. If the only image in the article is this emoji, then things appear in an interesting way.

A screenshot of this site’s feed in Newsblur.

I’m not sure yet what to do about this. I’ll probably try to disable the emoji replacement in the feed to see what happens. I think in general it will be okay, though it does rely on the feed reader storing the data properly and on peoples’ browsers and devices supporting emoji. The biggest impact this has is probably on Windows browsers, though it seems like support is generally available now.

That’s all I have for now. I’m sure there are more. I just need to keep adding elements to blog posts and watching for the effects. 🙂

Trying out Micro.blog

Services like Micro.blog should spend more time telling everyone about features like “oh, by the way, we have a dedicated discovery page for posts about pizza“. 🍕

That kind of pitch and I would have signed up for an account 2 years ago.

Here I am discovering new things though.

I got here because of a series of articles. I started reading “Twitter to decentralize… something” after having it open in a tab for a few days. And while I nodded along to that quite a bit, there was a link to another post titled “Open gardens” that I really nodded along to.

The issue isn’t that Twitter doesn’t care. It’s instead a design flaw in the platform. Because tweets don’t exist outside of Twitter, when you’re banned from Twitter, you need to start over with a new format or on a new social network. For this reason, and because their business depends on a large user base, Twitter is hesitant to throw anyone off their service. They’re unwilling to tend the garden for fear of pulling too many weeds.

– Manton Reece, Open gardens

That paragraph had me hooked, but it still wasn’t until the middle of the post when the author mentioned the Micro.blog Kickstarter that I connected the dots to whom I was reading. Paragraphs like those are the gotchas when you’ve heard about a service but haven’t paid enough attention and now you know you really should check it out.

It’s not over.

At the end of that article was a link to yet another, “The way out“, linked to as “the way forward“, an exceptional play on title and URL that caused me to open the link twice because I wasn’t sure I had clicked the right thing.

This one talks more about Micro.blog in the context of content ownership and hones in on a good difference between it and things like Mastadon: (emphasis mine)

Mastodon helps by encouraging smaller social networks, distributing the task of moderation, but doesn’t prioritize content ownership. An account on an instance like Mastodon.social has no more ownership of its content than an account on Twitter. Both let you export your data but both live at someone else’s domain name.

– Manton Reece, “The way out

A link then drops to “Starting a new photo blog“. At this point I’m thinking to myself how excellent of a series of perfectly placed links this has been because here I am on blog post four and I’ve read every post and often when this happens those tabs sit unread for weeks!

That post is great and it was cool to see how easy it is to import past Instagram posts into Micro.blog using the MacOS app. There’s also a nice looking Sunlit app for iOS that I won’t be able to use, but I’m definitely interested in giving this all a shot.

When I left Instagram, one of the final triggering events was my discovery of the open-source and hosted service pixelfed. I setup an account and immediately declared it was the replacement I would use. I posted a few photos, followed a couple people, added the site as a home screen bookmark so that it would be app like, and then…

Forgot to login after a few days.

The browser cookies expired and I had to login again, and I had that ownership question poking in my brain—If I start adding photos here, how long will it be before I have to move them somewhere else.

Still a little upset about URL shorteners in general and especially 2009, the year I used tr.im for everything 😞

Me, on Twitter a few weeks ago

Of course there’s more history.

Way way back in 2009, Posterous (post.ly) was a thing. A year before Instagram came around, a lot of people had photo blogs and Posterous made it easy to post via email or web. In 2012, the team was acquired by Twitter, and in 2013 the service was shut down.

A custom domain at Posterous made it easy for me to move to self hosted with working post.ly 301 redirects. Happy for that. Own your stuff.

Me, on Twitter almost 7 years ago

Luckily, Posterous was cool in that you could point a domain of your own to your account so that jeremys.posterous.com was really posterous.jeremyfelt.com. When they shut down, I was able to export all of my data and have control over the redirects. I imported everything into WordPress, setup redirects to posts and now I can still go back and see how absolutely horrid a Blackberry Pearl’s camera was 10 years ago.

Here we are several years later.

Even though I’ve seen how these cycles go, I’ve published a whole bunch of content so that if I move it somewhere else, I break every reference to it.

Instagram was never web friendly anyway, so there are barely any references—you couldn’t even link to photos within the app.

