Don’t Read This

A famous VC blogged about the ‘Free and Open Internet‘ recently. Their rant — they couldn’t read a newspaper opinion piece for free, which is a fundamental right of all human beings, and in those circumstances they feel that newspapers have ‘ceded their role as the public square to places like Twitter and Medium that remain open and free‘.

Wait, what?

Free as in beer? Free as in a dream?

Twitter and Medium are hardly free. They monetize your free expression. They prioritize the trending content instead of what you want to see or read. They log everything you do on their platforms and beyond, and then they leak that data to advertisers and repressive governments. People die.

Newspapers have always been paid. The public square is the park or the verandah where you read a newspaper and discuss stories with other humans. This is a concept that none of the ‘hardworking’ employees of Twitter or Medium would understand. How many hours do they even get to spend at home without answering a work email or fixing issues?

If you want to read an opinion piece, go buy a newspaper, or borrow one, or goto the library. Oh, a library. Another architectural artifact from the bygone era that these ‘entrepreneurs’ want to get rid of. Because public money is better spent on funding their startups.

The free and open internet was a goofy place. A place where you could set up a cheap website with rudimentary skills and show it off. No botheration with SEO or tracking your visitors or showing them ads. Everything was cheap. Technology still continues to be cheap and free.

So what changed? People changed. They’re more entitled to ‘information’ just like this rich guy. No, you don’t just get stuff for free. It’s a lie. Stop reading crap like this and go setup your own blog, write your own opinions, and start your own companies without borrowing or begging from selfish enablers of bad behavior.

The Internet is still a wonderful place to connect with others. You just have to stay clear of the pull of the free. And remember, the only thought leader who really matters is you.

On Change

A lot of people and companies make change the centerpiece of their existence.

‘We want to change the world’

‘I want to change the way I talk’

‘Be the change you want to see in the world’

‘We need to change in order to be successful’

Someone once said that the only constant in life is change. It’s part of the journey, and not the destination, for there is always something that needs to be changed. If you hit the point where everything is perfect, there’s no reason to exist. Imagine the global catastrophe that a state of perfection would bring!

Change isn’t easy; change requires effort. Well, unless you’re changing for the worse. Arguably, picking up on drugs and alcohol isn’t as hard and strenuous as perhaps learning to be an effective public speaker. The fortunate thing is that humans generally love a bout of some healthy challenge. No one plays a game of chess because it’s an easy way to kill some time.

I was talking to someone (an entrepreneur) the other day, and they cheekily pointed out that they are in the game to change the business. Upon asking what exactly they meant by change, they had no idea of what exactly.

So much of your professional existence depends upon bringing out change in people and processes that it’s essentially how you’re evaluated. You don’t need to look very far at how prescient, yet, simple that conclusion gets.

What if we took change out of the equation? What if we took it out of our vernacular? To change is to be alive. You grow, you learn, you adapt, you make a difference. That’s called — having fun.

Learning to drive is fun, it’s also a change. So is cycling in the countryside with just 2 bottles of water and a camera. It’s even more fun when you get a flat tire and end up having the best pancake of your life in the middle of the jungle.

What if we renamed ‘change’ to ‘having fun’?! Your life would become so much more dynamic, and well, fun.

Let today be the day you start having fun.

My Daily Morning Highlight

I have increasingly and gradually become a creature of habit; from my morning walk route to what I have after dinner (a cup of green tea), things have become very routine and sort of monotonous. There is something to be said about not having to spend a lot of time in taking decisions as mundane as what to eat or where to go for a walk when the answer is right there in your (hopefully good) habits!

One such highlight of my morning walk is the old-age/retirement home that I pass around the corner towards the end of the street I live on. It is a ‘high-class’ home for people that can afford to live in this neighborhood. It has to be – meals are catered, every room seems to have custom-placed and distinct furnishings, as well as the presence of onsite medical facilities.

