Publishing to the open web

I read this note from Dave Winer on state of publishing on the open web. The first part reads like a fact.

It’s too hard to publish something to the open web. It has to be available as simple content. Not rendered inside a commercial template.

Sure, I agree with this. Publishing on web is a need of time, every person with some access to the internet wishes to post his thoughts and pictures online. More often in closed groups — like Whatsapp, iMessage, Messenger etc. But then also on easily accessible and free services - like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Highlighted aspects are important.

Technically it’s a very simple problem, actually. And the raw serving capability is dirt cheap. But it needs a corporate entity to run it.

It is those highlighted aspects that makes this a tricky problem. From the demand’s perspective, those aspects are of a lot of importance. Majority of the people are neither ready to spend their energies nor their money for the ability to post online. Open web currently fails to address both at the same time. Accessible solutions aren’t free. Free solutions aren’t accessible.

So the supply, mostly from the corporate entities, then caters to just those demands, bringing along the price for serving it.

Missed a great innings from MSD yesterday — boy, the man can do anything. He has his own style of working a game of cricket. Sure, it fails to click every now and then. But he has got a signature method for handling the pressure. Calmness personified. #IPL2019

IPL matches are running too late into the night — I just can’t stay up late on the weekday. I’m sure am not alone and the broadcaster must be seeing the effect. What that also means is I miss some gem of matches, like yesterday’s one between MI and KXIP. This needs correction.

Discussing Social Networks, Again

Another week, another discussion on the state of social networks on TWiT network. This time it took place on the latest episode of This week in Google . The discussion went on and on about how Google Plus was great. And how other social networks have ruined what made them the best in the first place — the posts from the real people and the social aspect around them — in their quest to monetize by jacking up the engagement”.

Such discussions happen very often these days. Eventually, they turn towards the alternatives that exists, but always take a long trodden path.

Facebook is hated by everyone but is ubiquitous, too big. Twitter is loved by no one but stays relevant in discourse. IndieWeb is dull, abstruce. Federated services are great, but no one can get them working. Instagram’s the lone messiah, but Mark’s working hard to ruin it.”

Finally, the original point on the available alternatives is all but left untouched. I am left frustrated every time by this sheer defeatism, this complete lack of attempt to try earnestly to understand and comment on the alternatives. What all alternatives have you tried? Were there none that were good? If so, why? What is missing? How can they be made better? What is it that you are looking for in a social network?

Mike Elgan had this comment on the recent episode of TWiG.

I would love a social network that had basically two rules. One is no algorithmic sorting or filtering, when I follow somebody I want everything they post. Second thing is I don’t want to get any content that isn’t the actual words or photos taken my the person I follow. No sharing, no retweeting.

I thought great, I know of one that meets these two rules. May be they will recommend it. Or comment on why it is lacking. Nah. Nothing. The topic ended there. I am perplexed at why Micro.blog isn’t referenced more often during these discussions on social networks. Sure, it may not be perfect. So go ahead, criticize it. Tell the makers of the service why they can’t use it. But do talk.

And micro.blog isn’t the only one. There’s Mastodon. And then there are the independent blogging solutions and RSS. Generate some buzz for them. You are not helping the situation by cribbing incessantly about the unending missteps of the existing services. Put these same old rants to rest now and crib about the new services. At least, the normal users would know there exist other alternatives and the developers would know what they need to work on.

Selecting and Reading Books

I keep mentioning every time I get a chance that I am too picky while selecting the books I read. So it was fascinating to read few suggestions from Austin Kleon on how to read more. Especially his first tip - quit reading books you don’t like

It helps if you choose the right books in the first place. Stop reading what you think you should be reading and just read what you genuinely want to read.

Yep, I follow this rule diligently. And I have my own list of gems” that just aren’t for me.

I also keep my currently reading list loaded with multiple books at a time. Some are as audiobooks, some as e-books. (It’s been very long since I read a paperback and it was primarily because I just don’t enjoy them.)

Feel free to read promiscuously — date 3 or 4 books at the same time until one makes you want to settle down with it.

I do that, but not for the reason Austin mentions. I just like to hop between books at times. Many a times before I give up on one.

