in general

Stack Change

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how irritating the Firefox iOS app is. It’s slow, it’s cumbersome, and while I love it for being in sync with my laptop browser, the UX was irritating enough to forget all the features.

I switched back to mobile Safari. It took only a few taps and moving the app icon to the dock and suddenly I was a safari user again. I know this is a ploy by Apple. No one cares for the default browser, but they’ve created an anti-competitive environment which forces everyone to use their browser engine. Invariably, adding features on top of an average browser engine makes the outcome trash. But lacking any government agency having the backing to take on Apple, IE is turning in its grave at what has come to pass.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with someone online and I realized that the timeline to move from free Gmail for custom domains is over and I needed to move post haste. They recommended Fastmail. I moved to it. The transition was very smooth. Fastmail is amazing at pulling over a 100K emails over IMAP and very quickly, I was set.

But last evening, while having a conversation with my brother, I realized that I don’t want to use Fastmail. I don’t even want to use the alternative he proposed – Zoho mail. I want to use gmail. But zoho is cheaper. Where Fastmail wants to charge me $50/year for 50 GB, Zoho is giving me a 10 GB mailbox for $15 a year. At 8 GB, my mailbox fits nicely within this package and paying them allows me access to SMTP, IMAP, and POP, letting me avoid Zoho’s terrible UX and just forward my email to gmail.com and respond from it too.

So, overnight, I’ve moved my email stack to Zoho.

To those wondering why I didn’t stick with Google Apps after receiving years of free email from them – it wasn’t free. Google was collecting data on us and when the value of the data reduced, they declared its time to pay. It’s the same story as Google Photos – they were happy to give it to us for free till their AI models needed fodder. Once they’d built up enough data, they converted the service to paid.

As for the moves themselves – I still use Firefox on my computer, so while syncing has become a little difficult, it’s not impossible to move between devices and continue working on whatever I’m focused on. As for Zoho (and Fastmail), I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to move my mailbox from google to Fastmail (taking content out of it is painful apparently) and irritating but doable wrt Zoho (they made me setup a cloud app with keys and permissions and still ended up taking the entire night to transfer my mailbox, but at least it was straightforward and well described in their docs). As for the DNS, Cloudflare makes it a breeze!

When I setup Fastmail, they let me setup some email aliases too. I love their mm.st domain. It’s so niche! If Fastmail lets me continue using their email for free, I’d love to use these aliases. Otherwise, I’ll miss them.

I also discovered that Cloudflare has an email routing feature that lets me forward emails directly to any email address as soon as it hits their servers. That’s sure to be useful someday. What an epic company! They just keep adding useful features for you to discover on your own time.

Notes on The War against Printing

assorted wood stamps


The war against printing

For many, printing was an overwhelmingly positive innovation. Almost as soon as the first presses were established in Italy, learned men rushed to sing its praises. To some, in fact, it seemed almost divine. In 1468, the bishop of Aleria, Giovanni Andrea de Bussi (1417–75), hailed it as a ‘holy art’ (sancta ars).

Does Ars Technica mean Art of Technology?Checked Wikipedia and yes! It does!

Previously, Filippo observed, the inaccessibility of the Bible and other devotional works helped keep the common people on the straight and narrow. Unable to understand the Latin language, they relied on priests to explain the meaning of scripture and the practices appropriate to a Christian life.

Oh no! Don’t challenge our monopoly!

But also, religious expertise is being challenged at this point by less educated fools who haven’t thought thoroughly about things but are overconfident. Exactly what’s happening to science right now around the world but specifically in the US.

However distasteful a character Filippo de Strata may seem, his polemics against printing hence serve to illustrate that, amid the fog of change, the line between progress and peril can appear blurred, even to the most keen-eyed observer. It is perhaps just as well that, in this case, wishful thinking prevailed over unpleasant, if not unjustified, fears

Final thought – not really a war but a battle that was quickly lost.

A journey into audiobooks

A friend told me, when my wife and I declared that we were expecting, that it’s time to accept that I’m not going to be reading a lot of books or watching a lot of TV on loud any more.

He recommended subtitles, telling me that he’s watched almost all the movies and TV in the past few months on mute or low volume.

What I’ve discovered, instead, is that I’m now suddenly a fan of audiobooks. I couldn’t bring myself to hear them earlier. But now, they’re a godsend.

What’s important, I feel, is that I’m getting the right ones to listen to.

I started with My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh, read by Julia Whelan, on Audible. I’ve still not finished it, because I’m really savoring it. But also, because I’ve discovered that I can get a lot of interesting titles from the Seattle Public Library through the Libby app.

I’ve heard Figuring by Maria Popova on Libby. Through it, I discovered a plethora of things to read. The book ends with the life story of Rachel Carson and it was fresh enough (Figuring is a massive book, worth going back to over and over for ideas and a reading list) that I decided to listen to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Libby. Sadly, it didn’t hold my attention. I also tried Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, but it too didn’t keep me.

So, I moved on, bouncing from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer to All the Sad Young Men by Keith Gessen. Neither was an ear worm (to me).

Finally, I’ve landed on Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. I’m on track to finish this one. The book is interesting, the narrator is just enough crazy, and the writing is arguably tight.

