20th century email newsletters

I kept meaning to look back at some of the email newsletters I used to subscribe to in the 1990s and, with Dan Hon and Laura E. Hall’s Internet of Newsletters appearing today, I thought I should get it done.

So, here are some of the newsletters I subscribed to, back when I was happy to get more and more email, when it didn’t feel like a medium for generating tasks, which it does to me now.


From Carl Steadman, I have three emails (1.06, 1.07 and 1.08) from 1998. Carl’s site of the period is still live although the newsletter archive doesn’t work. I’m not sure how long it ran for. Here’s a taster:

Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 15:32:15 -0700 (PDT)
From: Carl Steadman <carl@freedonia.com>
Subject: <carl> 1.06: Time for Carlmail! Time for Carlmail!

Comrades! You, too, can stalwartly refuse to be culturally relevant!


Over the weekend, Carlmail died a horrible death. It happened suddenly,
without warning. Carlmail was no more.

And yet you're getting this mail right now! How can this be? Well, you
see, I have backups. Do you have backups? I have backups.

So if you haven't backed up your valuable data lately, do so now! You'll
thank me for it, later. This has been a public service announcement from
your pal, Carl.



I know, you didn't need to hear it from me, but maybe Mike Homer does.

You see, both Netmoguls and Placing were linked from the Netscape
Netcenter What's Cool page a little over a week ago.

And, based on my referrer logs, Netcenter is delivering double-digit
hits. As in, less than 100 unique visitors. From a page that's linked
right off the Netscape.com homepage.

My ass is a bigger portal.



Dave Winer published his DaveNet email newsletter from 1994 to 2004, although my only copies are from 1999. Maybe that was enough. Here’s a taste from one of them:

Date: Wed, 09 Jun 1999 14:15:29 GMT
From: dave@scripting.com (DaveNet email)
To: "DaveNet World" <davenet-world@scripting.com>
Subject: Byte and the Merc

From Scripting News... It's DaveNet! 
Released on 6/9/99; 7:15:26 AM PST

 ***Office and Jakob 

 Lots of mail from yesterday's piece about Microsoft Office 2000. 

 I also met with usability pundit Jakob Nielsen to demo our new 
 software, and to schmooze about the web, the industry and where all 
 this stuff is going. I like Jakob. We have rapport. I suggested we do a 
 radio show together. What do you think? 

 Jakob said many interesting and provocative things. Like this one. 
 "If you're an Internet user you have to have Office." 

 "Why?" I asked. "You have to have Office because you'll get Word 
 documents or Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations as 
 email enclosures, and how will you read them if you don't have the apps 
 that created them?" he asked. 

 I knew that! So, far from a last gasp it seems like these apps are here to 
 stay. Maybe the web is smaller than Microsoft? Maybe it is, and I don't 
 like it. I want the web and the world to be much much larger. 

 So, in the spirit of Linus, "I don't care, we'll just keep making our 
 software better."


I don’t know much about this, but I subscribed for nearly five years from late 1995. If I remember rightly it was a good way to get general tech news, when we were less well provided for by blogs, news sites, etc. Initially produced by Educom (“Transforming Education Through Information Technology”) who merged with Cause to create Educause in 1998. From the first issue I have:

Date: Tue, 28 Nov 1995 20:09:05 -0500 (EST)
From: Educom <educom@elanor.oit.unc.edu>
To: "EDUCOM Edupage Mailing List" <edupage@elanor.oit.unc.edu>
Subject: Edupage, 28 November 1995

Edupage, 28 Nov 95.  Edupage, a summary of news items on information
technology, is provided three times each week as a service by Educom,
a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of leading colleges and universities
seeking to transform education through the use of information technology.

