I initially started with a WordPress theme, which wasn’t really that hard to setup on a new server as DigitalOcean makes it really easy to setup a VPS with the entire stack pre-configured. The only things that need to be done post-installation are setting up the private keys for remote login, disabling password-based logins, setting up the sudo-ers, and configuring LetsEncrypt. The hardest part is actually picking a theme and setting it up to your taste.
WordPress uses a database. It is PHP based. For a portfolio website which doesn’t really change that often, I figured that setting up a server with a database was really overkill. You also get an elegant editor, but it is not going to be used often. Finally, PHP has quite the learning curve.
It is then that I started looking at static site generators, and Hugo in particular. The first step is running a terminal command to setup a new website that creates the directory structure, followed by (usually) cloning the repository for a theme that you want to use. You also get the flexibility to use multiple themes for any particular site. The best part is that being templated, your website grows gradually in the form of git commits. This also gives you the flexibility to tweak the theme by just forking it. The theme I picked is quite simple, yet elegant for a portfolio website.
I also got into a bit of designing while building the website. The demo website using the theme used a lot of SVGs, and I decided to use some of my own. Turns out that SVGs are great for websites. They are vector-based which means that they look amazing on Retina displays. I wonder why websites just don’t use them for everything that isn’t a photo.
Uploading the website to the server is also just a matter of using scp or rsync, depending on how big your website is. There are even entire hosted workflows to automate this part — you push a new commit that triggers a new build of the website that triggers a new sync. It really can’t get any better than this!
Yesterday marked 15 years since I purchased my first ever Internet domain — a 5 character .com domain — gargs.com that is smaller than some company domains, and the same length as apple.com. So lucky!
There’s another upside to this – my email address has been a gargs.com address ever since. I never had to add zeros or special characters to differentiate my common name with those of other people. It is easy to remember, makes my emails look classy, and I never have to worry about a service closing shop. If my hosting provider shuts down, I just point the MX records over to a new provider’s server. I even have SPF and DMARC configured on the domain.
I am slowly migrating away from free services in consideration of matters of privacy and long-term retention. Here’s to more personal domains on the Internet! 🍻
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.
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.
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.
I love talking; I love discussing matters of philosophy and human nature. The strange dichotomy of human existence is that what makes us human also makes us difficult to understand each other. As a result, we often rely on established social norms and behaviors to guide us.
Every so often, you want to ask yourself why things are the way they are; why there are inexplicable patterns surrounding everything from human migration to business development. A theorist would take out their subject compendium and refer you to the works of someone who has performed academic research in that area. Yet, you will be left with dealing with a few assumptions that have no clear basis.
Let me explain what I am getting at. Today, while sipping our morning coffee, V&I started a discussion on simplifying how V approaches her new food entrepreneurship. She was concerned that she did not have a clear path to innovation that would differentiate her business/service from that of established competitors. Classic problem, right. There are dozens of books and university courses that offer to solve exactly this problem.
Then, I started with one of my simple metaphors. That of a train.
When you’re starting a new business, you’re the person with the second class train ticket without reservation, which means you’re going to have to walk all the way to the end of the platform to get into the train. This means that you would have to budget for some time to get to the station and get into your train; you’d probably also have to put up a little fight to get any open unreserved seats so that you don’t have to endure your journey standing up. Life will be a bit tough, especially if reaching your destination means a couple transfers along the way, all complicated by your possession of only a second class ticket without a seat reservation.
So, how do you make your life and journey better? You simply keep catching the same train every day, getting there a little earlier every day to save time, to find a seat, and then getting accustomed to the journey enough that you know precisely when seats open up at stations along the way. After each day of repeating this, you become an expert in the art of traveling on a second class ticket.
There is no need to innovate. You just follow the established playbook of finding a seat, with perseverance.
Then, as you optimize your daily journey, you gradually start reaping benefits of getting to work earlier and in a better state. That leads you to gradually be able to afford a seat reservation, possibly even in first class. You have mastered the playbook.
When do you innovate? How do you get to your destination even faster? Perhaps you could charter an airplane or figure out a combination of rail and road segments. That’s when you innovate. That stage comes long after you’ve made yourself comfortable doing the same thing day in and day out.
This is probably not a perfect metaphor, but it sure does motivate you and make things a whole lot clearer.
The same metaphor also explains human migration. We are all catching the same train to work every day. People in developed countries are riding fast direct trains, whereas there are some stuck riding trains that are slow and often have to endure their journey without a seat. The whole point of migration is to promote yourself to one of those fast trains.
On a whim, 4 weeks ago, I logged onto the Apple Store app and decided to check the AirPods availability for in-store pickup. As I write this, they’re in extremely limited supplies with online ordered backordered by about 6 weeks and general store availability more than a month into the future. If you’re feeling lucky, you could check the app a few times a day to grab one as limited supplies come in sporadically.
