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The Algorithm Dilemma

Last weekend, we watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and over the week, I’ve been discussing the content with my wife. We came to several conclusions, including that there are some algorithms and some services we are too dependent on for our entertainment needs. But there are others we can very much get rid of and should, as soon as possible.

The ones we are dependent on are Instagram and YouTube. We’re constantly on Instagram from the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep. It’s unhealthy, and we’re trying to reduce our time on these networks, but it’s a way to cope with all that’s happening out there. We’ve pivoted from just using Insta for getting jealous about travel bloggers to using it for memes, current affairs, and TikTok overflow bloggers. YouTube is our coffee companion. Whenever we sit down after a long day of work, we use it to get the news, weather, movie and show trailers, and catch up on our interests.

In line with that, we’ve noticed that these networks have both gotten better and worse at latching on to our needs. Instagram has gotten frighteningly good with their ad-focus. I’m generally immune to ads – I rarely see them on my computers thanks to uBlock. But the ones I see on Insta are almost always tech focused and I’ve started really salivating on those. On the flip side, Instagram is a well known negative-thought-bringer and I’ve started noticing the general tone of negativity it brings in our lives. YouTube is great at generally recommending time pass videos, but it’s gotten horrible at surfacing new, good content. The same few videos are shoved down our throats every day, all day, until we watch them. Part of the problem is that our main place to watch YouTube is their Apple TV app. This app has terrible UI. There’s no refresh button and the app doesn’t make an API refresh call even if you kill it and start it again. It’s like the algorithm is stuck on these recommendations no matter what you do.

Lately, for my wife, the YouTube app has been recommending a YouTube produced documentary about Paris Hilton’s life. This is despite that she’s never seen any content related to Paris Hilton or her corollaries, has never seen anything related to obscenely rich and spoilt people, and actively avoided this video every day for the past five days. But, like the demon from the movie It Follows, that video recommendation follows her everywhere. Sometimes it’s at position two in the recommended list, sometimes four. It’s present in the Entertainment section of the app, and in the News section, and in Originals. It’s obvious why this is happening – YouTube produced this content and wants to earn it’s money back. It’s like they hired a Netflix PM and he (definitely a HE for ruining a good product) brought the same stupid ideas he implemented there, here. We’ve discussed starting the video and downvoting it. But my wife pointed out that the lesson from The Social Dilemma is that the algorithm doesn’t care about the vote. It just sees engagement as a good sign for their vested interests and will simply count that, discounting everything else. She has actively started skipping over the video, hoping YouTube will finally get the hint one day. Can’t wait.

One of the things our eyes were opened to was how inherently evil this dependence on shady algorithms is. One of the interviewees says, “but it’s easy to forget how much good these technologies have done, how they’ve connected long lost people and found organ donors.” Another says, “when we were building these, we just wanted to build a tool to connect […] but we forgot to look at the flip side of the coin” (quotes fuzzy and from memory, please watch the docu). But every new layer they peeled in the story felt like a revelation that every decision in these companies is made to cater to the bottom line instead of ever bothering to wonder if it’s good for the masses that use the social platforms mentioned. The design ethicist from Google at least mentioned thinking about how their actions affect millions. The folks from Facebook can’t be bothered.

The thing is, none of this is necessary. But it was inevitable. The Internet was always poised to take over the rest of media. A free travel blogger, vlogger, Instagrammer will always throw out the need to subscribe to a travel magazine. A labor of love tech blog will always dismiss the need to pay for PC Magazine. Someone posting news snippets and their commentary in their free time will completely upend the newspaper business. That’s just bound to happen. Video will always kill the radio star.

But this is not just because of the inherent freedom that comes with the Internet. It’s because our society, our norms, and our laws have always operated in whiplash mode, always catching on with something after it has just become passé.

As the documentary moved from the first half to the second, it started focusing on the political ramifications of the freehand these Internet behemoths got and a message came across. It’s not just social. Yes, YouTube is social and Facebook is a place for video. But Google is just as much to blame for inherently bad search algorithms, and Amazon for terrible facial recognition technology as Facebook and twitter are for letting foreign powers turn American politics into a sham, as WhatsApp is for enabling mass state-sponsored violence in parts of the world, and as tech companies are for promulgating the problem of racial and gender inequality while talking about the Internet as an egalitarian utopia.

