Reading to Write
Dave Perell in his wonderful Guide to Writing Online talks about collecting the dots (reading) vs connecting the dots (writing).
Dave Perell in his wonderful Guide to Writing Online talks about collecting the dots (reading) vs connecting the dots (writing).
It’s always Day 1.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, and in some cases, by its reviews. This article postulates (and I concur) that reading the reviews “after” you’ve read the book can be your window to interesting perspectives.
Hilarious satirical take on today’s productivity BS!
Nothing has ever brought humanity closer than this pandemic. Think about it. In all the negatives, all the grimness, all the darkness, if there is one silver lining, it is that there’s hope.. empathy and working together is the only way to survive.
Technology, meet history. History, meet future.
Here’s a TLDR version:
Here’s an excerpt of a book excerpt from the book The World: A Family History of Humanity (Goodreads) by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
This historical snapshot of Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s fall and Aurangzeb’s ascent shows how the most hardworking yet cunning and zealot leaders can lay havoc on a family and on a country.
This micromanaging puritan tried to limit sensuality, banning women from wearing tight trousers and, in Kashmir, ordering people to wear drawers instead of nothing. As his court became more rigorous and orderly, he lectured his son Azzam, ‘Fear the sighs of the oppressed,’ and warned his vizier, ‘Oppression will cause darkness on Judgement Day.’ Alamgir was probably the hardest-working ruler in Indian history, barely sleeping, poring over his paperwork: ‘I was sent into the world by providence to live and labour, not for myself but for others.’ Often reﬂecting on power, he was a Machiavellian – ‘One can’t rule without deception’ – and violent. ‘The greatest conquerors,’ he claimed, ‘aren’t the greatest kings,’ but this scion of Tamerlane lived for conquest: ‘When you have an enemy to destroy, spare nothing, anything is permissible . . . that can deliver success.’
Wouldn’t it be nice if a feature just worked?
GoPro recently introduced a neat feature where you can transfer your GoPro media, directly and automatically, to GoPro cloud without needing a cable, a phone or a laptop.
Start here with GoPro’s official documentation: GoPro Support: Auto Upload Your Footage To The Cloud.
However, this feature is still quite finicky and often requires troubleshooting. Took me a while to get it working. Sharing my learnings below, try one or more of these to troubleshoot if you get stuck.
Connect your camera to a wall charger with an output of 5V 2A (5V 1A minimum).
The upload will start automatically if the battery is at least 70% charged. If not, the upload will start as soon as the battery is charged to 70%. After this first-time setup, your camera won’t need to connect to the app to start Auto Upload.
When it works, it’s a really great feature. Once you set up Auto Upload, you do not need to connect your camera to GoPro Quik, nor do you need to keep your mobile device within range of the camera.
This is a great article on Google alternatives The Next Google | DKB. There are now new solutions coming out, which even if they can’t replace Google, solve many a painpoints: Quickly accessing information without ads and trackers is one.
Google is incentivized to show you a list of search result webpages, including ads and SEO optimized shitty websites, and then redirect you to them to earn 💰. These alternatives, however for the most part, let you find the information you’re looking for without leaving the search page - recipes or technical code questions are a representative example. Of the ones described in the blogposts, I found YOU and Neeva to be notable.
How difficult could it be to reduce a PDF file size? Apparently, in this instance, very!
Google Docs generated PDFs have risen to monstrous sizes, relatively speaking (and I’m not alone). Recently, I needed to convert a Google Docs generted PDF, from 5MB to under 2MB, due to an upload limit.
wasted effort later, I stumbled upon this Google support forum answer, which pointed me to a beautiful little website called I❤️PDF at ilovepdf.com and IT WORKED LIKE MAGIC - reduced the size from 5MB to 60 KB, without degrading the quality.
Thus ends this tale. Happy compressing!
Most people don’t care about readability of an online article, few of us however, do. No matter how good the content is, if the website (and hence the article) is littered with inline ads, bad formatting, or even gaudy typography - I prefer not to read it as is.
Here are some tips to get around such websites, and have a great reading experience. I have divided my suggestions in multiple levels, with Level 0 being reading an article as-is.
At a minimum use an adblocker wherever you can! It not only provides a better reading experience by blocking ads, but also saves network bandwidth and improves your security by blocking malicious websites.
