in commentary, reading

Streaks

white book

If you came here to read about a fitness streak, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ve been on a different kind of streak lately – I’ve been reading a lot of RSS feeds. Specifically, I’ve been spending time going through a lot of webcomics.

See, I love reading RSS feeds. I definitely overload every feed reader I’ve used, but none so much as I’ve overloaded my current one – an app on iOS called Fiery Feeds. I have about 16k unread items on here (don’t judge me).

Out of these, about three thousand are webcomics. So I’m starting from there. I pick up an unread feed and blaze through it. Usually, that’s 60-100 items that I end up marking as read in a day. At this rate, I’ll be current in a couple of months. Of course, I’m focusing on webcomics because they’re super easy to read, with not a lot of context needed, and a quick read time.

But that’s not all. Comics are able to portray the ethos of their time very easily. Whether I’m reading a slice of life comic from a few years ago, where the biggest topic was the latest Starbucks winter theme, or I’m reading the latest xkcd, talking, of course, as everyone else is, about COVID-19, it becomes very easy to see the timeline and to consume the news of the day through comics. Of course, I also love reading more serious endeavors like Gaia and Slack Wyrm, which have enduring storylines, recurring characters, and a vein you kinda have to hold on to, preferably by reading from the first comic. These are just plain fun to read and follow along!

While reading may be all fun, I’m sure writing and making webcomics is not. All the hard work of describing the scene, the props, the clothing, is already done by the artist, and I just have to consume all those visuals. Compared to essays, where I have to read through to understand the story from top to bottom, and where my attention is definitely pulled away before I’d like it to, comics are easy to consume, though I’m sure the effort that goes into a good essay is perhaps less than that which goes into a good comic.

Now, once I get done with the comics, I’d like to continue reading my RSS feeds. I follow a lot of personal feeds, mostly from random strangers I’ve encountered online. It feels great to be in a space where I can just read a person’s diary entry, with some of their personal thoughts splashed on the Internet for me to see. Besides the occasional rant, most people put good thoughts on their websites, and it feels great to read those positive thoughts.

One of the reasons these “personals” are easy to read is because, frankly, of twitter. A lot of folks try to cross-post from their blogs to twitter and other microblogging sites. This means they have to stick to a length limit, and most of them try to get done with their thoughts in about 30 words or less. I wouldn’t say that’s the real average, because I’ve never measured. But birdbrained that we are, reading more than those has often ended in my attention getting pulled away, so people who post 30 words or less and express themselves fully still, are aces in my book!

But once I’m done catching up with the personals, of course I’d like to read more serious, longer stuff, which has been piling up. Most of the time, I’ll read a few paragraphs and either abandon the writing for being too dry, or shove it into Instapaper to catch up with it in a few years. My “long articles” section is at about five thousand entries, with writing from AI Weirdness, Linux Journal Blogs, and InkMango, to name a few. One of these days, once my habit is built and my streaks have left me with no webcomics to indulge in, I’ll dive into these heavier writings, and hopefully come out more educated. For now though, laughs are enough!

Binge Notes

turned-on flat screen television

I and the missus recently finished the final season of Modern Family, and it’s left a void in our casual TV watching experience. We tried to fill it with a series of shows but nothing has come close to the wonderful nature of Modern Family – funny, yet familial.

We tried watching The Office and Parks and Rec, but we’re both not really fans of this style of comedy. MF was an interesting exception, because it focused more on the story than on the explanation. We’ve tried to watch Community separately before, and didn’t ever feel like we want to watch it.

We binged on Mirzapur (on Prime Video) and it is a horrible show. I can’t believe that the entire premise is just shock and gore. There even is an instance in the show where a character waits for a second, before shooting someone in the head and then commenting, partly to the audience as much as to the other characters in the scene, “that he was waiting to give everyone false hope”. Just a crass show overall. The ending was a nod to The Godfather, but while the story is good, the direction falls much, much short of what you’d expect from this sort of a tale.

We watched a show called Hunters, and it’s good, with quirky asides (a la The Good Fight), and casual references to comic books, but it’s a sad show overall. Clearly, our hope of replacing Modern Family with another feel-good show is failing miserably.