Now, I pass through the building twice – before and after I turn around the other corner of the neighborhood. On the first pass I often run into this old lady smoking a cigarette while on her upper-ground floor balcony. She occasionally ascertains if the grocery store would be open while puffing on her cigarette. One time I even brought her a pack of cigarettes to save her the trouble of walking to the grocery store. I think it was unexpected for her as a result of a miscommunication (I learn my Dutch language by talking to strangers) as she never paid me back for it.

On my second pass, I walk in front of the brasserie as well as the main entrance. At the entrance, there are often a bunch of old people and/or employees enjoying their cigarettes (the Dutch love their cigarettes), and so I get a chance to wish them a good morning. Inside the brasserie, at the same table towards the very end of it, I,  almost daily, see an old guy reading his newspaper, presumably having just finished his late breakfast. We even wave to each other.

I have this experience almost every morning, except the weekends, when we take a different route for our pre-coffee walk.

One of these days I’d probably get a chance to go in and talk to the people in person.

A Travel Hack

The best way to travel is to travel light. And with the current heightened state of airport security you really don’t want to be caught in the discomforting web of special inspections just because you happen to be carrying gadgets that you might use on your trip.

I am surprised there haven’t been any real credible businesses set up to tackle this issue, yet. It sounds like an easy problem to fix – loan out laptops and digital cameras to people so that they don’t have to carry these with them on an airplane. I figure it would be difficult for corporate users owing to special software requirements and cloud use rules, but a vast majority of the ‘normal’ people should have absolutely no problems using loaner gadgets.

In fact, you could already do it – buy a new laptop whenever you travel, at the destination. Use it as much as you want, making sure you don’t abuse its condition. Depending on the return policy, return it before you leave your vacation destination. This works flawlessly if you use one of the many cloud services. iCloud will even restore your desktop and documents folders on any new laptop. It’s like you never changed your laptop.

This hack is a bit trickier for cameras as local retail establishments might have varying return policies for camera equipment.

 

When a Gadget Freak Gets Old

There is nothing philosophical about getting old – it’s a biological process. You could try to run from it, but you can’t hide from the age monster.

What is philosophical, though, is how your priorities change. Case in point – love for gadgets.

There was a time when I was the first person in my circle of acquaintances to procure the latest and greatest gadget. The first iPhone, the first iPad, the first online radio hardware player, you name it, I bought it.

That drive is now gone. It’s more about making the most of what I have. I have been using a 4 year old laptop. It just works and is only marginally slower than the latest and greatest. My desktop is inching towards its 3rd birthday. New iPads were announced and they don’t excite me.

I have gone from being a gadget freak to a gadget lover. I love my toys for the joy and productivity they bring. The computing gadget are indispesable, but so are the new Snapchat Spectacles, a cheap piece of tech that makes it a much more joyful experience to capture daily videos. Whereas I couldn’t really manage to make videos of my cycling trips with an iPhone, the ones that come out of these googles are nothing short of amazing.

I want new things rather than new things.

Apart from the aging process, I think a driver for this change is the fact that most gadgets now come with a yearly upgrade cycle. The periodic purchases for the same gadget, just shinier and faster, gets old after a few tries. In the interest of the planet and sustainability, tech companies need to start looking at ways to maximize earnings without forcing users to spend on new devices every few months.

Sonos is great at this. The speaker you purchased 4 years ago still works like new and still receives the same software updates as one you purchased just yesterday.

I can’t imagine myself springing for a new car every year once tech companies pivot to transportation. Or, maybe that would be a sign that gadgets are better leased than owned.

Facebook Pages as a Website Alternative

We have been getting our feet wet with starting our first business over the past few weeks; it has been fun; it has been exhilarating. While in the digital world you measure performance by metrics such as user counts and reviews, in the real world, people come back to you and give you verbal compliments. They refer your products to others who might enjoy them as well.

It is something I wish that I had done earlier!

Now, with a business comes the overhead of various things, one of which is building and maintaining your business’s online presence. Websites are hard enough, not to mention keeping them safe and secure, that a lot of businesses end up with terrible websites that take a lot of time and money to get done by outside contractors.