On a laptop or desktop computer, use adblocker in every browser you have. Additionally, you should use some privacy preserving plugins like Ghostery. I recommend researching some fast, private adblockers and choosing what works best for you.
On mobile-iOS, you can use adblockers for Safari browser as custom plugins.
On mobile-Android, Google is notorious for not allowing ad block plugins in Chrome (why would they, it directly conflicts with their ad empire after all). You still have a couple of options:
Following options will provide ad blocking not just in web browsers, but also in most apps.
I use NextDNS, and on an average it is consistently blocking 13-14% of ads/trackers on my network.
For an up to date list of tools and browser plugins I use, you can see this: New Mac Setup - Docs
Every major browser supports reader mode which strips away all formatting and presents an article in a consistent, clear interface. On one end, Safari’s reader mode is the best IME, on the other end, Chrome makes it unnecessarily difficult to find but there is one.
To enable Chrome’s hidden reader mode: Visit
chrome://flags/#enable-reader-mode in a new tab and Enable it. Or simply search and use any reader mode chrome extension.
Next level is using Read Later services like Instapaper or Pocket. Both provide easy ways to add articles directly from your browsers, a clean beautiful interface and a slew of features like highlighting, offline reading, local copy, etc. on their premium tier. I recommend Instapaper over Pocket for its privacy and focus on reading (versus social/sharing aspects of Pocket).
RSS readers provide an automatic way to keep up with latest content from your favorite sources or authors, and read it via an RSS reader app in a clean interface. If you’re new, I suggest starting with a free app like Feedly. I use Feedbin (subscription based) and a couple of RSS readers (Unread, NetNewsWire).
I hope these workflows improve your reading experience as much as they have improved mine. Happy reading!
Finished reading: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger 📚
I picked up this book based on my buddy Bill’s recommendation (pun intended), he calls it one of the rare business books he’d actually recommend. With such high praise I was naturally curious, and boy did I love this book!
Part memoir, part business wisdom, Bob Iger (CEO, Walt Disney company 2005–2020) shares his story of growing through the ranks at ABC Network to become an executive, and then joining Disney as COO when ABC was acquired by Disney in mid 1990s. Bob shares many interesting episodes like his bid to become the CEO and how he got the job; blockbuster acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilms (Star Wars franchise) and 21 Century Fox; and his friendship with Steve Jobs.
Written in an engaging narrative with business and leadership wisdom sprinkled throughout, the book doesn’t get too preachy and the story of how Bob transformed Disney keeps you hooked.
My rating: 5/5.
Recently read: Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair 📚
This book was a random pick from the local library. I challenged myself to read a book on a different domain, and it turned out to be great. The premise, that you can increase your lifespan to 150 even 200 years, was mind bending and the book lived up to it.
Lifespan talks about latest research from cellular biology about aging and how it can be slowed, heck, even reversed. Author, David Sinclair, is a researcher at Harvard, and the book is a distilled down version of research from his field.
The gist of slowing aging, according to the book, is: Intermittent fasting, cold showers, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) at least once a week and taking drugs like NMN to boost NAD (a lifespan enabler molecule that we keep losing as we age). This is a good book summary if you’re curious, or I recommend at least watching some of the author’s interviews.
My rating: 4/5.
Recently finished: In Order to Live, A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park 📚.
This memoir is honest, heart-breaking and hard-hitting.
It shows the things we take for granted, say, being able to eat eggs in morning (Park mentions, they’d eat eggs once or twice a year (!!) in N.Korea) to basic human rights and freedom, are far more valuable than we presume. Despite its heavy subject, the book reads like a thriller and oddly, is even funny in places.
My rating: 5/5.
Shenandoah National Park was all cloudy and misty today. Beautiful drive!
Spotify vs Apple Music UI (circa Fall 2021). I like the Spotify UI better, it looks almost the same but is more functional (for e.g., shuffle/repeat button isn’t hidden away), also the cover image is bigger.
Trying yet another blogging platform.
When you hold iPhone X, the first thing you notice, is that it is heavier than it looks.