I am generally not a fan of headphones. Firstly, I am not out of the house much, and then when I do have to step out every now and then, I prefer spending my time reading. Secondly, I can never settle for a pair – sometimes I want good in-ear headphones, while at other times, I crave for a wonderful over-the-head set. Whenever I do use one, I usually settle for the ones you get for free with an iPhone, even though I also own a pair of Beats in wonderful red!
Technologically, these are the best Bluetooth headphones I have ever used – not because of the range or the battery life, but because they alleviate the biggest pain-point with Bluetooth headphones – connecting and reconnecting with devices. When it comes to battery life, owing to their minuscule size, the AirPods actually have very little to offer. You will almost always need to carry the charging box since they only last like 5 hours on a single charge; less so if you spend some of that time having a real time call.
I have not had them fall out of my ears, yet, either, and I do sometimes wear them to the bathroom or while hastily walking towards the next train. Not connecting via a cable, they’re extremely good to use with traveling in a train when your station is near and you have to wear your jacket before you get off. In fact, were they connected together by cable, they probably wouldn’t even qualify for a purchase by me.
As the title of this post implies – the AirPods are also the first piece of ‘social wearables’ technology that I have in my possession. Let me explain – sure, they’re just headphones, but since the two earpieces aren’t connected by cable, you get to enjoy the sound with someone else as long as they’re within the signal range. This changes everything!
My favorite use is listening to a podcast while on our morning walk. This way, both of us (V&I) are listening to the same thing and can discuss it later. The AirPods are also great for FaceTime calls while you’re out in public. The only downside is that only one microphone works at a time, so you still have to sit very close together. No longer are you beholden by the lack of multiple audio outputs on your phone!
What is otherwise quite an isolating experience – walking while listening to a podcast is now suddenly much more fun and social. It also feels different since can just pop out your headphone from your ear and the podcast pauses for both of you automatically to give you time to discuss something or to decide what to get from the grocery store on the walk back home.
I wonder if this aspect of the AirPods could be used to build some interesting games/puzzles.
All-in-all, I find myself using the AirPods a lot more than I have used other headphones in the past. They’re small, sleek, light, and as simple to use as just popping them in your ears. Definitely a fan!
One of the best things about living in the Netherlands, and in the center of Amsterdam, in particular, is access to weekly street markets. In a city that is so saturated with grocery stores of all types (organic, raw, vegan, carnivore) and sizes, I find it impressive that the weekly street market remains one of the best places to procure good quality produce and handicrafts.
On sale is food stuffs from all around the world. In our neighborhood, we’re lucky to even have a weekly Wednesday organic produce market where you could find tons of seasonal and fresh vegetables as well as breads. During the summer months, you could also spot little kids bathing in the fountains on the square where the market is held.
The weekly markets afford a unique shopping and product experience that is hard to obtain while shopping online or at your favorite Main Street chain. We have come to make a lot of friends as we enjoy the wonderful waffles and sandwiches every weekend at the market downstairs.
The markets also serve to promote small businesses and entrepreneurship, a large number of them run by women and pensioners. Quite a bit of these businesses graduate to bigger companies and/or complete tie-ups with bigger hospitality companies. All this at a time when there’s entirely too much talk about automation and removal of manual labor; crafts(wo)manship still matters!
The neighborhood Westerpark also has a series of arts and fashion markets throughout the year, more so during the warmer summer months. During the colder times of the year, they usually have one market a month. While these markets are not so much product focussed, you often see a lot of entrepreneurs in niche areas selling things from wooden eyewear frames to custom keychains. As the Dutch would say – the markets are really gezellig.
V and I had been discussing one of her ambitions for a while – that to set up her own food stall with Indian street snacks and the ubiquitous masala chai. This finally bore fruit this past week when she received the go-ahead from the Sunday Market organizing committee to set up her very own stall! And thus began her preparations. She’s really excited and we hope that it is a hit!
Of course, my job is to only provide support, which I did by helping carry stuff upstairs and performing the shopping chores. She even set up a brand new Facebook page (Delhi 6) for her new venture. In a span of a few hours, the page already had close to 100 likes by our friends. The name comes from the postal code of the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi famous for its street food.
And hence begins a new adventure. If this goes well, she will set up more stalls at other upcoming markets. The trials with our neighbors and friends have been successful, so there is definitely some good demand for her craft.
A lot of people have proclaimed that blogging is dead, that it doesn’t generate any traffic, and that no one reads blogs anymore. Personally, I don’t know the last time I kept up with a blog on a regular basis like a few years ago. The problem is not the lack of people who share their ideas. Rather, as more people take to ‘social media’ and instant messaging, there remains very little incentive to write out a well thought-out post to be shared. This means that people now spend less time on long-form writing than they do on just sharing snippets.
Indeed, if you search for something of interest, you are more likely to find SEO-fied links on the first 2 result pages about products or advertising than any relevant read. As more and more advertising money flows into search advertising, there is an SEO economy being created where the only winners are websites with a huge advertising and/or SEO budget.