        Kahn Steps Down At Borland
        Windows 95 Boosts Productivity
        Markey Wins On V-Chip
        Netcom May Be Liable In Copyright Suit
        Spamming Sparks Lawsuit
        PC Radio Days
        Cray Flips Over Teraflops 
        Network Security Moves To Front Burner

        ITU Expected To Approve 33.6 Kbps Modems
        Online Anonymity Is All Relative
        NEC PC Marketed To Game Players
        Cybercomics From Tom Clancy
        A Free Market Approach To E-Mail
        Crusade Against Cyberporn

Borland International's original "Bad Boy" Philippe Kahn is resigning Jan. 1
as chairman of the board.  Kahn says he wants to spend more time with his
new venture, Starfish Software, which is planning to develop products that
will use Sun Microsystems' Java software to enable PC users to coordinate
their personal schedules over the Web.  "Starfish has grown much faster than
we ever dreamed it would.  There are only so many hours in the day, and
being the chairman of a publicly held company is a lot of commitment," says
Kahn.  (Wall Street Journal 24 Nov 95 B3)

A test conducted by International Data Corp. shows Windows 95 users were
able to complete a series of business computing tasks 19% faster than Mac
users and 50% faster than OS/2 users.  The tasks included managing and
printing local and networked files, managing documents and software
programs, checking system resources, creating shortcuts and customizing the
desktop.  (Investor's Business Daily 27 Nov 95 A6)

The Industry Standard Intelligencer

The email newsletter of the Industry Standard print magazine that was around from 1998 to 2001. I appear to have subscribed to the emails from February 1998 to October 1999. Here’s the start of the first I have:

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 19:19:32 -0800
From: frontdesk@thestandard.net
Subject: The Industry Standard Intelligencer v1.4


February 20, 1998


     *TED Goes Big
     *Can NCI Stir with a Roux Sauce?
     *News in Review

     *Win98 Update
     *Ads auf Deutsch
     *Subscriptions Slated

     *Participate in an International Data Corp. (IDC) Survey


TED Goes Big

Richard Saul Wurman likes to describe his TED (technology, entertainment,
design) conference as the ultimate dinner party, and as the eighth edition
of the event opened Thursday at the Monterey, California, Conference
Center, that description seemed apt. There was a little bit of traditional
business conference fare--earnest executives opining about the future of
the Internet, computer innovators showing whizzy new graphics and speech
recognition technology--but mostly there was entertainment: music and movie
clips and stand-up comedy, along with a great collection of door prizes and
plenty of time for schmoozing. Forrest Sawyer told war stories about Iraq,
a historian of magic revealed some secrets, and a young woman named Aimee
Mullins stole the first day of the show with a blunt and cheerful
discussion of what it's like to be a competitive sprinter without any legs.
Day 2 began with some spectacular scientific presentations that took the
audience to the bottom of the sea and the farthest reaches of outer spa

All very diverting, no doubt, but an obvious question remains: Why do
people pay $2,500, plus lodging, for an elaborate variety show? Part of the
answer is that they can; there's nothing quite like hearing about
fascinating creative endeavors from the creators themselves. Even more
important, though, is that TED is an opportunity to rub elbows with
interesting luminaries from a variety of fields and become a part of
Wurman's elite circle of late-twentieth-century business and culture
industry movers. Traditionally, not just anyone could attend TED. Space was
limited, and even the press had to pay.

But Wurman faces a tricky balancing act in holding this all together. TED
Conferences Inc. is getting bigger--there are close to 800 attendees in
Monterey this year, many in "simulcast" rooms that offer a video feed from
the main auditorium. Last fall, there was a new TED show in New York, and
later this year is the second TEDMED show, focusing on "wellness."
Exclusivity is part of what gives TED its cachet, but that's hard to square
with the desire to grow. Wurman says, for example, that he doesn't need
press. Yet he's hired Alexander Communications, the ubiquitous high-tech PR
firm, to manage the story and a few journalists were quietly given free
tickets to the Monterey show this year, to the great irritation of some of
their brethren. This reporter was among those who got in because their
publications were sponsors; other scribes were comped because they were
speakers. The tension between elite clubbiness and expansion isn't a new
issue at the high end of the burgeoning conference business, but it's a
growing one for TED.