After the docu, I sat for a long time in conversation with my wife and we discussed ways that we can improve our interactions with the Internet as it is today. We decided to move from Google Search to DuckDuckGo. We decided to uninstall the official twitter client and exclusively use tweetbot and others. We decided, over these past few days as YouTube inundated us with a Million Heiress’ documentary, that we will actively stop using the YouTube recommendations section and start using it’s Search and Channels to find content we want to watch. It’s not like their search is any better, since it shows only a fraction of the content on the service before giving up on you. But at least it’s better than their silly recommendations algorithm, which really needs an overhaul. Lastly, we decided that we’ll police our time on Instagram and tell each other to get off the network as much as possible.

In other news, I was recently reading an article about what Google is doing to keep bad results out of their Search, and here are my notes on the topic –

Google has a new plan to keep junk out of search

Google Search is every bit as important

Yup, we often overlook it, but search is actually way more important in people’s perceptions of the world than we think.

Social media has proved that “people read it and shared it” has no correlation to expertise, relevance or truth.

I would say that there always has been a more discerning, a more learned clientele of knowledge than the common folk. Though it’s not true that common people are in any measure lesser educated, they certainly are less discerning and more prone to peer pressure. If they see something being shared, they are more likely to jump on it as their new belief than some folks who would rather investigate, even though that investigation doesn’t take more than a few minutes in today’s information soaked era. Speed of information veracity has already reached a pretty good point and algorithms and machine learning continue to make it faster. But people’s willingness to ignore all that is also increasing.

So the technological solution is to create better tools to nudge people towards the truth. But the societal solution is what will matter in the end, and one societal solution is to make people less busy in their work lives, giving them more time to look outwards to what’s happening in the world. The current working generation doesn’t have the brain space to deal with everything going on in the world on top all the work they’re expected to do. We’ve all seen the chart where productivity has risen disproportionately to income levels in the last few decades. This has led to a form of inequality where the only people who have the time to ponder over important things are those who are either content with their current means, or have enough means to not worry about money. Now, this has been the case since the time of Socrates, but should not be the case today, should it?

Update: I was thinking about a simpler time when we used to own the knowledge that we bought – whether as newspapers, or books or magazines. Similarly we used to own music and video. But moving online liberated and democratized all these – people who could not afford music players or expensive books could enjoy streaming music, or ad-supported music videos, or read Wikipedia or blogs to gain knowledge. People have built entire careers through learning programming or handiwork on YouTube. We used to own apps on our phones five years ago, and today we’re moving to subscription models and rundles. But this means that if we want to share something, we have to do it on the platform it’s on. If you’re sharing an Instagram post, or a medium blogpost, the receiver is forced to login to see it. If you own Kindle ebooks, you can “lend” it, but only on Kindle. There needs to be a whiplash where we start paying for our knowledge again, for our media again, our ability to share and spread our sources. But that needs a perspective and longer term thinking that’s a longer conversation.

Playing with Townscaper

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France

I have been adoring Oskar Stålberg‘s budding idle gamer Townscaper for some time now, but today I realized that it’s available on Mac on Steam! So I immediately got it and started playing with it. It’s a blast to have a beautiful blank canvas to play with!

Here are some towns I’ve built. I’ll be adding more here over time. (design saves at the end)

My first design! I love the colors, and the lighthouses look fabulous!

I went a little crazy with this one. It was interesting to build a town that’s accessible even to it’s own residents mostly by water. The houses on the right are beautiful single family (single person?) homes and the central tower is 29 floors! I had a different design in my mind, but this one just came about.

I love the French town of Mont Saint Michel and hope to visit it one day. It’s a strange place and Oskar has said that it’s one of his inspirations for Townscaper, so getting this game was just meant to be!

building structure near body of water

Wishlist for the game –

I hope Oskar adds the following –

  1. Actual lighthouses – I would love these!
  2. Proper beaches – right now, in certain cases, a small beach shows up near some houses. I’d love a proper beach area!
  3. Trees! I would love trees that I can manually place!
  4. Little people – Birds are aplenty in Townscaper and it’s a lot of fun to watch them fly around. But I’d love to see little humans cycling around our towns!

