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.)

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.

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.

Here, there, then, and now

close up of watch against black background

My wife asked today, “We’ll always look at the past with some mystique, right? We’ll always romanticize it, always look at it with rose-tinted glasses, right?”

True. Even though the future holds so much more – more potential, more growth, more medicine, more science, more fascination, and even more religion and spirituality – we’ll look at the past as this amazing place worth returning to.

Part of the reason for this is that when we think of the past, we tend to focus on the memories that are more easily brought up, rather than the hard ones. We remember the good times, the happy ones, or at least the more memorable ones. When we look back at this pandemic era decades from now, we’ll think about how humans banded together and created vaccines in record time, how we all survived through, even though many, many did not. We’ll not remember this as the era when the world’s hypocrisy was laid bare, when the rift between the thinkers and the feelers was exacerbated, when everyone suffered and the foundations of life-long global trauma were established.

Another reason is that we do not look at the past with introspection. This is why we call it a simpler time. Because the complexities are hidden behind a layer of thoughtlessness. We do not want to introspect because it’s hard. It’s hard because we know that the past was just like the present – complex, uncertain, unforgiving. Yet, survivorship bias kicks in – “we survived, so it mustn’t have been that bad”.

This is why the future is interesting to me – it’s just as uncertain and strange as the present, but there’s hope. Hope that we’ll live better lives, by one metric or another. But this too, is looking at it with rosy glasses. The future will bring it’s own horrors, it’s own trauma, it’s own death and destruction. But it’s out there somewhere. Somehow, we’ll survive it, as we have the past and the present.

Perhaps, in one sense, it’s good that we look at things so positively. Staring the future in its face is bound to cause anxiety. We might as well look at it as some distant land where all will be well, just as it was in the past.

Thinking about Q.

ancient roman forum in jordan

Back when I was in college for my Bachelors, my parents gave me a post-paid mobile phone that had unlimited Internet access, but very limited SMS per month. This was a common theme for Indian telecoms back then – prepaid connections had thousands of free SMS messages, while post-paid had unlimited in-network talktime, and in my case, unlimited Internet access. The latter was a rarity and I really appreciated it. However, all my friends were on pre-paid connections and were diving into the free SMS world like crazy. I felt left out. So, one day I went out and bought myself a second phone (one of those epic indestructible Nokia 1100 phones), got a prepaid SIM and dived into the world of free SMS. For that first month, I got a package that let me send 9000 texts.

I was in heaven! I was chatting with all my friends, but also sending them all kinds of useless forwards. I would painstakingly send each message to my 60 classmates and ten or so hostel mates, twenty SMS recipients at a time (the technical limit for a group message in that phone). I reached a point where I started to annoy a few of them 😀

Pretty soon though, the supply dried up. There are only so many forwards a person received in a day at that time. That’s when my post-paid connection paid off. I would find interesting messages online, type them out on that rapid-fire T9 keyboard and save as draft, before going through the message forwarding rigmarole.

After some time, I went on a holiday. When I came back, my pre-paid pack had expired so I went to renew it. I learnt that while I was vacationing, my telecom was hard at work. They believed they had captured enough of the market and were ready to pull the benefits. The free SMS packs had reduced from 9000 texts to 900, and a few days later, to 600. This was barely enough to keep my interest and I moved on from this world. But it taught me a valuable lesson – anyone could setup shop as a message forwarder given the inclination and resources.

Years later, when WhatsApp forwards started flooding inboxes, I was over the trend even before it started. But I watched it with great interest. After all, what’s better than free messages? For anyone holding a smartphone, it was SMS-but-better-and-free. For a network engineer, it was nothing more than a few packets. It could have been a forwarded email or gchat message, but it was a WhatsApp message instead. Nothing to see here.

