Each human being has been granted two qualities: power and gift. Power drives a person to meet his/her destiny, his gift obliges that person to share with others which is good in him/her. A human being must know when to use power, and when to use compassion.

Paulo Coelho

I have unsubscribed from most (all?) of the daily newsletters about news. I am already bombarded with news that’s mostly about world’s burning. I do not want even my inbox to welcome me all the crazy updates from the world, but especially US. Most newsletters cover that and it’s the same news repeated in all. Same essays, editorials from same sources. The Atlantic. NYTimes.

I had already done a similar exercise with tech newsletters. And podcasts. Again, it’s same stories that I have already seen someplace else. Why read them again in the inbox? It just fills my newsletter to-read list.

I want to feel relaxed, open to read some meaningful words. Some essays that mean, matter for those who wrote them. Not a quick rewrite of what’s already been told zillion times.

I’m being very selective with what I subscibe to now. I want to read something that’s heartfelt. Not something that’s link log of trite news updates. Most daily newsletters deliver the later.

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 make us 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.

What else could I do?

I am making sure I stay sane, healthy. I am spending time on, for and with myself. I am taking care of myself to the extent that I never did before.

What else could I do?

I am making sure my family stays safe. I am sharing stories, laughing a lot with them. I am playing with my daughter. All her games, without judging them. I go on an unplanned date with my wife right at home every now and then, spend a cosy morning with her in the balcony with a cup of hot tea. I am spending time with my family to the extent that I never did before.

What else could I do?

As I go outside, I always wear a mask. I do not have or present any justification to not wear one. There can’t be one. I try to enlighten others, closed ones and those that aren’t so, the importance of being responsible once outside of homes.

What else could I do?

Well, there is so much more that I could do. I do not openly express my anguish looking at the adverse situation the impoverished lots are going through. I do not stand for the rights of minorities world around as much as I should. Or contribute towards changing the clearly imbalanced societal status quo.

Or speak up openly when I see a gender bias in play. I haven’t yet told that one guy to not keep saying “guys” in a meeting with many of my female colleagues. It is wrong. I cringe every time. But I could also speak up.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

Change doesn’t always need radical corrections. I could bring the minor shifts in my behaviour and make my surrounding a fair place for all.

So, what else could I do?

Well, I could not ask that question because I know there’s so much that I do not do. Let me make an effort to be a better version of myself because there’s no doubt that I can never be perfect.

I'm not going to write about...

  • Facebook and Zuckerberg. And I think even the big publications all round, the likes of Wired and NYTimes, need to stop writing about the issues inside Facebook. They call their edits “exclusive”, tag them as an inside look at what transpired behind the tall walls. But that hardly matters - nothing ever changes at the crazy place. Because the people who can bring the change, don’t want to. For some reason that is hard to fathom to outsiders, they all are conflicted within.
  • Apple and Google. Too much is said about everything big and small about these companies. It piques interests in readers and so every publication has something to report about them. I can’t add anything more to what has already been said, that too by minds a lot smarter than mine. I don’t want to add to the noise.
  • Politics. Talking about the doesn’t help my morale. It rather makes me a lot angrier than I need to be. And to no avail.
  • Meta rants about Blog. Not my writing workflow. Not the minor tweaks I keep making every now and then. Not the struggles I go through to get things exactly right. Just write and edit what I wrote. Keep the place the way I like to see it. Hear what others have to say about the place, the workflow, tweak it if needed and forget.
  • Things I need to do. Announce them when ready. Instead of writing about it, start doing it. Get started.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain

You know, ultimately, we all have to believe things we haven’t seen. As rational as we are, as committed to intellect as we are. Innovation, creativity, development come not from the ideas in our mind alone. They are also fueled by some conviction in our heart. And it’s that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzly things, but also the dark and difficult things. Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader, said, ‘When we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression, we wanted all kinds of things, but mostly what we needed was hope, an orientation of the spirit, a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.’

Bryan Stevenson

Yesterday I managed to get all my subscriptions into a single place to check how much I was spending on services. Boy, I was in for a shock. My subscription for media services has grown two-fold. Lockdown is, of course, a cause. So, I will let it float around till normalcy returns outside.

I always had my media and productivity services balanced, of course, it was never intentional. But I guess the addition of a HEY subscription might bring things again in balance. I still have 5 days to decide.

Speaking of tracking subscriptions, I used an app called Bobby while I was on iOS and I sorely missed it since I shifted to Android. However, I’ve found a brilliant app called (of course) Subscriptions. The app has one job and it does perfectly.

The second issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard is out and should be in your inboxes if you’d subscribed. I hope it caught your interest and hopefully brought a smile to your face and some thoughts in your mind.

If you haven’t subscribed, you can read it online. And if you do like it, please subscribe. I have also published a page that spells out why I started the newsletter and what you can expect from each issue.

I am pretty excited with this side project – if nothing else, it has made me discover some gem of essays from minds way smarter than mine. I hope the zeal stays on.