If you’re reading till here. Go buy the game. It’s awesome and only six bucks!

Design saves (for people who own the game) –

First –

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Long Tower –

pSiAeJWiciaNjtmD3u4BztUezcvYkngkwhnM-jRehDPZ_Fi8EHudyDkbp8k5_QIv5Hf6Hf6Hf6Hf6Hf6Hf6Hf6Hf6HfzGfqFnyWPRiPthHph-gh3oh3shjEXLObc-4QzFlVNtg2YW1Tj5U3eaMX42Tj5x2eaM3w2Tj5M2eaMXvWPNmjWpnGwymt6s5ntDtBptMtJqtVteKTbiaVVVVVVVVVPBptMtJqPdoNR9JAsmf2E1nqwmo2U36J2sJq90Y2E1eSLbiaPFlNR9misn4yOwG7zWsB

On the price of the new Apple Watch Braided Band

I missed watching the Apple event live yesterday. Late in the evening, I looked at my phone and realized that I’d missed a notification. As I browsed YouTube to find an appropriate explainer video to watch, I also messaged my brother to ask if he’d seen the event.

I settled to watch the official video from Apple. Of course, I didn’t want to sit through the whole thing, but their human interest stories in the beginning are always nice. Most of the times, these stories help Apple get a theme across. But this time, I noticed one that was out of place – one of the participants talked about their diabetes and how the Apple Watch helps them somehow. This story would have been a great preface to if/when Apple releases a watch with a glucose monitor. If they’re able to miniaturize a transdermal glucose monitor, and launch it without unnecessary health insurance companies in the way, that there would be a great sell and a true service to people with diabetes!

But till that happens, look, new watch bands!

My brother replied that he didn’t see it live, and then followed it up with this ridiculously succinct summary of the event –

New watch, cheaper watch, cheap ipad, new straps, new bundled service with multiple tiers

nipun khanna

No surprises there, I guess, other than the new straps/bands.

I stopped watching the video and we got to discussing the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. He rued that the braided will cost a hundred dollars. I joked that soon there will be Amazon knockoffs priced at twenty five dollars. Then I jokingly plugged the name into Amazon.

😱

Introducing to you, the Tefeca Colorful Braided Elastic Compatible/Replacement Band for Apple Watch! It’s priced at, you guessed it, twenty five bucks!

But that’s not the best part. THE best part (found by my brother), if you scroll down that Amazon product page, is that this band was first made available on September 6, 2019. So who stole from whom? Did Chinese manufacturers get wind of this upcoming accessory way back when and started producing it a year ahead? Did someone at Apple see this, buy it, love it, and decide to pirate it? I don’t know the answer, but it’s awesome!

The other day, my wife was showing me her iPhone leather case. It’s her first official case, and the one she’s proudly had on her phone for a long time, though she’s had other cases for a longer duration. But it’s also her first case to actually fall apart. The outer covering slowly started peeling away and is almost ruined now, to the point that it’s ugly and almost destroyed.

Official Apple accessories are not something they’re particularly good at. Their cables get ruined easily and are better replaced by Anker braided cables, their wired earphones were always too easy to tangle, and their iPad smart cases are always overpriced and under-performing. So if you’re going to ask me to buy a $100 band that I can absolutely get for $25 outside, I’ll go for the latter.

Really enjoying Call Of Duty: Mobile nowadays

I’ve been playing COD:M on my iPhone since the last few… months, and I’ve been really enjoying it. It’s a no-fuss game, with graphics settings to match even my older iPhone 7, and really good development cycles and fast moving seasons (storylines and season passes).

They’ve done a bit of work to gamify the interface though, with lots of pre-game notifications and pop ups that try to convince you to buy the season pass or individual weapons and characters. It’s just enough to not irritate me and feels not more than a hurdle to cross and get to the actual gameplay.

I’ve been getting good at the game. So good, in fact, that in the last five days I’ve gotten banned twice. Both times, I was playing really, really well, and came in first on the scoreboard, so I assumed that one or more players from the other team reported me as probably using a cheat.