Twitter, on the other hand—even though it’s perfectly fine to treat it as an ephemeral stream and just delete it all—has also been a log of work, feelings, annoyances, experiences, and all kinds of junk that becomes fun to look back at every once and a while.

That’s going to suck when Twitter shuts down or everyone stops using it.

So. I should learn that lesson a bit here while also being open to trying new hosted services that seem to be driven by good people. I setup a Micro.blog account and pointed a sub-domain at it. Thanks to my HSTS configuration on this root domain (jeremyfelt.com), I need to wait just a bit… 🛌

Ok. I’m back to finish the post, and only two weeks later!

It was getting late and I had to request an HTTPS certificate for micro.jeremyfelt.com from the Micro.blog team. Manton actually replied early the next morning and had the cert and domain all configured for me. I also received a very welcoming set of replies to my first post from the Micro.blog community. All great touches!

I then got busy with not being busy for the holiday and left all these tabs and this post open with the intention of finishing every day since.

I’m going to figure out the right way to incorporate this into my flow now. I think I’ll start by trying to import my Instagram archive. Then I’ll need to work out a mobile solution and determine how this may all fit as a separate piece from my main site.

In an ideal world, if this all works out, most of my tweets will originate at micro.jeremyfelt.com and then syndicate out to Twitter according to some criteria. Or I’ll find some entirely new use for it that takes me away from Twitter for good. Let’s see what happens!

Thoughts for the week's end

Once a week, on no particular day, I’ll manually navigate to the latest Books that made me piece at The Guardian. I’m a sucker for others’ perspectives on books.

Sometimes this happens in a browser. Other times through the app. I have no bookmark or reminder. I tap, click, and scroll through the various screens that get me there.

I can’t think of another habit like this that I consistently remember to do weekly without any kind of prompt or set schedule.

The late-in-the-year view of Orion from our front yard in Pullman can be pretty astounding. It is definitely the clearest of constellations in a sky that suffers from only a small amount of light pollution—nowhere near as much as a large city.

It’s been fun seeing what appears to be an almost annual round of articles covering Betelgeuse, one of the stars of Orion and one of the sky’s brightest, and its eventual transition to supernova.

How cool would it be if that were to actually happen in our lifetime? I know I would quickly become a telescope owner.

Sometimes there are a couple pages in a book that are so good you just want to hang out there for a while.

It’s fun to save some habits in taste for later in life. Only in the last year have I really started to seek out espresso drinks with milk in them and just this month started making them at home. Now, especially when traveling, I’ll look for places with an excellent machiatto or flat white rather than a standard doppio.

Straight espresso still provides the best flavor IMO, but there’s a fun complexity—and a few extra calories to maybe avoid the jitters?—with milk.

One memorable part of Moby-Dick is when Ishmael takes a turn at a masthead and talks about dozing on watch. Emphasis mine:

But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at midday, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

A vortex, though not really Descartian, is also covered in Natalia Ginzburg’s Lessico famigliare, when she discusses the suicide of her friend, Italian author Cesare Pavese:

As soon as the war was over, we were immediately afraid that another war would start and we thought about it obsessively. He was more afraid than any of the rest of us, however, of another war. For him, fear was the vortex of the unknown and the unexpected, and horrendous to his clear thinking: dark poisoned waters swirling against the barren shores of his life.

Natalia Ginzburg, Lessico famigliare

Happy week’s end! 🐳

Working through “How to blog?”

I’ve established that the way I have WP setup does not align with the blogging experience I’d like to have and I need to find a way to fix that because Twitter and Instagram don’t deserve it all but that’s where I’ve been putting it.

A tweet of mine from September, after spending a few weeks off Twitter

I’m not even sure if “blog” is the right term anymore, but it’s the term I have. How to share thoughts and narrate work?

Workflow objectives. On my phone, I want a low barrier interface for posting something. This may be a photo, video, link, or text. This needs to be as quick and seamless as Instagram or Twitter. I would prefer this happens through a website I own rather than an app I don’t.

I’ve used Twitter’s PWA rather than the app long enough to know I don’t need an app for this.

On my laptop, I want to spend time focused on writing and editing text-heavy content. Simple formatting, linking, and text manipulation should be straight-forward.

Own the content; own the code. I should own the content I post and the code I use to post it. As an example, I have the liberty of licensing everything on this site under the CC BY-SA 4.0 International License. This is not a liberty I (explicitly) have when posting content to most platforms owned by others.