I really liked these quotes that Austin has included in his post. Ah, I think I need to read a lot more.

Nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read.

—Nancy Pearl

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

—Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

In an article on how Instagram travel influencers” are affecting homeownership around the world is hidden a very unfortunate truth.

Today everything exists to end in a photograph (…) the most influential factor in determining where to vacation is how Instagrammable” the destination is.

This sad fact holds even for non-influencer, normal tourists. Every time I tour, I see loads and loads of people fighting for a spot, the same, crowded space that everyone around is taking pictures at. I have seen people put their backs to the most wonderful of the valleys and mountains and beaches just so that they would catch themselves and the serenity in the same picture. Doesn’t matter then if it looks equally serene just few feet away from the instagrammable” spot.

Influencers who come into a community to get something, and who refuse to acknowledge or be curious about the people who make it up—or, worse, who consider those people obstacles—are refusing to participate in the best part of travel: Appreciating what, or who, makes a place different from any other.

I could not say it better. All tourists need to respect the location and the people that dwell there. That picture-worthy spot you are on look out for is a home for many.

Why CAPTCHAs have gotten so difficult

So apparently we, humans, are struggling to prove ourselves as human now - The Verge reports.

Figuring out how to fix those blurry image quizzes quickly takes you into philosophical territory: what is the universal human quality that can be demonstrated to a machine, but that no machine can mimic? What is it to be human?

I am sorry, but we are taking the literal definition of CAPTCHA - Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart - too seriously. It is a good enough system to filter out attacks from majority of the bad actors not so strong both technically and financially. Sure, there would come a day when the AI systems to beat these complicated CAPTHAs would become extremely cheap — might be even sold pay-per-use.

But when that happens, we better be ready with something that can replace this old system of identifying humans online. Authenticating and authorizing an identity online should be made a priority project at all the technology leaders.

I attempted to watch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch today. Netflix managed to solve a lot many technical challenges — it is a well-done interactive film. I think first of its kind. But boy, did it suck as a film. The format just did not click for me — the film worked neither as a science fiction nor as a horror.

To be frank, I am a bit disappointed in this genre of films. There has been so much talk about these choose-your-own-adventure or multiple endings movies/shows. But I find the whole concept a bit distracting. Every time, I was made to choose any aspect playing on the screen, I was pulled out of the flow of the movie. I doubt this interactive form will work for many.

Call me old school. But I want to be driven, I want to view the story from the director’s perspective. I like to see what he or she wants to show me, keeping my mind completely open. I do not want to play a game while I am watching a movie. Because if I do want to, well, I will play a game in the first place.

Sure, this was a good experiment to explore this concept of letting viewers drive the narrative of the film. And although I question its feasibility, I also believe this is just a start. There’s soon going to be lot many such experiments with VR too. Whatever the makers believe, I am sure I would hate that form.

I wish makers spend their efforts on the story, on the screenplay, on all the other aspects that make a movie brilliant. I will any day choose a linear, single ending drama or a thriller that a director has complete control over than a broken, nonsensical story that I can control every aspect of.

Bhai: Vyakti Ki Valli - Celebration of a life

I recently watched Bhai: Vyakti Ki Valli, a movie I was very eagerly waiting for quite some time now. It is a biopic of a person that I adore, an iconic Marathi writer and a humorist, a brilliant theater artist and an adept musician, a person who inspired me to start writing. That person is Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, lovingly called Pu. La.” or Bhai” in the region I am from.

Narrating the life of this towering personality is not a small feat given the sheer number of stream of art he was passionate about. He is a well-known and a well-respected person amongst Maharashtrians of all age. It is through his writing, through the careful study of human nature around him that he taught many what the real happiness is. So it is only just that I was so curious to learn more about this master, through especially the first of this two-part biopic that focuses on his early life.

It was wonderful to know more about this simple person and was refreshing to see the Maharashtra of early 1900. In a way, I thought the people, the society that Bhai dwelt in was a lot more liberal, more open than what we see today. It was pleasing to watch the strong women with definite opinions, the simple marriage or even the relationship that Bhai’s wife and his mother share. The finale with a mind-blowing rendition of Hindustani classical music through a couple of well-known songs was sheer magic on screen - left me with goose bumps down my arms. It is Marathi culture on display. It instantly transported me back to my childhood days when these songs were our morning alarms. Boy, how much do I yearn for the simple life of yesteryears?