I’m not, but that’s a sort of rite of passage of playing FPS games well – you get accused of cheating. Problem is, the first time I was banned for an hour and the second time, for a day! Now I’m worried that if I play too well and get reported again, I might lose access for even longer! And in typical fashion, there is no recourse in-app to contact the moderators when banned.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to the game, but who am I kidding. I’m afraid to lose access and this might affect how well I play in the future. But hey, every time I got banned, I ended up spending time on coding on side projects, which is awesome!

All said and done, I’m really enjoying Call Of Duty Mobile and I’d recommend it to everyone! It’s a free download.

[rant] I hate podcasts

Ok, listen up. Podcasts are stupid.

I’ve got good reasons too, if you read on.

There are two types of blog posts – ramblers (like this one) and informative. That’s generally what you’ll see on the Internet.

Most personal content is a rambler type of blog post. It may be the most succinct two line update, but it might contain content that you’re not interested in. You might be following a world-famous author (cough GRRM) for his book updates and end up reading more about his travels to various conventions instead of focusing on his books. So personal blogs (and personal blog posts) come with a disclaimer – here be ramblings.

Most professional content is, conversely, not a rambler. It’ll be informative, to the point, with a few asides. As any programmer will tell you, those asides are the true saving graces of the Internet – the aside might be an anecdote by the author about some small issue they faced and it’ll end up being the key that solves the reader’s biggest pain point! So in general, even with asides, a little rambling, and generally useless intro and outro content, professional content is mostly informative.

And it doesn’t have to be that personal and professional content is separate. My blog is personal, but my most visited blog posts are related to devOps and setting up certain software in cloud environments for free. Similarly, professional blogs, specially by indie hustlers, often contain gems about their personal travails which are amazing to read.

But podcasts. Ah, podcasts.

I’ve never come across a podcast that wasn’t an indie production and wasn’t a mishmash of nonsense. See, I figure that when people are given a chance to write, they edit. But when they’re given a chance to speak, they ramble on.

I’m a fan of conspiracy theories. They drive me nuts, they’re fun to analyze, they’re fun to call out the stupidity of people. I’m a sucker for flat-earther-takedowns. Those idiots!

But conspiracy podcasts? Oh, they suck! Never have I ever come across one that was by any measure good. I came across one recently that showed some promise. One episode was the podcaster just telling us a story. That felt good. A single person talking to you is a great medium to learn something new. But the very next episode was an interview with an author of a conspiracy book. Now, when the episode started, all was well – the podcaster introduced everybody, gave us a short intro of the book and the backstory, and then opened the floor to discussion. Then all went to hell. The book author first talked about his backstory. Then stopped midway to talk about how he knew the podcaster. Then stopped midway from that to talk about how he had been “permitted” to visit a certain telescope in Arizona AND THEN he stopped midway to give us the dang history of the Church’s involvement with…

At that point my eyes glazed over. I glanced through the wikipedia article and that was enough to educate me on the “conspiracy”. They’re idiots, the lot.

I’ve almost never had a good experience with a podcast that has more than one person talking. It’s not even about the rambling all the time too. Too often, you’ll have the podcaster sitting in a home-studio environment with an excellent mic, a windscreen, and a crooning voice. Then they’ll cut to their guest, who will be in the middle of the Savannah on a shaky Internet connection talking into Skype! The podcaster won’t even have the decency to tape the audio, clean it up, and then plug it back into the stream. Who wants to do all that work? Let the listeners suffer, I say! It’s the only way they’ll learn! Those times when I have to constantly toggle the volume between the well set presenter’s baritone and their shaky-Internet guest’s squeaky voice are the ones when I rue ever having learnt the concept of podcasting.

Then there’s the problem of followup. I love listening to science and tech podcasts. But unless the content is professionally produced (and then too it’s not common), there are almost never any cliff notes. No links to the products or websites mentioned, no “here’s where to go to get more information”. Most of these folks just seem to wing it. If you, the listener, can remember a URL after an hour of someone talking to you, kudos to you! “But Nitin,” you say, “my podcast app allows me to bookmark points of interest, or does automatic speech-to-text so I can read along or find links easily!” Well, good for you. I don’t have those apps, and neither does the majority of the world. Unless that’s the standard, there’s no point in referencing these fancy tools. Notes are a must. That’s all! If you’ll notice, I’ve not linked to any of the stuff I’m talking about in this blog. None of the podcasts are linked to, no link to my own “most popular content” mentioned above. How irritating is that? Yeah.