Apple has this trend of not being the first but rather being a good implementer of technologies — they recreated the tablet as iPad, finger print sensor as TouchID, applied NFC as Apple Pay, voice assistant as Siri and recently facial recognition as FaceID. There are many novelties as well, like, being the first to launch a 64 bit processor, arguably building a mobile AppStore (Appstore transformed iPhone the way newsfeed transformed Facebook), and, make phone cameras mainstream. Some of these have aged well, like TouchID which has become extremely reliable and fast, while some of these haven’t, like Siri.
The display. Edge to edge OLED display on iPhone X is so good it almost feels plastered on to the phone. You get used to the notch after a few days. This phone’s display is perhaps the feature that delights the most in the long term usage of phone.
FaceID on iPhone X is not-bad by TouchID standards, works smoothly most times but does have its share of hiccups. (It does work in dark if you’re still wondering). You’ll need to understand though it is a big accomplishment! All the facial recognition, machine learning, and image 3D mapping is happening ON the device in near real time. To replace something as versatile as TouchID indeed takes “courage” (and may be some compromises but guess we will not know about them now). Using FaceID day in and day out, feels like you’re merely swiping up to unlock your phone, like good ol’ days, except this time there’s a security and privacy layer on top of it. Technology is best when it dissolves in background and enables you to do things you’re supposed to be doing on the device. To me, the best part of FaceID is in its application once you’re logged in to the phone. First big application is through the autofill feature. FaceID first authenticates you and then autofills the usernames and passwords (synced via iCloud) not just in websites anymore but in apps as well (Do note that not all apps have been updated to support this yet but the number is growing). Then there are attention aware features like display-not-dimming or low-alert-volume when you’re using (and looking) at the phone. I’m certain FaceID version 2 and beyond will make it faster, more reliable, and flexible (i.e., work from better angle; I can barely unlock the phone currently while it is on desk or on my car mount for maps). For Apple Pay, unexpectedly, I really like it, in fact I prefer it over the TouchID variant. However FaceID (like most technologies) isn’t something other phone makers can’t catch up on. This competition is great for consumers but not so much for Apple.
Differentiating features. iPhone has maintained its lead with differentiating features like introducing portrait mode, live photos (still not sold on these but it is fun to look through gallery and find photos moving giving a Harry-Potter-esque feel), Apple Pay, TouchID and now FaceID. Other makers keep on catching up and Apple keeps on pumping out newer features (Arguably Google Pixel has a better camera and voice assistant, Samsung makes better displays, OnePlus makes better Fast Charging, Microsoft makes better.. never mind) — that’s the obvious part, what’s not obvious is that there’s one feature no one is able to catch up Apple on yet, is the integration between software and hardware! There’s a buttery-ness and stability that you only get with iOS (or even MacOS), albeit at the cost of losing some freedom in the environment. For instance, Google pixel might produce better photos in low light or portraits with just one camera, but using the camera itself, the speed, photo processing, real time preview of portrait mode — is either significantly better or only available on the iPhone. This vertical software-hardware integration enables Apple to have its Bluetooth earphones (aka AirPods) pair seamlessly with the phone via their W1 chip, or, divert your phone calls to your Mac or iPad if the iPhone is in vicinity. Little niceties, you see.
Coming back from iPhone in general to iPhone X, here are some things I don’t like about it, but these are not deal breakers for me (I get to complain about these because the phone has a premium price tag and there shouldn’t be any corners cut).
No headphone jack (Getting over it is hard, come on!)
Control center placement at top right corner is a horrendous UI choice (My bet is on a fix for this in iOS 12)
No real fast charging or fast wireless charging
Siri still sucks (except for alarms, for which it works well)
You’re paying a thousand plus dollars and you still don’t get a 10 or 12 Watt fast charger included in the box. That’s blasphemy, Apple!
3D Touch still feels like a gimmick, you do get used to it though
Animojis1 are certainly a gimmick (they do have some cool technology underneath though, using image processing and 3D mapping to recognize your facial muscles, I just wish Apple had found a better use case, may be like Facial Recognition to unlock, oh wait! Okay I will take this feature, it doesn’t bother me in daily usage)
The above list is mostly nitpicking and iPhone X, overall, is an excellent phone. A11 Bionic chip is the fastest on the market by leagues, FaceID is good for a first generation feature, the full screen almost edge to edge display is gorgeous, camera is “the best camera Apple has ever made” (read: despite being an iterative improvement it is very good), and wireless charging is convenient.
