Monthly Archives: January 2004


As of now, there’s a small but highly significant link lurking on the pages of this site, titled ‘Syndicate this Wiblog’. You’ll find it on every Wiblog, just beneath the list of archives (which seem, excitingly, to have discovered the concept of negative time).

The initiated need read no further, but to those who still think that syndication is something to do with American television, I’ll try and explain. And yes, as it happens, I did draw the short straw on this one.

Syndication is a way for you to check a weblog or news site without really reading it. In a nutshell, your computer scans all the sites you read regularly, and those sites tell your computer what’s updated since the last time you checked.

Your computer does this through a program called an RSS reader (you might sometimes hear them referred to as ‘feed readers’, or, slightly inaccurately, ‘news readers’). RSS, in case you’re wondering, probably stands for ‘Rich Site Summary’, or alternatively, ‘Really Simple Syndication’.

So why is this a good thing? Firstly, it saves your time. Much as I’d like to think that you all hang on every word of my finely crafted prose, I don’t think any weblogger, in their heart of hearts, really expects every single visitor to their sites to want to read every one of their outpourings. So syndication lets you glance through the titles and the first few words of things in your RSS reader, and only then must you decide whether it’s worth your visiting the actual site and reading the whole blog post, or news item.

Secondly, it’s handy. I mean, really handy. If you’re on the Internet for a length of time, your RSS reader can alert you to updated sites every so often, much in the same way as MSN Messenger pops up to tell you when you’ve got mail. If you’re only sporadically on the Internet, your RSS reader will do all the hard work of checking which sites have updated since last you were online. You can know what’s changed on literally hundreds of websites with a single click.

Thirdly, it’s free, or at least, free for the download. Most authors of RSS readers write them because they enjoy doing so (mad fools etc.) and because they think someone out there might find their efforts useful. And more often than not, people do, and they are useful.

Fourthly, it’s 2004, and as Jonny Baker points out, it’s the way things are going.

In short, RSS is great, and if you’ve read this far, you’ll be wanting to know what to do next.

First, get an RSS reader.

Most RSS readers can be downloaded and installed in less than five minutes, even on a slow modem.

For Windows, recommendations vary: the world seems to love Amphetadesk, but I never really got on with it – it crashed too often to be useful. That was a year ago, though, and things move very fast in the programming world. Its advantages are that it works in your web browser, and it’s relatively intuitive. The disadvantage is that it works at (slightly slower than) the speed of your web browser, which if you’re as naturally impatient as me, may not be a good thing.

FeedReader is good, hasn’t crashed for me, is fast, and is quick to download. It’s not being developed actively at the moment, which means it’s a little behind the times when it comes to new features, but it’s one of the easiest ones to install I’ve come across.

An RSS reader, yesterdayMy favourite, though, is SharpReader, a screenshot from which you see to the right. It’s got everything I could wish for in a reader, and so far it’s been fast and stable. It does come with a caveat, though, in that most people need to install an additional Windows component before using it. Microsoft do give that component for free to Windows users, but it takes… er… an hour and a half to download on a dial-up modem, and ten minutes on 512k broadband. Personally, I think it’s worth that download, and you may even be lucky and have the component installed already (here’s how to check, and install that component if needed).

Mac users all seem to swear by NetNewsWire for RSS reading, Linux users seem to be well catered for in Straw – I haven’t used either, so can’t comment.

Assuming you’ve downloaded and installed all that, then…

Next, find some RSS feeds.

Many blogs, probably most, have RSS feeds these days. You might find them hiding on their front page under ‘XML’ or ‘Syndicate’, or behind a small RSS or XML icon. And many news sites have RSS feeds too. Don’t click on these links in your web browser – nothing untoward will happen, but these links are meant for the RSS reader, not for you. To use them, find the ‘Open feed’ or ‘Subscribe to feed’ option in your RSS reader, and paste their address into that. From then on, everything should be plain sailing, and as straightforward as using a web browser.

Want something to be getting on with? Well, I can see from here that you’ve got impeccable taste in websites, so you’ll be wanting a list of the things I subscribe to, which I’ve added to the Wiblinks at the top of the page. You can import this into your RSS reader by finding the ‘Import subscriptions’ or ‘Import OPML’ option. It should be hiding somewhere under the ‘File’ menu. Chop, change, add and delete from it as you wish. I’ll try to update it regularly as I find more RSS feeds, and I’ll add all the Wiblogs to it when they come online. Share and enjoy.

