Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tales from the RSS....

RSS has been around a long time. There are so many readers and
apps. Its pretty boring.

Or is it?

My mobile SIM is data limited - 500MB/month. I am a tight person -
I dont need minutes and texts, and the data is fine for odd browsing.
I would never watch video or listen to music over the 3G airwaves.

But my vendor does something strange: for a zero cost per month,
they shove adverts, piggy backed onto the web pages you look at.
Before they did this in earnest, life was ok. I could get through
250MB of data a month - and managed to squeeze this down with the
excellent off-road mode of the Opera browser, on Android.

Alas, they blocked that. So, my bandwidth was back to 250MB/mon.
But the way they do adverts - very broken, typically is doubling
that - more like 500MB/mon - because once a page has downloaded,
they tack on some form of redirect, and take you to the advert page.
To get back to the page you were browsing is another full copy of the
page. (They increased the free data allowance from 400MB to 500MB, possibly
an indication they knew what they were doing).

In addition, over recent months, they have been suffering capacity
problems, so a lot of the time, I would never get to my page
of interest - although a lot of data was being downloaded, consuming

So, lets revisit the appalling state of all browsers on Android today.

First: Opera - simply the best - but alas, looking under nourished.
With off-road mode and data compression, along with *settings* (yes!
Settings!...see below), the ability to disable images - wins on
the bandwidth usage. Typical data savings are at the 75% mark. Brilliant.
Except my provider has blocked the off road mode, or Opera has stopped
supporting it.

Next: Chrome. Severely rubbish. I dont care that it comes from Google.
It is undernourished and lacking *SETTINGS*. No ability to control the
browser or adblock. The recently introduced compression feature
achieves around 10% bandwidth saving. Pure rubbish. The UI for Chrome
is utter junk. So many clicks to get to the bookmarks and select a new

"Next": an ok browser, but lack of settings, nothing to write home

"Firefox": potentially good - lots of features and settings, but an annoying
interface. Far superior to chrome.

Dolphin: the "best", after Opera. I dont like its version of the
speed-dial page, but it suffices and is easy to configure.

Ok - so a brief run down of a bunch of browsers. I have used others, but none
of them appear good enough to spend a few minutes on my phone.

Back to RSS: most RSS readers are rubbish. There is no control and
determining bandwidth usage is nearly impossible.

So I wrote my own - again. My first RSS app was for CRiSP - its still
there today, for web crawling and news reading in the contents page.
But I wanted to avoid CRiSP and have a simple customised app - one I
can run on my internet facing 24x7 machine at home, and use this for collecting RSS data
from my mobile. This means stripping out the garbage in many
RSS feeds, and being as minimalistic as possible. Its controlled from
a rss.cfg file stored with the source file (a Perl script). In
the browser, you can navigate fairly well. And it means I can grab
a ton of news, and fit it into a 200kb page/download. That means I
can trim my download data significantly, and possibly get to 100MB/mon
instead of 500+MB/mon. And the page loads instantaneously - no
images or other html things to slow page loading.

You can try it here:

Theres no sign up - you get what I give you and have configured my end.
Theres nothing special about this page - except the need to be
ultra fast, ultra compact and avoid the issue caused by all browsers
being designed to render at speed and provide zero support for
data allowances.

The initial version took about 4h of effort to write. So far, the effort
is around the 20h mark. It took about 3 minutes to make the RSS
aggregator into a web server (about 10 lines of pure Perl). It deliberately
doesnt do anything clever - other than restrict the files you can download.
I may add cookies at a later date (just so that it can be cleverer about
the deltas it sends you, but the 200k/page size limit means we dont have
to be so clever - yet).

It could do with decent CSS support.

One thing I have yet to verify is the HTML. The web page is deliberately
ill-formed HTML, which I think has the benefit that my provider cannot
daisy chain adverts on to it. I will know in a few days if this is true
or not, and will experiment to see how they do this. (Using a non-standard
port helps; not being a properly HTML conformant page helps too).

Post created by CRiSP v11.0.25a-b6698

1 comment: