Why Do I Write?

Don’t write for others, write for yourself. Most long-time writers give this advice to someone who is just getting started. Actually, screw that. Every person who does any amount (and form) of writing gives this advice to every other person who wishes to do some form of writing.

Easy advice for others, but very difficult to follow oneself. To be frank, what does “not to write for others” even mean? Or write only for yourself?

I write when my mind blanks out. I write when my mind gets crowded. Most of the time, I write as I comment on something I read or listened to. At times, a thought makes me go, “Hmm, that’s curious. I should write more about it.” Occasionally, I write because I want to force myself to write.

Writing something, anything, makes me focused. It calms me down. “I write because I have an innate need to write,” says Orhan Pamuk. More often than not, I share his sentiment.

But I am not perfect. I also write because I want others to read my writing. Trigger a conversation. Read what others think about my thoughts. As an introvert, that’s my only way to open up to others. I don’t care how many people read what I write. As long as I know that some do.

Numbers don’t matter to me. Conversations do.

On a philosophical level, everybody understands this belief of “not writing for others”. Write what your mind wants you to write, don’t write what others want you to.

You write because your thoughts are important. You write because you are brave and willing to expose those thoughts. But, most importantly, you write because you have something to say.

A fascinating perspective. It is worded succinctly, but it still is philosophical. Everybody has something to say. But not everybody writes. So, what motivates you to put your thoughts in words?

Rating the film rating systems

Isn't it odd that we can't decide on a consistent content rating system across all the countries? I know I have ranted about this a many times before this. But I just can't wrap my head around the fact that we, supposedly smart humans, haven't figured out a way yet to addresses such a trivial aspect of our film watching experience.

How difficult is it to say that this content is made for children 6 years and above? Or 13 years and above?

I know. I'm ignoring the fact that all nations are not governed the same. They have individual definitions and expectations of freedom. Oversimplifying the problem at hand may not take us anywhere. The least I can do at least is to check which countries handle this rating problem the best.

I find it fascinating that Turkey has the simplest content rating system. These are the rating — General Audience, 6+, 10+, 13+, 16+, 18+. Austria is in the same league — Unrestricted, 6, 10, 12, 14, 16. Russia's not too far behind, too — 0+, 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+.

India has a simple range — U, UA, A, S. But those characters are meaningless. How is one to map them to the age of the child?

United States follows an even more muddled system — G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. That's complication is unnecessary. It's unfortunate that those are the ratings that are most widely followed.

A couple of curious cases. South Africa has these categories — A, PG, 7–9PG, 10–12PG, 13, 16, 18, X18, XX. Plus these sub-descriptors — S, L, V, P, N, H, D, SV. Wow! I am sure a significant post-production budget goes towards arriving at the right rating for a film.

And finally, of course, China. It has no official rating system. There are only two categories — suitable for all ages and banned.


Here are a few additional observations and a proposal. 6, 16 and 18 are the most commonly agreed boundaries for the films. Only a few countries have any ranges beyond 18.

So, if we manage to find an agreeable boundary between 6 ad 16, we should be able to cover major countries with these ratings — 0+, 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+ . I am sure folks smarter than me will find a better way of conveying all why this system should work. Or convince me why this will never work.

How am I doing right now? 2021 edition

It was exactly a year ago that I had posted my thoughts on a few key questions. The idea was to capture how I was doing right then. It was a welcome and much needed introspection. I didn't want to miss on the opportunity to revisit the answers from the last year and see what has changed.

It was a nice exercise. My thoughts a year back were so quite unfamiliar to what I am going through today. So, here's an update to the same set of questions. Again, I would love to hear how you are doing.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

Regular exercise and daily meditation. Reading a lot more fiction and non-fiction. I'm still listening to music and many audiobooks. Staying far away from news.

What part of your shelter-in-place residence have you come to appreciate the most?

Garden at my home. The wooden swing at the top floor that overlooks the garden.