Own the domain. The trade-off for fluid interfaces and networks like Twitter and Instagram is the domain. If Twitter goes away tomorrow, anything referencing that content no longer references anything. This may be fine for some material—there’s absolutely an argument for being able to mark content explicitly ephemeral so that it disappears into the ether—but that’s an individual’s decision rather than a platform’s decision.

So how do I get there? I guess the good news is that I already have a domain and I already own this content. I mostly need to establish workflow.

When I write for Waxy.org, I write directly in WordPress’s new Gutenberg editor, which is now on par with Medium as a best-of-class writing environment for the web.

Andy Baio, from his “uses this” interview

I like the sentiment expressed by Andy, and I really do enjoy seeing people enjoy using WordPress. I’m also confused because I don’t have the same “best-of-class” experience. Something about the way I write and edit a post—almost always entirely in text—doesn’t align with how Gutenberg treats data.

I can’t select text across paragraphs. I can’t easily maneuver text around. I can’t casually drop links into a new post without an attempted embed appearing.

Almost every time I write a post with more than two simple paragraphs, I find an annoyance that causes me to stop and determine whether I want to go through the process of reporting a bug.

This is not in any way meant to be a dig at Gutenberg or the team working on it. I love the possibilities that it opens up for building sites and I’m excited about the future. It’s okay that WordPress’s goals do not align with “how Jeremy writes”. 🙈

This also isn’t new. Editors are hard to make and bugs are a chore to report.

So no I don’t think Gutenberg, which is a new text editor for WordPress, is the answer [to a writer’s flow]. It is the answer to other problems, how to mix text and other elements in a blog post.

– Dave Winer, “Flow in WordPress for writers

I connected with this recent post by Dave and I think “flow” is probably a good term for what I’m looking for. I’d like to be able to get into the groove of writing without an interface built around blocks interrupting me at every turn.

My favorite writing interface on the web right now is Dropbox Paper. It allows for basic formatting, provides a large blank page, and is very fast and comfortable in Firefox—something Google Docs is not.

My favorite writing interface outside of the web is Ulysses, which I’ve been using to draft posts and organize other writings and thoughts.

Neither option satisfies my objective to own the code, though at least Ulysses is something local rather than hosted and creates markdown documents I can manipulate and move elsewhere if needed.

It is somewhat strange to me after all these years to write content outside of the place I’ll be reading it, but maybe that’s the kind of workflow I should be exploring.

Markdown files can be converted into HTML with any number of static site generators. I could still use WordPress database tables and create my own editor for posts, separate from pages—though if I choose that, what is the “best-of-class” open source writing experience?

I also wonder if there’s room in my brain and schedule to vote with my ideological feet and start playing with smaller tools to try and figure out which might be better for encouraging writing and communication.

There’s probably a level to this where I need to figure out what’s best for my workflow while also finding something that I would like to be engaged with. Maybe I just need to start tossing things around and talking about how they connect.

I don’t know!

In any case. This is something I’m still working on figuring out and this post itself is probably useful as a general ask in addition to a general thinking exercise.

If you have open source tools you use as part of a writing workflow that you think are particularly good, please let me know. ✌🏻

An initial Cosmic Crisp apple flavor index

I have now eaten many Cosmic Crisp® apples since their release to the apple buying public at the beginning of December. My Cosmic Crisp Consumption Count (CCCC) is probably around 30 individual apples.

Almost every apple I consume goes through a handheld apple corer slicer tool (there’s really no better name for it) and I’m left with 8 perfect slices of apple and no bothersome core.

I noticed an unpleasant bitter flavor on a particularly large apple early in the month and was confused because until then every apple was perfect. I played around with each slice: tasting sections of the apple to figure out where the bitter was coming from.

It seems that as the apple gets larger, so does the general core (obviously) and that the bitter flavor comes from being too close to that core.

So with this knowledge in hand, I started paying closer attention and created the following absolutely scientific Cosmic Crisp apple flavor index.

You’re welcome.

  • Small, less than 225g: Very sweet, missing some of the trademark tartness.
  • Medium, in the neighborhood of 250g: Perfect. Sweet with a lingering tartness.
  • Large, over 300g: Bitter in the middle if you get too close to the core. Sweet on the outside.

Of course now that I’ve established this index, the Cosmic Crisp is disappearing from store shelves for the year and I’m back to a standard Honeycrisp. But at least I’m prepared!