No doubt then that it was a brilliant watch for me, and my family. Even my friends share my experience. But all of us already know a lot about the person and the people around him. The list of characters, from the real-life like Bhimsen Joshi or Kumar Gandarva and from Bhai’s imagination like Anna or Namu Parit, that walk the screen are well itched in us Marathi people’s memories. But that may not be the case for people not from this state.

I wish this movie was an equally well-made biography, not just a celebration of the life of this beloved man. I wish the characters were allowed to grow, introduced at the very least. I wish we learned more about the relationship Bhai shared with these characters. I wish this could have been that one movie I would recommend every friend of mine to watch so that they knew what gem of a person Pu. La. was. But, alas.

First thing I did once I was back from the theater was to listen to couple of Pu. La.’s story-telling acts. It was heart-warming for me to see many aged couples who could barely walk taking all the effort to come down to the theater with their family and laughing their hearts out. May be they had spent their golden years together watching Bhai live and now they want to re-live those days. So yes, the movie did leave many, including me, nostalgic. May be that was the win the makers were going for.

I love email, more than ever

Martin Weigert talks pretty openly about his love for emails.

Over the years, one frequent type of blog post published by tech heavyweights laments their struggle with managing their emails, often ending in death wishes for this technology.

I however want email to live, to thrive, and to be eternal. Not only because I publish weekly email newsletters (ok, that makes me biased), but also because email offers a huge benefit to every person on this planet with a comparatively little downside for them individually and for society at large.

A couple of points we just can’t overlook while talking about emails.

  • They have wasted (and continue to do so) countless productive hours cumulatively of the human race.
  • It remains the only open form that is not walled by any one company’s interests; a form that allows communication that is cross-platform, irrespective of who the sender and receivers are and what service or tool they use.

Do I love email? Nope. However, do I hate email, wish death for the form of communication? Absolutely, positively not.

The Lone Conductor [#4]

Introducing Tikwadi, a town of fools; a town where the creatures that dwell are busy sucking at everything they do. Two such creatures ride a bus together to get a new adventures going.

Social Networks won't fade away

Irrespective of what the popular belief is, the need for social networks is not going away — more so amongst those who are not technology oriented. Sure, some particular services that exist today may die down. But the medium won’t.

Just look at the history of the social media structures on the Internet. There has always existed a network of some form where every person that was connected could hang out. The initial users that adopted the digital life were techies, so their solutions were comparatively tech-savvy. I remember I have spent hours discussing and debating with my friends on IRC channels and on email groups and on XMPP-based IM clients.

I believe even in the world where not everybody and everything was connected, there existed mediums to communicate, to interact, to share. They might have been analog, or of forms that needed one to be in the presence of others. But they existed nonetheless.

In today’s age of smartphones, it’s become a lot simpler to get online and be connected” with others. As a result, there are more people, more common non-techies, who are always on the look out for simpler ways to share their thoughts once they get online and stay in touch with others. They will sign-up with any service that promises them that. And they did.

Sure, the proponents of the open internet, myself included, dislike the current social networking behemoths - Facebook, and Twitter. But I think it is important to not let the disdain for these specific platforms turn into a complete rejection of the medium itself. There will always exist some structure that can facilitate communication in the form of text, images and other share-worthy stuff. The state became dire when we let a set of private entities wall this structure in their silos.

No doubt, Facebook and Twitter are in decline today. But the terrible scenario can recur if the common, but rising set of connected users is not provided with more open, more interoperable alternatives that are equally engaging and simple to use. And do so before other silos take over the medium again.

I know of the services that already meet the open and interoperable” characteristic. But the majority contenders reek of by-the-techies-for-the-techies” fervour. So there’s still a long way to go to meet the engaging and simple” part — the one closest is Micro.blog. I believe there exists a group of brilliant minds that understands the importance of addressing this. It is incumbent upon this group to work towards that.