The likeness to SMS is what catapulted WhatsApp to the level where it is today. I don’t know about you, but MMS were never a thing in India. They were expensive and needed tech most people didn’t have. Hence when we think of WhatsApp forwards, we don’t think of MMS, just SMS, even though most forwards nowadays are a mix of well-crafted emoji-laden texts, and colorful images wishing you good morning and ten other things.


I’ve been reading a HuffPost article about QAnon, and its effects not on the cult’s followers, but on their families. It is both heart-rending, and deeply intriguing to see the parents of out generation fall for such traps. For the longest time, I assumed that the movement only existed online. Then, when it spilled blood, I assumed it was only a conservative thing. But reading the article, and reading about erstwhile Obama voters, and believers in alternative medicine and essential oils falling for the gargantuan myth of Q, I realized that it goes beyond just one side. It’s more a myth built to cater to anyone and everyone. Depending on whether you believe in aliens, are libertarian, or are just wary of oft-caught lying Mainstream Media, there’s some hook somewhere to get you in. After all, what’s better than one lie? A hundred lies, all built to cater someone or the other. If you believe in one layer of QAnon and not the next, all you need to say about the rest is that those others are nutjobs, but your beliefs are solid. Then, there’s no way to extricate you from the mess, because everyone else is objectively wrong, aren’t they?

I found some interesting things in the article – one of the people talked about chatting with their parents over discord. I had no idea the elder generation even knew about discord. But I believe the reason these specific ones know about it is because of discord’s private servers, which allow admins free reign over the content that gets disseminated to users. Also, the use of discord shows that the people controlling the movement are of a younger skew – those used to meme-making, shitposting, and gaslighting people for fun. If the people running the show were the same age as the people falling for the spin, they would be interacting wholly on other mediums – email, chat, twitter (perhaps), or something that I’m not into because I’m not in that generation. If this were happening in India (as some things are), it would be wholly on WhatsApp.

Another interesting thing is this quote –

And because QAnon adherents are conditioned to interpret opposition as validation, trying to debunk their falsehoods often only pushes them deeper into the movement.

This here is a masterstroke. Not only are you believing in the message, you’re also falling for the idea that anyone actively opposing you is either an agent of the “enemy” or is so misguided that they need help themselves! This, combined with the general distrust between the generations has led to a situation where children and parents are fighting for their definitions of the “truth”. The fact that QAnon has brought people to this place shows the true power of suggestion.

The thing that I asked myself when reading this article was – why? Why are people believing this nonsense? We’ve been reading about fake news, about MSM being a terrible source of information, about the slow and steady degradation of public discourse. But none of this should mean that our parents should fall down this trap of fake news. Why are they falling for it? Why is it so difficult for them to look at a news item with a critical eye before forwarding it or accepting it as the absolute truth? I thought about it a lot, till yesterday, when my wife shed some light on it.


