Tips: Creating a Custom, Highly Curated RSS Feed for Sharing Content.

Is RSS dead? Many folks “in the know” claim that it is and yet, it’s still hanging around, for better or worse. Me? I use it sparingly. It’s still second to none when you want to follow a site and get links to every piece of content they produce.

Until recently, I looked at RSS as mostly one way communication. You either produce the content and it gets syndicated. Or  you receive/consume the content and do with it what you will. That’s how RSS works. We all need to make our peace with it. Or do we?

What if you could create a dynamic RSS feed where you had complete and specific control over what showed up in it? What if you could share hand-picked content from anywhere on the web simply by tagging a link? That’d be pretty cool right!?

The Initial Problem

I had a good friend with similar interests and hobbies as me. As friends do, I often sent him links to stuff I thought he’d like in emails, texts, chat clients, you name it. As you can imagine, over time these links were scattered everywhere. Eventually it got to the point where if I asked if he got a chance to watch that trailer I sent him, he’d say “No, could you send it again?” and even I would have problems remembering how I sent it to him originally.

In short, it was a mess.

So I started looking in to something that could function as a master list of everything I sent him moving forward. No texts, no emails. He’d just have to remember that I created this list and check in on it whenever he thought about it. Traditional RSS is sort of what I was going for, but I didn’t want to spin up a site somewhere just for posting links for my friend. That felt like using a sledgehammer on a thumbtack.

What would’ve been perfect is if I found something on the web worth sharing, I could send it to a service, tag it specifically for my friend, and have that link added to his curated list for when he had the time to look at it later. It’d work two-fold. On the one hand, it’d always be added to, and on other, it’d be a library of cool stuff to reference down the road that would exist for as long as the service did.

Making RSS more surgical

It seemed like a tall order, but I found precisely what I was looking for with Pinboard. Boiled down, Pinboard is a bookmarking service/online repository with read later options (similar to Instapaper) and a deep, yet simple tagging system that helps keep things organized.

Quick aside up front. Pinboard is a paid service that costs $11 USD a year. If you can swing it though, you get a lot for your money and you support an indy developer that is taking online bookmark repositories to the next level.

Ok, back on task. I had been using Pinboard for over a year when I noticed one day that it dynamically creates an RSS feed for each individual tag you create 1. So, I created a tag for my friend, sent him the RSS link, and that was that! He put the feed URL into his feed reader of choice and immediately started getting the links I was tagging in Pinboard for him!

Finding the tag-specific RSS link isn’t hard but, due to Pinboard’s intentionally spartan layout/design, it may not be obvious. If you haven’t already, create a tag then click the new tag in the tag-cloud to the right. This will bring you to a page displaying a list of links under this tag. Now look for the small orange “RSS” link in the upper right, it will be next to the search field. Right click it, choose copy, then paste it into whatever way you are sharing the RSS feed.

PB_RSS

Moving forward.

To keep those links lining up for my friend, I use the bookmarklet Pinboard has created in Safari (Mac user here) and a universal iOS app called Pinner, that’s also on Android as well. Whether I’m in front of my computer, or on the go 2, both allow me to save and tag links quickly with very little effort.

That’s it! I know there are probably other services that serve up RSS in a similar fashion, but I hadn’t found one that handles it quite as well as Pinboard. Since setting up this custom RSS feed for my friend, I’ve also started using it for freelance client work. It’s an easy sell and it seems like magic to them when you show it in action.

So if you are a Pinboard user, you should definitely check out their RSS feed integration if you haven’t already. If you are looking for a better way to serve up your own custom RSS feed, give Pinboard a try! It’ll definitely have you looking at RSS in a completely different way!


  1. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed Pinboard supported RSS before. I just originally thought its capabilities were limited to a master list of any links you had set as publicly viewable.

  2. Pinner’s got a particularly wonderful extension in the iOS share sheet by the way.

Tips: Getting Your Markdown in Scrivener to Display Quicker in Marked…

Hey everyone! Just a quick and easy tip for all of you folks who use Marked as your Markdown previewer when writing in Scrivener.

One of the microscopic issues I have with using Marked in conjunction with Scrivener is the lag between when you write your Markdown (or any text) in Scrivener, it autosaves, and a few seconds later it shows up in Marked. This isn’t a bug in either programs – Marked shows what your document looks like after it is saved, and Scrivener autosaves after a preset amount of time after you stop typing (usually a matter of seconds).