NTK now

NTK’s weekly UK-oriented internet news/satire/in-jokes ran from 1997 to 2007, just about, and can currently be enjoyed as repeats with an added comment. The original site is still online, although it looks like the archive is missing with its complete archive. From one of the first issues:

Date: Fri, 23 May 1997 13:33:08 +0100
From: Need To Knowbot <ntknow@spesh.com>
To: ntknowers@spesh.com
Subject: NTK 23/05/97

 _   _ _____ _  __               23/05/97       NEED TO KNOW NOW
| \ | |_   _| |/ /   _ __   _____      __ o tries to be the premier
|  \| | | | | ' /   | '_ \ / _ \ \ /\ / / o source of UK data on the
| |\  | | | | . \   | | | | (_) \ V  V /  o infotyphoon sweeping us all:
|_| \_| |_| |_|\_\  |_| |_|\___/ \_/\_/   o         IT FAILS!

         "I wrote PGP for human rights!"
                                  - PHIL ZIMMERMANN, London, 19/5/97

         "The Chaos Computer Club's credit hacking program is a
         crime against humanity!"
                                       - KIM POLESE, Oxford, 19/5/97

                        old net, new net: slight differences evident

                               >> HARD NEWS <<
                              bitter aftertaste

         NETSCAPE inched back ahead of MICROSOFT this week by
         releasing a beta of NETCASTER - software that lets Netscape
         users subscribe to (stop me if you've heard this) "channels
         of information that appear on your desktop". Similar push
         media support is due in the final version of Microsoft's
         Internet Explorer 4.0 - but that's not out yet. Netscape's
         standard for creating the new channels is also closer to
         standard HTML programming than Microsoft's planned CDF
         format. Hoorah for the plucky underdog of a $3 billion
         software company!

         The BBC announced THE BEEB, an online consumer service
         produced with ICL Fujitsu. The service will initially
         consist of a set of branded sites (like www.topgear.com),
         with an Internet access package a possibility later in the
         year (like when people work out how to make money out of
         it). The service is funded by ICL, rather than the license
         fee. Software will be available for the BBC Model 'B' only.
         That's our little joke.

Seidman’s Online Insider

I always think about this one when I think about 1990s email newsletters. One minute of Googling doesn’t reveal exactly who he was or is or what happened to him. Anyone? His website, no longer existing, was last updated in 2000. His weeklyish emails were full of the latest news and his thoughts about America Online, CompuServe, MSN, phone companies, etc. I remember it being great stuff, and appear to have subscribed from 1995 to 1999.

Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 00:20:44 -0500
From: "Robert D. Seidman" <robert@clark.net>
Subject: Seidman's Online Insider, December 10, 1995
To: Multiple recipients of list ONLINE-L<ONLINE-L@PEACH.EASE.LSOFT.COM>

                         Seidman's Online Insider
      Weekly Summary of  Major Online Services and Internet Events
Vol. 2 No. 47  (Formerly known as In, Around and Online)  December 10, 1995

Copyright (C) 1995 Robert Seidman (robert@clark.net).  All rights
reserved.  May be reproduced in any medium for non-commercial purposes.

-Web Wars
-MSN is Here to Stay
-Web Wars Miss the Point, Says AOL Chief
-This is MNNN?
-MSN's Loss is Prodigy's Gain?
-Stock Watch
-Subscription Info

Web Wars
A long, long time ago...

(it really works better if you play the theme music in your head.)

*Java Power for the People*

Netscape and Sun Microsystems jointly announced JavaScript, an object
scripting tool for Sun's Java.  JavaScript will facilitate the
development of online Java applications for the web by allowing creators
of Web sites to take advantage of Sun's Java programming language without
an intimate knowledge of Java.  A slew of industry leaders ranging from
America Online to Oracle announce plans to adopt JavaScript.  It's hailed
by industry leaders (but mostly by Netscape and Sun) for being a
cross-industry open standard.

*Sleeping Giant?*

For a few weeks it has been known that Microsoft planned to announce
their Internet strategy on December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day).  The
announcements, while on the surface may not seem earth shattering, the
basic premise of the meeting, even espoused by Bill Gates is that the
"sleeping giant has awakened".  The announcements and demos coming from
the Internet Strategy workshop were clearly a missile pointed directly at
Netscape, and to some degree America Online.

But for all of the news that came out of Redmond this week, what does it
all mean?   I don't think we'll know for a while.


