Planet Xavier δ

Voice of the St. Xavier blogging community

Frequently Asked Questions

The concept of a Planet – or of any newsreader for that matter – is pretty new to most of you. So let’s try to clear up some of that FUD lurking around, okay?

The Basics

Why is this called a “Planet”? Is it part of some bigger service?

No, Planet Xavier is not part of another service like LiveJournals or Xangas are. pX is powered by a piece of software called Planet, hence our name.

How’s this thing work?

Minh maintains a lengthy list of bloggers and their blogs. Every now and then, Planet reads this list, goes to all the blogs, checks for new entries, and finally compiles a list of the 30 most recent entries (five days old at most) in chronological order, from newest to oldest.

How can Planet tell if there’s a new entry?

Planet doesn’t actually check your blog, per sé; it checks the blog’s feed. A feed is an XML file that contains all the latest entries, including each entry’s title, date, author, and contents. See below for more details.

How often do you update? Is it automatic?

Planet Xavier automatically updates at more-or-less the top of each hour.

Why in the world did you do this?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve encountered hoardes of blogs and journals written by classmates, all in their sad little islands of emotistic thought. A lot of them were great, but because they had far too few readers – at least, too few of the readers who actually cared – the quality of these sites went downhill.

By gathering up all these blogs in one place (and by spreading the word quite a bit), I’ve enabled people to communicate a lot better, and as a result, many have found new motivation to keep on blogging. All in the space of a month. It’s really been great to see.

No, really. Why? Do you have too much free time?

I think the fact that I ever setup my own blog in the first place indicates that I have way too much free time. Or that I can’t spend it wisely.

But seriously, I intend to leave a tiny little mark on the St. Xavier community, by helping the very useful mode of communication called blogging become mainstream. I think if people find that they can join this group of bloggers they actually know, then this will attract more people to blog.

Unlike many of my peers, I actually think that blogging is more than just a pointless collection of thoughts by vain “emo” kids with no self-esteem. But blogging has no chance to take off if that’s the way we keep on viewing it. Maybe with a tad bit of professionalism, we can get people excited about this again.

(And if we fill our blogs with something worthwhile, maybe we won’t have to worry about our parents finding our blogs. Well, we can dream, can’t we?)

I use a feedreader. Why should I use this site?

Planet Xavier provides a feed containing the latest entries in three flavors: RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom 0.3. Pick your favorite. This way you don’t have to worry about maintaining a massive list of subscriptions. If you’re not interested in the whole shebang of bloggers here, you can at least use it to find some of your friends’ obscure sites.

If you’re not sure what feeds or feedreaders are, Six Apart has a good explanation.

Wow, you’re sly. You’re actually using this to promote your blog.

Actually, I hadn’t even thought of it until I wrote this question of yours. Even so, I haven’t noticed a real uptick in readership at my blog (which I measure by the number of comments posted there, silly me). I really am trying to be sincere with my efforts here.

Getting Syndicated

How’d you find my blog(s)?

If I contacted you recently by e-mail or IM, I probably told you how already. Most likely I found one of your blogs through LiveJournal friends lists or Xanga subscription lists. But I’ve also found some blogs by looking at the comments that are occasionally posted at the blogs I’ve already found. Additionally, I’ve taken the usernames of LiveJournalers to see if they correspond to a Xanga, and vice versa. Typically the corresponding blogs tend to be written by the same person, fortunately for me. Finally, people trying to help out have occasionally pointed me out to other student-written blogs. (Hat tip to Brad Haines ’07 and Eric Webb ’05.)

If you don’t want to be syndicated here, please see the Syndication page for options.

What are the requirements for joining?

  1. You have to be a current student, teacher, or other employee at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, or an alumni of St. Xavier.
  2. You have to maintain a blog or journal of some sort. It can be abandoned or friends-only.
  3. Your blog should have a machine-readable feed of the newest entries. If not, you can still get listed here.
  4. Your blog must not contain illegal content.

I have some Facebook notes I want to share. How come I can’t get listed?

Facebook only provides feeds to registered members – this website isn’t registered, apparently. A feed is an XML file that contains all the latest entries, including each entry’s title, date, author, and contents. Unfortunately, I don’t expect Facebook to provide public feeds for your notes anytime soon.

I handcrafted my own blog, software and all. How do I create a feed?

First of all, kudos for handcrafting your own blogging software. That’s a noteworthy achievement in these parts.

The first thing you have to know is that there are two main flavors of feeds: RSS and Atom. I now prefer Atom, but your choice might depend on how clean you like your code to be, or what format your software already outputs dates in.

