Proposed Captcha for the AI Age

I recently read this brilliant comic by Zach Weinersmith at SMBC. And the first thought I had was this “has to be the most foolproof way there exists to prove yourself human”

Seriously, I am tired of proving to Google that I’m human by selecting grids with zebra crossings in them. This task has to be a lot easier for bots than it is for me because I suck at it every time.

I think, maybe, just maybe we need some other ways to test if users online are humans. Just test us for what we suck at.

  1. Keep showing us optical illusions and check how we freak out. Our eyes keep making a fool of our minds and we let them. Of course, we are already being crazies by training computers to fall for optical illusions. Why, why?
  2. Show us a street full of people coughing and sneezing around openly and ask a single question “what’s the risk that you will get coronavirus if you walk out on this street without a mask?” Apparently, no human will say 100%.
  3. Show the departure time of the flight. Show us the distance to the airport, the traffic en route. Ask us then when should we leave the house. Bots will always make us reach in time. Humans, on the other hand, will be either too early or too late, even when provided with all the data.
  4. Show us a video of people playing basketball and make us count the passes. Then just randomly predict when will the pandemic end. If a user selects “before August starts”, has to be Human. Yeah, and also show us next the walking, chest-thumping gorilla that we missed in the video.
  5. Just put a simple multiple-choice question, “What will you name some random street?” with one of the options as “I don’t know… name it whatever the fuck man”. Majority humans apparently will select that.

You get the idea. Don’t judge us by our smartness. If there’s anything that the last few months have proven, it is that we ain’t an intelligent species. It is our dumbness, our frailties that make us humans now.

Don’t Let Micro-Stresses Burn You Out

The problem is that most of us have come to accept micro-stresses as just a normal part of a day. We hardly acknowledge them, but cumulatively they are wearing us down. And what’s worse is that the sources of these micro-stresses are often the people — in and out of work — with whom we are closest.

The point is that these micro-stresses are all routinely part of our day and we hardly stop to consider how they are affecting us, but they add up. They may arise as momentary challenges, but the impact of dealing with them can linger for hours or days.

Harward Business Review

I know the burn out caused by the micro-stresses. It is pretty common especially with enterprise roles. However when you look at the possible relationships that can lead to such frictions, it is only natural that the causes can be, many a times, way closer to home.

A really insightful look at the problem and possible ways to mitigate them.

Shuddering – A flash fiction

Raghav woke up from his deep slumber; he wasn’t prone to these breaks in his sleep as long as there wasn’t a reason for that. He felt he heard a constant buzzing sound; he wasn’t hearing any now. He attempted to gain his full senses. He looked at the dimmed screen of his iPhone; it hadn’t woken him up as there were no new notifications. He wasn’t fully awake yet as he could hardly see anything around through his dizzy eyes. He attempted to see the time again on his iPhone; the screen read 03:28. He didn’t feel thirsty nor did he want to take a leak.

He got up and tottered along the floor to the bathroom. “I am awake anyway, might as well go visit the bathroom“. He got back to the still, dark room. The clock on the wall read 03:30 now.

Just as he fell flat facedown on the bed, the sound hit him again. He could clearly hear the steady, deep buzzing noise that had woken him; he was absolutely certain it wasn’t coming from something in his room. He got up, this time fully awake, wide-eyed. He was convinced it was a sound he had heard before, a rattle of sorts on a wooden top. He got out of his bedroom; he was certain now that the sound was coming from downstairs. He tried to calm his mind, suspecting it was his loneliness that was playing games.

Raghav stepped onto the first stair and the sound stopped with the first creak of the wooden stairs below his feet. The lack of sound now made him even more nervous. Did he make someone or something aware of his presence? Why did the sound stop? The lack of persistent hum was making his legs shake. He stood frozen on the stairs peering into the darkness beneath. It was lifeless, as it should be. But even the normal made Raghav quiver. He felt that the narrow staircase was closing in on him on both sides, becoming narrower with each second that he stood there.

I cannot stand witless here anymore,” he thought. He flicked at the switch panel. The light hadn’t even filled the staircase yet and the heavy hum filled the empty soundless surrounding again. He was sure now that his mind wasn’t playing any games with him; there was something rattling on the dining table in the kitchen. He took a deep breath and ran down the staircase. He stood at the entrance of the kitchen and peeked inside. It was pitch dark inside, except for the dancing light from a buzzing mobile phone on the dining table. Raghav was relieved it wasn’t an unexplainable sound. But the relief was only short-lived as the realization that the phone wasn’t his soon hit him.

He ambled slowly towards the shuddering device; the screen visibly showed that there was an incoming call. Before he could see whom the call was from, the phone stopped ringing and fright struck him as the room went dark around him. He scuttled across the floor to the dining table, picked up the phone, and brought the screen back to life. He heaved a sigh as the faint light illuminated his surroundings. He hadn’t even exhaled the full sigh yet before the phone in his hand started to vibrate again. He slowly turned the now-brightened screen to face him; his face went white. The screen read Incoming call . . . Raghav iPhone.

The third issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features thoughts from a few brilliant minds on what makes writing natural. Be it in a notebook to be relished privately. Or be it published to be critiqued openly. Again, am pretty satisfied with how even this issue has come out. The featured writings are inspiring for me.

These past few weeks have been a great learning experience. When I had started planning for this newsletter around a month back, I gave myself a small target – publish 3 issues. Don’t think about subscribers. Don’t think about the future or the tone or the structure. Just make sure 3 issues are consistently delivered over 3 weeks and what is included in every issue excites me. I feel I have managed that.

