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Welcome to my personal, mostly geeky, blog.

Google just announced that, effective July 1st, 2013, the company will retire the Google Reader service. Google Reader is a web application that allows (allowed?) users to collect, manage, read and share RSS feeds. For those that don’t know, RSS is a mechanism by which sites publish “feeds” so that other sites and tools can access their content easily. If you use a mobile app like Flipboard to read news from a variety of sites, chances are it’s using RSS somewhere under the covers.

Google Reader has been around for about 8 years, and I’ve been using it pretty much since the beginning to keep up with various news feeds. So, I’m pretty sad to see it go. But not surprised. While Reader (and RSS for that matter) has always been popular among the geek set, it never quite seemed to cross the chasm into the mainstream. More recently, alternatives, like the aforementioned Flipboard, have come on the scene which aggregate news based on social media connections as opposed to explicitly identified feeds. This is much easier for the mainstream user to “get” and use. In addition, the newer apps present a much more visually compelling user experience, taking full advantage of the images embedded in your feeds. Using Google Reader, by contrast, is like reading your email. Efficient, but not very entertaining!

So what’s next for a feed addict like me? Well, one of the feed readers I use on Android, Feedly, has already announced their plan to help abandoned GReader users: Feedly has developed a back-end service called Normandy that is a clone of the Google Reader API. That means that even though many Feedly users came from Google Reader, Feedly can continue to operate even when Reader disappears. When Reader shuts down, users’ feeds will be automatically migrated over to the new back-end.

Feedly feed reader for iOS, Android and Mac

While previously I only knew Feedly for its Android app, it turns out they have a very nice Chrome app as well. It seems to strike a good balance between being visual and efficient, and offers a nice set of Google-Reader-compatible keyboard shortcuts.

Feedly for Google Chrome

I’m sure there will be other options as well, as companies rush to try to step in for Google Reader.

Last month I took on the challenge of eliminating all processed sugar from my diet for 30 days. I wrote about my experiences in the Sugar-Free Chronicles, originally written as a series of Facebook posts, but later cross-posted to my blog.

Here is an index of those posts, for folks trying to follow along at a later time:

Give it a try; you’ll thank yourself later!

While I certainly watched my fair share of TV as a kid, for most of my adulthood, I was never really into the tube. While I can remember owning one in Chicago and California, I don’t recall watching it much at all. (I do remember watching, with a four-year old Nia, the Chicago Bulls win the NBA Championship with an AMAZING game 6 performance by Michael Jordan. But literally, that’s it.)

We had a TV in Cali, but it was kept in an enclosed media center. The kids watched a bit more TV than I liked, but other than that, the doors were usually closed. Then, after our move, we were without a TV from 2001 to 2006. I was adamantly against owning one the entire time. But I broke down in ’06 when the Cards made it into the World Series. Got a 46″ DLP and an OTA HD antenna and watched all the games. It’s been on and off between the TV and I since then. But it hasn’t ever gotten what I would consider really bad. Not until the TV jumped into my computer.

With the advent of Hulu and Netflix, passive entertainment has invaded my life in a big way. I’m always in front of my computer and so, now, “TV” is always only a click away. And of late, I find myself clicking a lot more than I like.

Now, by “Average American” standards, I’m a media consumption lightweight. But nonetheless, I find myself watching a show or two on Hulu most nights on my second monitor. Perhaps this wouldn’t be bad if I were watching Masterpiece Theater, but my bad habit is made all the worse by the fact that many of the shows I watch are pretty STUPID. Burn Notice? Revolution? Arrow? WTF… They’re all pretty dumb and in spite of that fact, I keep them playing in the background, telling myself I’m accomplishing other things at the same time, but the reality is I’m not. I’m just watching stupid TV.

So, I’m quitting “TV” for 30 days starting November 15th. Actually, I started the first of the month, but I’m setting the official start date to be November 15th in case any friends want to join in with me. I’ll be going cold turkey between November 15th and December 15th, and I plan to be *much* more selective in what I partake in after that.