We watched the latest season of West World, but anything from HBO has become nothing more than a ritual. After what they did with Game of Thrones, any time they produce a good show, there’s that underlying wonder of how they’ll tank this one.

We tried to watch the latest season of Dead To Me (Netflix), but it’s just a sad show – a shell of what the first season was. Also, we’ve had enough of irritating characters from another show we’re watching – Station 19. It’s good for the most part, but their lead character is just horrible, selfish, and best kept off-screen for the most part. We’re both in agreement on that. Hence, when such a character surfaced in Dead To Me, we stopped watching the show.

We also watched the latest season of Four More Shots Please, but again, it’s more ritual than active watching, because while the story is feel-good in moments, those moments are fleeting.

Finally, we’ve landed on two shows which will give us a short-lived happy-time – Kim’s Convenience, and Derry Girls, both are on Netflix, and both are funny, quirky, and wholesome.

Anybody have any good recommendations, please?

Dealing

aerial photo of green and brown field

“Grateful or Frustrated” or “it ebbs and flows”

I’ve come to realize these are the two ways people are dealing with the pandemic, the preventative lockdowns, and our emotions about these. In fact, these are the two ways people deal with any crisis or situation, and these reveal very distinct ways of thinking.

If you’re in the former camp – you’re grateful to a higher power for the blessings you have, or you’re frustrated with the higher power with the hand dealt to you and perhaps to society in general – it means you’re of the belief that said higher power has a direct role to play in our lives, and there is a way to pray ourselves out of a situation. It’s a good place to be in, because you can submit to the higher power for your frustrations and just be your smallest self, comfortable in the knowledge that someone somewhere is looking out for you.

If you’re in the latter camp, you believe that the higher power has better things to do than to bother with you. You’re left to your own devices, but with a hand dealt in terms of luck and probabilities. Instead of being ‘grateful’, you’re ‘glad’. This is fine too. This let’s you believe in yourself and the humanity of others before any external forces. Community is what you make of it and if it’s up to you, you’d rather make a good community than a bad one.

Here’s the thing though – most people sit in the middle somewhere, or hop fences as the situation or mood arises. This is fine too. You can’t always shift left the blame or the praise for an outcome. Similarly, you can’t always shrug and say that nothing is in your control.

This pandemic, and its ensuing craziness has taught me this – deal with it however you feel like, in the moment you feel like. Move between moods. It’s allowed. We’re humans. We’re not bound to be immutable. There’s God for that.

Finished reading the Three Body Problem Trilogy

black hole galaxy illustration

Officially, it’s called the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy, but everyone knows Cixin Liu’s series as the “The Three Body Problem” books.

I finished reading the last book – Death’s End – last night and it was an exceptional and fitting end to one of the most beautiful sagas I’ve ever read. This series is not just a science fiction story, but one of humanity in its rawest form. Truly, Cixin Liu is a master of the art of the written word.

I highly recommend it, specially because much of the first book is simply a history of the Cultural Revolution in China. The entire series is focused on China and the Chinese point of view of the past, present, and future, which is very refreshing.

Instagram is not Facebook, and yet…

Instagram is not Facebook. It’s not a network of friends. The accounts you follow on there are a personal choice instead of a network effect of friends and acquaintances you meet in the real world (there are those too, but are they the majority?). Yet Instagram pushes the same crap as Facebook – “follow this account because someone you follow does”.

Why? Don’t the Product Managers understand the fundamentals of social networks? Or are they just hell bent on destroying value?

Companies, when they perform an acquisition, usually focus on recouping the cost of the acquisition. Or they want to build value by merging the brands.

Clearly, Facebook doesn’t care about the money. It’s pocket change for them. They are immune in terms of money. They aren’t immune in terms of user growth.

The only thing they care about is destroying competition. What’s sad is that they don’t realize that Instagram and WhatsApp are not rivals any more. They’re property. It’s always good to invest in and improve property.

This would be like Facebook purposely degrading their Android apps just to drive people insane and see what happens.