I know, I know, not a big deal. But did you know that you can change the amount of time it takes for Scrivener to autosave? You can! It’s in the preference pane. Open up Scrivener, head to into the preferences menu and click the general tab, you’ll find in there.

ScrivPrefPaneShot

You can go as low as 1 second (I tried 0.5 seconds, no dice) in this field. Set it to that and close out of preferences. You should see a bit of an improvement to when Marked displays your Markdown now. It doesn’t get rid of the lag completely, but it does make it much less noticeable, creating a more seamless experience between apps.

So if it’s been distracting you or worse, keeping you from pairing these two juggernaut apps, try tweaking this auto-save time increment lower and see if that makes the experience any better for you. I know it did for me.

Software: My Favorite OS X Text Editors to Date

For years now I’ve been… well… collecting text editors. The reasoning behind this “hobby” can be boiled down to the fact that I am a writer and I like different tools for different tasks. Also, having a web development background, I have a huge appreciation for good UI/UX. I love the idea that something as seemingly mundane as software can make similar tasks (like typing text) a joy or, at the very least, elevate them to something else entirely.

There are a ton of options to choose from out there. It’d be impossible to write about all of them. So in this post I’d like to tackle typically encountered writing tasks and my favorite text editors to date that I use to accomplish them.

Bit of a caveat – All of these will be for Apple’s OS X, though some of them are available for different platforms.

As I’ve mentioned several times on posts here on this site, I am not against the other operating systems out there. They all have their strengths. I just prefer OS X for my computing needs and have been using it for so long now, that I don’t even know much about any other platform anymore. I used to, but there is only so many hours in the day :). I’ll make a deal with you though, I promise to mention other platform versions when it applies.

That said, please know that I have zero experience with that particular version of the software.

Ok, enough jibber jabber, let’s get to it!

Writing Letters

Periodically I drop everything to write a long letter to someone and when I do, I don’t use a Mail app. I’m utterly convinced that the Mail apps around today were built only for quick responses back to people – the distraction of additional emails coming in, the clutter, it’s multi-column UI… it’s pretty much become a long-form chat client.

When I write a letter to someone I want the experience to be spartan, distraction free, with clean easy-to-read fonts, a full screen mode and little-to-no editor tools. Luckily, there are more than enough options out there! What I’ve been using is a combo of iA Writer and Ommwriter. I like to use iA for correspondences that need my attention but not an overly emotionally-infused response. For the latter, I use Ommwriter.

If you’re an Apple device owner, than iA is a dream come true, as there are versions of the app for your Mac, iPhone and iPad. All three sync with each other seamlessly, have a UI that is almost nonexistent, are light weight, support markdown syntax and save to a flat text format that is easy to export into an email (or CMS interface).

Ommwriter is a bit of different animal all together in that it offers its own distinct and custom UI/UX when you fire it up and use it. Undulating backgrounds, full screen mode, individual keystroke sounds, soothing music – it may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. When I write to loved ones I almost always use Ommwriter to complete this task. It does very, very little other than offer a unique writing space. But for letters that deserve your undivided attention? It’s perfect. I am not sure where development is on this one, but it’s currently available on iPad, Mac and Windows PC.

Writing for the Web

While I’ve written a good bit on this site about the virtues of Scrivener as a blogging platform I still am a huge fan of Mou which is a markdown editor I’ve also written about here. I do know there are a lot of excellent options out there for this exact task, but I’ve really grown accustomed to Mou’s aesthetics and it’s lightening quick preview pane that displays your markdown in fully rendered html as you type, with very little lag.

Mou App at mouapp.com (image linked to that very site).

It’s still in beta (and thus, free) but it’s genuinely polished enough so that you don’t ever notice that fact. The developer is really passionate about this editor too, which gives me high hopes for the future. If you write in markdown (and you should if you are writing for the web) and are a Mac user, than you can’t go wrong with Mou. It’s a joy to use and does what it does (process markdown syntax) exceptionally well. Feel free to read my previous review if you are interested and want to learn more about it.

Long-form writing

highres-scrivener-logo

To date, I do all of my long-form writing in Scrivener. It simply handles lots of text in the easiest and best way that caters to how my brain works. Watching all of those small chunks of text pile up into a project that exports beautifully as a whole into any file format you could need, is a beautiful thing to behold. I am unabashedly smitten with it and haven’t witnessed any other editor even come close to what Scrivener does. It’s my one-stop shop for about anything I write.