What surprising thing have you been stocking up on (that isn’t toilet paper)?

Biscuits. Lots of them.

What’s a story — from a book, a movie, an article, a conversation — that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?

Nothing grips me any more. Maybe I have grown numb?

What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?

I have stopped staying awake late into the Friday and Saturday nights. That was one habit I had, stay up late either mindlessly watching something or working on side projects.

As an effect, I am following a pretty routine. Get a calming and wholesome sleep.

Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting once this is all over?

Again, every part of the neighbourhood. Especially malls and the restaurants.

What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?

Getting bored. And getting creative.

What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?

Cash. And fancy clothes. What I wear at home is often good enough even outside.

What’s something you own that feels useful?

Kindle. Headphones.

What is your COVID-19 nickname/alter-ego?

Calm workaholic.

What problem—either yours, or something more global —do you wish you could solve?

Global Stupidity. Political Divisiveness. Natural Selfishness.

I enjoy reading books and essays in the humour genre the most. However, I find it extremely difficult to consistently find something funny that excites me. I look at the Goodreads recommendations for humour and all are memoir types. Or they were written a long time back. Is this genre just not explored anymore? Why do so few people write funny fiction?

Having written a few humour short stories myself, I understand that it is an extremely difficult genre to master. You can’t write something that everyone will find funny. Some will like what’s written, while some will consider it to be absolutely silly, or even garbage. Maybe that’s the reason not many want to go through the trouble of writing something that won’t find universal acceptance.

I do wonder, at times, that may be the issue is about discovery. Maybe a lot of good humour is written but I am not aware of it. If that’s the case, I would like to know of them.

So what’s the best humour that you have recently read, preferably something that’s not memoir (because am tired of reading short essays that are only funny in parts). I would love if they are pure fiction. Or fantasy even. I am ok to read anything and everything funny. Especially in today’s dire times.

I recently watched Free Solo, 1917 and Greyhound. Here are my thoughts.

Free Solo

This was such a thrilling documentary. I have rarely used that adjective for a documentary. But this one is so very different. I cannot fathom someone’s possession for their passion can blind them to the risks rather conspicuous to the rest. I was aware of the free soloing as a form of climbing. What took me by surprise was the level of planning that goes into the preparation. In hindsight, it was foolish of me to think that wasn’t the case, that the act was spontaneous.


I can’t think of a better way to captures the immediacy of war than how Sam Mendes does with 1917. The single-take narration grips one right from the beginning and never lets off even for a moment. I was with the characters throughout their journey, feeling their anxiety, their pain. I entered every new terrain, turned every dark corner equally uneasy. What Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to achieve is absolute brilliance. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was left gasping by the end. A cinematic masterpiece.


Another war flick that, sure, aimed to be different. A fast-paced action thriller about battleships is not very common. However, the economical 75 minutes of the runtime itself felt too long. The fights felt repetitive and with no other thread to hold the plot together, it was easy to skip over. Tom Hanks sells the character though. However, I am tired now of seeing him play the perfect guy. He needs to play some grey characters now, someone with a few flaws.

Bonus - Quarantine Special

I also finally watched the Quarantine special episode of Mythic Quest. This is the best show on Apple TV+, period. And this special episode was exactly what I needed now – an understanding of what I and most of us are going through in current times. What’s commendable is that it does so without giving up on the hilarity. As the episode came to the climax, it had me jumping with momentary joy. With my eyes full of happy, hopeful tears and my fists clenched, [spoiler alert] I joined Ian to shout out loud “Fuck you Coronavirus”.

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.

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.

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.

Every Pixar Movie Ranked *

Pixar Animation Studios

Vox Media has an updating list of all the Pixar movies, ranked by their Culture team from worst to best. They have been doing this since last year. So it is interesting to see the list updated with every Pixar release.