Lastly, there’s the problem of finding a good podcast. You have to sit through multiple episodes to understand if you like the content and the author. This is much easier on YouTube, where you’re actively looking at the content, or on Instagram, where a few pics will set the tone of the page, or on blogs, because I can just scroll forward 🙂 Further, on any subject, there are dozens of podcasts and looking through that small search space on your phone is just not enough to know if you’ll end up liking a podcast. You kinda just have to dive in, and that sucks.

It’s not like there aren’t podcasts I like. Philosophize This does a great job of a single person, Stephen West in this case, talking into an excellent mic, and following up with text transcripts of the entire content. It’s not perfect, but it comes close to a podcast that I respect.

Spotify has been pushing me these past few days to get into the Michelle Obama podcast. My music app giving me podcasts? Blasphemy! I might check it out. But if she rambles, I’m out.

A new attempt at writing

My capacity for longform, or even longer than a few lines, seems to have evaporated from lack of use.

This is not good. I enjoy blogging, or at least, I used to. Nowadays, all I do when I visit my blog is to update the plugins and shove off.

Perhaps it’s time to try it out again? Writing regularly? Even if it’s a few lines here and there?

It’s not like I don’t have things to say. It’s just that most of my thoughts fit into tweets now. Perhaps I should embrace the tweets-as-a-blog-post model?

But no, that just doesn’t feel right. It’s not who I am. Over the course of the last week, I listened to the book Atomic Habits in audiobook form, and one of the takeaways from it was the concept of a presumed identity. If I tell myself I’m a certain type of person, and reinforce that with proof, and ask myself regularly, “what would this type of person do?”, then I can become that type of person over time.

So here’s me telling myself that I’m a person who likes to blog.

Update: To the end of putting writing front and center of my habit, I removed the static About Me page that I’ve had as my site’s front page since the past year or so. That static page was just too irritating to see every time. An eye sore and a writer’s block in one. Good riddance.

Adventures in NOT buying things

pexels-photo-2942361.jpeg

I’ve been thinking about external storage for the last few days, for our iOS devices. When we bought my wife’s iPhone XS Max, we made the mistake of going for the 64 GB option. Pretty soon, tired of a filled-to-the-brim phone, she opted for Apple’s 50GB iCloud solution, priced at $1/mo, to both backup her photos and to shut up Apple’s continuous prompts about a full iCloud.

This solution has been serving her well. Somehow, her photo storage needs have landed at about a 100 GB, which sits well between her phone and the cloud.

But more and more, I’ve been thinking that I want to get rid of the dollar a month charge. For that, the obvious way would be to have daily backups and cleanup, but the question becomes, “to what?”

Dropbox seems like an obvious choice. So does OneDrive. But there’s something irksome about cloud storage. It feels like a gambit – these cloud providers want more of your money, and getting us hooked on Dropbox’s initial awesomeness and then baiting-and-switching to the shitty version of the company they’ve become leaves just an odd taste in my mouth.

So I started thinking of some sort of hardware solution. Many companies have come and gone (see pogoplug), but there’s a product from a few years ago that instantly popped into my mind – the SanDisk iXpand flash drive. This is a little widget that connects to your iPhone through a lighting connector and sucks out all your photos. Compared to when I first saw it, the pricing seems affordable now – 256 GB sets you back $60. The device is actually pretty neat because the other end is a USB-A port, so you can plug it into your computer when it’s time to backup your backups.

But then I started thinking – maybe 256 GB is enough, but the lightning port certainly is not. What if I move to Android one day? Or Apple dumps this port for a USB-C in the future? That’s what freezes me – the what-ifs. Instead of living (and spending) in the now, I worry that my choices might be proven wrong in the future.