If you’d like to know what exactly an RSS feed contains, try the RSS Tutorial for Content Publishers and Webmasters or take a look at the RSS 2.0 specification.

If you’d like to try out Atom instead, take a look at the introduction, which is pretty easy to follow and includes a handy example.

You can also take a look at some existing feeds: follow one of the (feed) links in the Rollcall list on the Roster.

I’m not thrilled about everyone reading my posts. Can I quit?

Yes. See the Syndication page for your options.

What happens when I graduate?

Starting December 2005, Planet Xavier is syndicating blogs from a few graduating classes on separate pages (for example, 2005).

This setup may be only temporary; Peter Rother is looking into setting up a Planet for St. X alumni. He has the resources to do so, too: he used to run a test Planet installation on his own server. Contact Peter for more information.

Will I start getting more comments if I sign up?

From my own experience, being a part of Planet Xavier doesn’t guarantee more comments. This is for many reasons. For example, many of the people who read Planet Xavier on a daily basis (they exist, believe me) tend to read only the posts by their classmates and ignore the stuff by strangers. That’s to be expected. On the other hand, I have witnessed the rate of comments steadily increase at several LiveJournals since they’ve been syndicated here. It all depends.

If you really want more comments, you’ll have to write something that’s worth commenting on. Something provocative, heart-wrenching… or just a simple survey that gets everyone’s attention. Be creative. That’s what blogging’s about – to me, at least.


Why are the contents of my blog entry not being displayed – just the title?

Probably because one of the entries still listed on the front page (not necessarily the most recent one) is far too lengthy. So that people who visit here can read the entries more easily, I’ve “collapsed” any entry that exceeds three screens using a 1280×800 resolution (in 12pt Times New Roman). Unfortunately, because of some limitations in Planet right now, I have to collapse all the entries by that author at the same time. See my blog entry for more details.

My entries get pushed down so quickly! Can I get priority placement or something like that?

Yes, Planet Xavier is a busy place. In the future, pX might have a preferences page where you can hide posts by students outside of your class year. But for now, you’ll just have to keep up. Since Planet orders entries in strict chronological order, the only way you can get “priority placement” is by changing the date and time of your post every now and then. Most blogging software and services support this; see your blog’s documentation for details.

Why am I seeing a flurry of old entries at the top of the page all of a sudden?

On occasion, Planet Xavier is upgraded to a newer version. When that happens, Minh usually empties Planet’s cache – its memory – to keep the service running smoothly. Usually, Planet simply reads a blog’s newsfeed to see when each entry was posted, to determine which order the posts will be displayed in. But newsfeeds from some services don’t correctly provide the date and time of each post. Because Planet doesn’t “remember” the post (it doesn’t exist in the cache anymore), it assumes that the post is new, and drops it right on the top of the page. Now consider that pX could syndicate scores of blogs from that one service, and you have one blizzard of old posts.

Think of it as amnesia, if you prefer. If you feel so inclined, take the issue up with that service’s developers.

How do I get my face to show up next to all my posts?

See the section on Hackergotchis.

I noticed that some blogs only have summaries listed here. How can I do that for my blog?

It all depends on your blogging service or software. By default, the newsfeeds for Movable Type blogs display only the excerpts of each entry. Since these “excerpts” can be modified for each post, they often end up more like summaries or teasers than excerpts.

MySpace only includes the first 200 or so characters of each blog post in its feeds, and lops off the rest, often breaking off mid-word. It’s probably a way of getting you to visit MySpace and see yet another banner ad.

This design is tacky…

If you have any questions or comments about the design, please get in touch; I wasn’t able to set the design in stone, because my monitor would’ve been in pieces. There’s a reason for that big δ up top.


I just saw something inappropriate on this site. What are you going to do about it?

Please contact me about it as soon as possible. I’ll remove the offending site from Planet Xavier as soon as I can, because not only do I dislike such material; my host also forbids it. Thanks.

I’m a concerned parent.

Please read our brief disclaimer. Note that the students fall under the Terms of Service or Terms of Use agreements of their hosting services.

No comprendo. (Translation: I don’t blog in English. Is that alright?)

Sí, no problemo. Este sitio web es plurilingual.

Yes, not a problem. This site is multilingual.

School gives me the creeps; I don’t ever mention it on my blog. Will you chastise me for it?

I rarely mention it either; not a problem.

I don’t ever update my blog anymore; is that okay?

That’s also alright: your blog will simply be included in the Rollcall, so others can find your blog. In the event that you ever do post something again, Planet will automatically detect that, and your new posts will appear in the recent entries listing as well.

What if my blog is private or friends-only? Will it be open to the public now?