Displaying Webmentions with Posts

I have been using Blot, a simple blogging platform with no interface, for quite some time now for running my blog. I am not alone when I say this, but am mighty impressed with how simple it is to post things on blot and maintain the overall site. They are just some files in Dropbox - that’s about it. So, it was pretty straightforward to customise the theme to my liking and to enable the support for IndieWeb principles.

Post Notes

One thing I have noticed, though, is that most of the IndieWeb principles are not visible. They enable a more open web, providing sites a grammar they can talk to one another with. But for someone who owns the website or even someone who reads the posts on a website, whatever changes go in just aren’t apparent. Except, of course, for webmentions.

I have already detailed the steps to Indiewebify one’s website (specifically one built with Hugo). I did not go into the details of setting up webmentions. And that is exactly what I get asked the most about - how does one display mentions along with the posts.

The need is more evident with microblogging - and especially so with micro.blog. The platform fosters a very active and pleasant community focused more on the interactions (replies) than meaningless reactions (likes, reposts). It also sends webmentions for every reply to a post to the sites that can receive them. So the desire to display the interactions along with the posts, microposts more so, is understandable.

In this post, I will (finally!) document the steps that can help one receive, fetch and display the webmentions along with the posts. The steps are documented from a reference of a blot website. However, the steps below can be altered at appropriate places, primarily formats, to implement the support for any other platform.

Essential Indieweb

Before you can start receiving the webmentions at your site, there is an essential step from IndieWeb to be achieved - to make your website your identity online. It involves declaring openly your social network profiles as rel-me links and link those profiles back to your site. This allows you to login to any IndieAuth enabled services using your website’s homepage - no need to create an account or maintain passwords.

To achieve this, modify the head.html of the site’s theme to add such links to your other online profiles in <head> element. These profiles can be at Twitter, Github, Facebook, or even email - anything where you can link back to your website from. Some reference links are shown below.

<link rel="me" href="https://twitter.com/abcxyz" /> <link rel="me" href="http://github.com/abcxyz" /> <link rel="me" href="mailto:abcxyz@example.com" />

After you declare your website with either Twitter or Github, they can authenticate your identity. With email, a link is sent to the configured email address to do the same, very much like any email-based two-factor authentication.

You also need to declare the service which will act as an authorization endpoint when needed. This is used by other services, mostly IndieAuth clients, to validate your identity. To configure this, just add the below link to your site’s head.

<link rel="authorization_endpoint" href="https://indieauth.com/auth">

Once you have this enabled, you can test your setup using Indiewebify.Me. Test the Set up Web Sign In” section.

You are now ready to receive the webmentions from other sites, including Micro.blog.

Receive Webmentions

This primarily involves hosting and declaring a webmention endpoint. Of course, the active IndieWeb community already has a ready solution for this - webmention.io by Aaron Parecki. It is a hosted service created to easily handle webmentions”. All you have to do is sign-in with your domain (i.e. validate your identity) and let Webmention.io receive all mentions to your site. Once that’s done, just declare the webmention endpoint as below in your site’s head.

<link rel="webmention" href="https://webmention.io/username/webmention" />

The username is typically the url of your site (you can also find these details on the settings page). To test this setup, login to webmentions.io dashboard and you should start seeing the mentions sent to your site (which includes the replies on Micro.blog.

Display Webmentions

Webmention.io also provides APIs for you to fetch the webmentions to your posts/site. You can implement a custom solution using Javascript for fetching and displaying these mentions along with posts. Below is one of the ways this can be achieved. It specifically pulls the likes, reposts and replies and puts them below the posts. The code might look a bit untidy, but it would be easier to follow what’s going on. You can improve over this eventually.

To start with, declare a placeholder for the webmentions. Place the below div element in your entry.html file between {{#entry}} and {{/entry}} - preferably towards the end of the file, just above {{/entry}}.

<div class="post-mentions" id="post-mentions" style="display:none"> <ul class="mentions-list" id="mentions-list"></ul> </d
iv>

Of course, you could replace the unordered list ul element with anything else. This is just one of the ways you can do it.

Next, you need to fill this div element with the mentions the entry has received. You can use the javascript snippet available at this gist to fetch and display the webmentions along with the post. Just place the complete code available there at the end of script.js file of your blot’s theme. So it would look something like below (note that this is an incomplete snapshot).

