Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Demise Of Google Reader

Google’s decision to withdraw its Reader service from July 2013 has implications for us all.  I’m not talking here about the possibility that the world might end (though, statistically speaking, it might, albeit for reasons entirely unrelated to the existence of Google*); all I’m saying is that for anyone dropping in on this blog — or favourite news feeds, celebrity gossip, mule gelding leaderboard updates — an element of convenience will soon be cut from your life like a heart, leaving you prey to feelings of loss, anger, guilt, worry etc.  Frankly, you guys are going to need some help.  Franklier, you’ve come to the right place.

* or possibly for reasons tangentially related to Google in a Butterfly Effect kind of way, but don’t ask me how the statistics for this kind of thing work — I’m a writer, not Professor Stephen Hawkins’ quantum calculus teacher (or even his friend).

But before we move on to strategies for dealing with the loss of Google’s popular news client, let’s examine a little of its history.

Google Reader began life in 2005 as an RSS service.  ‘RSS’ stands for ‘rich site summary’, a term which remains entirely meaningless despite repeated attempts by computer geeks and boffins to pump it full of import.  The original idea behind RSS was a simple one: instead of amassing endless website bookmarks that were impossible to organise, why not collect them all together, thereby unifying the impossibility factor?  Google’s contribution to the RSS initiative was to ensure that your one place for being unable to find anything was hidden away behind a confusing zit array of meaningless icons.  As the company’s Chief Algorhythmicist, Vaughan La Pendulati, remarked at a press conference to launch the Reader, “we hope users will find this service useful.  Our extensive research shows that the number one thing users need and want is something to use, so we had our guys brainstorm a few ideas, kick a few boxes around outside in the parking lot in a blue sky cheese ownership issue kind of a way, and we figured the best solution was to give ‘em something useful, kinda like a saddle for a horse, a chopstick to match another chopstick, a beard trimmer for a guy with flaky skin and a moustache, but since we’re Google and we don’t make shit we figured it had to be a service, and since we had a template for some recipe organizing software we couldn’t work out what to do with, we kicked a few more boxes around the parking lot, did all the Gorgonzola stuff — hell, even tantric yoga — and customised the heck out of the whole shebang to come up with Google Reader.  Hnnnrrrr!  Get a load of my abs!”

Since 2005, millions of Reader users have marvelled at the wonders regurgitated daily onto their computer screens.  Take Wayne Duck of Wayne Duck Autos, Montana:

“I can git all the latest auto news right here on my reader.  My reader is a one stop shop for auto news.  I can git all the auto news I want.  If you want auto news git Google Reader.  It’s the greatest for auto news.  All my auto news is here.  Right here on Google Reader.  I got nuthin’ but auto news.  My wife, she’s got pies and vagina stuff but I got auto news.  I git new auto news every half hour there’s so darned much.  So when I’m fixin’ cars I take a break every couple hours to catch up on my auto news.  I git four lots of auto news every half hour.  On my Google Reader.  I can git all the auto news I want....”

From July, Reader users just like Wayne (and many not at all like him in any way, especially his legs) will find themselves unable to access the smorgasbord of news and information currently feeding their brains, souls and inner motivational resource hierarchies .  Journalists in particular look set to be among the worst losers.  According to Cliff Rubberoid, editor-in-chief of the Manchester Late Afternoon Telegraphicular, “hacks depend on Google Reader.  It’s where we get our best ideas.  If Jennifer Aniston’s titties develop a rash on the same day North Korea tests a nuclear missile then we have a week’s news, guaranteed.  All we have to do is join up the dots from the Reader.”

Within hours of Google’s announcement, protest groups had begun to spring up online, demanding concessions from the internet giant (along with free Nexus tablets, promotional T-shirts and balloons).  The Google Reader Resurrection League issued the following statement.

