in commentary, family, general

Baby Sleep

Generational wisdom says that babies can sense that you are being impatient with them, and they in response become further uncooperative. You end up in a cyclical fight to tears and bedtime becomes a war zone.

But I don’t think this is the case. I don’t think that these tiny little neural networks that can’t tell that not everything is food, can decipher the complex emotion that is impatience… yet.

More than likely, what happens is that our animal brains tend to use that impatience to skip a few crucial steps or focus on only our own desires – that of getting the baby to sleep and for us to get out. Skipping those steps means you forget that babies need soothing, a calm environment and demeanor, and a little bit of play to relax and be amenable to sleeping.

A good example of this comes from the work of software development. Very often, as a software developer, I’ll run into some problem which in the moment seems insurmountable. I can pound at it for hours and it doesn’t budge. The recommended strategies in such a case are to do one of the following –

1. Go for a walk. Go, grab a coffee or lunch. Let your mind wander. Forget about the problem at hand and let your mind decompress. As often happens when you’re trying to remember something that’s on the tip of your tongue, letting go is the easiest way to trick your brain into coming up with the solution.

2. Explain the problem to a fellow coder. The process of explaining the problem very often reveals the hidden bias or flaw in our logic. It lets us review our work and very often even during the very first overview, we come up with the solution to whatever is troubling us. This is why it’s said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. The preparation to teaching it or showing it to someone else tricks your brain into being more critical of the information you’ve received and thinking through its logic deeply.

3. Let someone else take the reigns. If all else fails, step back. Let someone else poke and prod at the code, very often in situ – it’s possible that if you let them work on your system that they’ll reveal an environmental issue or design consideration that wouldn’t be valid if the code were running on their system or a common system. So hand them your baby (pun intended) and let them figure out what’s wrong.

I think you get the drift – all of these are applicable to babies as well. If you’re at your wits end with your baby, hand them to a trustworthy partner and go do something else. Even if it’s something as mindless as washing the dishes. If you think you’re burning out, give your partner the problem to solve and they might shine a light on the issue which was preventing you from the ultimate goal – a happy, healthy baby.

Folks, I made a thing – NYT Redirect

So, The New York Times provides a nice service where they put the day’s newspaper’s front page as a PDF up on an obscure URL for anyone to see

https://static01.nyt.com/images/2022/08/26/nytfrontpage/scan.pdf

If you’re a logged in user who wants to use their webapp instead, you can go to –

https://www.nytimes.com/section/todayspaper

If you’re like me, you can never remember how to get to these links.

So, using the power of Cloudflare Workers, I made a little URL redirector that takes you to these pages.

You can access it by going to these URLs –

https://nyt.nitinkhanna.com or https://nyt.nitinkhanna.com/front for the PDF version

https://nyt.nitinkhanna.com/today or https://nyt.nitinkhanna.com/todayspaper for the webapp version

https://nyt.nitinkhanna.com/about for my omg.lol profile which has all this information, including a link to the GitHub repo for this little thing 🙂

Cheers!

Some quality of life improvements on my iPhone

When iOS 15 dropped, I noticed that it added a feature that Shortcuts could run on their own, without user approval every time. This is a pretty major change to the way they were working before, and allows for some truly good automation.

A few months ago, I created a folder in my Photos app called Wallpapers and added subfolders called Morning and Evening. I created automation that runs at Sunrise and Sunset and sets a random wallpaper from the folders as the lockscreen wallpaper. It’s a nice way to update my lockscreen frequently.

Over time though, I got bored of the same few wallpapers, so I’ve created two more automations – these go out to source.unsplash.com and pull wallpapers using simple search terms.

Unsplash has run their free Source endpoint for a long time and even though it’s technically deprecated, they don’t prevent it’s use if you know what you’re doing. The search terms I use are –

https://source.unsplash.com/1080×1920/?Morning and

https://source.unsplash.com/1080×1920/?Sunset

Note that if you put the search term as “Evening”, it leads to some particularly Non-Family Friendly results.

So now, I’ve got 4 automations – on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I set Morning and Evening wallpapers from my local folder. On the rest of the days, I let Unsplash send me some nice wallpapers for my phone twice a day.

The best part of this is that the wallpapers from Unsplash don’t get downloaded to my phone and clutter my photos. They directly get used as wallpapers.


The other quality of life improvement I’ve made is webapps!

At some point, I found this shortcut which lets you create a fullpage standalone browser app icon on your iOS homescreen for any URL or website you pass to it.

I had just installed Amazon Luna and rocketcrab as webapps using Safari’s Add to Homescreen feature some time before that, and really like how they come off almost as proper apps (as good an app as Amazon can make, and they make some spectacularly terrible apps).

When you try to turn a website into a webapp but it doesn’t support this feature, it opens in a new tab in Safari, which takes away from the feeling of a standalone app. But the shortcut above solves that problem!

It creates a webapp using a configuration profile, which you then have to go into the settings app to accept. It’s an unsigned profile, so the risk is all yours. But you can look at what the Shortcut is doing and let me know if there are any security concerns.

One caveat – the shortcut asks for an icon image. You better have one ready when you’re using the shortcut and it has to be more than 128×128 pixel. I tried an image that was 64×64 and the icon just turned out blank.

Since I discovered this, I’ve gone on somewhat of a binge. I made webapps (or Web Clips, as iOS calls them) of three webbooks I’m reading on and off (these aren’t available as ebooks in any way). I also often have to check up on my GitHub Actions runs of a particular secret project, so I made a webapp of that direct URL. I made one of my blog, so I can easily go into the admin section and make edits to my posts in the Gutenberg editor (which still doesn’t have proper support in WordPress iOS apps). The only one I haven’t made (and thus opens in Safari) is solitaired.com and that’s basically because I got lazy. I’ll make it one of these days.


From the time I started writing this post, I made another improvement.

I don’t really like Wallpapers cluttering my photos app. Over time, they make a mess, the good ones used to get lost when I moved phones, and overall, it’s a lot of pain to manage them in the Photos app, which needs a long overdue overhaul, Apple.

I figured out that I can make a shortcut that actually picks a random file from a folder in the Files app. So I moved both the Morning and Evening folders to the iCloud Drive and now I can add any good wallpapers I find on my desktop to my phone too! 🙂

I like when things fall into place nicely like this 😀

Cover art is from emoji.supply, which is a ridiculously awesome source of emoji based wallpapers!

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!

black text on gray background

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.