So if you can only afford one new text editor, Scrivener is what you should get. Not long ago I finished an entire 508 page novel in it, you can read about it here if you want.

Scrivener is available for Mac, Windows and Linux

Note taking

OS X's very own Reminders App

I am never picky when it comes to taking quick notes. That’s why I often use OS X’s Reminders or Notes apps. They are dead simple to use, quick to open and they seamlessly sync with my iOS devices which is key, since 99.9% of the notes I take I will more than likely need as I am walking around during the day.

Mind Mapping

highres-scapple-logo

Here’s another niche that has a lot of options out there (good ones too). I personally love the ease of use that Scapple provides. It super simple and intuitive to ease into and with an export to PDF option it’s easy enough to share with others. Add in its compatibility with Scrivener, and it’s a no-brainer for my workflow.

What’s great too, is that I know for a fact I am not even coming close to using Scapple to its fullest potential. But knowing that it caters to my needs quickly and easily makes it a perfect addition to my writing tool kit.

You can snag Scapple for both Mac and PC and there’s also a free trial for you to try it out if you are on the fence.

Using what works best for you

What I love so much about this golden age of apps is their ease of use, availability in app stores to download and the amazing variety of text editors that are there to choose from.

With so many developers out there clamoring to fulfill our individual needs (and our hard-earned cash), there is bound to be something out there for everyone. When it comes to writing, we are definitely all unique. What I use works for me, but may not work at all for you. I just sometimes find it helpful to read about what others are using and how they are accomplishing the writing goals/tasks in front of them.

If you have some suggestions, list them below in the comments. Let’s a get a complete and quality list here! Marked and Byword come to mind. Are there any others? Let everyone know!

Tips: Setting up Scrivener to Compile MultiMarkdown

Back in August I wrote a post about using Literature and Latte’sScrivener as a complete Blogging System“. What I wasn’t expecting was how that post drummed up a lot conversation about MultiMarkdown and writing in Markdown in general. After going back and forth with you all (a genuine pleasure), I realized that I hadn’t really covered the process of exporting your MMD documents from Scrivener into clean, valid html for whatever web-based platform you were using.

I thought I’d take care of that now and write a companion piece on both setting up Scrivener to use Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkDown and, once installed, how to easily compile your documents and export them as clean html that you can then copy and paste into the WYSWYG of your preferred blogging platform.

First, let’s get MultiMarkdown installed (if you don’t have it installed already)…

Markdown Export

One thing I failed to mention in that original post was that you actually may not have MultiMarkdown installed on your computer. I say this, because I didn’t. The easiest way to tell (without using the command line)? Open Scrivener, click the Compile button and hit the drop down at the bottom. If you see just “MultiMarkdown” as an option and nothing else, you don’t have everything you need to compile your MMD document into html.

Here’s what you need to do (don’t worry, it’s easy I promise):

  1. Go to Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown downloads page and grab the install that matches the OS you are using on the computer in front of you. I usually download to my desktop to find it easier.
  2. Unzip the file that downloads and double-click the installer within.
  3. Follow the onscreen directions to complete the install.

That’s it! Told you it was easy.

What now?

If you had Scrivener open prior to the download, save your project and quit. Now re-open Scrivener and you should now see a whole new host of MultiMarkdown options under the drop down at the bottom of the “Compile” menu!

mmdoptionsinscrivener

For most of you, the “MultiMarkdown -> Web Page (.html)” option is all you need. Click that and then click the “Compile” button. Again, I like to save the exported .html doc to my desktop to find it easily, but feel free save the document wherever you like and open it in a text editor. To do this, right-click your new .html file and choose an editor like Textmate, Coda or even good old Notepad. Once open, you’ll see that all of your MultiMarkdown has now changed from this:

mmdcode

To this:

ScrivMMDExport

The code you are interested in (unless your working with a static HTML-based site) is within the opening and closing body tags (<body></body>). Copy that code and post it into your site’s editor. When you do this, make sure you are in HTML mode in your site’s editor (in WordPress it’s under the “Text” tab), otherwise you’ll end up with a post contains all of your text as well as all of the html tags. Trust me, it looks funny and broken when you do it.

Hey, this is great! Thanks! But what’s the point to all of this?