I’d forgotten Keith Dawson’s TBTF (Tasty Bits from the Technology Front), the website for which is still online, including the archive of the newsletter which ran during the late 1990s. This was another great source of news. All this makes me realise how, before blogs and RSS, email was the main way I got good summaries of (what seemed like) the important stuff. Keith’s still active online, and here’s a brief sample of TBTF:

Date: Sat, 28 Feb 1998 22:22:18 -0600
From: dawson@world.std.com (Keith Dawson)
To: tbtf@tbtf.com
Subject: TBTF for 3/2/98: Light work


TBTF for 3/2/98: Light work

    T a s t y   B i t s   f r o m   t h e   T e c h n o l o g y   F r o n t

    Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
    technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994

    Your Host: Keith Dawson

    This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/03-02-98.html >

C o n t e n t s

    Internet Council of Registrars burgled
    Sun and Microsoft meet in court over Java
    Throw down your crutches and encrypt
      Netscape crypto easily boosted to full strength
      HP's VerSecure
    Many hands make light work
    ISPs, hosts, and CSPs
    Teledesic puts up a test bird
    Iridium puts on a light show
    Another new Mersenne prime
    Israelis demonstrate a tunable quantum observer
    An operating system popularity meter
    Auckland in the dark

..Internet Council of Registrars burgled

  Why *those* two servers, exactly?

    This news is not exactly new, but the news may be that it has at-
    tracted so little notice. On Sunday 2/15, thieves broke into a Best
    Internet San Francisco co-location facility, cut a lock off a steel
    cage, and made off with two 200-pound servers being used to test the
    Shared Registry System [1] for the Internet Council of Registrars.
    CORE is nearly ready to go live with its long-debated evolution of
    the domain name system, in contrast to the US government's "green
    paper" solution [2], which is months from approval and probably
    years from implementation. According to a c|net account [3], CORE
    said its servers were stolen when a CORE worker scheduled to be at
    the facility called in sick. There was no sign of forced entry into
    the Best facility. The two Sun Enterprise 450 servers were not the
    most expensive equipment in the facility, but no other cages were
    disturbed. Local police are working on the case and the FBI and
    CERT were notified. Emergent Corp., which is contracted by CORE to
    operate the SRS, had the system back online on new servers within
    30 hours. At the time of the burglary CORE was low-key and sought
    to dampen speculation. They promised to put up a statement on their
    Web site, but if they've done so I couldn't find it.

    [1]  http://www.gtld-mou.org/press/core-2.html
    [2]  http://www.tbtf.com/archive/02-02-98.html#s01
    [3]  http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,19220,00.html?pfv


These folk are not only still active but still publishing a weekly email newsletter of Mac news, tips, etc alongside everything else they do. They’ve been going 23 years, and I subscribed to their newsletter at issue #300 in 1995, leaving in 1999. It was invaluable stuff in the darker days of Mac owning.

Date: Tue, 16 Jan 1996 00:18:41 -0800
From: TidBITS Editors <editors@tidbits.com>
To: Multiple recipients of list TIDBITS <TIDBITS@RICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: TidBITS#310/15-Jan-96 1/2


This week we bring you news from the Macworld Expo in San
   Francisco, including an extensive overview of Web-related
   products at the show, plus our annual superlatives collection of
   the show's best and worst. Also, check out the latest on turmoil
   at Apple, a complete system update for 5300-series PowerBooks,
   and forthcoming Macintosh models. Finally, we sadly say goodbye
   to Robert Hess, one of the Macintosh industry's best known and
   most respected journalists.

This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
* APS Technologies -- 800/443-4199 -- <sales@apstech.com>
   Makers of hard drives, tape drives, and neat SCSI accessories.
   For APS price lists, email: <aps-prices@tidbits.com>
* Northwest Nexus -- 206/455-3505 -- http://www.halcyon.com/
   Providing access to the global Internet. <info@halcyon.com>
* Hayden Books, an imprint of Macmillan Computer Publishing
   Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Third Edition online!
   Mac Tip of the Day & free books! -- http://www.mcp.com/hayden/
* Power Computing -- 800/375-7693 -- <info@powercc.com>
   Now shipping... The Award-Winning MacOS Compatibles!
   See what the press says! http://www.powercc.com/News/quotes.html
* America Online -- 800/827-6364 -- http://www.aol.com
   The world's largest provider of online services.
   Give Back to the Net -- http://www.aol.com/give/
* DealBITS: Short but sweet because of Macworld Expo <-------- NEW
   http://king.tidbits.com/dealbits/ -- <dealbits@tidbits.com>