Since the release of its very first feature film, Toy Story, in 1995, Pixar has become one of Hollywood’s most celebrated animation studios. Ranging from superhero adventures to tales of a lonely robot on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the studio’s 22 movies to date have earned plaudits for being artistically adventurous and telling stories ostensibly aimed at kids that have just as many adult fans. 

Yep, absolutely. I whole-heartedly agree. I and my family had recently watched Onward and had thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Vox says lets take a look back at the high highs and low-ish lows of the acclaimed animation studio”, even I want to attempt that. I do not agree with Vox Culture team’s ranking. So I want to put my own rankings out there.

* Nope, not gonna do that. I can’t rank all of them. There are 22 — how can you ever say if The Bug’s Life is worse than Cars 2. So, I will just give out my top ten; this is not a commentary in any sense. I am not a film critic. I can’t explain why one is artistically better than the other. What I can say is why I like, nah, love each movie in here.

10. Cars (2006)

As far as I can recall, this was one of the early movies I saw from the Pixar studio and I was left completely mesmerized. It was also the first time I realized how emotional an animated movie can leave you. The story was wonderful, made me emotional at many moments. And it wove the same magic for my daughter. So this remains a special movie, to this day; doesn’t matter if it is actually a good movie or not.

9. Onward (2020)

We watched the one the most recently as we were stuck at home for more than 3 months. And the fun we had as a family throughout was completely unforgettable. It made us laugh, made us cry and at times even terrified. It made us forget about all the terrible news that was spread through the world outside — makes it a very special movie for me.

8. Monsters Inc. (2001)

Again, another of the early movies from Pixar. I wasn’t a parent then, but it made me aware for the first time what parenting would be. As I watched Sulley and Mike struggle to keep Boo safe, at the same time growing closer to her, it made me worried and equally excited for the parent that I was one day going to be. I fell in love with Boo as she expressed myriad of expressions through her toddler face.

7. Inside Out (2015)

This has to be one of the smartest and most creative animated movies ever made. Such a creative story stitched into a brilliant movie. The colours, the characters, their journeys alone and together. How they drove the central human character was fascinating. This was again a movie that made me realize what I need not do around my daughter as she reaches adolescence one day. The story was clever, the execution was top-notch and the emotional attachment was to the point.

6. Wall-E (2008)

Another clever movie from Pixar. The first half without any spoken words was absolutely brilliant. I still can’t fathom how the studio made us fall in love with a squarish droid. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t have any human features. But he expressed so many emotions that many of the well-paid actors fail to do. Wall-E’s struggle to express his love for Eve had me root for this lovely droid throughout the movie. Wish humans didn’t arrive later in the movie to spoil what could have been the finest movie of all times.

5. Toy Story (1995)

Another movie that I watched way back in my teens when I had started to believe I had become too grown up to watch animated movies any more. Pixar prove me wrong — boy what a masterpiece this one is. A movie with a brilliant story that also teaches you so much. Still being so much fun at the same time. Toy Story completely defined the roadmap for future animated films — they had to cater to the kids and the adults with a kid within at the same time. This movie did it so perfectly.

4. Coco (2017)

I love music. And I love getting emotional while watching a movie. Especially if it weaves stories around families. So Coco fit just the right spots for me. Boy, oh boy. Such a wonderful ride it was. Those mesmerizing colours. The peppy, moving music. The story that has you gripped throughout. Coco was an experience of a kind. Again, such a meaningful movie that teaches you the importance of a family. I had a tear rolling down my cheek during the final reunion song.

3. Finding Nemo (2003)

Another film that touched my yet-to-be-a-parent’s heart. I was rooting for the worried, clown-fish dad throughout his transformation. And I can’t recall how many more times have I rooted for this guy since then. I watch this movie every now and then with my daughter. She loves it; she asks me many questions about what plays out in the movie. I pull her close to me into a hug and answer her to the best of my abilities. Knowing very well, that soon she too would want to explore more and I would have to stop being overprotective and let her do that. Anyway, see that’s what even thinking about this movie does to me.