With the first checkpoint reached, I don’t intend to stop yet. I want to continue towards the next goal – set the tone.

One of my dad’s closest friend passed away today. Understandably, my dad was very sombre for the whole day. He told me he had spoken to his friend just yesterday when he was all fine.

Just last week, my aunt too had lost her father. She also told me she had spoken to her dad just a day before and even he was all fine.

They both died due to heart failure. They both shared one more truth, though. They both already had a weak heart and both said that all the news around COVID and the resultant lockdown were making them lonelier. They felt burdened — even though they had their close family and friends always around them for support.

Will we also add these deaths to the this pandemic’s toll? Because, of course, these aren’t isolated cases. The psychological fallout is far-reaching than immediately noticeable symptoms.

We should. It has curtailed many more lives than those that get reported.

When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?

The absence of audio recording technology makes “when” a tough question to answer. But there are some theories as to “why.”

Matt Soniak at Mental Floss

I’m not subscribing to HEY

I have finally made my mind. I am not going to pay for HEY. It is a wonderful service, no doubt. I love it. I just don’t need it.

I have been using HEY for almost two weeks now and since last few days, I have hardly acted on any emails the way the team wants me to. Most emails have been filtered out. Tells me an email as a communication medium is already pretty worthless for me. I can’t pay so much for something that’s worth so little. Here’s my state from yesterday as I responded to an ongoing conversation.

HEY makes my email even more worthless than it already is for me. I hardly see any emails getting filtered through to me. I’m yet to decide if it’s a good thing or a bad one.

I have always been a user of the free Gmail service until now. I have evaluated many email services over the years, but haven’t paid for any. I do not run my livelihood over my personal email. Neither do I receive so many emails that managing them becomes a hassle of any sort. I could just sit down for a few minutes and handle all of them together. I hardly have to triage them — snooze or reply later are all nice features. But I rarely need them.

If all the other emails services failed to pique any interest in me earlier, why did HEY even come so close? Well, because I do see how all the features they tout as game-changing can actually solve the problems many people face with their email. No wonder then that even I want to use all the features. But my current lifestyle just doesn’t have any need for any of those.

But the screening and the feed and the paper trail?

Well, I spent the last couple of hours on Gmail to clean my filters — and with that, I have now got a pretty similar workflow in place with the help of filters and customized priority inbox. Here’s how my inbox looks.

Will I be able to maintain it? No idea. I have managed to sail through for so long. I had no clue about the sheer amount of emails even my current system was already “screening” out. So, I believe I would be fine.

Won’t I love if a system did that for me? Well, sure I would love that. But you see Hey doesn’t want to be that system. Here’s an excerpt from their manifesto.

Email’s better with a human at the helm. That’s you. You’re better at deciding where things go, what your intentions are, and how you want things set up. The machines have a lot of learning to do before they’ll be able to second-guess whether you actually wanted to see that email, whether it was a receipt or a newsletter, and even what you should be writing someone. At HEY, it’s human intelligence over artificial intelligence.

The whole workflow in HEY begins with me screening the first time senders before they arrive at my inbox. Well, nice. However, am ok to take the same decision after it has reached my inbox — I will create a filter. That’s ugly, manual work sure. But it doesn’t cost me $99/year worth of my time.

I have already created labels for feeds and paper trail. And many more. Because you see, my emails don’t just fit in these two categories. I have a lot many more filters. And I have pretty simple rules for each.

  • I need this mail in my inbox, unread.
  • I need this to skip my inbox, but stay unread. I will get to it.
  • I need this to skip my inbox and get marked as read.
  • I need this to be deleted.

That’s it. All my filters do just this. I will continue to do so manually. (I do wish though that the Gmail’s Android app allowed creating simple filters in their app.)

And am ok to lose the email address I want?

Well, I’ve currently shared my Gmail address everywhere. Even if I shift to HEY, I have to change the email address registered with many of the services. I think if I am ever to go through all this trouble, it would be for one with my custom domain. In which case, it won’t matter what email address I get on the service.

All in all, HEY is a brilliant service with a fresh perspective towards the way we use our emails. It can potentially enliven the email offerings from all the players, just the away Gmail did back in 2004. But I don’t face the problem it is trying to solve; I have no use for all its groundbreaking features. So, I can in no way justify paying the price it asks for it.

I just watched Hamilton and am left breathless — what an experience this was. I’m so glad that Disney decided to release it digitally worldwide so that the people world over can witness the extravaganza. There were so many moments when I was singing and swaying along or sitting stunned in my seat mesmerized. No doubt, the live experience would be many-fold grander. But there’s no chance in hell I would get to see this show live ever. At least, I can appreciate now why it is praised so much by anyone who has been lucky to experience this live.

I never knew I would enjoy a Broadway Musical so much. This makes me wonder what else have I missed. Are there any such great shows that are available to stream? I do want to explore and watch more from this form of art too.

USA! USA! USA!

Give me liberty or give me death? In response, the Pandemic leans forward with a big grin full of rotting teeth. Why not both? Go out! Have some fun. You’ve been cooped up too long. You deserve this.

To all who hear me, you deserve something far better than a fun holiday weekend. You deserve a long and happy life. Tell the Pandemic to get bent. Stay close to home, and cheer our nation’s beginning from your backyard or living room.

I wish more people world around listened to Cheri Baker. I do not stay in the USA. But even when peeking from outside, the attitude of “I live my life on my terms, the world be damn” is pretty clearly evident among Americans.

It’s not cute when you see a child struggling with a magazine because she thinks it’s an iPad; it’s sad. Give the kids books and magazines to play with before you give them a smartphone or an iPad. They will grow more better.