in commentary, general, reading

Reverse order feeds show me a truth

brown chicken on brown sand

I recently did something crazy – I reversed the order or my RSS Feed Reader, so I’m not seeing the newest items first, but the oldest. I did this in a single folder – Web Comics, so I could finally catch up with every artist’s evolution and since comics are easier reads, I’ll be able to pound through a 1000 unread items out of the 8000 in my stack right now.

What I didn’t anticipate is that the setting is app-wide. So now every list I’m seeing is in the Old to New order.

Yesterday, I read a post from Sophie Haskins figuring out which virtualization solution to go with for her home setup. She played with a few options (and skipped the one I wanted to read about – Proxmox) and settled with running Ubuntu as the Host and minikube on top. I saw that she linked to a tweet and I wanted to ask why she had skipped Proxmox and so I went over. That’s when I realized that the post is from 2017 so the conversation is long gone.

After I learned that I’d reversed the order of all my feeds, I forgot about it.

Just now, I was reading a post by Vicki Boykis, where she’s talking about how Pinterest sends her emails to entice her back to their site. What was odd was that she was talking about it in context of Halloween. That threw me off, till I realized that the post I’m reading is from November 2013!

From social sites trying to pull people back to their platforms for (as Vicki puts it) click$ to virtualization solutions for your Home Lab… the more things change, the more they stay the same! Be it 2013, 2017, or 2022, we’re looking a the same issues, aren’t we?

(Sorry about the click bait title. I was having a hard time figuring out what the title should be about this Musing. Just went with this one. Recommend a better title please?)

Thoughts on Netflix

About a week ago, I opened the Netflix app on my iPhone to watch something… and was greeted with a prompt to download some games. Netflix Gaming is nothing new. But I’d never had the chance to participate. So I scrolled through the options.

Much like Apple Arcade, Netflix Gaming is all about no IAPs, no ads, and exclusive titles (grain of salt there for both subscriptions). Unlike Apple Arcade, I found some titles that I actually want to play in the list.

When I was exploring Apple Arcade, I was mostly into Call Of Duty Mobile. So the obvious choice for me was their shooter game – Butter Royale. It’s obviously aimed towards kids and is appropriately silly. I was immediately turned off. I did enjoy a few other titles like Outlanders (a settler survival game which I failed at), Mini Motorways (a road design game which got too complex too soon) and Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows (which was confusing as heck to play). I let the free trial of Apple Arcade expire.

If I were to get the subscription today, I would try a few more games from their now 200+ games collection. Partly to play “plus” versions of games I love, like Prune+ and Solitaire+ and Hidden Folks+ and partly to check out truly exclusive titles like The Oregon Trail.

With Netflix Gaming, they’ve tried to cover their bases, to offer something for everyone, mostly using companies which also publish to Apple Arcade as well as having IAP supported games. The titles that caught my eye are Asphalt Xtreme and Wonderputt Forever. While the former is a rehash of multiple variants of the same car racing game (one for IAPs, one for Apple Arcade), the latter is a slow-paced but beautiful mini golf game. I haven’t spent much time on the latter but the former is been a mainstay for me this past week.

And what a week it has been for Netflix. The stock crash was horrible and the ensuing caving in to Wall Street’s demands was worse. The crash wiped out all the gains my own Netflix stock purchase had made and then some. I can only hope to break even one day.

Then came the news that Netflix is trying to figure out a way to appease Wall Street and is promising to add adverts to their platform within a year or two. The ensuing backlash was inevitable.

As a Netflix shareholder, I’m glad that Netflix has always had this option in its back pocket. They can create a tasteful but cheaper subscription offering with ads and this works both in markets where they have faltered, like India, and in western markets where subscribers will be thankful not to pay the burgeoning price of the default Netflix subscription.

But as a Netflix shareholder, I’m also wary of this promise of ads making Wall Street happy. From here on out, at every earnings call, when the CEO admits that ads are not yet integrated, analysts and institutional investors will punish Netflix. When they finally announce that ads are active, the focus will be on ad revenue, not on subscriber growth, the original issue that brought this saga on.

Aside – and what a stupid saga it has been. Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in a decade! That’s ten years of solid growth. And instead of acknowledging those ten years of growth, Wall Street chose to punish Netflix so heavily because some numbers in one quarter didn’t go up and up and up. How stupid! Now, one could claim that it’s just a correction and Netflix’s stock is now at its real value, instead of an inflated value based on perceived profits. But it’s all perceived only. It’s all the inflated egos of a few men that drives Wall Street. So there’s absolutely no merit to that argument.

As a Netflix subscriber and admirer, this whole thing has been terrible. The idea that Netflix may one day have ads is horrible and a loss for the idea behind subscription models. Not only will Netflix’s success in implementing ads embolden other streaming platforms, it’ll also send out a message that online targeted ads work, which for the most part is not true. It’ll also take away from the idea of simply providing good content and being rewarded for it, something Netflix has been working on for years and is now under threat of being upended completely.

It’s also possible that instead of expanding their line of no-IAP games to rival Apple Arcade, Netflix starts to allow IAPs in their games, or shuts down the entire endeavor as a cost sink. Overall, this whole thing is a loss for both Netflix and it’s customers. All to appease some analysts.