2. Toy Story 3 (2010)

There’s just so much to love about this movie. The friendship, the bond that we’ve seen grow over the 3 movies, comes so close to a culmination here. Full of laughter. Full of life-lessons. Full of heartbreaks. This is one hell of a movie - not just an animated one. Period. As Woody looks at Andy walking away while sitting close to Bonny towards the end, am sobbing away with joy. There are so many plots here and each one betters the last. This one is a string of masterclass at film making, one after another.

1. Up (2009)

Just with that masterful opening montage, this one enters my top ten list any day. I had a lump in my throat right at the beginning. The movie follows it up with weaving such a beautiful story about Carl and his relation with Russel and the many friends he makes over their journey to Paradise Falls. I loved each character in this movie. Russel. Kevin. Dug. Even Muntz for that matter. The movie had me empathize with this antagonist too before he goes all bat-shit crazy, that is. And of course, finally Carl. I loved Carl so much that I had one character based on him in my fictional short story series. Up will always remain a very special movie for me.

Best Moments from other movies

There are of course many other movies from Pixar that didn’t make the list but have some brilliant scenes. When She Loved Me song from Toy Story 2. All the action sequence from The Incredibles. Speech on criticism and creativity in the finale from Ratatouille. These movies could very well have made the list, just for these scenes. But, for me, the others on the list are just very close. So these remain the honourable mentions.

Put a price on that "sure"

There are three important rules you should live by if you want to survive in this world. First, always look over your shoulder. Second, never trust anyone. And third, never say sure”.

Not to the shopkeeper that wants you to share your mobile number with him. Not to the neighbour that wants you to help him get some work done in his home. Not to your parents when they message you asking you if they can call now; they tell you it’s not urgent. You should listen to them. Not to your wife that wants you to promise her you would do something for or with her. Not to the politicians that want you to vote for them. Not to the boss that wants you to submit the revised estimates urgently. Not to the friend who wants to add you to a WhatsApp group of batchmates from school.

Because your sure” is a promise that you know you won’t be able to keep up with. Don’t make any of these promises before you know what you are getting into. Follow their questions with some questions of your own; all should start with a why”. Get them to be specific. Evaluate and decide what you are signing up for with your sure”. Never ever lend an easy sure”.

I have decided to actively be back on Twitter again. In a way, I never was off Twitter; I have been a passive contributor on Twitter for more than a year now. During that time, Micro.blog became the place that I was most active at. However, recently I have found that the platform just doesn’t attract me. It has got nothing to do with the product or the community there. Both remain brilliant. It is the diversity (or the lack thereof) that just doesn’t fit my lifestyle, my routine.

My timeline is never active when I am. Even those who are active in my timezone do not share my interests and my culture. It is frustratingly difficult to become part of this wonderful community.

I had casually pointed out this challenge during my interaction with Jean on Micro Monday. I am afraid the things haven’t improved much in the 18 months since. I have made many attempts to overcome this. I tried to inspire people that I know, that I am friends with to join the service. I built Micro.Threads to check on the conversations that I missed while I was absent. I even tried to change my routine to better fit in. It was this last attempt that made me cognizant of the limits I was going to to just be an active participant at the service.

I know there are people from my timezone, of my interest that are very much active on the service. I am sure there would be a thread somewhere listing all such folks. But that thread cannot be discovered or be searched for. Those folks cannot be easily found. I have come to realize that neither of these is a challenge with Twitter. No doubt, Twitter has its own set of challenges. But, at least, I can participate as per my routine.

Lack of diversity and discovery remains Micro.blog’s Achilles heel. It’s a wonderful community on there; it just isn’t inclusive enough for me to fit in.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train is a typical Poirot mystery, just not presented in her signature intriguing style. There are just too many shifts to the points of view of the supporting characters. The clues are perceivable, but they aren’t backed by any information that is revealed earlier. There were many moments when I knew what was being narrated was important, was a clue to something. But I could just not put my finger on why that was so. The resolution towards the end too did not feel very natural; it felt rushed, forced.

