Fiery Feeds

The category of RSS readers is one of those categories of apps on the app store that has one genre-defining member: Reeder. Iconic design (if not “opinionated”, as the say), advanced gesture control, packed with features, polished to perfection.

It is hard to be an avid reader of RSS feeds and not, sooner or later, come across Reeder on iOS or macOS. It is hard to find any flaws in the app. Granted, Synchronisation with the feed source may not be the fastest in the industry. Reeder doesn’t get updated very often1. Finally, for extracting truncated feeds, Reeder relies entirely on Readability being up and running.

Which it sometimes isn’t. In one of those periods of Readbility being down for a longer period of time, just a couple of days ago, I thought it would be the time to check out another RSS reader app that’s in my “Upshots” folder of apps that show potential but may not already be there.

Enter Fiery Feeds. I have it on both my iPad and my iPhone for a couple of months already, and used it here and there2. My early days with Fiery Feeds were not so much convincing, and every time I gave it a spin I returned to Reeder within the course of minutes.

However, Fiery Feeds gets updated frequently. And those updates, over time, really make a difference. Like I mentioned, Readbility had some downtime and I started to use Fiery Feeds instead. And this time it stuck, maybe because of Readability‘s prolonged outage I was motivated to spend the time to use Fiery Feeds in earnest, as opposed to halfheartedly doodle around until the real deal was back.

Let’s get this out of the way: Fiery Feeds is way less polished and perfect than Reeder, not even close. I had a hard time coming from Reeder, where you can start a swipe from anywhere on the screen and the app will just get it. Fiery feeds, in contrast, follows the general iOS pattern of recognizing swipes initiated from the edge of the screen only.

On the plus side3, Fiery Feeds is crazy customizable in terms of the reading experience, even in comparison with the generous amount of options provided by Reeder. Control over the options is also more fine-granular than the corresponding approach in Reeder. Also, full-screen reading in landscape mode, something I was missing more and more while using Reeder.

Reeder‘s sidebar is quite spacious, and that leaves only so much room for the article. Fiery Feeds gives you options to control the width of the sidebar in three steps. Set the sidebar’s width to “narrow” if you like that better. And it is possible to hide the sidebar from the article view entirely with the tap of a button.

Fiery Feeds doesn’t rely on Readability for extracting text from (truncated) feeds. The app relies on a server run by the developer that uses open-source software modules for text extraction. It is possible to choose between two different modules with different extraction characteristics.

I have to say that the results in terms of extracted text is quite good, in some cases the result is better than what Readability comes up with. Across all my feeds, I can totally live with the results.

Fiery Feeds has my recommendation, even if I may return to Reeder at some point. Let’s see.

  1. But hey, what’s the point of updating something that’s already perfect. 
  2. I think I was initially tipped off by the Twitter feed of Gabe over at Macdrifter
  3. And I have to say that this is really big in my books. I’m a sucker for customizable apps. 

Programming Sucks

Remember that stuff about crazy people and bad code? The internet is that except it’s literally a billion times worse. Websites that are glorified shopping carts with maybe three dynamic pages are maintained by teams of people around the clock, because the truth is everything is breaking all the time, everywhere, for everyone. Right now someone who works for Facebook is getting tens of thousands of error messages and frantically trying to find the problem before the whole charade collapses. There’s a team at a Google office that hasn’t slept in three days. Somewhere there’s a database programmer surrounded by empty Mountain Dew bottles whose husband thinks she’s dead. And if these people stop, the world burns. Most people don’t even know what sysadmins do, but trust me, if they all took a lunch break at the same time they wouldn’t make it to the deli before you ran out of bullets protecting your canned goods from roving bands of mutants.

If you are in the market for reading some crazy rant, read this. It goes like that from top to bottom.

Signature Feature

For me, the signature feature of iOS 9 was Night Shift. On iOS 10, it is the support for multilingual keyboards. Once you have it, you’re not looking back.


I read books on my iPad, quite a lot of them. I switched to eBooks full time years ago and haven’t looked back. Beside the ubiquity of having your books always with you, a main factor always was that I just don’t have the space to store the necessary number of dead-tree copies in addition to all the physical books accumulated from decades of reading, it is just not possible1.

Therefore, eBooks were a godsend for me. I could read as much as I want and still not need further shelve space. I get my books partly from Amazon (and read them via the Kindle app) and partly from iBooks. Both of these apps allow for a limited amount of customization, in other words: it is possible to adapt the reading experience to your liking by setting a dedicated font face or line spacing.

However, the amount of possible customization is rather limited. I understand that the vast majority of readers is probably OK with the options, many of them will probably not even use a single option for customization ever and just go on with the default settings.

Probably on the basis of usage intelligence, both Apple and Amazon seem to think that there’s enough ways to customize for everyone, but I personally disagree. I would really like to be able to set my favorite fonts, and not just be confronted by a limited amount of options that are all terrible (and that’s it).

Of course, there are reader apps on the App Store that support the amount of customization that I would like to see in an eBook reader. The most notable examples from my point of view are Marvin and Hyphen. I have used both apps, and Marvin came out as my favorite reading app.

A while ago, I bought a copy of Matt Gemmell‘s first novel, “Changer“. I purchased my copy in Matt’s web store and opted for the ePub version to read it in Marvin. I liked the novel, and much more I liked the reading experience. Man, I wish that Amazon and Apple would open up their apps for more customization, it was a real joy to read the book in Marvin.

I will continue to use Marvin to read e.g. programming books from O’Reilly or user manuals for various software tools (for example DEVONthink) that are offered in ePub format. I wish that more novels would also be available in non-DRM ePub, but that is probably just wishful thinking.