{{{appJS}}} var post_url = window.location.href; $(document).ready(function(){ $("ul#mentions-list").empty(); $.getJSON("https://webmention.io/api/mentions?jsonp=?", { target: post_url }, function(data){ ... ... 

Make sure the first {{{appJS}}} line is not removed. This import makes sure the additional javascripts necessary for some specific features provided by Blot - for example jQuery for image zoom, Google Analytics etc. - are imported.

The above javascript snippet does below.

  1. Gets the current post url and fetches the webmentions for that url from Webmention.io.
  2. Divides and groups the mentions by the activity type (like, repost, link, reply). This is so that you can control how each activity-type is styled.
  3. Finally, populates these mentions into the above-created placeholder div element.

At this point, you should start seeing the webmentions along with the posts once the above-mentioned steps are carried out.

In case, the webmentions are available on the webmentions.io dashboard, but aren’t getting loaded on the post, one possible root cause is failure of jQuery import. Declare a jQuery import explicitly in head.html by adding below statement within the head tags.

<script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/3.2.1/jquery.min.js"> </script> 

You will also note that all the html elements in the javascript code are tagged with class attribute. This allows you to control the style of the elements as per your liking. Just modify the main css file for your theme (typically style.css) to add styling for these classes.

For reference, find below a sample styling for the main post-mention class.

.post-mentions { padding-top: 15px; margin-top: 10px; border-top: 1px solid #AEADAD; border-bottom: 1px solid #AEADAD; font-size: 16px; } .post-mentions ul { list-style:none; padding:0; margin-left: 0; }

Similarly, you can also style the mention, mention-author, mention-social and mention-text classes.

Interactions from Social Media

Though references to your posts from IndieWeb sites are handled, what about the references made on Twitter or Facebook? It can be in any form of response (i.e. likes/retweets/reposts) to the syndicated post. Of course, they do not send webmentions (wish they did).

One option is to implement your own backfeed to poll for such interactions and handle them as response. Well, the community has made sure there is a simpler hosted option. Enter Bridgy.

Bridgy is an open source project and proxy that implements backfeed and POSSE as a service. Bridgy sends webmentions for comments, likes, etc. on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Flickr.

Just connect your social accounts with your website at Bridgy and every time there is an interaction about your post on a service, Bridgy captures that and sends a webmention to your endpoint configured earlier.


I understand that the IndieWeb journey can get overwhelming. Webmentions are a critical part of this journey and, as I said earlier, one of the more prominent pieces of the overall puzzle. I have never been comfortable using any of the commenting systems, be it those that come native with the CMSes or external commenting systems like Disqus. I have also observed that the new platforms, like Blot or Micro.blog, rarely come bundled with commenting systems of their own.

Webmention has a potential to address that need. I hope the steps detailed above come in handy for anyone who wants to display webmentions on his or her site right next to the posts. The source for the theme that styles my blog at Blot is openly available at GitHub. So, if you like anything that you see at my blog, you can refer to the source and get inspired.

Do let me know if you face issues with getting any of steps carried out. If you don’t face any issue and get everything working perfectly, send me a webmention — the best way would be to link to this post. If all’s well, your links would be visible below this post as mentions.

Marvelling at Life [#3]

A tale of two grumpy, old souls. And of forming of one unexpected bond, via one unlikely source. A tale of spreading love.

The Rise and Demise of RSS

This is such fascinating write up by Sinclair Target on history behind the challenges RSS has faced over the years. And also why it just never managed to succeed — even though it had the backing of all the major publishers, at least everyone adopted and served it.

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds. They also provide more benefits to the companies that own them.

RSS isn’t dead, yet. It still serves all the podcasts feeds, and there are a large number of users, including me, for whom it is the only source of any timeline of sort. But the fact cannot be denied that it does not draw any attention from big technology companies. With Firefox too recently dropping the built-in feed support, it became clear everyone wants the standard to exists but no one wants to work on improving and maintaining it. Wish it did not stagnate.