With the way the novel is structured, it felt as if Christie began writing this somewhere in the middle when Poirot is introduced, reached towards the end, and began to wonder how to tie the woven mystery up. All the side characters and their backstories were penned at that point and spread across the novel.

As a whole, the story just didn’t feel coherent. It wasn’t boring; I don’t think Christie can write a boring mystery. But it just wasn’t one of her finest works. I have heard even she has acknowledged this fact.

I was completely surprised and equally frustrated, to read the only NYTimes reporting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation. PM urged citizens to stay at home to dissuade Hindus Pilgrims to flock to the sacred site of Ayodha,” the report read.

Here’s the full transcript of the PMs address to the nation. I do not find any political or religion-based overtones in the speech. Why, then, should you report as if there is?

The PM called for resolve” and restraint” from citizens. I think same is needed from publications. These are not the times to be on the left or the right of the political spectrum. Let’s all first come out of this pandemic together as unscathed as possible. There would be a lot of time again for the political debates.

Is there anyone who can easily find the one emoji that they do not use very often? How many of the 1500+ emojis can one possibly use? There is a limited set of emojis I use regularly. And because they are front and centre every time I open an emoji keyboard, they tend to get used even more often.

Even the way they get categorized is horrible. Which category do you think you will find a loudspeaker in? Objects, you say? What about a balloon? Now the answer to that might differ based on which platform you use. Android puts it under Activities” while iOS puts it under Objects. Not just do the emojis vary across platforms, even the simple thing like how to categorize them varies.

I think the emojis need a better, simpler replacement. I do not think memoji is that - it calls for too much effort before one starts to use them. Maybe the whole emoji set needs a complete reset. Anyway, how many of the myriad face emojis can you correctly identify and use? Do you know how many we started with? Just two - a smiling face and a frowning face. Now that is manageable.

I'm glad that Android exists

On a recent busy Friday morning, I hopped into my cab on my way to the office. I was about to isolate myself by plugging my ears with an audiobook. Right about that time, I heard a voice in Hindi, a local Indian language, giving directions to my Uber driver. It made me pause and ponder on how ubiquitous the technical solutions have become. A large section of society has learnt to start carrying these powerful devices along. And this change alone has made some complex businesses more accessible.

Many, especially Apple, mock Android for being a cesspool of cheap, sluggish devices”. But it is Android that has put this change on the fast track. I spent my hour-long ride by being a lot more attentive than isolated. I decided to look around to the individuals, running small and medium businesses, using digital solutions. Almost everyone was flaunting some form of an Android device.

Uber drivers for managing their rides and the routes. Small shop owners for accepting digital payments. Delivery-only restaurants for accepting orders. Food delivery agents running around on bikes to find the next order to be delivered. Part-time service experts on the look-out for their next housekeeping jobs. And many more individual or small group ventures.

There is no doubt that the always-connected1 and accessible Android devices have enabled all these use cases. The two combined have also managed to pull millions of more people into the digital age. Sure, iOS might be the more secure, more private platform that’s better for everyone. But it is not for everyone because it is not affordable to everyone.

We need to credit Google for fostering a platform that attracts more and more OEMs. This makes the platform a lot more usable for the majority section of the world. And they continue to lessen the needs of the platform, recently with the introduction of the Go edition. No doubt, it suits and assists their business model. However, it doesn’t matter. They do that so, in their own words, even the most affordable Android smartphones are as sweet as can be”. I’ve come to believe that. Kudos!

Yes, let’s make the technology affordable for more people so that they too can benefit from the new-age advances. And while we do that, let’s also make the same affordable technology powerful. Because when we do that, we open more ways the people can earn, can learn, can connect, can be part of the world.