So I started looking for wireless storage devices, the kind that can connect through wifi and an app, and work with a majority of devices. First hit – LaCie FUEL 1TB – for $136 on Amazon. Holy crabapples! Twice the price and 4x the storage? Ridiculous! The second result? WD 4TB My Passport Wireless Pro for $190. Oof. I need to do more research! What if I opt for the 4 TB and just around the corner (on the second page of the search results) is a 12 TB one for just a bit more? Storage is a strange world.

These external storage options aren’t without their issues though – sometimes their apps haven’t been updated in a few years, meaning they don’t support new features or even new iOS versions. Most of the apps I looked at (WD My Cloud Home being one) don’t seem to support background uploading. Google Photos and Dropbox can upload your photos to the cloud when charging, but WD has trouble uploading to the HDD sitting next to your phone. Cool.

So, once again, I’m frozen. I know the iXpand is not the best solution. The market has moved on, there is more storage available for a better price, and the future-proofing aspect of using wireless just makes sense.

But there’s one more weird thing at the back of my mind – why fix something that isn’t broken? If my wife’s current storage needs are met at $12/year, then why spend upwards of a hundred dollars to solve it in a worse way (if background uploads don’t work). If I just tell myself that I’m paying $1/month for “external storage”, I’m a much happier person. Aren’t I?

Do you, dear reader, use any external wireless mobile storage? Which one? Are you happy with it? What quirks does it have?

Refreshing my RSS feeds list

Welp, I’ve done it this time. I was fiddling with some settings in my current feed reader of choice – Fiery Feeds – and I hit a sync button that’s meant to download everything from iCloud and rebuild the database. Turns out, iCloud is, as usual, not good at actually saving important data. Part of this is my fault. I have had some 14,000 unread items in there, and about 900 feeds. Sync would often time out and almost never complete.

So I lost all my feeds. As I stared at it dumbly, waiting for the feeds to come back, a calm came over me. This is what inbox zero feels like. When, after multiple forced syncs later, nothing happened, I was relieved.

I thought about it. The last OPML export I have is from December of 2019. I’ve added maybe 20 feeds since then, which are now lost. If I import the OPML, I’ll get back my starred items and general state, but I’ll not get back the calm.

So, I’ve decided to do an overhaul of my feeds. I know a lot of sites I’ve subscribed to either don’t exist any more, or haven’t updated in a while. So it’s time to shed the load.

Working through this large an OPML file is a chore. First, I tried to do it manually. Too much work. Then I tried to find tools to help. I found a six year old github repo to find dead feeds. It found a few, but mostly got it wrong. Instead, I’ve imported the OPML to my Firefox LiveMarks extension. It’s not the perfect solution, but at least I’m able to go through the list faster and cull it satisfactorily.

Other than the feeds that are dead, I’m also striving to shed some weight. At some point, I subbed to some GTD and Productivity feeds. Deleted those. It’s no longer my area of interest. Older still are feeds related to Network Engineering. It’s what my MS is in, but it’s no longer my main area of concern. So I’ve removed those. I’m also removing webcomics that haven’t been updated since mid-2019. There are quite a few of those. Frankly, it’s fine if the authors want to take a break. I, too, don’t update my blog often. But there are other ways for me to discover their content. Tapas and Instagram are doing a good job, so I’m going to lean on those for my comic needs. This doesn’t mean all webcomics are going away from my feeds. On the contrary, I’m keeping most of them, specially long-running stories that I follow keenly, like Gaia comic, and Slack Wyrm. But others are out.

At some point I also subscribed to a lot of programming related blogs. Those are nice navel-gazing, but ultimately worthless to me. I’m not a programmer, I’m a scripter. I’m not into deep programming concepts even on the languages that are my bread, butter, and jam – python and JavaScript. So for me to sub to serious computer scientists and programmers was a mistake then, and is a mistake now. It’s not that I won’t glean something off them, just that I don’t need to, right now.

This is tough work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Recently, I found out that a friend has a very strict gate on who she follows on Instagram. She has a roster of 99 people and whenever she has to follow someone new, she forces herself to remove one person from the list. I’ve never, ever removed a feed from my list. This is the same list I’ve been carrying around since my first RSS feed reader – Fever – and some items are even carried forward from Google Reader. I’ve always thought that at best, the feeds that die are not much extra weight than some processing cycles, and at worst, the items I don’t read get deleted at the end of my 15 days, one month, two months, 90 days limit. That moving limit is part of the cause of all this trouble I’m in.