In Netflix’s case, it’s better to be the storyteller, not the story. Sad to see their day in the crosshairs. (Sorry for the weak ending to this post. I kinda ran out my train of thought.)

Reposting with WordPress

I wish WordPress had an easier way to repost things
cdevroe.com/2022/04/06/11083/

WordPress does, sort of, have an excellent reposting feature. But it’s wrapped up in a Quote Repost feature. After all, what’s the point of linking to something without commentary or context?

Also, WordPress.com seems to have a much better reposting feature. But to me, that’s a social network and while we bloggers may be social, we’re solitary creatures too.

Secret Project #1

I’ve been working with my wife on a very important secret project for about the past nine months.

We’ve poured our blood, sweat, and tears into this one and we’re proud that two days ago we were able to release our project. It’s not v1 by any standard. But it’s the right start and we’ll keep growing it as we best can.

Please welcome to the world as we welcome the world to her, our dear Arzoi Bishnoi Khanna!

atelic activity

I learnt a new word (or rather, phrase) recently – atelic activity. An atelic activity is one that’s done without any end goal in mind. Essentially, anything that’s done for it’s own sake. Most hobbies would be considered atelic in nature, even though specific tasks inside the hobby would be telic in nature – you sit down with the specific goal of completing that puzzle, but what’s the overall goal of doing so? It’s just to enjoy (spending time with) yourself.

I found this phrase on a blogpost of a fellow blogger, Colin Walker, where he’s musing on a question asked by another blogger, Julian SummerHayes – is blogging just writing? Essentially, in a world where the act of blogging has been commoditized in many ways – Substack, Medium memberships, Patreon, YouTube sponsored vlogging, etc – what is just the purpose of an eponymous blog?

We’ve done this navel gazing many times about blogging, so instead, let’s focus on the new phrase. I love having hobbies and side projects. But side projects have end goals. Hobbies, do not. I love reading, but ask me to read towards a goal – studying up for anything, for example – and I will be the laziest person you know. But reading for pleasure? Gimme!

The opposite of an atelic activity – a telic activity – will give you some pleasure for sure, but the pleasure will dissipate quickly upon achievement of the goal. You were so focused on ending the activity that you didn’t consider that the end will bring about a state of confusion in your mind.

Instead, in an atelic activity, you focus on the activity itself. Sort of me writing this blogpost. I have no end goal in mind. I’m riffing. The moment I feel satisfied with how much of the screen I’ve filled up with my words, I’ll be done. Right about… now.

Testing status blogging to my WordPress blog using the micro.blog app, as @manton suggests.

On social media feeds

neon signage

I’ve been thinking about a topic which my wife was talking to a friend about recently – the emotional rollercoaster rides that are social media feeds of today. From Instagram to reddit to YouTube, whenever you’ve spent long enough on a platform, you tend to gather a lot of cruft – topics you were once interested in but are now just stale, pages and creators which have strayed from their initial mission, and sometimes it’s well meaning people who are speaking about current affairs when all you’re trying to do is watch cat videos. Of course, there’s also the algorithm, trying to tweak your feed to keep you engaged more than you want to be.

Our social feeds of today have become emotional landmines. We can cull them, limit the number of people we follow, and even depend on algorithms to mark posts as sensitive. But in the end, we get exposed to things when we don’t want to.

Has the above ever happened to you while scrolling through your media feeds?

There’s value in it for the social networks themselves. You want fashion, current affairs, memes, and travel all in one place? Come on over! You shouldn’t ever have to leave to go to another app or network for some subgroup of your interests, because that would take DAUs and eyeballs away from us! Facing social media withdrawl? Just let us curate what you see through our algorithms, so we can optimize showing ads to you!

But what’s the value to us, the users? Sometimes, when we’re up for it, sure, we love it. We love having all our interests in one place. But more often than not, the onslaught of good news-bad news-memes will wear you out. You’ll end up scrolling longer and longer for the same happy feelings, instead getting more negative news and digging that emotional hole even more. In the words of that friend, “you end up scrolling for an afternoon without being truly satisfied“.

We were also talking about shopping in person in stores, my wife and I. Her point was that even through she can’t wait to go back to shopping physically – there’s an element of satisfaction in touching something while window shopping it – there is one problem that physical stores were already running into pre-corona, which would only have been exacerbated now – a lack of sizes. Suppose she likes a particular top and they have multiple in one size, but not in hers, the only recourse she has is to order it online to have it delivered to her home. Either the store clerk will do it for her, or she can go home and do so herself. In any case, her shopping pleasure was interrupted by their lack of willingness to keep more product in store. One obvious solution would be for stores to just immediately order replenishment as soon as a product is sold. But this doesn’t work on big shopping days and in any case, with so much inventory moving through online orders nowadays, it makes more sense for retailers to offer online orders than to keep everything at hand for the dwindling in-person customers.

But that’s what the promise of shopping malls was supposed to be – something for everyone, always in stock. The fact that their economics is being upended by outside forces shouldn’t force them to abandon their original promise, but to double down on it with newer customers. But of course, there’s diminishing return in that, specially now.