Story time –

  1. When COVID-19 started, we were inundated by fake news. WhatsApp forwards played a very big role in the first few weeks/months in creating an environment of fear and distrust among people. But along with the external noise, we also had friends and family forwarding every piece of information from all quarters, without verification. I’m not saying disinformation about COVID has stopped, but when there are no sources of information, it’s particularly vicious to forward fantasy as fact. Early on, a friend posted a “news item” on a group stating that the Pope has COVID. I looked at it and immediately guffawed. People will believe anything. My wife commented that it’s really sad this happened, as it shows no one is safe. That spurred me into action. I looked at the URL. The “news” website was not one of the many reputable (or even disreputable ones) I know of. First red flag. Then, I googled the news item. No one else was carrying it, and neither google nor Apple News told me the same. In fact, both were pointing to the same link I had as the source of truth. Second red flag. Then, I went to the site’s homepage and looked at other news article. Lo and behold, every single news item was “someone rich or famous got COVID”. Big red flag! Lastly, since I know the tools for it, I did a whois on the domain. It showed that the website had been registered just three days ago. Yet it had hundreds of articles about everyone from the Pope to your favorite childhood teacher getting COVID. That was the last flag that I needed. For the first time in forever, I replied to a forward, listing out the reasons why it’s fake. Of course, the response from the other end was “I just forwarded it”.
  2. Yesterday, my wife told me that her Mom is considering the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. She received some signals that the vaccine may not be as aboveboard as we all thought it would be. This caused my wife a lot of anger and surprise. Why was her Mom listening to this noise? Of course the vaccine is safe. Of course she should get it! The funny thing is that my mother-in-law is receiving both signals – there are people getting it without a second thought and absolutely recommending it, and there are people who are steadfast against it, without any reason. What’s funny is that my wife gave me a very straightforward explanation for this – our parents are from a generation where the information coming at them has always been vetted, checked thrice, and editorialized. There’s little to no chance of an earth shattering lie. Conversely, we’ve grown up with the Internet, where every behemoth falls and sells our data and passwords to the most vile operators, and we’ve learnt through an infinity of forwards that everything coming at you should be taken with a grain of salt. Does this make us cynics? Sure. It’s worth being cynical when CNN tells us unequivocally that Iraq has WMDs and Facebook tells us that it doesn’t sell our data. That juxtaposition has led to where we are – teaching our parents right from wrong, just as Zoomers have taught us how to use snapchat and tiktok. (Seriously, how do you interact with an app that doesn’t have a visible interface????)

So that’s it – our parents, and everyone who has fallen into the QAnon hole, has fallen because they are a people who do not understand that everything from the Internet is not the truth. That they need to detach the message from the sender and take it first with a grain of salt and if it passes a cursory check, maybe accept it as fact. That we really, really, really need to stop forwarding Good Morning messages, as they’re killing the world.


But is that it? Is that the explanation? Maybe not. My favorite philosophy podcast – Philosophize This! – ran a very timely podcast in February on the book “Escape from Freedom” by Erich Fromm. Fromm talks about two kinds of freedoms – negative and positive freedom. Negative freedom is freedom from outside influences such as tyranny or oppression. Positive freedom is the freedom to do what you want, such as the pursuit of happiness. At first, people develop a freedom from others – from nature and the elements, from tyrannical governments, from social stigma. Then people start to explore the freedom to do what they want to do with their lives, to keep their identity intact, yet be a part of the world and be productive and happy in it.

However, while some people choose to embrace this freedom and grow with it, others want to escape this freedom. Why? Because with freedom comes responsibility, and some people don’t want that on their heads. This seems so natural – while some people see an empty canvas as full of possibilities, some will see it with dread. It doesn’t even have to be our entire freedom. We regularly outsource specific responsibilities to others – the work of filing taxes, of selecting which countries to invade, of picking the next video to watch, of thinking about God to believe in.

The podcast goes on to talk about another of Fromm’s concepts – one used to explain why some people supported Hitler’s rise to power. He talks about people who, in that era, wanted to escape the freedom they had by supporting authoritarianism. Such people are practicing a form of sadomasochism. Sadism, because they want to control others, and Masochism, because they want to submit to a higher power, and divest themselves of the responsibility of thinking further about the political path of their country. Fromm talks about how in the same person, both psychological traits exist simultaneously. The same person who despises a caste/creed/religion/sex, and wants to suppress them, also believes in the supremacy of someone else, or themselves, or an ideal, and submits to that willingly.

The other way that such people escaped freedom was “automaton conformity” – by becoming a cog in a machine. Once more, the end result is that they are part of a larger picture. But the way they do it is by simply conforming to a set of beliefs being presented to them, without question. Such people are looking simply to divest the task of thinking for themselves, because it’s either too taxing or too painful or too mortifying to face the reality of their existence – that their freedom and the freedoms of others can coexist and help everyone grow together.

There is a third way for some to escape from freedom is to be destructive. Whether it’s by destroying what they can’t control, or by people around them, they want to create an identity for themselves that goes opposite to freedom, life, and creation. They want to be known for their culpability in destroying someone else’s freedoms.


