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.

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.

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.

Nice research you got there. Be a shame if someone from the media tried to conclude it.

News media consistently gets research paper conclusions wrong, sensationalizing mundane results by focusing on edge cases or ignoring the fine print.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to get an AI to sum these papers up and see what it comes up with?

Of course, seed data should come from conclusions by both media and scientists themselves, as well as some laypersons to balance things.