Copyright 1990-1995 Adam & Tonya Engst. Details at end of issue.
   Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>

    Goodbye Robert
    Macworld SF 96 Superlatives
    Light at the End of the Tunnel: Web and HTML at the Expo



**Turmoil at Apple** -- Apple announced last week it expects to
  report a $68 million loss for its first fiscal quarter this year,
  despite growing unit shipments and revenues. Apple claims price
  wars in the personal computer market (particularly in Japan)
  resulted in sales and margins below internal projections. As if
  this weren't enough, Apple bid farewell to no less than five vice
  presidents in an executive-level shake-up and reorganization,
  which added to rumors CEO Michael Spindler's days may be numbered.

And that’s it from the archives. I also came across a few early 2000s newsletters which already seem remarkably old (Popbitch! Politech! Gorjuss!), but that’s enough for now. And if that’s whetted your appetite, go to Internet of Newsletters and subscribe to some 21st century email.

In Misc on 8 April 2014. Permalink

My year at Berg

After a year at Berg as a Creative Technologist, I have now left and, while I remember it all, here’s some of what I’ve been doing for the past year.

  • Designing and developing new publications for Little Printer. These are all tiny websites, of varying complexity, mine written in Ruby and Sinatra (I didn’t know any Ruby this time a year ago, so I’ve learned a lot on that front). Among my favourites: Your Best Tweets; Gmail Stats; Google Analytics (Daily and Weekly); This At There, art/design shows opening and closing in London soon.

  • Implementing the ability to programme “stories” for Little Printers, multi-day mini-narratives that change the device’s face’s features. This was one of those simple-sounding but surprisingly complicated systems to make. For me, anyway. My first experience of Ruby on Rails, so more good learning.

  • Creating multi-language example Little Printer publications. We had one or two examples to show developers how to make these but I wanted to remove a hurdle for anyone who could already code but wasn’t familiar with the Ruby and Sinatra we used. I updated or created three examples (Hello World, Miniseries, Push API), making each available in Ruby and Sinatra, Python and Flask, or PHP. Writing each version idiomatically, but also in a way that they could be directly compared (you can switch the language fragments in those pages) was extremely satisfying.

  • Making the PHP Little Printer miniseries template to enable more people to create the simplest kind of Little Printer publications. Because there are a lot of people with good ideas who can cope with editing values in a PHP file, and FTPing things to a shared server, but are never going to learn git, frameworks, Heroku, etc. It was great to see new publications appear as a result of this.

  • Making LPChart, a sort of wrapper for d3.js, tailored for making simple charts in Little Printer publications. Although it was abstracted from work I’d already done for a couple of my publications, and was interesting to create, in retrospect this was probably too much work on something not enough people needed yet; my fault.

  • As part of those things above, I wrote a lot of developer documentation. Doing that is always an odd combination of incredibly tedious and very satisfying. The work itself is laborious: trying to cover everything, being explicit and unambiguous, but also being readable and useful. It’s also extremely hard to tell how good a job you’ve done, as by the time you finish you’re far too close to see it objectively.

  • A bunch of standard development of websites, generally using Ruby and Sinatra, Bootstrap and SASS, and then moving some of that into a Ruby on Rails app. I wrote about some of the process on the Berg engineering blog. At the time of writing, bergcloud.com and littleprinter.com are the result of this work.

  • A bit of being an Agile delivery manager. This didn’t last long but, while I doubt I’d want to be a project/delivery manager full-time, it was fascinating. Trying to figure out good ways of surfacing what work was happening, what should be happening, how long it might take, how to get from big ideas about various projects to implementable tasks… I only scratched the surface but I think we made progress, and I enjoyed the challenge of doing something different to the usual internet typing.

That’s most of it; a busy year. I’ll miss a lot of people but it’s time to move on.

In Projects on 31 March 2014. Permalink

Site back to normal

It’s entirely possible that this site is now working as well as it was before I moved it to a new server.