At the same time, a lot of platforms are being created to help people express themselves. Facebook being in the forefront, trailed by companies like Medium. There is no dearth of hosted blog providers who have adopted the Twitter approach of follows and likes to float more popular posts towards the top. A lot of companies boast of using ‘AI’ to figure out what content would prove to be sticker and hence generate more clicks for the authors.
People don’t even read newspapers anymore. On a recent Facebook exchange, I was reminded by a ‘mainstream media’ sceptic that newspapers, or dead-tree publications, as he likened them to, are not the only way to procure your dose of daily news. Indeed, what was once seen as blogging is now increasingly also the format used to report news. It’s the ease of sharing and embedding advertising that makes online blogging a wonderful substitute to subscribing to a printed/electronic newspaper.
So, why were blogs such a wonderful thing?
You could always count on a multitude of blogs positing different approaches to solving a particular problem or educating you about a topic from all perspectives. Stuck trying to figure out how your country’s foreign policy works? Just read up a few posts by passionate bloggers who breathe foreign policy and are eager to share their opinions and understanding.
Newspapers are feeling the heat, too. While a lot of them have established credible online and digital distribution systems, right down to monetization, they simply cannot compete with the phenomenon of click driven ‘fake news’. Whereas in the past people were careful to not treat a certain blogger or website as the face of truth, now that social media has made blogging a more mainstream way to distribute facts, now this area is getting murky. A lot of these websites are primarily content aggregators that they incredulously ingest from other similar websites or persons. What generates clicks are headlines. What’s the incentive to even hire and perform true journalism any more if truth is difficult to swallow and also does not sell well?
Using social media and these blogging platforms is much easier than ever because you don’t have to worry about the technical nitty-gritty like security and maintenance. At the same time, most of these platforms are free to publish on as they make money through advertising. Their currency is likes and followers. You, as an author, feel you’re getting enhanced reach.
Yesterday, I even watched live an incoming president of a developed country dismiss a credible and historic news channel as the purveyor of ‘fake news’.
There is a huge problem inherent with the ‘platformization’ of the web – censorship. While I have not had the pleasure of living in an authoritarian state, a lot of people have that misfortune. Platforms have to follow local laws, which change abruptly based on who is controlling the government. If they don’t follow these laws, they lose the market and hence the money. There are rumors that Facebook is working on a special censorship tool for the Chinese market that would allow them to enter it and hence make a ton of money from the world’s most populous market. Recently, they also started censoring posts and notes that were written unfavorably towards the government in The Philippines.
Apart from censorship, since you don’t control the platform and the laws change abruptly, you can never be sure that your news/content would outlive the platform or would not suddenly be deleted one day.
Solution – let’s get back to the basics. Have a friend set up your blog for you. Because if you control your platform you control your freedom of speech. If your hosting provider tries to censor you, there are others that would offer you refuge. The web was built to be run that way.
Here is something I shared on Facebook when the platform was accused of spreading fake news:
To say that the problem is just ‘fake news’ would be trivializing it. To say that the problem of ‘fake news’ could be solved technologically would be fooling everyone.
There are multiple issues – one of them being conflict of interest. Facebook makes money based on clicks. Fake and sensational information generates more clicks. Any technological solution would be at odds with the objective of maximizing clicks and visits.
AI is another example of Silicon Valley’s bubble. By nature, AI and henceFacebook‘s approach of creating algorithms, would always lag behind trends in society/pop culture. AI is a cute term for big data collection. This makes it implicit that any intelligence is created after the trends go mainstream. AI is the reason why everyone’s news feed is messed up and also why FB insists upon not showing posts chronologically. That impacts click-throughs. When FB talks about AI, translate it to – process of prioritizing paid posts and external links over user-generated content in a way that it’s less obvious and annoys you just a tad less than to the extent of making you quit.
The best way to use FB is to use it like a repository or a blog. That way chronological order wouldn’t matter much. Stop using the feed. Organically search for posts and pictures. Facebook makes it near impossible, but switch your feed to show posts in their chronological order.
Most importantly, don’t make it the only place you seek out information. The web is huge.
If you have to share something, first consider the possibility of adding something more or even saying it in your own words. The less time and effort you put into what you share with friends and family, the easier it gets for any AI to win over humanity and to further the gap between the elites and the ‘losers’.
AI’s currency is your lack of time and effort. Make it clear that you’re the boss of your profile
Now, more than ever, it is important to start reading credible news sources. If you can’t afford a newspaper subscription, find out the nearest library that has one. If you read something online, make sure you can verify its authenticity by checking other sources. If you’re still unsure, ask someone else.
When more people blog and share their ideas, rather than mere snippets or forwards, the whole country moves forward. Free exchange of ideas enables the society to move forward and to settle differences through intellectual exchange. More opinions enable better policies.
The least we can expect from a developed civilization is the facilitation of free and uncensored exchange of ideas.