Going Beyond TV

I’m not stopping with my video consumption habits, either. I’m going after the other main time wasters in my online life. Specifically, I’m looking at you:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Hacker News

Each of these consumes way too much of my time—together way more than Hulu—and worse, I find myself visiting these sites compulsively throughout the day. That ends with this media fast.

Changing my relationship with these web sites is a much harder task than quitting sugar or TV because cold turkey isn’t necessarily the right answer. Facebook has become an important way that I communicate with friends and loved ones. Twitter plays an important role in my professional community. And there are some really good posts to be found on HN. So I will have to exercise moderation.

One tool that shows promise in helping me limit my consumption of these sites is StayFocusd. StayFocusd is a plugin for the Chrome browser that limits the time you spend on the sites that you choose to block. It also tracks links originating from these sites, so the “Charlie Bit Me” video you watch after clicking through from Facebook counts against your total time. (Perfect for link aggregators like FB, Twitter and HN.) I’m starting with a 30 minute per day limit. The default 10 was way too low and just sent me running to Firefox. I’ll keep you posted with how it goes.

Control

In the end, this is about more than TV and a few web sites, it’s about my time and how I spend it. And, like giving up sugar last month, or swearing off of hard liquor after a rocky first encounter freshman year, it’s about control and self-discipline and growing as a person.

If you feel like your relationship with time or media consumption could be improved, please join me for this 30 day challenge. Let me know if “you’re in” in the comments!

The Sugar-Free Chronicles, Day 32.

Yesterday officially marked my first month of sugar-free living. Though the first week and a half or so was pretty rough, I survived the month without any breakdowns. (Though I did unwittingly eat sushi twice, before realizing the rice likely contained sugar.)

One thing that is sure is that this challenge would have been much harder if it weren’t for all of the friends who provided moral support, ideas and suggestions, and those that joined in the challenge with me. THANK YOU!

Now that I’ve made it a month, I’ve been asked a few times how I feel and what, if any, differences I’ve noticed.

Overall, going sugar-free has been great for me. My energy level and mood are a lot more consistent throughout the day, I’ve been less inclined to snack between meals, and overall I’ve been eating much more healthily. Generally speaking, I feel like I have a much healthier relationship with food and eating. I often found myself “driven to distraction” by a need for sweets, and that doesn’t really happen anymore.

My exercise performance seems to be much more consistent, and where previously I found it hard to get myself out of bed to go train, I now find that I deeply relish it and hate the thought of missing a workout. I’m not so sure this latter part is strictly diet-related, but it couldn’t have hurt.

My weight isn’t something I’m overly concerned about, but I am interested in body composition and I feel like this challenge helped a bit in that department, along with being able to more consistently push myself during workouts. My morning weight has dropped by about three pounds, though my evening weight still fluctuates pretty wildly. (This probably sounds a lot more obsessive than it is. :-)

So what’s next? Well, for one, I do plan to follow through on my commitment to be sugar-free for the remainder of the year, though I’ll be giving myself a bit more latitude to “cheat.” That said, if I feel like I’m losing control to sweets or snacking, I plan to be very quick to revert back to cold turkey.

But there’s more. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of a challenge, and I’m planning to take on a new challenge for the month of November. More on that mañana!

The Sugar-Free Chronicles, Day 29

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since I went sugar-free!

I’ve been a bit remiss in checking in with all of you for a couple of weeks now, but things have continued to go well for me with my sugar-free challenge. How are you all doing? Is anyone still hanging in there with me?

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about going sugar-free over the last few weeks. It turns out that one of the most common responses I hear after sharing what I’m up to is “oh, I don’t have the willpower to do that.”

I have mixed feelings about the role of willpower in a challenge like this. On the one hand, to the extent that willpower is used as a catchall for the ability to get oneself to do something “hard but good for you,” I think that there is definitely a role for so-called willpower. On the other hand, I’ve always seen willpower less as a fixed quantity (as suggested by the question) than as a skill that can be learned or a muscle that is developed with use.

So in fact, one of the best reasons to take on a challenge like this is to strengthen one’s willpower!

For more on this, take a look at the article “Willpower: It’s in Your Head” by Stanford Prof. Carol Dweck. I’m a big fan of Dweck’s work and enjoyed her recent book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”