The previous hosts, TextDrive decided to shut up shop in a hurry (a long story) and, like many others, I had less than two weeks to move most of my sites to a new server. Everything but Pepys and the Tumblrs.

Most of it took about 16 hours in total — I kept track because I was curious. A lot of it went more smoothly than expected, with plenty of things working once a few file paths were changed. Assuming we ignore the twelve hours during which my family’s email failed.

The most complicated was my own site, a historic tangle of Movable Type, a lot of custom PHP, two databases, and a bunch of scripts. I’m amazed how much still works, after a little encouragement, given its age. I would still like to rationalise all this into one codebase, like I did with Pepys just over a year ago, which is now a much more coherent single Django site. But, you know, finite time.

The 16 hours didn’t include re-writing the Perl script which took my links from Pinboard and made a daily Movable Type blog post from them. The extremely helpful support at WebFaction, my new home, were unable to work out how to get the DBD::mysql module installing correctly. Eventually it seemed simpler to rewrite that in Python (on GitHub, in the unlikely event you’re in the same situation), leaving me gloriously free of any Perl scripts, if we don’t look in the direction of all of Movable Type.

It’s times like this that I think of whenever I consider registering a new domain name, or starting a new project. They all seem like good ideas when you begin but if you have any desire to keep things online and working for years (never mind decades) this tedious operation is the ever-increasing overhead required.

For the record, this time around I had to move these sites:

Hmm, 16 hours doesn’t seem too bad I guess.

In Personal on 26 March 2014. Permalink

Moving servers

In case you notice anything askew, I’m currently in the process of moving everything to a new server. Which is taking longer than I feared. Some things don’t work yet, but hopefully will soon.

In Misc on 9 March 2014. Permalink

The thing I unexpectedly like best about Snapchat

I’ve been using Snapchat for a few months now, to see what it’s like, how it feels. The thing I like best about it isn’t something I expected.

(If you don’t know, Snapchat is a phone app that lets you send pictures or short movies to friends. After a brief viewing (up to ten seconds, often less), the picture or movie is automatically and permanently deleted.)

I don’t really know why I’m using Snapchat. I don’t have friends that I frequently text or IM, so Snapchat isn’t substituting for that. I feel like I’m forcing it a bit. Making myself use the thing. I don’t know how long I’ll stick with it. Often the photos are images I might have posted to my rarely-used Instagram and Flickr accounts, but instead I just send them to a handful of friends. Often, quite randomly selected friends; it’s rare that I have something that’s aimed at one particular person.

So my usage feels a bit arbitrary, a bit random, but the fact the photos are sent to specific people, rather than published for anyone, still makes it feel a little cosier. Shoving something in front of a friend’s eyes for a few seconds, saying “Ha! Look at this!” Or occasionally using it as a more fun substitute for texts or Twitter Direct Messages.

But none of that is the thing I unexpectedly like best. The thing I unexpectedly like best is the automatic deletion. Not the photo being deleted from recipients’ phones after viewing, but the photo being deleted from my phone after sending.

I’m a digital hoarder and dabble in the pro-am quantified self leagues. So if I want to share a photo from my phone online the process usually involves:

  1. Take photo.
  2. Upload to Instagram, adding title and venue.
  3. Upload to Flickr (separately, of course, not wanting Instagram’s squareness), adding title, description (optional), venue, and tags.
  4. Weeks or months later, import photo into Lightroom and add title (optional), description (optional), and tags.
  5. Decide whether to delete this photo from my phone and/or iOS Photostream.

So there are three separate upload/import processes, and a lot of adding of metadata, possibly three separate times (because, really, I’m beyond help), and the decision(s) about whether to keep the photo on my phone/photostream. All this admin makes me think twice about taking a photo. Even if I don’t want to share the photo on Instagram and Flickr, the weight of the Lightroom importing, the tagging, and the deletion decision is often enough to stop me from taking a quick snap.

Whereas, with Snapchat, the process involves:

  1. Take photo.
  2. Add text and/or drawing (optional, fun!).
  3. Send photo.

And then the photo no longer exists. Brilliant! No more photo! No metadata to add, no storage issues, no decisions! Freedom!