We had the same dilemma as we purchased a domain and then spent time and money buying and learning various WordPress themes to figure out the best for us. This is even before you start generating content that would ultimately draw customers in. In our events driven business, a lot of this content is in the form of photos and videos. The website also needs to have things like calendar feeds and a way to sign people up for your upcoming events. It would be great to be able to do live videos and respond to people in real time.

Clearly, this is not a simple website we are talking about.

After a lot of tweaking the theme, I came upon an idea – how about redirecting every visitor on our website to our Facebook Page. We needed the Page anyway since that’s how we communicate with our customers and share pictures. Might as well just make it our business website. The only thing missing is email, but that’s an easy problem to solve with the help of any business email provider that supports custom domains.

Facebook Pages provide blogging capabilities, photo albums, apps for business owners as well as consumers, live messaging, and above all, a marketing and analytics platform that really helps in reaching out to the best customers. I am not sure why they haven’t already started selling branded webpages as a service, much like their FB at Work product.

Setting up required a little bit of effort because they don’t natively provide this as a service. This means that you still need to set up your web server to redirect requests to Facebook. At this time, I haven’t set up any custom links on the server, but there is potential in the future to set up links like <yourdomain>/blog to redirect to your Facebook Page’s Notes section.

Now I can focus all my time and energy on one medium. This will definitely change in the future as the business evolves and it would not be feasible to expect every site visitor to have a Facebook login, or be able to use it for e-commerce. Hopefully, Facebook would start offering a more business-ready toolkit by that point.

Soylent

I haven’t been keeping up with the phenomenon known as ‘Soylent’, except when today I just read the news that they have been able to raise a $50M funding round for expansion into new markets as well as retail.

Why is this news?

Well, Soylent is something that is coveted as a food product by overworked millennials who seldom have time to cook for themselves. As such, it is very popular in the elite circles of Silicon Valley. Not surprising, then, that the investors in this food product are all people known in the Valley for making money off software. The company itself is the brainchild of a software engineer from that area. When someone in the family raises money, and that too, in the millions, it is sure to make some news.

I really like how they describe Soylent as ‘addressing one of the biggest issues we face today: access to complete, affordable nutrition’. How did we manage to come to a point in time where pre-packaged powdered nutrition is somehow more affordable than plants that grow in the dirt?

This reeks of hype through and through.

Soylent isn’t even the first meal-substitute – there are countless others. What it does have going for it, though, is that there is a face behind the product and the face isn’t that of a woman. Slimfast comes to mind. It is a meal substitute (although, you still have to include at least one regular meal in your diet), but it has become synonymous with female weight loss. At this point, if you tell someone that you’re on the ‘Slimfast diet’, they’d think you were a woman trying to lose weight, instead of assuming that you’re just time-starved and trying to access affordable nutrition (it is not affordable, though).

For investors, the popularity of the product means a shot at getting bought by a big name FMCG company. It is also a healthy segue from the technology landscape where almost everyone is building an AI or a VR app, not to mention the quantified shortage of skilled people not working for a major multinational company in the Valley.

Is it healthy?

Of course, not. Processed food never is. None of the investors themselves rely on Soylent for their sustenance. It is something that is ripe for the scalability problem that technology investors love to solve, though.

And, it has a brilliant name.

Login enforced apps

One of my newest technology pet-peeves is apps that require an account even before giving me an opportunity to try them out or learn more about them. It’s not just the small players that do this, increasingly, but rather big name app providers like Microsoft.

Just this morning, I downloaded Microsoft’s latest To-Do app. Intuitively, my task list is something that could just as well reside on my smartphone without ever requiring to be synced onto the ‘cloud’, but, no, Microsoft would have none of that logic. The first screen is a login screen. I can’t even preview the UI without as much as sharing my phone number and other personal details.

How’s this for a To-Do – don’t download apps that need me to register before trying them out.