Enjoy your RSS wanderings, if you choose to do so. If you want to find out more, or frankly didn’t understand a word of my yakking, here’s some more help from the BBC, Guardian Online and Wired. Give kudos to Chris for getting this all working (thanks, Chris). And thanks for reading this far. Of course, from now on, if you use an RSS reader, you won’t have to.

See? I even decimate my audience for you too.


Picture this, in a studio somewhere far, far away:

“We can’t do this John. We’ve only got two verses and a chorus, and the radio’ll never play a song that’s only a minute and a half long.”

“Hmm. What do you think we should do then Paul?”

“Well, we could either write a good middle eight, or there’s always the easy way out.”

“What, you mean a way that’ll let us double the length of the song with no extra songwriting effort? Let’s do it!”

“Yes! Let’s have… an UNNECESSARY KEY CHANGE!”

The lazy way to write lyrics is to repeat the same words six times in the chorus (naming no names, of course). The lazy way to write the tune, on the other hand, is to repeat the chorus itself six times at the end of the song, each time introducing an unnecessary key change, until finally it’s only of interest to canines, or the lead singer from The Darkness.

Thankfully, someone’s watching those layabout transposers, and that someone is the probably pseudonymous ‘Siegfried Baboon’ of the mighty Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of Shame. Clunky gear changing is quite an apt metaphor for these musical monstrosities, as you can hear from the copious mp3ed examples the very well-written site provides. And if you thought such luminaries as the Beatles and Cole Porter wouldn’t plumb such depths, think again.

So a plea to any aspiring songwriters out there – just say no to truck driver’s gear changes. Just end the song instead. It’s better for everybody. Especially dogs.

And in other news: well, you would, wouldn’t you?


Roman god Janus, after which this month is named, famously has two faces. One face looks back at the year that has been, the other looks forward to what the next year might bring. At this time of year this wiblog also seems to sprout two faces. Both of them point in the same direction, which makes things a bit unsightly and uncomfortable, but they both seem to want different things in the year ahead.

Face #1’s cheerfully sarcastic hopes for 2004 include Weebl and Bob T-shirts, Half Man Half Biscuit to play Greenbelt, and for Latin to be a close second to Welsh as the language of choice for computer software.

Face #2, however, looks up from his ill-used NIV in which he still can’t find Joel without using the index, and ponders his rather less frivolous hopes for the year ahead.

‘The church’s one foundation

Is Jesus Christ her Lord…’

It’s probably true to say that 2003 saw more public disunity (or, at least, widely publicised disunity) within the Anglican Communion than any other time within #2’s memory. Some say he shouldn’t care so much about such things, as he’s no part of the Communion himself, but he knows that Anglicans are for most, and certainly for the media, the face of Christianity where he comes from. As far as he’s concerned, anything that affects people’s perception of them affects people’s perception of Christianity in general. And for most of 2003, that has been a Bad Thing.

It’s also true to say that said media feeds on disunity far more than on unity. He compares the blanket coverage of the fall-out from Gene Robinson’s ordination with the few column inches given to the church’s relatively united stand on the war in Iraq. But, for 2004, he would really, really like to see the church at large become more united than divided. He is convinced, as wiser men than him have pointed out, that 2003 gave little to celebrate in those terms. He’s not convinced, in a world where congregations fall out over matters as ultimately trivial as music-playing and church magazines, that 2004 will be any better in that regard. But he fervently hopes it will be.

As #2 muses, he realises that he doesn’t do his bit to promote unity as he should. As the sermon he heard last Sunday at HMBC pointed out, unity is something to be prayed for and worked for. He’s acutely aware that he gets on with some Christians better than others, even those that literally sing from the same hymn sheet as him. So for now he’ll leave the Church at large to decide who it should make its clergy, and whether it’s worth them splitting over that. He personally prays and resolves (it is, after all, a time for resolutions) to see beyond the trivial in 2004, and make a greater effort to embrace what unites him with every other single Christian.

What was it that did that again? Ah yes…

‘The Church’s one foundation

is Jesus Christ her Lord;

she is His new creation,

by water and the word:

from heaven He came and sought her

to be His holy bride;

with His own blood he bought her,

and for her life He died.’

Which, when it comes down to it, is a little bit more significant than flower rotas.

Happy New Year.