Oh, wait…

Zelle and the Hulus of the World

During a recent conversation with a friend, I realized something – there are a lot of services and companies out there that are the byproducts of conglomerates, and since these are not standalone services fighting for their customers, but rather are meant only to enhance their parental companies’ value, these companies/services suffer enormously, and so do we, as their customers.

Two such services are Zelle and Hulu.

Zelle is a owned by a series of banks, two of which I have accounts in. When I had Zelle setup with only one bank, life was fine. I had my phone number and email ID attached to the same account. But when I tried to setup Zelle with the other bank account, I had to jump through a few hoops to basically disconnect Zelle from the first account, then connect just one of the IDs to each account. Now if you want to send me money, depending on whether you send it to my email, or my phone number, it lands up in different bank accounts.

My friend thinks this is normal. After all, how would Zelle know which account I want the money to arrive in, if there’s only one ID (either email or phone number)?

If you look at other competing services, like Paypal, SquareCash, Apple Pay, and that other service that I won’t name because it can burn in hell, you’ll notice a trend – all of these services hold your money in an account for you, till you’re ready to take it out and put it in a bank account. During the period your money sits in these accounts, the companies earn interest on that cash, which they count as profit. Further, if you want to take your money out faster, or if you want to use your credit card, or if you want to use these services for business purposes, they charge you a few percentage points, which are further profit for them.

All of this money serves to add value to the company itself. It drives further growth, or just drive stockholder value. If you compare that with Zelle, you’d notice that Zelle doesn’t charge you money to get your money faster, doesn’t make you wait to get to your funds, and generally, doesn’t care for any interest it might be able to get from your money. So much so that Zelle’s website doesn’t even have a signup page. You can’t interact with the service directly, only through your respective banks!

There are pros and cons to Zelle.

Let’s look at Hulu. It started as a joint venture between some TV networks. It’s main competitor is Netflix, and for the longest time, I hated Hulu, but kept it around as a necessity – my wife is hooked on to Grey’s Anatomy. Recently, I decided that it doesn’t make sense to keep the service active year-round. Instead, we’ll get it every time the new season comes along.

Hulu’s got issues. Since it’s corporate overlords run all over it, Hulu can’t remove ads from their shows. Even though we paid for the Plus plan, we would still see ads for Grey’s Anatomy, because the network behind it has deigned it to be so. Content on Hulu doesn’t remain forever, so much so that episodes disappear at a pace so that you can’t really binge watch things.

All of this is to the detriment of Hulu.

It has it’s pros – for us cordcutters, there’s no reason to even think about wanting cable, since we can watch the latest episodes on Hulu. Due to it’s ownership, the TV Networks are somewhat obligated to bend over backwards to provide content to Hulu. This is certainly showing up to be a problem for Netflix, who is losing content faster than Softbank is losing credibility. But for Hulu, this is just fine.

Again, there are pros and cons to Hulu.

What I’ve noticed is that these companies and services that get formed by joint ventures are often stuck in limbo. They’re dependent on their overlords to approve new features and services for their customers, are often not able to compete with their independent competitors at the same pace as the market innovates, and often end up getting the brunt for mistakes their ‘bosses’ make.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. I’m going to be a seasonal Hulu subscriber. I’m not going to not use Zelle if my friends aren’t going to.

But these services will remain, till they have a critical mass. They will be the common denominator and the fallback. I guess that for those purposes, they’re fine where they are?

Are there any other such joint venture services that you can point me to?

My year in Spotify

I finally opened Spotify’s annual wrap-up (with the decade wrap-up included in it) and it was interesting to see the results.

First of all, I listened to half the music this year than last year. 2018 was when I started listening to music regularly, while working, traveling, and relaxing, and so I heard about thirteen thousand minutes of music on Spotify. But in 2019, that number dropped to half, because we got the family subscription of YouTube Red and a lot of music is only available as music videos on YouTube. I don’t know the numbers of YouTube, but it sure felt like half the time I was jumping on to that because the song wasn’t available in Spotify.