I’ve noticed that I like listening to stories of and by women who take control of their lives and lead it the way they want to. The protagonists of Turtles… and My Year… are both knocked down by their fate, and suffering through it, but are able to get through them, their inner monologue aflame with the pitter patter of random and inane thoughts interspersed with deep longing and pain. The women highlighted in Figuring were all pioneers and thinkers and brilliant, and tortured but always pushing, against society, culture, and their own notions.

I thought a few years ago that I want to read more women authors and women-centric stories. I know I’m late, but this audiobook journey sure is shaping up to be just that.

What should I read next?

Ev gives up. Yay!

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Ev Williams Gives up

No schadenfreude, but I’ve always thought that Ev Williams and the other twitter ilk were never too good at execution. Someone, somewhere along the story of twitter helped make it what it is, but neither Jack, nor Ev have been amazing at the business side of things.

But a former employee of Medium says it much better than I ever could –

I don’t know what’s in store for Medium, but it could have been a lot more than what it is today. Yes, the blogosphere is overcrowded. Yes, the true spiritual successor of WordPress is Ghost (or it’s Gutenberg, if you ask automattic). Yes, blogging is such an essential activity to the web that if every free and open source and well made CMS were to disappear tomorrow, someone would start making another one from scratch almost instantly. (heck, I made two for my personal use!) So where does that leave Medium? I don’t know.

I like the insight this write up by Casey Newton gives into what Ev thought he was doing with Medium.

To think that he can “fix the internet” and “increase depth of understanding” are grandiose plans if what you’re going to do is start a blogging platform that’s half-baked on day one of launch. Medium is often like LinkedIn now – it’ll throw up a soft paywall and you can just wander away and get your information fix elsewhere.

I do hope better things are in store.

Happy Prime Day. :|

scam alert letting text on black background

I got a very interesting call just now – a well crafted TTS message, using what seemed to be Amazon’s own Polly TTS service, told me that “This is Amazon. We’re reaching out to you regarding a charge of fourteen hundred and ninety nine dollars and ninety nine cents on your account for a Macbook Pro. If you didn’t make this purchase, please press 1 to speak to a customer service representative.”

By this point, I had opened my Amazon account and verified that there had been no such charge. So I cut the call.

But it was way too realistic. The only thing that prompted me to think it’s the call that’s spam and that my account wasn’t under fire was the prompt to talk to a rep instead of pressing 1 to confirm that the charge is valid. Next time, the spammers won’t make that mistake. (BTW, there was on more thing that alerted me, but I won’t list it here. Don’t want to give away ALL our secrets to scammers, do we?)

Now I’m left wondering if the idea was to verify my identity or whether a real person would come on the line and try to elicit my credit card details. I guess we’ll never know.

OR, we’ll find out next Prime Day.

Stay safe folks. Both Amazon and scammers want to steal your money.

Unsmarted

A few years ago, frustrated at Alexa’s inability to understand our spoken English, my wife unplugged all of the Amazon Alexa devices in our house.

We shifted, in that moment, to being a Google Home house. It worked well for a long time, with one device in each room. It worked especially well since over time, our use cases for smart home devices matured into three fields – asking for the time, asking for the weather, and switching our smart lights. We tried to use them to set timers related to cooking but they would assume we’re trying to set an alarm and ask us to do a voice verification so Google’s system can set cross-device alarms and also take our voice data. Couldn’t ever be bothered.

I’m not one to buy into expensive systems. So Apple’s HomeKit connected devices and Philip’s Hue with it’s expensive Base Station were always off the table.

Instead, I invested in inexpensive Kasa smart plugs to sit between the power and our traditional lamps. These work with Alexa and Google, so the switch to Google Home was seamless.

Every once in a while, while watching a movie or talking really fast and loud (as both I and my wife do), one of the Google devices would chime in. If we were watching a horror movie, it would be exceptionally hilarious that a device sitting in another room would get activated and reply “I’m well, and you?”

But this got tiring over the years and things came to a head recently. With the birth of our little one, we are acutely aware of noises in and around our space. Particularly irritating are cops and firebrigades blasting their sirens in the middle of the night on completely empty streets. Well done Seattle.

Also irritating was the Google Home mini sitting in our bedroom, which continued its random hello’s and offering newly minted capabilities. One day my wife unplugged it. That left two devices to help us out. But we resorted to using the Kasa app on our phones to control the lights.

Last night, the Google Home in our living room decided to get active soon after the little one slept and inform us that it doesn’t have a nickname but we can set one.

I ran to the device and ripped out the power cord.

Now the last device is on its last warning. One peep out of it and we’ll unplug that too. We don’t use it actively as much as the other two devices. But it’s close to where the little one sleeps and so it’s a pretty big threat.

Google Homes have improved over time. But we only have the first gen devices in our home and no interest in buying new ones with improve directional mics. They have also improved in voice recognition after billions of hours of audio inputs. But the random noise is a function of the system, which I don’t expect to improve.

So we are very close to having an unsmart home and being happy with it.

Dig in

On this dark day in the US, I’m going to pull out my copy of Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal and dig into it again. Perhaps only in a world where men (and that horrible monster, the anti-abortion woman) don’t exist can perhaps a level of peace for the bodily rights of women exist.

I’m also reading this review on Slate of Sandra Newman’s new book “The Men” and the history of books dealing with the idea of men suddenly disappearing from the world.

Buy this book here