Where do these two tales meet? Social networks today try very hard to become one-stop-shops for media consumption just like Macys and Nordstorm did for clothing. But that model doesn’t work. You can’t deliver on that promise for everyone and keep them happy. No amount of analytics and planning can keep the human mind happy, which may be seeking its happiness in some new way in that moment.

I don’t know what’s in store for in-store shopping, but more and more people realize the need to distance away from their current social network. This makes it possible for new ones to come in. But the new ones make the same mistakes – of letting all kinds of content run rampant with subtle UI tricks to make people think they’ve got control over what they consume and when. Unless a social network comes along that makes it easy to switch off certain content at the drop of a hat, they can keep expecting to fight a losing battle for eyeballs as soon as they reach scale.

P.S. This post was written on my new FreeWrite, gifted to me by my wife on my birthday. It’s an interesting product, with its limited feature set and exceptional design. She calls it a smart typewriter and reminds me that I should treat it as such. I think I’m going to enjoy using it for writing blogposts and maybe even get into the habit of writing longform again.

Got vaxxed!

white and black labeled bottle

I got the second dose of my vaccine today. It was a breeze! I got there an hour early because I had some free time and the person at the counter hemmed and hawed about when I would get my shot. But there was no one in line and as soon as I settled down, my name had been called.

My reward for the shot was twofold – when I got done with it, I was greeted with thunder and torrential rain. Minutes later, as I gave myself the reward of great tasting natural ice cream, a hailstorm swept through the area, with the Sun twinkling in the background. It was an ethereal state and the weather seemed to be celebrating that I got the vaccine today.

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I’ve been having a conversation with myself and with a friend lately. I’ve often thought about what changes I’ve seen in people due to the pandemic. For the most part, I’ve seen depressive states, acting out, bold declarations of the future (a sort of mania perhaps). But I rarely turned my gaze inward. But recently I started thinking about it and I realized what change has come in me.

When I was a kid, my parents gifted me a poster that I hung above my bed. As I would get dressed for school, I would recite the words on the poster. It was a short prayer towards optimism –

Today is going to be a great day. 
I can handle more than I think I can.
Things don’t get better by worrying about them.
I can be satisfied if I try to do my best.
There’s always something to be happy about. I’m going to make someone happy today.
It’s not good to be down.
Life is great, make the most of it.
Be an optimist!

That first year when I got the poster, my class teacher noted in my report card that “Nitin is a very optimistic child”.

Ever since, I’ve thought of myself as an optimist, sometimes blindingly so. Over the years, it has stood me in good stead – an attitude of “whatever happens, it’ll be good in the end” is a good way to coast through life.

Two years ago, I discovered philosophy through a podcast – Philosophize This. Apparently, there’s no better way to destroy ones rose tinted glasses than through a study of philosophy. Yet, for all the knowledge that I soaked in, it felt distant – a subject I’m studying rather than lessons I’m learning about life.

Or maybe the change started then, and the pandemic accelerated it, as it did everything else. I believe I’m now a realist. Every hopeful thought that comes about the future is quietly quashed by the reality of the pandemic. No matter how much we hope that the end is near, the facts and the reality of the situation in the US and India belie those fantasies.

My friend offered that perhaps I’m a rational optimist. What’s that? Someone who is optimistic within reason.

I don’t know if I’m that. But I think it’s a good thing to aspire to. Perhaps it’s time to find that poster and bring that prayer back.

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I’ve discovered the joy of reading ebooks from the Seattle Public Library. It’s not only a great way to discover new fiction that I would not otherwise get my hands on, it’s also a good driver to finish what I start. I’ve got a loan right now that I have to return in 14 days. Better get on with it!

Read a short profile on Julia Galef, might be interesting to read her book


Julia Galef on Bringing Rationalist Movement to Mainstream

a program officer focused on artificial intelligence at the effective-altruism organization Open Philanthropy

My first highlight in the article was about her husband? For shame!

The speech of rationalists is heavy on the vernacular, often derived from programming language: “updating your priors” (keeping an open mind), “steel-manning” (arguing with the strongest version of whatever point your opponent is making), “double-cruxing” (trying to get to the root of a disagreement)

No idea what double-cruxxing is supposed to mean in programming. But I reckon that this over-rationalist approach to tech is what has caused the mess that Silicon Valley is in today.

I often publicly identify as an ‘effective altruist,’ ” she says, referring to the rationalist spinoff movement focused on optimizing philanthropy,

What is the meaning of effective altruism?

Evolution has wired our minds to be soldiers (focused on winning) instead of scouts (focused on ensuring our mental maps reflect reality).

That’s a brilliant idea! But what does it mean in practice? I’ll have to look at the book to find out, won’t I?

To adopt a scout mindset is to resist falling prey to “motivated reasoning,” in which we distort our thoughts to achieve a desired outcome.

Hmmmm. That sorta makes sense.

Galef reminds herself of a tip she gives in her book: to take pride in being the kind of person who can change their mind.

This is again, brilliant. If we are willing to change our minds completely on a topic (only after thorough research though), then we’d be better off as a species.