Let’s talk about Tor

Teleread recently covered how the New Hampshire Public Library turned its Tor Relay back on, despite warnings from local law enforcement that although the router itself isn’t illegal, it will likely be used for illegal purposes. The article points out that Tor is an important service because, keeping aside the negatives that come from total anonymity, it provides political dissidents a way to bypass censorship. This is important for the growth of democracy in all countries around the world.

There is, of course, the other side – that Tor is used by a wide variety of undesirables who use it for nefarious purposes using the blanket cover of anonymity as a defense against possible government intervention. In that sense, Tor is kind of like torrents. You can download every open-source Linux distro ever created using torrents, but most people are probably just downloading pirated content off it. Continue reading

8 years of blogging

I missed a rather important anniversary over the weekend. I just noticed that WordPress wished me a few days ago for being with them since 8 years. Of course, I’ve been writing since long before that, but most of my writing was read only by my family and the greatest achievement of my writing then was when my parents published my writing in a small book which they presented to me on my birthday. With blogging, I was still being read mostly by my family, but online and I had a sense of achievement in that I was hitting publish every time I completed a blog post, thereby putting it out there for everyone to read, if they so chose to.

My earliest blog is on wordpress.com here. I have tried a variety of platforms over time but WordPress just seems to be the right one for me. Of course, I left that blog some years ago and came to nitinkhanna.com (by way of blog.nitinkhanna.com) and self-hosted WordPress. But all that matters is that on-and-off, here-and-there, I was writing and I was publishing. I seem to have been able to average a post per month or so, though please don’t hold me to that standard (my last post here was more than a month ago and I’ve not had much to write in that intermediate time). But I am proud that I have a cumulative 1,37,361 words published on my blog (with some 66 posts sitting in drafts) Continue reading

Balloons, or how tech companies need to stop and take stock

Balloons is, concurrently, a ‘fine WordPress theme’ and a ‘whimsical’ one. It is also a theme that caught my attention when I was browsing for WordPress themes recently. Let me be clear – I was not browsing for themes for my own site. I was browsing for themes for our nikhco.in domain, which looks to be in need of a refresh.

But Balloons caught my eye. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the large number of balloons that are front and center at the head of the theme. Maybe it was the oddly small typography, which could look great if it were a few font sizes bigger. But as soon as I saw it, it caught my attention. I started thinking about how I would modify it to suit my needs and change some things I’d definitely get irritated at. I hate when theme authors fixate on certain social network links but not others or add an unneeded sidebar to the theme. But then, I stopped and took a step back.

This planning and plotting I was up to, was it needed? Was it a useful change to my site? Was this theme better than my current theme? I have put many hours into editing my current theme, “Independent Publisher”, to make it look the way I wanted it to look. So should I be putting those same hours again, so soon, into a completely new theme with completely new issues I’d have to fix? I like the challenge, but is the effort valuable? Have I received negative feedback on my theme? Has someone told me that it’s not good the way it looks or maybe it fundamentally conflicts with the content? I write on a variety of subjects – code, fiction, politics, observations about the world, and movie reviews, among others. So it’s been hard to find a theme that fits all that content. Thus, over the years, I’ve experimented with many themes, many plugins and formats to elicit some kind of a reaction from my otherwise passive readership.

I was talking to my brother recently and we were talking about how LinkedIn has the habit of trying new things with their site. I understand the impulse. It’s all about constantly evolving. You have a product, you want to make it better. There’s also the business case for it. For startups and fledgling companies alike, there’s a market to capture and industries to disrupt. Thus, the need for experimentation drives them to keep trying to do new things. If a company working on a professional social network can also act as a Rolodex and be the go-to resource for industry news, that’s better for their business.

But my brother’s point was valid too – you’ve got a product. You’ve released it to the general public. You’re working on minor improvements all the time. Let. it. sit.

There’s oftentimes no need to add that new feature to your current site. If you want to experiment, make a separate platform or a new app to try things. Put it under your label, call it “LinkedIn Connect” or “Facebook Paper”. But don’t try to shove new ideas down the throats of your current users. Let them get used to the current system. Let them complain and argue the merits and demerits of it. Let them give you real feedback and then act on it. At the end of the cycle, if the new idea is that popular, roll it into your current system. Integrate your changes. But don’t start out with the assumption that people will be OK with a constantly changing platform. Most of the time, there’s no need for that.