  1. There is a parallel story of how a business tycoon reshaped the Indian telecom market with his launch of aggressively priced mobile data plans.

I am not a gamer. I cannot play a single-person shooter. I was ok with this particular style of gaming when it was on desktop, with a keyboard and a mouse. On mobile, I am terrible. I just can’t make sense of the direction or speed. And completely pathetic in multiplayer situations.

Same applies to the racing games. It was ok till it was simple lane following games, like Road Fighter. But then they become a lot more real.

Actually, the quest to be more real with the gameplay and the graphics killed this form of media for me. It made the controls a lot more convoluted to be fun any more. Arcade-type games had some breezy liveliness to them. But gradually, gaming became a lot more serious, a lot more pro for my casual taste. These pros ruined the arcade in a way.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there do not exist casual games. There do. However, most of them are ruined by the freemium model. And I am not the first one complaining about this.

But what that meant was even the casual gamer in me had recently died — pushed way back for the fear of the effort it would take to find that one good, clean casual game. Like Monument Valley or Alto’s Adventure.

So I was pretty excited with the announcement of Apple Arcade. I am especially pleased with Apple’s aggressive pricing and push in the non-US markets and the initial reviews of the games. These sound like the games that match my taste.

I hope these stay the way they are currently. I hope the pros do not ruin the Arcade again.

I wonder what the purists think of the recent computational photography trend.

Google started it with its all-in-cloud touch up of the photos. And then they moved it on-device in the camera app. Every photo one took was stitched together from multiple shots with different settings. And eventually each OEM made their cameras smarter, AI-driven”.

Latest iPhone 11 stitches a single photo from 4 under exposed frames taken before the shutter button is clicked, one normal picture and 1 over exposed frame. They call this process semantic rendering. What follows is some heavy processing. Here’s snippet from the The Verge’s review of iPhone 11 Pro review.

Smart HDR looks for things in the photos it understands: the sky, faces, hair, facial hair, things like that. Then it uses the additional detail from the underexposed and overexposed frames to selectively process those areas of the image: hair gets sharpened, the sky gets de-noised but not sharpened, faces get relighted to make them look more even, and facial hair gets sharpened up. Smart HDR is also now less aggressive with highlights and shadows. Highlights on faces aren’t corrected as aggressively as before because those highlights make photos look more natural, but other highlights and shadows are corrected to regain detail.

What you get as a result is an extremely clear picture with each object in the photo appropriately visible.

But with so much processing of each image, should this even be called photography any more? Here’s Wikipedia introducing the term.

Photography is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film.

What we do with our smartphones is neither an art nor is it creating a single image.

All parts of the photos are independently captured (and even pre-captured) with the best suited settings, processed post-capture, with even some live sections including audio recorded. This is not creating an image” any more.

Someone might say it all started when the digital photography became mainstream - when the physical limitations of the analog methods did not constrain the person with a camera in his hand. However, what we capture is no longer a single image anymore. A more apt term for these might be visual memories”. Common people are interested in doing just that, they don’t care if they are called photographers.

Let Photography stay an art.

Effectiveness of Customer Service Representatives

I have met two types of customer service representatives. There is a section that is trained to listen to what the customer has to be say and serve her rightly. It may, at times, involve sailing through the tirade that the angry, unsatisfied customer unleashes on them. They wait for the right moment to pacify them with a solution that does actually solve the problem that she has.

Then there is another section that neither calms a customer down nor solve her problem. They just passively ignore the blabber and just move on to what they had to do right from the beginning — lead her to another queue.

Both these sections pacify the customer by making her tired.

But there is another section, though in minority, that I come across with a pleasant surprise. They do not listen to your tirade - they even engage, if necessary. They make you realize that your anger is unjustified at the moment, at the place and is against a person that does not deserve to be shouted at. They pacify you by not making you tired, but by tersely moving on to the actual problem that should be addressed. It demands a degree of confidence in one’s knowledge and experience and belief in understanding the customer need better to belong in this group.