But the largest forcing function is my feed reader. Fiery Feeds is an awesome piece of software and Lukas Burgstaller is an exceptional dev, and a highly responsive support person. But I made a conscious choice at one point to move away from all server-side RSS feed services and use Fiery Feeds’ native, on-device accounts. I’m paying for the app because I love and want to support it, so I might as well use the biggest feature Lukas has introduced. But this on-device, synced-via-iCloud system has its drawbacks, and this means that I can’t be an ignorant buffoon about my feeds any more. I have to shed, cull, strip, whatever you want to call it.

One very interesting thing I’ve done over time is to use kill-the-newsletter.com to the best of its abilities. I do not like newsletters, but there’s a LOT of content that’s going to email newsletters exclusively nowadays, and that sucks. Kill The Newsletter converts these emails to RSS feed items. It’s not a perfect solution, specially since it’s a bit of a blackbox, but it works just fine for now and it’s FOSS, so I’m happy. So, these are a guilty pleasure I’m not getting rid of. We’ll see how this decision pans out. Maybe I’ll have to figure out a way to merge all newsletters into one RSS feed. Or use a dedicated app to read newsletters on my iPhone. There are a few of those out there now.

All in all, this is an exercise in refreshing and rethinking what I consume online. Hopefully, it’ll lead to a better feed reading experience for me.

A couple times Mrs. Maisel displayed her naivete and privilege

Warning: Spoilers ahead, specially if you haven’t seen the latest season

I like the Amazon Prime show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s a story of upliftment, of empowerment, and of good comedy.

But there are times when the story shows a well crafted naivete and white privilege. These have really stung, because it becomes very apparent that while the good-natured comedienne grows as a person over time, she also ends up doing very real damage.

The first instance is in the first season, when Mrs Maisel spills the beans on the private life of a fellow female comic. She does it out of angst, and it’s truly misplaced. It’s not her place to tell the story. It’s not her right to divulge details revealed to her in confidence. The affected woman has created her own cocoon in a man’s world, a space where she’s comfortable being who she is, while her outside persona is completely defined by what she is told by her agents, audience, and powers-that-be. To dish out that bit of privacy is plain wrong. Further, the show and Mrs. Maisel herself, are appalled that the comedienne responds with an attack on the budding artist, as if this response is unfair and disproportionate.

As the first season unfolded, I did not give much credence to this event, thinking it’s just an obstacle in the hero’s journey telling of this tale. But looking back, this was a spiteful attack by one woman on another, who used her privilege to divulge details she was privy to, simply because she did not like the demeanor of someone who was forging her own path.

The second instance is in the latest season, where Mrs Maisel talks on stage about a person who is gay and not out of the closet, particularly because this person is black and revealing this detail about him would completely and viscerally destroy him. Mrs. Maisel is put on the spot and without thinking, again, about what is private and what is public, talks about the person’s affectations in a very blasé manner. While watching the episode, I was filled with dread. At any moment, the shoe would drop and her words would cause a maelstrom which she would calmly sit out of, while others’ lives are ripped apart. Luckily, the moment does not come. The public and those in power do not realize or do not take any action on her revelations, but what does happen, in the climax (spoiler), is that the person who has her confidence till now, simply drops her, showing her that her actions have consequences.

This second act showed me that while the character has some growth, she has not truly understood what her words mean, and that comedy, while often borderlining on the private lives of people, should not ever hurt. It should not transform from good-natured leg-pulling and cynical critique to a destruction of lives. Maisel often tells those around her that she talks about them on stage, and very clearly tells jokes that are too revealing. But to talk about things that she has no right to talk about, and doing it often, tells me that there’s a vein of this show which is highly unpalatable. This 1950s housewife who is thrust into the world because of events beyond her control does not have, as would be expected from a 1950s housewife, any semblance of her privilege, and its destructive powers.

The show is still good, and a few painful moments, which are followed by immediate punishment for her, do not take everything away from the series, but they do take away any respect in our eyes for such people.

Image Courtesy: IMDB