Free to read

Beer and Computers
“Free” as in “How the HELL do I pay my rent?”

“What is ‘RSS?'”  Pooh asked, as if he’d forgotten how to use a search engine, which once again, he had.

“It’s short for ‘Rich Site Summary'” said Christopher Robin, though he liked to tell people it meant “Really Simple Syndication.” But he just couldn’t be mean to his friend like that.

“All the new information from a web site gets put into a ‘feed’ that you can read without having to go to the site and wade through all the advertising and bad design.  It’s a great way to get just the news from news sites, or blog posts, or any content from sites that update often. You can collect and read all  your feeds in one place, which allows you to organize, filter and read a lot of information from a lot of sources very quickly.”

“So it’s like a FaceyTwitPlusR newsfeedticker?”  asked Pooh, quoting Buddha, or maybe it was Ghandi.  Or Oprah.  Evs.

“Well, it’s the other way around–those are kind of like what you can do with RSS if you aren’t very clever and like seeing the same thing over and over”  said Christopher Robin, photographing his cat eating lunch.  

“You don’t sound very much like yourself today, Christopher Robin.”  said Pooh.  “You sound kind of like a cranky person who just had a tooth removed and is very tired of yoghurt and Jell-o and smoothies just wants something crunchy something goddamn crunchy for chissake is every ad on TV for goddamn crunchy goddamn things? “

“No, I’m afraid I don’t sound much like myself at all, and it was a terrible idea to think that I would.  I’m sorry.”  said Christopher Robin, who was in no mood to think of a better character to use.

“Let’s never do this again.” said Pooh.  And they never did.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to use Bloglines, which was an online RSS aggregator. That means that I signed up for an account, which was free, and then I subscribed to a bunch of RSS feeds, and then I could read and save the articles in those feeds on the Bloglines site.  That was really cool, because I could read my feeds from any computer that had an Interweresds connection.

Bloglines closed down, and then it didn’t, over and over.  I left the first time it closed.  I then started using Google Reader, which was pretty much exactly the same service as Bloglines, except I didn’t like the interface as much.  It worked just fine, but Google services are really a trade-off:  On one hand, the services are usually really good, and really reliable, for as long as Google feels like providing them.  On the other hand, it’s not much work to find the same services that don’t track and push advertising in my face all the time.

The other hand won, so I started using a desktop RSS feed reader. There are about infinity of these—you can get RSS feeds in your email client or through your web browser or whatever, if you want.  I was using a dedicated client for the Mac called Vienna, which is FOSS, and worked just great for me.

I don’t like being tied to one machine though, and I have hosting for my domains, so I knew that eventually I would want to set up my own web-based RSS reader on it.  I wanted something like Reader or Bloglines, that I could get at from anywhere, but not dependent on the whims of the pretend Inderenet “market.”

Then the power supply on my Mac let go.  That forced me to do something, because I couldn’t use Vienna to read my feeds.  Necessity is a mother, and all that.

I looked at a bunch of options.  I wanted Open Source stuff, and not just because I am cheap and clever and rugged and brave and very very handsome.  Generally when (when) the developer bails on an Open Source project, there is at least the chance that someone will pick it up, or at least document how to get your stuff out of it. With very few exceptions, when (WHEN) companies bail on closed-source, commercial software (or versions thereof), they give it  two to the chest and one to the head, lock the remains in a vault protected by ninja lawyers, and act like it never existed.

I didn’t want to get screwed AGAIN by some third party’s business plan, or lack thereof.

I quickly discovered the limitations of my hosting.  It’s running old versions of PHP, PostgreSQL and My SQL.  Most folks developing stuff will make it work with the current version of those packages, or only be one or two point versions behind. As a result, I couldn’t install the current versions of pretty much ANY web-based RSS reader I found. This is not the fault of the developers—in fact, it’s a virtue—but it meant more work for me.

Eventually, I found Tiny Tiny RSS.  It is small and light and simple and works very well.

Or at least, the version I am using does.  Because of my elderly PHP and database installs, I can not run Tiny Tiny RSS in a standard–or recommended–configuration.  Here are the problems, and how I solved them:

  • My PHP version is too old.  I found this very useful site by a person who has hacked/patched Tiny Tiny RSS to use older versions of PHP.  It works!  That is very cool, and I’m glad there are folks like this out there.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS can use either PostgrSQL or MySQL as the backend database.  The developer, along with everyone else who has tried both, recommends PostgreSQL, because the performance is just way better (faster).The version of PostgreSQL on my hosting is too old to work with Tiny Tiny RSS, so I used MySQL.  It works!
  • The developer, along with every non-annoying person who posts on the Tiny Tiny RSS discussion board, EXPLICITLY STATES that if you run Tiny Tiny RSS on shared hosting, you are on your own.  Also, probably dumb.  I am on shared hosting.  It works—ON MY HOSTING!  This does NOT mean that it will work on any other shared hosting, and if it doesn’t, tough. About the LAST thing you should do is bitch about that, because it says RIGHT ON THE TIN not to use shared hosting.

It took about an hour to get this up and running–most of which was spent reading and tracking down ways to make this work.  It took a few more minutes to subscribe to all my feeds.  It’s been working just splendidly for a couple of weeks or so now.

To recap:  Tiny Tiny RSS is FOSS, and I am running it in a configuration that it is NOT designed for—or supported under—and everything I am doing should give me terrible performance and problems.  And it is working just fine.

That is the highest, most backhanded compliment I can think of:  I am using this software the worst way I can, and I like how it works.  I am pretty sure the developer would slap me upside the head were I to tell him this over a beer, and I would not blame him if he did.  But I would still pay for the beer, because this is great stuff.

Speaking of which, Tiny Tiny RSS is developed by ONE guy, who is doing it in what probably used to be his spare time. He also posts on the discussion board for the product’s support.  The software is free, but he does take donations. I’d be shocked (and happy) if those donations bought him even a quarter of the beer and coffee it must take just to get through the discussion board posts every day.

He’s kinda crabby on to some people on the boards—those who ask stupid questions, bitch about how this free software doesn’t do what THEY want it to, or make stupid demands—and I find that incredible.  I don’t know how he finds the time to even respond to that kind of crap. Much more patient guy than me.

Think I’ll buy him a beer.

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