Fromm’s thoughts teach us a lot about how to think about QAnon followers. Some of them are truly hateful of the powerlessness of their leaders and the victory of one party over the other. They want to escape the reality of living in a world they do not recognize, because it isn’t the utopia they were promised. Thus, they fall into sadomasochism, giving power to some in order to take power and freedom from others.

Others see the rising tide of disinformation and the blinding lights of social media and rather than figure out the means to clarify the truth, they simply believe any incoming information and become packet pushers, sending out as many forwards as they receive without stopping to question the information within them. These people would be described well as banal, but they do not believe it. They want to know so badly that their version of the truth is the absolute truth that they start to believe it is, regardless of proof either ways, and without searching for it.

Last are the people who attacked the Capitol building on January 6th 2021, or those who planned the attack on the Michigan’s Governor. These people feel they have the right to destroy others’ freedoms in order to assert their own, or are willing to sacrifice their freedom in order to stop someone else from living out their own.

To think that each of these people are the same would be wrong. But they are a part of a larger whole, a whole that has been duped into believing the abject lies of a few mysterious individuals who stand to gain somehow in all this – whether monetarily, politically, or just for the lulz.

Is it as simple as this? No, but it’s a starting point.

Time, not Money

We have a new iPhone in the family. My previous prediction was that Apple will come out with a series of phones, and I’ll upgrade from my iPhone 7 Plus to whatever the large 4G model will be. Apple is certainly run by smarter people than me. They released no non-5G flagship phones. I took up an offer by Chase to use my accumulated credit card points to buy an iPhone 12 Pro. After a long six week wait, followed by a whirlwind shipment from China, the new phone was in my hands on a Monday, snug like a slightly bigger iPhone 4S. Sadly, it’s a small phone. Smaller than I had anticipated. I had reasoned that the Pro is 6.1 inches, my wife’s XS Max is 6.3, and the Pro Max is 6.5, so perhaps the Pro Max would be too big for us. But I didn’t factor in the form factor change – this 12 series is slimmer and taller, giving it the extra length in an awkward fashion. My thumbs genuinely collided on the very first day of using the phone and I knew I had to give it up. So, I’ve “upgraded” to my wife’s XS Max and she gets the shiny new phone with the epic camera.

After 4 years of owning a non-FaceID phone, I’m finally on one. It feels weird. I miss TouchID. It was wonky, but not as much as FaceID. I’ve gotten used to unlocking my phone without looking at it. I’ve gotten used to unlocking it with my hands down, so that by the time I face the screen, it’s ready for use. This doesn’t happen with Face ID. Even with the speed at which it unlocks, a habit built over four years will take some time to change. I do enjoy tap-to-wake. Someone created a jailbreak tweak for my phone to use the same. Raise to wake works wonderfully but I’ve always wanted tap-to-wake. Apparently, it is a software feature that Apple kept away from TouchID phones. I understand now why they did that. TouchID doesn’t need tap-to-wake because you can wake it by resting your finger on the TouchID. So you don’t need to keep the entire screen “awake” all the time to register taps-to-wake. This feature of the TouchID is simply not available for FaceID devices, so Apple almost had to bring in tap-to-wake. In once sense it’s a regression, both in ease-of-use (because TouchID doesn’t need you to look at the device) and in the options to unlock, which Apple should do something about by introducing a side TouchID button.

I do enjoy animoji a little, but it’s only to the point of being a novelty. My family has moved past iMessages. We use WhatsApp and Telegram. So animoji, while an curiosity for me when it came out and wasn’t available to me on my older phone then, is now just another feature I can’t care about.


We (meaning the missus) watch this vlogger who moved from London to Paris within this year. She’s a fashion afficionado, spending exorbitant sums on buying handbags and fashion goods at a cadence others would balk at, while real rich people would scoff at. I think she buys a good three-four expensive handbags a year, which makes her a favorite on this luxury goods stores. Apparently, luxury goods is a market you have to buy into. You have to prove your loyalty to the brand by buying smaller, more readily available goods before you’re allowed to buy big ticket items upon invitation. She often flaunts her invitations to buy Hermes bags. As if spending your own money needs approval from the seller.