And, if someone sends me a photo, that also disappears! Also brilliant!

I don’t care about Snapchat’s USP of photo deletion because it makes things more private or special, but because it saves me from any further decisions. I don’t need to remember to back up this communication, store it somewhere, carefully add any missing metadata and oh God I really am beyond help, go on leave me here, save yourselves, go, I’ll be waiting here, deciding whether my tags should be singular or plural…

In Misc on 17 February 2014. Permalink

Emails to RSS feed

If you want to receive emails as items in an RSS feed, you can do this with Zapier (which is like a more powerful If This Then That). Here’s how.

Go to Zapier and create an account. Each recipe is called a Zap and consists of a Trigger (e.g., receive an email) and an Action (make an item in a RSS feed).

Going to this Zap might do some of the work for you (and get us both extra credits) but I’m not sure quite what that does. There might also be something embedded in this page just… here:


Anyway, once you have an account, here’s the step-by-step.

  1. Go to make a Zap.

  2. Select “Email” for the Trigger service and “RSS” for the Action service. Each of those only has one option to choose from (“New Inbound Email” and “Create Item in Feed” respectively). You should have something like this:

    Zapier screenshot, step 1

  3. Click “Continue” and the next step just says to “Create a Email account”. Click that “Continue” button, and then step 3 says “Select a RSS account”. Click that “Continue” button. Odd but easy.

  4. Step 4 is “Filter Email triggers”. Enter “newsletters” in the field. Call it what you like really, but that’s what we’re doing:

    Zapier screenshot, step 4

    It seems to wrap strangely, never mind.

    While we’re here, click “Copy to clipboard”, go to your email client, and send an email to this address (in this example, “newsletters.1a2b3@zapiermail.com”). Be sure to put something in the Subject and body of the email.

  5. Click “Continue” and step 5 is “Match up Email Inbound Email to RSS Item in Feed”. We indicate which bits of the email we want to appear in which bits of the RSS item. Click “Insert fields” for each field, and make the first few look like this:

    Zapier screenshot, step 5

    Note: “Content” has an extra full-stop in it. Initially I had this as only “Body HTML” but that failed. Adding a full-stop (or anything) made it work.

    Click the “Copy to clipboard” link at the top of this section. You can subscribe to this URL in your RSS feed reader (you might need to wait until you’ve finished this process, I’m not sure).

  6. Scroll down and click “Continue”. Now you can click the “Test Email trigger” button. Hopefully the email you sent earlier has been received by Zapier and you’ll see something like this:

    Zapier screenshot, step 6

    Click “See trigger sample” to see the fields received from your email. Click “See action sample” to see what gets put into an RSS item. Click “Test Zap with this sample” to see if everything works. Send yourself more emails to try things out if you like (clicking “Refresh samples from Email” to get access to those).

  7. Click “Continue”. Give your Zap a name (e.g., “Email to RSS”) and turn it on.

Now you should be able to use that unique zapiermail.com email address from step 4 to subscribe to newsletters. The confirmation email will arrive in your RSS feed (so subscribe to that first, in step 5, above). It’ll take a few minutes, but should arrive OK.

Once you start receiving emails, come back to your Zap and tweak the fields in step 5, as new options may become available. I was now able to change “Author Name” to use the “From Name” field and “Author Email” to use the “From Email” field.

Let me know if you have any corrections or suggestions for improvements.

In Misc on 12 February 2014. Permalink


I’m very much enjoying the wonderfully written posts on Medium by Jenn Schiffer, which lead me to a bunch of related little thoughts.

To give you a flavour, here’s a snippet from her most recent post, Why I’m Breaking Up with jQuery and Getting Back Together with PHP:

This developer’s choice (me, I’m talking about me, I’m a web developer) was to port all of our jQuery code base into PHP. This was simpler than one would expect, as PHP is basically like Node except wrapped in question marks:

// jquery syntax

// php syntax
<?php $someVariable.click(someFunction); ?>

There are two more spaces in the syntax, which means our server side code will never be quite as fast as the client side, but the beauty of server side is that its errors never show in browser developer tools consoles.

If the console has no errors, that means there are no errors in your code.