I find it curious that while Apple is rolling out the support for widgets and personalization so late into its existence, Google is doing it late with Airdrop-like functionality in Android. Just highlights the different priorities both the platforms began with. No platform is “late” with a feature.

The second issue of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard is ready and scheduled to be delivered in a few hours. I am completely humbled by the feedback and the response that the first issue received. I hope the second issue manages to keep the interest intact for the subscribers.

I am pretty excited with how this latest one has turned out too. Do check out the first issue and subscibe if you missed to do so earlier.

HEY has me conflicted

I paused at that last word in the title. I was so close to writing “hooked”. But then I thought have they really sold the promise yet? No doubt, they are close. But, it’s not a done deal yet.

Why is this service so enticing though? I mean it’s just an email service. I don’t even use the email that much. So why do I keep going back to HEY? It has got something to do with their promise. Of making me care even less for the email.

Every now and then I visit the “Screened Out” section to see all the mails I would have seen had I been using any other email app. And it is a mess in there. These emails never get filtered out with my existed setup. I am tired of setting all the filters in Gmail. It just doesn’t work efficiently. Junk emails always end up reaching my inbox.

This hasn’t been the case with HEY. Because they have decided on a sane default - everything screened out if not allowed earlier.

We ask every software to side with “opt-in” for every marginal aspect – something that would split their users on whether they accept it or not. Why can’t expect the same from our email service too?

And I haven’t even gotten used to all the other features that I think are potential game-changers that many others have well documented.

  • I have merged and renamed the threads – I like the cleaner workflow.
  • I have set aside the emails and marked them to be handled later. I like the idea.
  • I do not like the feed; in its current form, it is almost useless. Is it just there so that I can skim through and ignore?
  • I like the paper trail section. I don’t want to see those emails, but want them handy.
  • I love sticky notes and notes that we can put on emails. Such a simple, but brilliant idea.

However, with all said, I am conflicted. Do I want the clean experience so bad that I am willing to pay the cost? Do the junk email that I have got into the habit of deleting without a second thought bother me so much that I am willing to pay the cost? Can’t I just manually screen-out the emails?

I have about a week to decide.

My definition of magic in the human personality, in fiction and in poetry, is the ultimate level of attentiveness. Nearly everyone goes through life with the same potential perceptions and baggage, whether it’s marriage, children, education, or unhappy childhoods, whatever; and when I say attentiveness I don’t mean just to reality, but to what’s exponentially possible in reality. (…) Why are people incapable of ascribing to the natural world the kind of mystery that they think they are somehow deserving of but have never reached? This attentiveness is your main tool in life, and in fiction, or else you’re going to be boring.

Jim Harrison in The Art of Fiction

Finally, I have completed a pretty tricky exercise that I had started about a couple of weeks back. It wasn’t tricky because I wanted to move my website to a different platform. It was tricky because I wanted to do it cleanly. I wanted to retain as many things that worked well for me as I could. I didn’t want to break much that was core.

So, after days of experiments and trial runs, and notes and list of reviewed to-dos, I’ve managed to switch to WordPress. I will note down why someday - one short, but big reason though is editing. I am tired of working custom solutions with Blot – it’s a great service, no doubt. But you need to love your files a lot. I am currently not in that phase.

Anyway, as intended, the core is retained. The links are (hopefully 🤞) not broken. #IndieWeb support was a must, have stitched that in. The option to switch to a dark theme was a must. A simple reading experience was a must. I’ve managed to get good writing experience too. So, times now to sit back and relax.

Do let me know if see anything that’s not working well. I won’t mind if you also let me know if everything’s working fine.

I am planning to roll out some changes to my blog. I fear there would be many things that would be broken. Most importantly, soon, the RSS feed may not work. So if you are following me via my RSS feed, you might miss my posts. If you do, please resubscribe in a few days.

I find it extremely interesting that I have most things going for it now. I do not know what’s even missing. Why can’t I just make this my new home? Sure if can’t be bad, right?

Let’s look at the pros and cons. Rather this is a thought dump of sorts. No pros and cons, just some quick thoughts to compare experiences.

  • My existing setup is a terrible writing experience. Every time I had to think where to post from. It is so terrible for instant posts. Not with the new setup.
  • With WordPress, I can post from which ever place that works now. I don’t have to think to much about writing. Only focus on thought. Good for fixing too. Get things out and forget.
  • Theming is so easy with WordPress. No more struggling with files.
  • That reminds me. I am tired of working with files. Blot is good with files. But it wants to play with files. Not provide metadata as such. I provide metadata everytime. It defeats the purpose of the simplicity of Blot. Why mess around the frontmatter? I am tired of working that way. I want editor. Write and forget.
  • With WordPress though, I lose control and gain headache of managing instances again. Am I ok to sign up for that again? Can I trust myself with it? May be I need to. Let’s give it a go.
  • Markdown is good but not always. Sometimes it is easier to work with WYSIWYG editors. Just write and forget. Sure markdown is more supported. It is again good when working in files. Not otherwise. Did I say am tired of files?

I am not yet sure how can I live without the quick draft. I need this option so bad. When I have a thought, I want to put it out.