Your private or friends-only blog will remain that way, because your blog’s feeds have similar restrictions. The blog will merely exist as a link in the Rollcall, so no one will even find out when you update.

Does the school read this site?

Do you mean the administration? Possibly, if someone in the AP Office is familiar with Google. Some teachers do know about this site as well. They don’t seem to care much about it, though. And because this is outside of school grounds, you probably don’t risk disciplinary action at school for something you write here, unless you break the law. But then again, IANAL and use common sense.

Can you exclude a particular entry of mine?

Not easily, but you can. Simply include either of the following codes, verbatim, somewhere in your post:


Planet will see that code and ignore your rude command. No exclamation marks necessary. :) If your blogging software or service supports it, you can hide that code from human visitors by placing it in an HTML comment, like so:

<!-- PLANET_GO_AWAY --> or <!-- GO_AWAY_PLANET -->

If your blogging software or service automatically strips HTML comments out of your posts, commenting out the code won’t work, but you can still obscure it by using a very small font, or by using some code like so:

<span style="display: none">PLANET_GO_AWAY</span> or <span style="display: none">GO_AWAY_PLANET</span>

Someone’s trying to be an übergeek: they’re writing in 1337 for heavensake!

You have my permission to scold them. If you’d still like to read the message, try using the wonderful Deleet bookmarklet.

Someone has posted copyrighted material here. What are you going to do about it?

Please contact the original author of the offending blog entry. Neither I nor the school nor any of the other syndicated bloggers claim any responsibility for the offending material.

Someone posted an incredibly large image here. How do I hide it?

If it’s just large in size, but doesn’t slow down your browser considerably, it’s probably not worth the trouble to collapse the entry and thus hide the image. If having to load the image would slow down your browser considerably (due to file size), just contact me, and I’ll collapse the entry as soon as I can.

Do I still own my blog entries now, or do you?

I make no claims on the content that you allow me to syndicate here. But you’ll still have to consult your host’s Terms of Service to see whether they allow you to retain copyright on the material you post there. For your convenience, here are links to the Terms of Service for the major blogging services:

And of course, IANAL, but YMMV.

Everything Else

How do I setup something like this?

Setting up a Planet is not for the faint of heart. You’ll need a host or server that supports Python and preferably gives you access to a command-line interface. You’ll also need some tools to get the latest copy of the Planet software, because the version featured as a “nightly” on the Planet website is actually quite old and is filled to the brim with bugs that have since been fixed.

You’ll first need to download a copy of the file versioning system Arch that works on your system. If you find the installation or compilation instructions for Arch a bit daunting, try Bazaar instead.

Once you’ve got Arch or Bazaar all set up, you’ll need to download the latest version of Planet from one of the software’s maintainers. I currently use the code from Jeff Waugh’s 1.0 development branch; to download his version, use the following commands:
jdub at

You should now have a full copy of the code on your machine. If you use Windows, you’ll probably find it in your My Documents folder. The INSTALL text file will give you a rundown on how to setup the software on your website.

If you’re using a host that doesn’t give you access to a command-line interface, you can whip up a script that’ll emulate that functionality, which will let you actually run Planet correctly. Such scripts, however, are typically frowned upon by system administrators, so you’d be best to contact your host and see if it’s alright first. Perl has the handy system keyword that lets you call other programs in a command-line fashion, so that’s why I ended up creating a CGI script to run Planet.

These are the basic steps to get a Planet up and running. If you’d like some advice on how to give your Planet some advanced functionality, try posting a message to Planet’s Devel mailing list.

Your school closings listing is pitiful.

I know. And I’m working on a way to automate it, possibly by “scraping” more reliable sources. But what are you doing checking Planet Xavier for the most up-to-date school closings information anyhow? Try Channel 9’s listing.

Minh, you’ve already graduated.

I know. And I wouldn’t mind continuing to host and maintain the service, but please contact me if you’re interested in taking over.

How can I help out?

  • If you’ve got any suggestions for new features or new ways of presenting things, let me know.
  • If you know of any blogs that should be syndicated here but aren’t, clue me in.
  • If I’ve misspelled your name or have otherwise misrepresented you, correct me.
  • If you’d like to offer some words of encouragement to keep me going on those late nights when I’m trying to pinpoint the source of an elusive bug, by all means please do so!

I found a mistake in the way your site handles blogs! I want to laugh at you and never let you live it down!

Please don’t. Just file a bug: e-mail me, describing the problem with enough detail that I can understand the problem.


  1. The Basics
  2. Getting Syndicated
  3. Display
  4. Content
  5. Everything Else