At the risk of tediously stamping the humour to death, let’s tediously stamp the humour to death by thinking how people might read this. There are three broad positions.

First, if you know a bit about web development, and can recognise this as satirical nonsense you may find this hilarious. (You might not, but that’s humour for you.) It plays with the over-enthusiasm and carefree inaccuracies found in the writing of someone who doesn’t know enough to write what they’re writing.

Second, if you know something about web development but come to these posts fresh you might not realise it’s satirical nonsense. You might simply read it as inaccurate nonsense, of which there’s plenty on the web. The King Of Front End Web Development, Jeffrey Zeldman, was initially taken in by one of Schiffer’s posts, describing it as “misinformation”.

Finally, if you know nothing about web development this post is going to be just as impenetrable as a serious piece about programming and I guess it’s unlikely you’d realise it was either inaccurate or humorous.

That last group is quite interesting — I love jokes that are so focused they mean nothing to people outside a specific audience. Zeldman again, having “got” the joke: “I don’t imagine there’s a huge market for front-end-development-themed satire.” No, but the smaller the audience, the more narrow the references, and the funnier the joke is for those in the know.

However, the middle group, the Zeldmans who know enough to get the joke but don’t initially see it, are the most interesting. I guess this is what makes satire satire: it could be true… maybe? It’s why some people see headlines from The Onion and think they’re real and it’s how politicians were taken in by Brass Eye’s tales of the terrifying new drug Cake.

While Brass Eye was intentionally trying to fool those in power, the programmes themselves, along with the articles by The Onion and Jenn Schiffer, aren’t trying to fool people. It’s only satire if enough viewers and readers can tell it’s satire. But the people who are taken in provide extra humour for those of us in the know; we get to feel superior and laugh at how seriously they take things. They’ll post comments pointing out inaccuracies in the nonsense and even dourly suggest the articles should be deleted so they don’t fool anyone else.

Medium, where Jenn Schiffer writes her posts, are ideal for this kind of satire. Articles on Medium seem to carry an authority that posts on disparate weblogs don’t. Some Medium articles are commissioned, which creates a vague smell of “professional publishing” that wafts across the whole site. Suddenly the most batshit free-market nonsense acquires an aura of respectability in this neutrally-themed arena that it wouldn’t on a site that was known solely for batshit free-market nonsense. (I pick on batshit free-market nonsense because after following links to quite a bit of it on Medium I currently, probably unfairly, associate the site with it.)

I’m hoping there’s more satire on Medium, making the most of this veneer of authority. This is satire (I assume; it’s written by Twategy) but this isn’t. I think. It appears legitimate but uses the kind of language that anyone writing a satirical piece along the same lines would use (“Yesterday I executed a growth hack…”) and it’s the kind of horrible internet marketing bollocks that deserves satire.

It would be possible to take this fake authority a stage further. Create a website that publishes news. It should look like a real news website, with all the styling and language and cross-promotional widgets that make real news websites such a mess. Post enough accurate news stories that it seems entirely legitimate. Completely straight-faced. Obviously this requires work and/or money. But then, every so often, even once a day, slip in an entirely inaccurate article. I don’t really know how or why. Should it be really over the top and ridiculous, aiming for laughs? Should it be biting Onion-style satire? Should it simply report made-up events to cause some kind of trouble? I’m not sure. But playing with that fake authority, and playing with the group of people who can’t distinguish the satire from the not-satire, would be interesting.

UPDATE, later the same day:

Ezequiel Bruni, who first alerted Jeffrey Zeldman to Jenn Schiffer’s post of “misinformation” has published a piece about his error, and what happened next (on Medium, of course). He lists three mistakes he made. Well, basically two mistakes, the first being not reading the article properly and the other:

I automatically assumed, based on where the article had been posted, and prior experience, that the author was in earnest. I allowed the “sacred ground” of Medium to lull me into a false sense of security. I just assumed that everyone who writes here is trying to make a name for themselves as a great thinker.

If a site gives the impression that everyone writing for it wants to seem like “a great thinker”, i.e., is pompous and self-important, that’s fertile ground for satire.

In Misc on 18 January 2014. Permalink

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