Which section fits the standard schooling of customer care, is more effective in addressing the customer needs is undoubtedly debatable. I believe majority of the people may prefer the patience and calmness of the first group. But at times, it is the concise interaction of the final group that is beneficial for all parties involved.

Here Come the Space Tugs, Ready to Tidy Up Earth's Orbits

SpaceX is teaming up with the maker of a space tugboat, which would nudge satellites around, clean up space junk, and do other orbital housekeeping.

Our recent innovations in Space visits always fascinate me. There are so many players trying to solve each unique problem with the space trips. I find the concept of rideshare” in space really intriguing.

That question is still open, in part because space tugs still have to prove themselves and live up to their promise of reusability. The current state of the space tug is, you pay for the entire Uber car, you drive it to one spot, and then you throw it away,” says Roberts.

It’s of great importance to make sure we are not junking up the space. And I find it satisfying (to a limit) that there are attempts to clean this junk too.

The various tugs on the drawing boards and in the engineering labs of Earth could—in addition to acting as puddle-jumpers—also cut down on space junk, by tugging satellites out of orbit, and keep useful satellites up longer, by boosting them to higher orbits.

Terry Pratchett's artistry with words

It is the passages like these from Terry Pratchett that leave completely in awe of his imagination. He can dream up craziest of the crazy, stupid ideas and completely word them into a believable prose. Brilliant!

The forest of Skund was indeed enchanted, which was nothing unusual on the Disc, and was also the only forest in the whole universe to be called — in the local language — Your Finger You Fool, which was the literal meaning of the word Skund.

The reason for this is regrettably all too common. When the first explorers from the warm lands around the Circle Sea travelled into the chilly hinterland they filled in the blank spaces on their maps by grabbing the nearest native, pointing at some distant landmark, speaking very clearly in a loud voice, and writing down whatever the bemused man told them. Thus were immortalised in generations of atlases such geographical oddities as Just A Mountain, I Don’t Know, What? and, of course, Your Finger You Fool.

Rainclouds clustered around the bald heights of Mt. Oolskunrahod (‘Who is this Fool who does Not Know what a Mountain is’) and the Luggage settled itself more comfortably under a dripping tree, which tried unsuccessfully to strike up a conversation.”

The Promise of “instant”

Patience is a virtue that is rapidly getting extinct within us. Everything digital has trained us to expect everything instant. You want to read, watch, listen to, learn, earn? There’s an app for that.

We were ruined, further, by the advances in efficient service distribution at scale. You need things delivered - there’s a service for that. Groceries? Yeah, those are covered. Food? Cab? Stationery? Yep, we got those covered too.

Services would reach you earlier after a week or more, if at all they could reach you. It became days. One day was a stretch goal that was soon met for many. And next was hours. For many services, it is minutes now. 30 minutes or free.

We have all been ruined by this promise of instant”. A detour of 15 minutes before the food is delivered is worthy of a lengthy rant at the service provider now. A delay of a day before one’s headphone is delivered is intolerable.

Days of patiently waiting for things we need, we want have long been lost. We are ruined by our lack of patience.

Martin Weigert has an interesting take on this - this is what he wrote while sharing this essay as part if his weekly newsletter at Meshed Soceity.

(…) there are at least 2 types of patience: Waiting for the pay offs of one’s work (whether on oneself or external projects), and waiting for things one needs. I consider the first type a virtue. The latter type however, seems to be mostly a mental hack to make a virtue out of necessity. Have to wait for 4 hours to get your 5 minutes at the doctor? Be patient! Have to wait one week to get the thing you bought online? Be patient! Have to wait one day until your bank transfer has been processed? Be patient! In these cases, there is nothing inherently virtuous or positive in waiting.

I do not disagree with any part of this. And I was indeed focused on the second type that he talked about because that’s primary what he face more often and so is what that tests us the most. It is important that we do not lose our sanity if things do go wrong while we wait for things and have to wait longer.

