Reader is dead. Long live the readers.

My Twitter and Google+ feeds today have been filled mostly with complaints, wails of despair and expressions of shock at the news that Google Reader is to be shut down this summer. Maybe Facebook too, I don’t know. Who cares what those Luddites are talking about, right? Obviously I’m not going to say anything about what led to the decision beyond what’s already been said in official channels, but I do have my own reaction to the news that I think is worth sharing.

I think, on balance, it’s a good thing. Some brilliant people have worked on Reader over the last eight years, and it’s a fantastic project. But it never got the support and push it needed to turn it into a really mainstream project, and in the last couple of years it’s been largely neglected. Reader earned its spot as the king of the feed readers by truly being the best option, but it hasn’t evolved in years, and that means the entire market of feed readers has stalled along with it.

While Reader’s usage wasn’t significant enough for Google to want to continue its development, its disappearance will make room for tens of innovative new companies and products to replace it. I look forward to seeing the effect this move has on the market for feed readers and by extension on the entire ecosystem of blogging.

Cooperation with developers

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (a very long while) you might remember that years ago I wrote a little Firefox extension called Make Link. It’s been an occasional source of both pride (download of the day on Lifehacker, featured in a video by popular internet hobo impersonator Merlin Mann) and shame (any time I look at the code). I haven’t worked on it in years, but I still get emails sometimes.

Here’s one from this morning:


We are looking for cooperation with developers.

If your firefox chrome plugin has active users (daily). We’ll pay you by the amount of daily-active uers.

We need you to update the plugin and feedback the following information to our server:
1. User-agent (Like Mozilla 19.0 )
2. Language (Like English, French)
3. OS (User operation system, like Win7, Linux)
4. URLs (all typed urls in the browser by every user)
5. IP address (user IP address)

Looking to hear back from you.

As it happens, yes, Make Link does have daily active “uers”. About 16,000 of them apparently, with 30-40 new downloads daily. I wonder how many of those people would be happy with me recording their IP addresses and entire browsing history and selling that data? I’m guessing probably not many.

London Underground puzzle

A few days ago I posted the following puzzle to my Google+ stream:

Can you find a route around the London Underground map taking in exactly one stop on each line (including DLR and Overground)? That is, get on the tube at one station, go one stop, change to another line, lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve been on every line.

London Underground map

I teased that I had a solution but I wanted to give people some time to work on their own solutions before describing my own. If you feel like giving it a shot, stop reading now. I’m about to describe how I went about finding a solution.

I started by recognising that any path between two stations that had only a single line but more than one leg could not be part of the solution. For example, the (direct) journey from Baker Street to Oxford Circus uses only the Bakerloo line but takes in an extra stop at Regent’s Park along the way, so it can’t be used if we’re to travel only one stop on each line.

There’s a bit more flexibility for a route that’s covered by more than one line. For example you would be allowed to travel from South Kensington to Victoria via Sloane Square by using the Circle line for one leg and the District line for the other. But you’re limited here to journeys of no more than two stops along these lines. Similarly, you can go three stops along the short route served by the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.

So I took the standard Tube map (above) and opened it in a graphics editor, and just started erasing pieces that couldn’t possibly form part of the solution. I left only stations that are served by more than one line, and which are connected directly (over a single-leg journey) to other stations served by more than one line.

Actually this approach removes some stations that could still potentially form part of a solution, because the two stations at the start and end of your route don’t need to be served by more than one line. It would be a simple matter to add those stations back at the end if it turned out to be necessary (though in fact it doesn’t).

Once I had my trimmed down map it was very easy to see that there would be a pretty even split with about half of the lines being west of the Waterloo & City line and half being east. The Waterloo & City line was really what made this a tractable problem, because it forces you to use Bank and Waterloo stations in any solution.

I spent a bit of time convincing myself it was impossible to get from the Metropolitan or Hammersmith & City lines down to Waterloo (via either Kings Cross or Baker Street), so those had to be on the east side of the solution. Victoria, Piccadilly and Bakerloo were all obviously on the west. The DLR could only ever have been on the east side, as could the Overground. The Jubilee looked unlikely to fit on the east. The Central, Circle, District and Northern lines were a bit more ambiguous, but it’s quite easy to show that you can’t get from Waterloo to the Piccadilly line without using at least two of Northern, Circle or District.

That reduced the field enough to just try out a few variations. The route I finally came up with was:

London Underground puzzle solution

  • Start at Moorgate
  • Take the Metropolitan line to Liverpool Street
  • Take the Hammersmith & City line to Aldgate East
  • Take the District line to Whitechapel
  • Take the Overground to Shadwell
  • Take the DLR to Bank
  • Take the Waterloo & City line to Waterloo
  • Take the Jubilee line to Westminster
  • Take the Circle line to Embankment
  • Take the Northern line to Charing Cross
  • Take the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus
  • Take the Piccadilly line to Green Park
  • Take the Victoria line to Oxford Circus
  • Take the Central line to Bond Street

Of course you could substitute Aldgate for Moorgate and/or Tottenham Court Road for Bond Street, or do the whole thing in reverse. Aside from those variations, I think this is the only possible solution, though I haven’t proved it.