My decade’s favorite artist was Nucleya, who was not even on my radar before 2015. His album Bass Rani, and specifically the song Laung Gawacha with Avneet Khurmi, is just sublime! The next favorite was Lucky Ali, who has been my anchor since college. But this last decade, I’ve discovered American music too, so Sweater Weather shows up on my decade’s favorites list.

Coming to 2019, the year belongs squarely to Diljit Dosanjh. He’s one of those artists who keeps working, keeps releasing, and shows up everywhere. He’s like the Akshay Kumar of Punjabi music. He’ll have fun, make money, make his mark and act a little along the way (looking forward to their collab in Good Newwz). And the song of his that I heard the most wasn’t even released in 2019. It’s Laembadgini, from 2016. Some songs you just discover a little late.

The second song is Blackway and Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger”. It is just one of those perfect, pumpy songs that get you into a mood to get kicking! I heard it in “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse” and I don’t think I’ve seen a more quirky, fun movie in a while. I had sworn off Spiderman movies after the first franchise got over, because I don’t believe that economics should be driving art of this kind. But this movie is an excellent exception. And the song that encapsulates it is perfect too.

The third one is Je T’aime by Sugi.wa and I gotta say, while the year was Diljit’s on the Punjabi music front, I also discovered a completely different genre that felt like a warm blanket and hot cocoa on a snowy day – chillhop. I’m not a big fan of listening to music while working, but chillhop just sets the mood right! I’ve even heard chillhop to relax, though less so. I think sugi.wa might be the greatest artist in that scene, and Je T’aime is one of the very best chillhop music I’ve heard.

Another thing I noticed on that list is that a lot more music came from TV than I’d assume. Game of Thrones’ Jenny of Oldstones and Sacred Games’ Kaam 25 both are high on my 2019 list, and rightly so. Jenny… is haunting and a sad reminder of what happened in that show. Kaam 25 is an anthem, maybe of an entire generation.

I also realize that we discover a few gems through Shazam too. Bad Karma by Alex Thesleff was one such. Lehanga by Jass Manak, which will no doubt show up in next year’s list, was also something I discovered randomly.

Check out the entire list here, dear reader –

Comments? Judgement? Pass it into the box below!

A few thoughts on food

Broccoli

During a conversation with my Mom, I realized that it is often a trend that the local food source is considered less nutritious than something from outside and far away.

For example, in India, the trend is that Broccoli from outside is more nutritious and less harmful than cauliflower.

In some sense, this is going to be true – anything that is mass grown will have less nutrients than something that is grown in small batches, in an organic manner, and from a nutritious variety.

But how can you say that the broccoli you procure is going to be nutritious, let alone more nutritious than what you already consume? After all, it’s most likely imported from elsewhere. If it’s an export product, specially one that is in vogue, farms are mass producing it elsewhere. So all you’re doing is replacing one mass produced, less nutritious food item with another, and having to change dietary habits and dish recipes to accommodate this new food item.

What’s the solution? Perhaps it is to buy small batch, locally grown food. Perhaps it is to institute a habit to look for nutrition information, or to talk to a nutritionist and figure out what your personal needs are.

All of these are expensive solutions. Organic food is often simply labeled as such to drive up the price, and there’s only so much you can mistrust your local supermarket or vegetable seller, and only so far you can go to get authentically good food.

The n minus one method of eating out

I realized something the other day – whenever we go out to eat, we tend to order just about the same number of dishes as the number of people. It’s not an exact science, but if you’re eating fast food or food court type meals you’ll do this. If you’re ordering a la carte at an Indian restaurant, YMMV.

This is common for more affluent folk. What’s also true is that most of the time, you’ll be ordering rich food that you’ll not be able to finish. A common thing to do then, is to either leave it at the table (a very Western habit) or get it packed.

Well, here’s an alternative – order less. Just one less dish than the number of people at the table. And if you end up finishing it all, you can either order a starter dish, or a dessert. Most restaurants would kill to get customers that order desserts, because generally desserts are more expensive than other food, which translates to more profits.

But for you, it wouldn’t matter. Instead of ordering a whole entree, or another dosa, you can get a nice sweet dish at the end of the meal, or even save the money you would have wasted. Most of the time you’ll be too full from the n-1 dishes themselves.