RSS might have been able to overcome some of these limitations if it had been further developed. Maybe RSS could have been extended somehow so that friends subscribed to the same channel could syndicate their thoughts about an article to each other. Maybe browser support could have been improved. But whereas a company like Facebook was able to move fast and break things,” the RSS developer community was stuck trying to achieve consensus. When they failed to agree on a single standard, effort that could have gone into improving RSS was instead squandered on duplicating work that had already been done.

I believe that is the story of how standards proliferate. But I just hope more people realize the importance of the RSS standard for the existence of open web and work on evangelizing and advance it.

If we stay dependent on technology companies to back it, we will always end-up with siloed timelines. For them, achieving consensus and coexisting with other players is costlier. It is cheaper to foster user engagement in a walled platforms controlled centrally by the owners. Companies will always go with the cheaper options.

A Walk to Remember [#2]

For them, the walk was supposed to be about finding something that was lost. He, however, had a hidden agenda of his own — that of finding “someone”.

Best Day of My Life [#1]

He anticipates this to be the best day of his life. He wants to relive this same day repeatedly. She believes she can help him. Or just herself.

Introducing Third-Person Voice [#0]

Introducing Third-Person Voice - a weekly microcast, featuring short stories penned and narrated by me. This is a teaser, episode 0 if I may, of what’s to come.

How a Month without Computers Changed Me

This is such a fascinating read — so detailed on how Andrey Sitnik planned for and went through this arduous experiment.

Then I asked myself if technological fasting’ could do one good in modern society. Technology has changed the world in the blink of an eye, leaving us no time to reflect on it. What if a month without modern technology could travel’ you to the past? What if there is a way you could compare your technology-relying self to what you once were?

It is really curious to read how the analogue tools — for his camera, his watch, a map, a compass and of course a notepad and a pen - were key in taking him through. Of course, it needs planning to keep your brain busy without a stream of digital updates and reads to chomp on. To keep feeding it with activities.

Boredom was the thing that scared me the most, so I did a lot of preparation: took a few thick books, drew up a schedule (when I leave one place for another) and made up several evening rituals to follow every day. The internet-less reality turned out to be a boredom-less one, too. Recreation does not require anything special—in the end, you can always go out and hunt for good photos.

I wish I could undertake such an abstinence from the technology around me. Not because I hate my current state (doesn’t mean I do not even). But because I wish I too could arrive at a conclusion very similar to Andrey’s.

I came to the conclusion that IT hadn’t changed the world around, but created another, a parallel one. The reason we are always nervous and never have enough time is that we are living two lives now. It’s without a doubt difficult, yet how interesting it is to be living two times as much!

Do read this — even though we know most deep down the ills of our constant connectedness, it is eye-opening to read someone record his experiences. If possible, we should take Andrey’s advice. I, for sure, am seriously considering it.

I would not recommend digital fasting to everyone, but a temporary abstinence of some sort seems a very right thing to do

Twitter should kill Retweets first

Retweets prey on users’ worst instincts. They delude Twitter users into thinking that they’re contributing to thoughtful discourse by endlessly amplifying other people’s points—the digital equivalent of shouting yeah, what they said” in the midst of an argument. And because Twitter doesn’t allow for editing tweets, information that goes viral via retweets is also more likely to be false or exaggerated. According to MIT research published in the journal Science, Twitter users retweet fake news almost twice as much as real news. Other Twitter users, desperate for validation, endlessly retweet their own tweets, spamming followers with duplicate information.

This is exactly the reason Twitter needs to eliminate retweet feature first — a lot before their proposed killing of the like button. It doesn’t matter how valuable the retweet option is as a signal to Twitter’s algorithm. It has for long been exploited to make it a hostile platform for every voice that should matter. And it needs to disappear first.

How China Rips Off the iPhones and Reinvents Android

But what is true today is that not all Chinese phone software is bad. And when it is bad from a Western perspective, it’s often bad for very different reasons than the bad Android skins of the past. Yes, many of these phones make similar mistakes with overbearing UI decisions — hello, Huawei — and yes, it’s easy to mock some designs for their obvious thrall to iOS. But these are phones created in a very different context to Android devices as we’ve previously understood them.