She claims that she spends her own money, received from endorsements and influencer deals, instead of milking her parents’ sprawling medical care business, which she was destined to be a part of before she veered off that path to go into fashion blogging. I take that with a grain of salt. While she was in London, she was living rent-free and grocery-shopping-free with her sister, her husband, and two kids. Not sure how one pulls that off. Now that she’s in gay Paris, she seems to be living rent-free by mooching off her elusive and wealthy boyfriend. Still, not sure if anyone can afford what she does on her influencer salary. She doesn’t even resell her bags!

In one particularly telling video segment, she talks about how she washes her cashmere sweaters and tops in a regular washing machine, with cold water and soft detergent. She said (I’m paraphrasing), that many people have told her she should get all those clothes dry cleaned, but if she were to do that, she would be spending all her time on getting them from the cleaners and back, and never have any time to wear those clothes. As soon as I heard it, I pointed it out to my wife. She didn’t say money, she said time. She doesn’t think sending clothes regularly is a waste of money, but time. That there is the mark of a rich person. To her, the cost of this operation is better measured in time. I take her squawking about how she’s living off her own salary with even more salt now.


When I changed my phone, I also tried to move my Apple Watch to the new device. It forced me to update to WatchOS 7. I’m loathe to do that, but this is a new watch and as such, I reckoned it wouldn’t die from the software update. It did not. In fact, I got a few nice new watchfaces and features. Now, my watch detects that I’m washing my hands and counts down from 20 seconds. Though it never seems to do that when I’m trying to show the feature to my brother or my wife. Once, I stopped washing before 20 seconds and the watch gave me a passive-aggressive message about how washing my hands for 20 seconds is a recommended practice. Since then, when I finish on time, it gives me a “Well Done!” and a haptic feedback.


It’s been a while since I posted publicly on my blog, and I had all these thoughts swirling around. So instead of killing them and tossing out some short-hand tweets, or making them their own posts, I decided to make one long, meandering post, experimenting with separators to see how it goes. Let me know what you think about this format!

Chasing away those bad thoughts

Source: Those bad thoughts – Chaitanya

Just came across this post in my RSS reader and yeah, I have these “bad thoughts” too. Mostly in the spur of the moment when I’m thinking of someone or something and a negative thought just pops in my head. I massage it away, telling myself that these things won’t happen. The lingering feeling of guilt remains – for having thought of someone’s death or a mishap.

But at the end of the day, they’re just figments of an overactive imagination. As long as there are enough positive thoughts to counteract these negative ones, it’s all good.

Gratis

woman using MacBook Pro

I love bargain hunting for apps. And the best price for something is free, or so they say.

Whenever I chance upon an iOS App Store link that is set to Germany (‘de’ instead of ‘us’), I notice that the price for the app, if it’s free, is written in German as “gratis”. This gives me a bit of a kick, because the US version just says “Free” and it doesn’t ever encapsulate the true price of an app.

I’ve worked on a few personal project apps, websites, and services over the years, though I’ve never really released anything, specially not for any price above free. It’s because I know that from alpha to production is a hellish journey, filled with all sorts of pitfalls and work that I’m not suited for. From design to marketing to copywriting to user feedback collection, there’s a lot that indie devs do and kudos to them. But whenever we get something for free, we take it for granted. “Hey, they gave it away for free, so it must not mean much to them.” But the months of work, the blood, sweat, and swearing that goes into making anything in software makes it so that the app is never free.

Thus, when I see the price of free, even though I’m elated that I got something for free, I know that it’s anything but.

Gratis feels a better suited word for it, because a) it’s by the gratitude of the developer that you’re getting it without paying anything, and b) because you should be grateful back to the developer for it. All these words have the same root – *gwere – which, according to etymonline.com, means “to favor”.