“We understand that by calling ourselves the Google Reader Resurrection League, our intention to save this essential internet service might be perceived by some to be an indication of fatalism or lack of commitment on our part.  Resurrection presupposes the existence of a death (or deaths), and we wish to make it clear that we do not believe Google Reader has to die in order for it to be resurrected, irrespective of how the cycle of life, death and rebirth typically unfolds.  We seek to resurrect Google Reader before it dies (or is smothered like a child in its cot by an unforgiving mother, as many of our sister pressure groups believe), and though such an aim is technically impossible, we believe our supporters will rally round the spirit of our idea in much the same way that crowds of Medieval townsfolk gathered on cliff tops and bridges to witness brave individuals launch their handmade flying machines.  These individuals were true entrepreneurs, advancing the notion that mankind could teach itself how to fly despite all evidence to the contrary.  Our adoption of the word ‘resurrection’ is intended to convey this pioneering spirit and demonstrate to the world that sometimes the impossible is possible.  We realise that most of the entrepreneurs who threw themselves from cliffs ‘flew’ only in a very limited sense, but no one should doubt the sincerity of our intention.  We firmly believe we can resurrect that which is not yet dead, and with the help of internet users across the world, we guarantee that Google Reader will be saved — ‘saving’ being the same thing as resurrection following non-death, incidentally.  Salvation following a standard resurrection would probably not constitute bona fide salvation because...oh fuck yeah, OK we’ll ‘fess up — our publicity was supposed to say Google Reader Protection League but our PR guy messed up big time and now we’ve run out of cash and got ourselves lumbered with the wrong branding.  Anyone else have any more stupid fucking questions?”

Google’s response was immediate and unequivocal:

“Take a loaf, a nice crusty loaf, and cut yourself four thick slices.  Then spread with butter, good and thin.  Take your tuna mayo mix and ladle it on, tossing in some lettuce or cucumber or cashews.  Throw in some salt and pepper and you’re done.  Leastaways, that’s the thinking behind our latest Android Tuna Mayo Sandwich With A Choice Of Either Lettuce Cucumber Or Cashews operating system.”

So where does all this leave the rest of us?  The dedicated users of Google’s Reader service?

Some have suggested having all your news laser beamed onto the flank of a trained horse.  Satellites orbiting the earth would convey the chosen feeds to a nominated stallion or mule with pinpoint accuracy, thereby generating a whole new range of options regarding news consumption methods, from riding bareback to accompanying the horse in a parallel trajectory on motorised roller skates.  Similar proposals have been made involving owls, disabled goats, and celebrities such as Hulk Hogan or top UK fitness guru Mr Motivator.

More likely, however, is that alternative services will flourish in Google Reader’s wake, like maggots, weevils and miniature bacterial parasites feeding off the decayed remains of a suicide victim’s mutilated body.  The good folks at Feedly have already indicated an upsurge in interest for their own reader service, while Digg aims to reinvent itself over the Summer as a newly happ’nin’ enterprise with some sort of Google-alike reader taking centre stage.  The impossible may also come to pass, namely that Google will give a hoot or two to the opinions of its client base and rush to pull the pulling of its own service.

In the mean time, as we all sit chewing our nails on the edge of our seats while the living rooms of our existence plummet from the cliff face like the last ever specks of matter in the universe, EVER, down, down, into the Abyss, I’d like to offer any help I can to anyone feeling the pinch (or even just a vague tickling sensation below the midriff). 

So here’s a picture of some spiritually uplifting kumquats...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You Can't Keep A Good Equinox Down

22 years ago, more or less to the day, I treated myself to a Spring Equinox pamper moment. 

To celebrate the beginning of the solar year, I whizzed off to a sauna, there to languish in the heat of a wood-panelled sub-Scandanavian Nirvana.  And write poetry.

Don’t ask me why I thought writing poetry in a sauna had anything to do with the arrival of Spring — it just did, okay?  As celebratory plans go, it was infinitely better than shaving my legs, drilling my initials onto my teeth, or potato printing the runes from Frodo Baggins’ ring on the inside of my epididymis.

Or was it?

The moment I presented myself at the sauna, armed with my Winnie the Pooh notebook and matching pen, I realised I’d made a mistake.  Everything about the advertisement for Lady Helga’s Finnish Titty Witty Loveliness Bar suggested the dry 40 degree heat of the Sahara.  Instead, I found a steam-filled wet room.

It’s at times like these that you get to discover a little about yourself, like “am I tenacious and determined — or merely fucking stupid?” 

Opting for all three choices, I stepped into the steamy cubicle and took out my Winnie the Pooh notebook and pen.  Within no time at all, the pages of my notebook dissolved into a cardboard soup and the only legible mark left by my pen was a trail of 37 conjoined hyphens running from my fingers to halfway down my leg. 