“The World is Getting Better. Quickly.” — Anil Dash

Anil Dash’s account of meeting with Bill Gates to hear about the progress of the UN Millenium Development Goals:

Last week, I had a chance to sit down with Bill Gates as part of a small group, in a discussion focused around the release of his annual letter and the progress that has been made against the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. You can also read his annual letter as a 6.3MB PDF. Ill write separately about what it was like having a conversation with Bill Gates, but the biggest highlight that came from the meeting was a simple lesson:

The world is getting better, faster, than we could ever have imagined.

Worth reading the whole thing to see how much progress our species has made in 20 years.

London Bloggers Meetup

Yesterday I posted about my new film blog, Obviously Not a Golfer. Something I didn’t mention in that post is that the new blog owes its existence largely to the London Bloggers Meetup.

I attended one of the meet-ups just before Christmas, and of course the natural thing to ask each new person you meet at such an event is, “What do you blog about?” Despite that being a question I’ve been asking myself about this site for just over ten years now — or maybe because of that — I didn’t have a very good answer. I talked to a few people about the conundrum of deciding what subjects should and shouldn’t go on a blog that has no set topic, and eventually I was convinced to choose a single, well-defined topic to start a new blog about. With that, and a subsequent few hours of trying to find Big Lebowski quotes that would work as a domain and weren’t already registered, Obviously Not a Golfer was born.

This evening I went back to LBM, and this time I had an answer for all of the people who asked, “What do you blog about?” Apparently I also had an answer for most of the questions in the Q & A session with the guest speakers, as I kind of overwhelmed the #LBMlive hashtag for a while. Topics included making blogs mobile friendly, whether you can retain editorial control and still run ads, how to find people who might be interested in reading your stuff, how to stay motivated about writing, and the Kama Sutra. I suspect the lady that brought up that last topic might have got a few more readers this evening.

New Blog

Chances are that as a reader of this blog you probably also follow me on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook (or some combination there-of). So you’re probably already aware that I’ve recently started a new blog, at, where I’m reviewing the 500 greatest films of all time, as well as offering my thoughts on some other films and posting about other film-related topics. But if you weren’t aware, you are now.

I delayed posting anything about the new site here until I had posted enough to be sure that it’s a project that I want to continue with. I’m really happy with how it’s going so far though, and I’m glad to have received some very kind and encouraging feedback both online and off, so I’m comfortable saying that it’s something that will continue for a while.

As usual I also have all sorts of plans to post more here at, but the wise move would be to believe that when you see it.

Happy New Year

Depending on where you are in the world, it seems likely that any hangover you may have acquired in the service of ringing in the new year should have mostly subsided by now. I hope your year has started well and that it continues well. May your plans for the year survive first contact with the enemy.

Adults do not obey

The best comment I’ve read on the topic of Savita Halappanavar’s death comes from Emer O’Toole, in the Guardian:

I am no longer a Catholic, so I need to look for earthly explanations as to what happened to Halappanavar. The medical technology to prevent this painful, senseless death was at hand. Yet doctors did not use it. Why? One could argue that they had to obey Irish law. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, speaking of defences mounted by the perpetrators of atrocities during the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt says that adult citizens cannot obey. Children and animals can obey, but adults have the capacity to morally assess the actions that their sociopolitical systems demand of them.

Adults do not obey, they consent.

Godwin’s Law aside, the message here is clear. Regardless of what Irish law may be (and of what it may become) with respect to abortion, any doctor who has stood by and allowed a woman to die, rather than even attempt provide the medical care she needed, bears moral responsibility for her death.

Bacon search

You know the Kevin Bacon game, where you try to relate a given actor to Kevin Bacon by counting the number of “…was in (such-and-such film) with…” links? Like Keira Knightly was in Pride and Prejudice with Donald Sutherland and Donald Sutherland was in Animal House with Kevin Bacon, so Keira Knightly’s Bacon number is (no more than) two. Bacon himself has a bacon number of zero.

If you liked that game then you might enjoy spending a few minutes playing with a new Google search feature:

Just search for an actor’s name along with the phrase ‘bacon number’ and you get both the number and a sample chain of films linking your actor to Kevin Bacon in that number of steps.

I looked for a few obscure actors who appear in IMDb but who don’t have Bacon number results on Google, but it seems to give decent results for most people you might have heard of. Sadly, no results for Paul Erdős.