The Chinese phone market is a spiraling behemoth of innovation and audacity, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. If you want to be on board with the already exciting hardware, it’s worth trying to understand the software.

What Chinese smartphones offer is the feature parity in hardware with high-end devices from well-known brands, like Apple, Samsung, at a price which is affordable to the mainstream market. It is difficult to convince someone to buy an iPhone when all the devices are presented along with their specs. Doesn’t matter then if the software experience is ripped off.

What I feel is troubling though and a thing that gets neglected is the durability of these devices. The maximum life of these is what the warranty is - typically an year. Most often, these devices start failing at performance or battery or overall system level even before it hits that period. And when it does, there always are new cheaper devices to replace them with.

This will never get covered by reviews — because reviewers move on to the new, shiny devices in a week or two. It’s the mainstream that suffers. However, brands that overcome this behaviour outlive ones that fade away sooner.

Things I wish Apple will launch

This is not a post where I be a tech pundit, read tea leaves scattered all over the internet and predict what Apple is going to launch on the upcoming October Apple event. Nope. These are the things I wish Apple launches. Some because I need them now. Some because I would eventually need them.

  1. Non-TouchBar Macbook Pro: I need this, my old MBP is crying out loud at this point. It needs to be replaced. I wish Apple updates this version with new keyboards.
  2. Macbook Air: If my first wish is not granted or is granted, but does not solve the keyboard problem, I will go with an Air. Current Air is a mockery with that dated screen and processor and the tiny storage. Just update those, keep everything the same. Don’t touch that keyboard (no pun intended). And don’t make Macbook One the new Air in its current form — one port is not enough.
  3. Non-Pro iMac: If you can give me a laptop, give me the updated iMac. Again, change nothing big. Just update the processor and if possible, get rid of that 5400rpm hard drive. Just make Fusion drive the default.
  4. Mac Mini: You know there is that tiny device being sold on that tiny corner of your website right? Yeah that, update that. I would love to have it run some side projects.
  5. iOS changes for iPad: I know you will refresh iPad Pros. But in the current form, the iOS platform seems underwhelming on these loaded iPad devices. Make it do more. To start with, get rid of that static-grid springboard.

I wish Apple goes crazy a bit. It is ok to be doing the stuff thoughtfully, making things that work well. That sell well. But at times, it is also important to stop being boring” and do more stuff that you don’t know how people will react to. Things like Pencil. Or AirPods. Or even Surface Studio from Microsoft.

iPhone XR Screens aren’t terrible

It’s time for Apple product launches. And so is the time for all the talks of -gates and sheeples and reality distortion. There’s so much noise this time with iPhone XR screens. Typical comments from most folks.

  • ..just 326 ppl in 2018? WTF?”
  • ..not even 1080p screen? How will it play 1080p videos?”

I get it, both are facts. iPhone XR is not a full-HD screen and has a pixel density way lower than it’s better sibling XS. But does it deserve all the brickbats? Am not sure about that. This is the screen configurations of all the lowest configuration iPhones over the year (since Retina displays were introduced).

Model Resolution (PPI)
iPhone 4, 4s 960x640 (326 ppi)
iPhone 5, 5c, 5s 1136x640 (326 ppi)
iPhone 6, 6s 1334x750 (326 ppi)
iPhone 7, 7s 1334x750 (326 ppi)
iPhone 8 1334x750 (326 ppi)
iPhone XR 1792x828 (326 ppi)

I hope one can get the trend with this. Since the time retina screens were launched, pixel density of lowest configuration iPhone has always been 326ppi. And iPhone XR is that device this year. So it gets that screen. Sure, Apple always has a Plus size device with a better resolution screens. That need is addressed by XS this year.

So am not sure why there is such a huge pushback on XR devices. If reviews are anything to go by, these screens are just as good as Apple’s LCD screens have ever been. Are there cheaper Android devices that have screens with better resolutions? Of course. There will always exists cheaper devices with better configuration on paper than iPhone. But I think one thing tech nerds should have learnt by now, Apple never plays the configuration game.

On Podcasts, News and Well-being

I have lately felt hindered by the time I am listening to the same repetitive thoughts from other people on podcasts. Experts talking about, dissecting, the tech news. Or blabbering about something I would not be interested in typically.