Perhaps the last thing you’ll notice about iPhone X is that the display is almost the size of the plus model in a comfortable-to-hold regular iPhone body, which for me, is the best feature of the phone.
Clever name by the way. ↩︎
I was apprehensive when I bought the Apple Watch 4. Do I really need it? Will it fit comfortably? Can I handle the constant barrage of notifications on my wrist? Is it worth the price? How long will the battery last? Does it really help with fitness? Will it help save battery on my phone? I had just bought the bigger iPhone 7+ (still find it difficult to hold) then and wanted a companion device to check notifications without having to take the big phone out of my pocket every time.
Tl;dr The honeymoon period is over and I still like it. It might not be a necessary gadget as phones are, but it’s a good sidekick. I wear the watch almost daily when I’m out which means I only use it when I’m active and not lazily piled up on the couch binge watching Netflix. Here’s how.
FITNESS. I keep a track of my step count, not because I’m a fitness junkie (I should be), but because it tells me how (in)active I’ve been the whole day. Compared to Fitbit HR2 (which my wife uses), Apple watch is usually about 10% behind in step count. I’m not sure if Fitbit is more conservative or Apple Watch more aggressive in this regard, the difference is consistent though. Completing goals like 10,000 steps a day does feel good. I use the Apple exercise app to track my running pace and timing, which is very handy, not only recording the runs but also motivating to run more. On a couple of occasions, I have used the watch to track swimming. During my local gym’s aquafit class (where I give tough competition to much older folks I am usually surrounded with), I was skeptical if the watch would survive the constant submergence in water, it did. Watch also reminds me to get up my ass and move every hour which is useful.
NOTIFICATIONS. And how does the watch communicate? By gentle taptic vibrations. These are nice little nudges that are strong enough not to miss and gentle enough not to trouble. You can turn on the sounds if you’d like but I prefer to keep the watch silent. It also has a I-want-to-be-offline-for-5-seconds mode, I’m watching-a-movie-and-not-checking-my-phone mode, I’m in-a-meeting-don’t-beep mode which I use from time to time. When using Apple Maps, the watch gives subtle taps mapped with directions, which is nice!
COMFORT. A big one for me. I was not a watch person and wanted something that is pleasant to wear throughout the day. Apple watch is surprisingly comfortable, specially the default sports band that I use. APPS. This area was a let down. Apps haven’t caught up in ubiquity that phone apps have, may be because of screen form factor and speed. I use the multi-factor apps (Authy, Duo), Now Playing app (to control the music), and that’s it. I keep testing the new apps but haven’t found anything consistently useful. Good thing is, many Watch apps are available to choose from and you can pick things to your usage and taste. Some apps worth mentioning are Starbucks, Dark Sky (for weather), remote Camera app, calendar, reminders app — however most of these things can be done without opening the app and by just using Siri.
SIRI. Speaking of Siri on Apple Watch, Apple’s digital watch assistant has become better. Keep in mind though it can still frustrate you on occasions and is no way near as good as Google assistant to understand what you’re saying (specially if you’ve an accent). It can perform basic tasks like set alarm, set reminder, set timer, call someone pretty accurately though. Things like “Hey Siri, Drive me to nearest gas station” , “Hey Siri, Home Depot hours today” rarely work with Siri. And lord bless you if you want to use some Hindi words with your Siri request, like, “Hey Siri, who is Amitabh Bachchan?”. Google gets these right much more often.
APPLE PAY. Using Apple Pay from the Apple Watch is blazing fast! Love it. When it works. Apple Pay itself is much faster than using credit cards wherever it is supported, and Watch takes it to another level with speed. One of my favorite Watch features! Looking back at my initial concerns, here’s how they have been answered so far.
My Wishlist for Apple Watch. There’s a nice list here . My top wished features are listed below.
To sum it up, Apple Watch has room to improve, however at the same time, for me, it is proving out to be a handy companion device to iPhone. Plus there’s no competition if you want a smart watch today. Moto360 is dead, Samsung Gear Watch is inconsistent, and Android hasn’t picked up as a watch operating system. This is the best choice out there if you want a smartwatch. Apple Watch’s competition (just like iPads) is the Apple Watch itself. I hope that doesn’t slow down innovation from Apple.