Well, put simply, WYSIWYG editors have come a long way over the years, but they are still far from perfect.

If you’ve ever written a post, pasted it into the editor of your site and spent the next hour cleaning up code the editor thought you wanted, you probably wouldn’t want to write on your web site again for a while. On the flip side though, these same web site editors will just about always take clean and valid html code and render it correctly – displaying everything just as you’d expect. Still, trying to write in html (not to mention valid html) is a pain in the butt too – we shouldn’t have to frankly – and, luckily, with Markdown we don’t have to.

That’s why it’s so damn convenient that Scrivener supports it!

What this post didn’t cover. (aka: I smell a series comin’ on!)

I didn’t go over actually writing in Markdown.

I am assuming if you read this far, you already know how to write in Markdown (which lends easily into MultiMarkdown) and that wasn’t really the point of the this post anyways.

If there is interest, I’d be happy to write another post on how I write in, and rely intrinsically on, Markdown for all of my web publishing. If you’d like to hear more, leave any specifics in the comments below (even if it’s just a “Yes please!”) and I will do my best to accommodate them in a future post.

Hope you found this useful! Now get back to blogging in Scrivener!

Tips: Stretching an iPhone 5 Battery Through a 6 Day Hike in Yosemite National Park

This will be a quick one folks! I just wanted to share how I made a stock iPhone 5 battery stretch 6 days on one full charge while using it only as a camera.

When traveling, I really love using my iPhone as my main point-and-shoot. Does it best my wife’s DSLR? Hell no, not even close. But it does take decent photos if you’ve mastered its quirks and the portability of it is second-to-none.

Upper Cathedral Lake

But what about on hiking trips? Not car-camping mind you, but hiking out in the middle of nowhere, where the nearest power outlet is literally days away?

In those cases you could either bring one of the many portable solar chargers that are now available at any camping/outdoor gear store, or even a hand-crank generator, but that’s just extra weight for me to lug around, not to mention misplace or lose. So when my week-long hike in Yosemite came along, I wanted to see just how far I could stretch a single charge on my iPhone 5, all while using it to snap frequent pics of the stunning beauty out there (and man, there is SO much!).

Now, on a typical day I use my phone to such a degree that I rarely get through a full 24 hour period without plugging it in. I am sure many of you can relate. So how did I accomplish 6 days straight? Let me tell you!

Dim Your Screen Brightness

Brightness Settings

Go under “Settings” and tap “Brightness & Wallpaper”. In that menu, use the slider to bring your brightness down to 50% (or as low as your poor eyes can stand).

Airplane Mode is Your Friend!

Turn off Airplane Mode

Tap “Settings” (if you aren’t still in there) and right up at the top you’ll see a toggle for “Airplane Mode”. Turn this bad boy on and leave it. This turns off your cellular service, WIFI and your Bluetooth connectivity. With this turned on, your phone stops continuously looking for something that, out in the middle nowhere, it will never find. If it was constantly searching? Your battery would be dead in way less than a day. So at the very least, switch Airplane Mode to the “on” position.

Turn Off Location Services

Turn Off Location Services

Tap “Settings” again, go down to “Privacy” and in there you will find “Privacy Services”. Click on that and hit the toggle at the top to turn that off. You will lose the geolocation of the pictures you snap, but the accuracy of that gets dodgy anyways when you are that far off of the grid.

Basically an iPod Touch…

That’s all I turned off! With all these services off, you’ve basically got an iPod Touch, but you can still utilize your camera (which I used continuously from the slider on the lock screen), snap a pic, check it out and lock the phone immediately afterward.

So how did this all work? Quite well! So well in fact that I took well over a hundred shots (a bunch of panoramas too) and, with less than 48 hours until I was back in civilization, I still had 50% battery left! I know! Not bad!

I am sure a lot of folks have tried this combo with varying degrees of success, but sometimes it’s good to read about a use case that actually occurred and worked. If there are any other services I missed let me know!

A Bit on Common Sense

I know it goes without saying but… I when I was hiking, I was with 4 other people who all had charged phones, compasses and maps on them… in other words: don’t take chances. If your phone is the only thing you have as a link to possible rescue, don’t try this out. It’s not worth it.

But, if you are properly prepared, I whole-heartedly recommend leaving your iPhone charger back in the car.

Out there it’s not going to do you any good anyways. ;)

Have fun and be safe!