We talked about all the other companies out there too, including giants such as Google, Cisco and HP. Those who sit on their laurels get surprised by a leaner, smarter company coming along to steal their market share. But those who continually reinvent just to keep the rust off, lose their focus and their customers. If you’ve got a radical improvement to your product, go for it. But make sure you’ve got a second set of eyes telling you that the new is actually better than the old, not just newer than the old.

So, as I looked at Balloons, I silently sighed. There was no need for it. No one is telling me that my tech posts look bad in the new theme. My most popular post ever “Installing Fever on AppFog” still gets visited a few times a week even though it’s years old now. People still read through it on a theme that’s better suited to fiction than tech tutorials and no one seems to mind. Older posts about code are still visited and no one cares if the font is larger than needed.

I bookmarked the theme and closed the tab. One day perhaps, I’ll dust it off and show it to someone and ask if it would make for a better theme for my blog. Until then, my site looks good and I’ve decided what to do with it – Let. It. Sit.


Authors Note – I wrote and edited this post on Hemingwayapp. It’s an amazing editor. It points out sentences that are hard to read, phrases that can be simpler, and the use of adverbs and passive voice. It helped me get rid of all the instances of passive voice in this text. The makers, the Long brothers, have come up with a new Beta version that you should check out. The New Yorker has taken notice of the app too, among other news media. You can read about their coverage here. This article got a grade of 6 on the app, which is not at all bad!

Real people don’t fit them

I love Jessica Hagy‘s site Indexed. It’s funny, published weekdays and is almost always spot on.

But, I found a problem with today’s post –

Stereotypes. Yup.

Jessica’s “Real People don’t fit them”


I don’t think you can portray a groups vs individuals analysis on a graph. So, I fixed it in my own way. Hope you like it and hope you check out her website. It’s pretty cool!

My version –

IMG_0233.JPG

 

Of course, Hagy’s Indexed is for fun and not to be taken as seriously as I have. But hey, when you see something wrong on the Internet, you fix it, right?

Kill all the Uruks

I spent the weekend listening to my brother complain about how the story in the game he’s playing nowadays, “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor”, is not progressing fast enough. As it turns out, the problem was that he had to kill a lot of middle level orcs (uruks) in order to entice the next level of villains to come out of hiding. He proceeded to do that and voila, the story line moved quickly after that.

Life’s a lot like that. You start out green at any task and you have a lot of enthusiasm and beginner’s luck. That makes you happy and you expect the same level of progress to keep up. Turns out, there’s a lot of work between that first instance and getting to a decent level of expertise. All it takes is consistent hard work. It’s not the neat solution. It’s the only solution.

Since it’s NaNoWriMo, here’s a tip – when you’re doing something, anything actually, and you start out with a bang, don’t forget to put your head down and consistently kill the uruks.

Word of the Day: Fungible

Fungibility, according to Wikipedia, is an economic term used to describe the property of a commodity whereby it is directly interchangeable with something else. For example, if you don’t care whether the rental car you get is a Mercedes or a BMW, then they are fungible. It was used by journalist Stijn Debrouwere in an awesome article about the future of newspapers and media companies in the age of the Internet, by calling his article –

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Source: Fungible

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Word of the day: rubric

According to TheFreeDictionary, rubric means a title, class or category. It’s also used when referring to a subheading or the full title of a file/post or page. Neiman Journalism Lab used it as follows –

The Brief, a tailored summary of business and international news under the rubric of “Your world right now.”

Source: Maybe the homepage is alive after all: Quartz is trying a new twist on the traditional website front door » Nieman Journalism Lab

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New Trent Airbender Mini 1.0 review

I recently bought an Airbender Mini second hand from eBay. I needed a case+keyboard solution for my first gen iPad Mini and this seemed to be a good solution.  The ideal case would have been the new iPad Mini Clamshell, but this was available for a fifth of the price and so, worth the try. I have been using it all afternoon and frankly, this is not the solution I am looking for.

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How I Follow Blogs on the Open Internet

Colin Devroe’s post about Fred Wilson’s post about how hard it is to follow blogs on the Open Internet is interesting to me.

Ok, before we go any further, yes, this is very meta. Yes, I could have written this entire thing as comments on Colin’s blog (no, it doesn’t support comments) or Fred’s blog (has nice disqus comments) but I didn’t because that’s the point of blogging. I can write this ‘commentary’ on my blog. Sort of like Greek philosophers writing entire books just discussing each other’s books. Very meta indeed. Continue reading