So the next time you get some software for free, know that the person spent months working on it, and they’re doing you a favor by giving it to you for free. Maybe you’ll be a little more thankful to them for it.

Look at this app, do you think it’s “free”? It’s anything but.

Puzlogic by Eduardo Barreto

Thoughts on Proficiency

When I was about thirteen, we had, as part of our English curriculum at school, a class on writing telegrams. The idea was to teach us how to write in concise form, with as much legibility as possible.

At that time, I was already somewhat good at the English language and started off the lesson with some gusto. The first task was to write a telegram about a house on sale. (Why? I dunno.)

The ask was to describe the house, throw in a price, and get away with the least number of words as possible.

Most of my colleagues wrote the following phrase –

Three bedroom one bath STOP

Where as I, thinking I’m smarter than the rest, wrote –

Three bedroom bath STOP

Now, in my mind, this was perfectly acceptable, but my teacher was quick to point out that there is a lack of clarity as to whether my house has three bedrooms each with a bath attached, or in fact, three weird rooms with a bathroom built into them. It was embarrassing in the moment, but a great lesson for me.

There’s a famous quote, which since I’ve forgotten, I’ll paraphrase here. It goes something like, “if you want to change something, you have to master its basics first.”

The gist of it remains with me to this day. When, nowadays, I see people using English in every shape and form, bending it to their will, I notice this trend more and more – people who are proficient at the language are able to bend it better, so that they do something innovative and fresh, yet are easily able to get their point across. On the other hand, people who are yet learning the nuances of the language are also using all kinds of shortcuts and short forms because of the restrictions put on us by messaging systems and twitter. But these latter people are often not able to get their message across clearly.

This is not to fault people for whom English is a second language. I recently saw a meme that said that if you see someone speaking broken English, have more respect for them, because it means they know some other language as their first language. Chances are, you who are judging them will not have the exposure and mental agility of knowing a second or third language.

Regardless, when people stick to the basics, they are able to make leaps and bounds of progress to build upon. This is true for pretty much every system/language/process in the world.

Have you ever come across a badly written passage by a neural network and it’s very easy to tell that it’s computer generated? What made you realize it’s not written by a person? There would be some basic level language mistakes made by the software which you’d pick up immediately. This gives people working on NLP a clear direction – make your algorithm better at the basics of the language, and teach it fifth standard level coursework instead of Shakespeare.

Recently, I was writing some code in JS. Whenever I’m writing quick getaway code, I opt for a simple for loop. But this one time, something irked me. Writing the same code over and over again is good muscle memory, and it frees up mental space to think about ways to improve one’s process (cue hat tip to Atomic Habits by James Clear, which I heard recently as an audiobook during a road trip). I started looking at map, which is a function I’ve gazed at before, but never bothered with. As it turns out, map fit perfectly in my code, as I wanted to apply the same function on every item in the array. So I replaced the for loop with map, and from then on, I’ve started looking at other things, like filter, to further remove the for loop from my code.

I’ve probably written hundreds of for loops over the years, across many languages and projects I’ve worked on. But it took that umpteenth for loop in JavaScript to get me to a point where I was comfortable with replacing it with something better. If I was a Software Engineer by education, I might have known about, and used map and filter all these years.

But since I came to programming as a tool, I first went through years of the basics, repeating them, partly in a fog of ignorance, till I was aware of my own abilities, and hankering to change things for the better.

There’s a flip side to this – I hate reading documentation. I rather jump into learning by doing. This is not just true for programming. I hate looking into English grammar. I can never tell you about what is a pronoun, what’s a participle, or what is the correct spelling of a complex word. But that doesn’t stop me from using English in my own writing, thinking, and blogging.

When I talk about focusing on the basics, I’m not talking about the grammar and structure of whatever it is you’re learning. I’m talking about the every day basics of doing. Focus on those, and once you’ve mastered those, you’ll be able to soar.