Being Digital Literate towards Privacy

My sister recently bought a new iPhone - her first, switching over from Android - and was happily setting it up with all the apps she had been using. And many more new ones. I did observe one bothersome behavior while she was using her device. She was happily tapping around whenever iOS threw a permission prompt at her, without paying any attention to what the prompt said. Sure, have all the access you need.”

And I do not think she is in minority here. I observe this behavior very often and every single time, I am left completely befuddled. Why would you not read what permission the app is asking for and why would you not question why it needs that?

For me, no app gets any permission the first time it asks for it. Everything is disabled by default. Especially the access to my location, microphone or camera. None. You need to convince me to the core at the right moment that you deserve this privilege. I prefer veering towards extreme stringency of access to my device.

As more and more connected, data-hungry devices surround us, it is becoming important to instill awareness amongst the populace of the fallouts minor negligence while using these devices can lead to. Not provoke moral panic, but train to be cognizant towards one’s privacy and security. If we ourselves don’t put price on our data, we have no right to expect the organizations to lend respect to something that is a primary and sole fuel to their profits.

Book Review: Seriously... I'm Kidding

I picked up this book just as a filler — something I read in between when am in no mental state of anything serious. Or something that will make me think. Or will make me sad. So I had very little expectations going in. And the book met my expectations to the T. It wasn’t terrible. But I don’t think I will remember any part of it after even a month.

I have now given up on many memoirs” which are nothing more than essays on varied topic. I have realized that they simply don’t interest me. Especially humor ones. Fact that I could sit through and complete this book is in itself a surprise for me.

One thing that might have worked in favor somewhat is that I listened to this book rather than reading it. I think the experience must have been a tad better. Because ..uhmm.. Ellen. But the content just was too patchy overall. Some essays were brilliantly written. They talked about some nice little ideas. And with Ellen’s easy-on-ears style of narrating, they made me laugh. Some even made me think. Her journal entries while on beach or her thoughts on having (not?) kids, to note a couple, are damn funny.

Others, however, - and there many to be frank - were terrible. Her haikus or bucket lists were just horrible. I don’t even know why were there in the book. They weren’t funny. They had no reason. They were just .. there. Wish if the chapters that weren’t funny at least made me learn something about Ellen’s life. Nope. Didn’t do even that. Few had just 4-5 words. Not something I enjoy - sorry. Even when I have very low expectations.

All in all, this is a terrible memoir, okiesh essay collection, a breezy audiobook. You can listen through it completely over a long drive. You won’t miss a thing while you place and collect your order at a drive through. Don’t pause. Don’t replay. Just let it play on through your drive.

Content gets 2 stars. Ellen gets another star. However, I don’t think I will pick up another of her earlier books any time soon though. Or any of the essay/memoirs. I am done with this genre.

Apple also wants to serve exclusive podcasts now. This recent craze of everyone coming up with their own exclusive content - movies, shows and podcasts now - is really nonsensical to me. Netflix and Amazon started it with their original content and, although arguable, achieved some moderate success.

However, we are already seeing trends - if Netflix’s recent quarter’s earnings are any indication - of people losing interest. One reason I believe (and suffer from) is the sheer quantity of the content available to be consumed. After all, there is only so much time a person can spend glued to their screens- in addition to the time he already spends scrolling through the unlimited stream of bite sized posts.

As I had argued earlier, podcast is not a light medium for consumption. It is not music. It is not audiobooks. It is a medium known for culturing the relationship with the listeners over years. Listeners choose whom they form that relationship with by subscribing to a podcast.

And they are already weighed down by the choices they have to make.

With Ive gone, will we see Apple embracing more colors in their designs - especially hardware? Choice of monochrome, aluminum look for all products is getting boring. I wish we start seeing some bold choices — somewhat similar to what we saw with software recently.