I realised it had become a problem when these podcasts kept playing as static noise in the background — irrespective of whether I was working or driving or eating breakfast. In that sense, I agree with CGP Grey’s thoughts on podcasts as he dialled down his consumption on the internet.

But podcasts have taken too much ground in my mind: any moment of idleness can be instantly filled with the thoughts of others.

I firmly believe that boredom is good for brain health, and I’m banishing podcasts for the month from my phone to bring boredom back into my life.

I had cut back on my podcast subscriptions just a week before CGP Grey first talked about his experiment on Hello Internet. And the way, he worded his reasons for why giving up on podcasts was a key part of his experiment to reduction just persuaded me to go ahead with my plan.

So I have 10 subscriptions (down from 35) now, with just 3 technology related podcasts. One releases on Monday, another on Wednesday and the last one on Friday. That’s it, the week’s quota of the technology news is covered. One podcasts is a microcast, arrives on Monday. There four are the only ones that are set to auto-downloads. All the remaining 6 are released without any fixed schedule. I decide whether to listen to them only after I read what they are about and if that interests me.

I have been on this diet plan” of podcasts consumption for at least a month now and I am already observing significant differences. I am listening to music, a lot more, again. My mind has become curious again - there is space for some thought experiments. There are times when I just don’t carry my headphones with me even when I am going to places alone. Anyway, with nothing to listen to, there is no incentive to carry them along. So I either read on my phone or just talk to people around. Surprisingly, I find it a lot better, more effective use of the time.

However, this also means I have some time to fill during my drive to office or the morning/evening runs. To address that, I have renewed my Audible subscription — listening to Audiobooks would at least be better than podcasts. Or so I think, for now.

No-news Experiment

I was also on an experiment 3 months back where I had decided that the only way I would consume news would be via my morning newspaper. And my hypothesis was I would feel a lot less burdened to know what’s going on and so be a bit more focused on the work at the hand.

As an extension, I had also uninstalled all the related apps. No Twitter. No news apps. No notifications from social apps (Messages, WhatsApp). The idea was it is just better to stay away from the temptation to check what’s going on.

I am glad that I have following the set rules for 3 months now and I thought it would be right moment to update on that experiment.

It indeed is a not less burdensome to be away from the news. I do not think I have missed anything major or urgent in these last few months. Newspaper provides me with the detailed reporting and not just blurbs. Opinion pieces provide better context on the important ones. The useless news, whose whole purpose is to satisfy the need for the news website or TV channels to keep reporting” something, anything new, get filtered out by the editors. After all, there is a limited pace to fill in the pages on the printed paper.

So I am no longer bludgeoned with a constant stream of everything that’s negative. With that, I think there is a lot less crap in the world than I was made to believe.

Is it bad out there? Sure. But at least I ain’t bogged down by the insignificant drivel that the world is full of.

Being Social on Web

It’s been some time now that I have started again to regularly write, post my thoughts. Long and short. One of the key reason for this change in my behaviour, my returned inclination to write has been the changed follow behavior. I am reading interesting posts that make me think, that make me question my beliefs. And for each such question, I have a reaction — a post.

It is all thanks to the community at Micro.blog for convincing me that every post, irrespective of how short it is, is worth putting out there. It is a way to be social. I was doing so on other social networks like Twitter anyway - through all the likes, tweets and retweets. Why not take it to the next level and do the same on, as Brent Simmons had called it, the social network - the web?

But if you think of the years 1995-2005, you remember when the web was our social network: blogs, comments on blogs, feed readers, and services such as Flickr, Technorati, and BlogBridge to glue things together.

And so that is what I have been doing. Reading from the web, reacting on the web - my website.

IndieWeb also played a huge part in helping me to go social on web though. It allowed me to post to my site my reactions to what I was reading on web. I could easily like a post, reply to it or even repost part of it and that in itself became a new post on my site - I called them the social posts. So as long as I had the posts tagged with appropriate microformats and was able to send a webmention to a site, I was interacting on web.

I need not be part of any siloed platform, I need not shout. All that mattered was I expressed. And just with that, I have been the most social I ever was online.