Of course, it may also be possible for publishers to wrap their DRM in a library and open that for third-party ePub readers, but that is probably not realistic due to the market share of third-party readers2.

Anyway, Marvin has my recommendation and I am looking forward to any future features it may come up with.

  1. Yes, I know, libraries are a thing. However, my reading taste is not in the mainstream of most of the libraries in my accessible range. 
  2. I don’t have any numbers, but I guess that the sum of all third party readers is still in the low one-digit percentage. 

Pocket Casts 6

I bought my copy of Pocket Casts years ago when (I think) my favorite podcast client was Downcast. It may very well have been the first version of Pocket Casts, I don’t remember exactly. Anyway, I tried it out and gave up after a couple of hours. It just didn’t fit my podcast managing habits.

Time went by, and Downcast was replaced by Overcast. And then, a couple of weeks ago, version 6 of Pocket Casts was released to the public. I took this opportunity to have a closer look at the new app.

Remembering my previous experience, I think I had an issue with the fact that the “Up Next” list in Pocket Casts did not allow for a reordering of episodes or something along that line. Anyway, this issue is now gone and reordering is sufficiently supported.

Also, I have embraced the idea of (where it makes sense to me) manually adding new episodes to the “Up Next” list1. It is a nice way to triage even a larger list of new episodes and decide which ones shall be added to the “Up Next” list and which ones shall be reconsidered later.

In my opinion, this is an alternative approach to the “killer feature” of the currently a lot of buzz around the “hyped” new version of Castro. Reviewers rave about how innovative the triaging of podcast episodes in Castro is. I think Pocket Casts also does a good job in this discipline.

Also, video podcasts. Upon using Pocket Casts more intensely, I used the “Discover” feature to find a podcast of a TV show I used to watch years ago.

Turns out, I watch the episodes of the video podcast entirely on my iPad while I listen to audio podcast mostly on the iPhone2. When I’m using the iPad, I mostly have an Internet connection set up and therefore it is no problem to stream. Whereas, on the iPhone I download everything I want to listen to. Different preferences on different devices that can be set for each device individually without being automatically being synced between devices.

What is synced is the list of subscriptions and the playing position, which totally makes sense to me.

Pocket Casts supports trimming intervals of silence (this feature is named “Trim Silence” in Pocket Casts) from the playback and it also supports a setting where voice is made more prominently (“Volume Boost”). Admittedly, both features have been successfully pioneered by Overcast. However, the implementation in Pocket Casts is in my opinion absolutely comparable to Overcast‘s output.

Pocket Casts, in comparison to Overcast, does a much better job of displaying the statistics (e.g. minutes of “life time” gained by suppressing intervals of silence). I have never been able to make Overcast show me those numbers. I understand that they should be visible in the settings, but in practice they just don’t.

I should also mention that bugs can still be found in the app. For example, I had several episodes of one podcast that all play for exactly 15 minutes3. Pocket Casts, however, came to all sorts of conclusions about the length of the episode. For different episodes, I have got all results from the correct 15 minutes up to 44(!) minutes displayed in the scrubber. Needless to say that the episodes will still finish at the 15 minute mark.

I tried the same episodes in other clients, and they listed the correct value of the episode length. I guess it is safe to say that the actual files seem to be OK, and the blame goes rightfully to Pocket Casts.

To sum up, I think I will keep Pocket Casts as my preferred podcast client for now, Before I decided to switch clients on an experimental basis, I never thought that any client will replace Overcast as the number 1. Pocket Casts, so it is quite an achievement that Pocket Casts made it so far.

  1. There is also a per-podcast option to automatically add new episodes to the “Up Next” list, and I use it for two shows that have rather short episodes and to which I want to listen anyway. 
  2. The ration of listening to audio podcasts between iPhone and iPad is probably around something like 80:20. 
  3. That’s because these episodes are effectively radio features that can be downloaded as a podcast. 

Blogging sans Octopress, for now

For the last couple of years I have occasionally1 published articles on my blog, powered by Octopress.

The frequency of creating new articles was partly determined by the fact that, using Octopress, I inevitably need a Mac to prepare a post for publication.

Typically, I would reasearch, draft, and edit an article in my spare time on an iOS device. After that, the article would be transferred to a waiting state until I got the time, leisure, and access to my Mac to start the publishing process.

It may sound weird, but in some cases the time between finishing the article preparation and the actual publishing becomes significant.

Sadly, I even don’t even have a Mac any longer, it died a couple of weeks ago2.

Coincidentally, I have been toying around with the idea of a blogging platform that (in contrast to Octopress) allows for direct publication from an iOS device for the last couple of months. Therefore, this is the “perfect” opportunity to finally set up a WordPress site and start kicking its tires3.

As an avid blog reader myself, I have come across some high-profile “role models” on the Internet where one can get some inspirations and ideas for setting up the own work flow.

Ben Brooks, for example, has recently switched to iOS full time and uses the iOS version of Ulysses as the primary writing tool for publishing on his blog.

I have used Ulysses before, and quite like it. It’s a solid writing tool that has gotten support for directly pubishing articles on a WordPress site. So, Ulysses it will be for the time I’ll be checking the option of having a WordPress blog.

At the end, I may go on with the WordPress blog and just keep my Octopress site online to not break any links, or I may even end up working on both platforms. Time will tell.

  1. In hindsight, I have never found into a habit of publishing daily, or even weekly. 
  2. I don’t think I’ll get a new machine until Apple presents new models of the MacBook pro and until I have gotten to the conclusion that those are not. lemons. 
  3. I seriously have no idea where this will lead to. I guess I’ll just get going and see how I feel about it after some time.