That’s when the trio of tattooed young guys appeared from out of the hot, almost sensually alive mist and inseminated me with their innuendo.  I’m no stranger to being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, but back then I wasn’t so deft at being a fish out of water (even though there was plenty of water around and I was definitely not a fish), and instead of running away, I ended up spending the better part of an hour trying to explain the difference between Bukowsky and Auden.  Believe me, if you’re ever offered a toss-up when it comes to being discovered writing poetry in a sweaty wet room with just the thinnest of towels concealing your dangly wanglies, you should plump for the brusque and mocking rugby lads over the “we’re regulars in this obviously gay sauna” guys every time.

Lady Helga’s Finnish Titty Witty Loveliness Bar?

Heavens, how slow I was back in 1991...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Darwin: My Muse, My Ruse, My Obtuse

Every time I put pen to paper (or finger to key, blobby pen to touchscreen, Lumino-wand to cyber-cockatoo internexus) I make an appeal to my inner Charles Darwin.

“Chuck,” I say, “get yourself out of that hammock and make with the whole Beagle’s About deal.  I need the literary equivalent of a bizarre new species of terrapin, and I need it now.”

This morning I met with bearded boffin reluctance.  Darwin raised an eyelid and gazed through the porthole at the pink waves of Whirly brain flesh beating against the ship’s hull.  “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, maybe you’ll make me some toast.”  His eyelid closed.  “Easily heavy on the marmalade, if you don’t mind.”

I pondered the Beagle’s modest two tier kitchen, wondering why I’d fed all the marmalade to the ship’s (now sadly poisoned) cat.  When my hand found a banana and a blender, I concocted a plan based loosely around the hypothesis that a missing link of some kind must exist between a tangerine and a passion fruit, throwing in a splash of Tabasco to grace the theory with palatability.

“Here,” I said, offering Darwin a rum barrel brimming with pulped banana, “you’ll have to make do with marmalade soup on account of the bread turning to dust last September.”

Darwin took a swig.  “Curse these long expeditions!  They’re more of an irritant than those tiny red beetles, the ones with flecks of copper on their undersides I classified as a sub-sub-species of those bigger red beetles we found.  Bah!  They get under your skin and in your pants and everything.”

I checked the space on my wrist where, in the future, a Mickey Mouse watch would go nicely.  “Any thoughts on the bizarre terrapin thang?”

“Left at the next island,” said Darwin, craning his banana-drizzled head towards the porthole.  “I sense cutesy variations on the standard blue-nosed terrapin whose squat legs may serve as fodder for your literary fantasies.”

It’s a time-consuming method as far as acts of creation go, but sometimes it kind of works.

So far this week I’m four syllables into a haiku — and I’ve arranged an evening dinner date with the owner of my local pet shop.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Death, Abduction — And Elephants

What is it at the moment with all these abduction-based TV series?

No matter when I tune in these days — to the Beeb, ITV, Channel 5, Dave, or The Flog-a-Shite-o-Wank Discount Bonus Shopping Channel — there always seems to be an edgy drama loosely based around the theme of child abduction and murder.

Personally, I’d prefer a circus show, with plenty of jolly clowns and formation pissing elephants, but when it came to choosing the heads of all these TV channels, the guys in the know foolishly overlooked me.

As a result, it’s DEATH DEATH DEATH, night after night after night — a relentless bombardment of DEATH punctuated only by protracted periods of ABDUCTION.

Don’t these TV guys understand that if we abduct and kill all the kids, there will be no one around to watch the bloody telly in fifteen years time?

And where are these kidnapped and bludgeoned infants going, anyway?  Perhaps there’s an alternate reality full of TV shows loosely based around the theme of spontaneous manifestations of parentless kids.

I’m in no way bitter about BEING OVERLOOKED FOR THE POSITION OF KID ABDUCTION & DEATH ALLOCATION GUY, but these TV buffoons need to sort out this potentially destabilising situation before some of the kids in Spontaneous Manifestation Land get sent back to Cudgel-to-the-head-before-shallow-burial Land and suffocate to death beneath a pile of mattresses OR the child killers from both places wise up to the anomaly and start going crazy with the old folk and their pets.

Formation pissing elephants! 

Eight of them, arranged in a pyramid, as their urine flies in Vegas fountain style arcs! 


Before the Universe goes Kid Abduction & Chainsaw Mayhem Crayzeeeeee!