Excursions by Amit Gawande

I did not watch the Google event yesterday. And almost everyone is saying the actual event was a bit messy, boring. I guess it was good that I did not spend 2 hours then. I think recent events from all the companies have received similar criticisms — must be a trend.

Wed, Oct 16, 2019 thoughts

Update on the no-news experiment

It was exactly a year ago that I had posted an update on my then-recently undertaken no-news experiment. It primarily involved -

  • consuming news only through the morning newspaper
  • no news related apps on my phone
  • no notifications from social apps (including messages, WhatsApp)

I am pleasantly surprised that the things begun then have more or less stayed the same. I still consume my news primarily from the morning newspaper. I still avoid visiting the news website. I still have the notifications from social apps disabled. For that matter, I have become more aggressive in disabling notification access to any app.

The only deviation has been that I have installed a few news apps on my phone. I always had that urge to open some editorial on the browser when my mind was momentarily free. This minor change has quenched that.

Of course, I am still extremely picky about which apps get installed. I have installed only a couple of news curating apps (also known for doing their job well). And The New York Times app.

Digital Detox - No YouTube

I have also recently undertaken a digital detox experiment. I want to check which additional service I can get off my routine. It should be something that I carelessly spend a lot of time on.

I had recently been consuming a lot of stupid content on YouTube. I used to open the app every time I had some free time at hand. Or for that matter even when I was busy doing something else. It garnered a subconscious tap. Such absent-minded behaviour is never healthy.

So I have planned to be off YouTube for at least a month to reset the terms of my relationship with this service. It has been 15 days now and I already feel better. I no longer have that urge to tap into YouTube any more. I have observed am following my routine a lot better.

However, YouTube has become too important a destination for all kinds of videos. That includes videos relevant to my work too. So it is difficult to completely get rid of the access to the service.

Of course, then, I plan to allow access to the app in a controlled manner. This time, however, I will set the terms again consciously. I am also planning to clear the YouTube view history before I do that. I believe this will help me reset the recommendations. I am, however, yet to decide the exact terms under which the service will be allowed back.

During this month of digital detox, I also plan to indulge myself with some analogue activities that I had never done before. I have started doodling more. Sure, am not good at it. But I hit the web for inspiration and try to simply emulate.

I am also spending dedicated time with my daughter without any digital devices around. It can be as less as 15 minutes. Involving simple talks. Or some silly games. But it has to be focused time.

It is too early to see the effects of all this. One thing is for sure, though. I feel a tad less burdened on the inside.

Tue, Oct 15, 2019 update life minimalism

No doubt, Pixel 4 looks a lot better than their previous versions - especially from the back. That camera module, especially, is cleaner as compared to the hideous one on iPhone 11. On the front, that top bezel is too big - looks outdated for sure.

Tue, Oct 15, 2019 thoughts

With any event from Apple or Google, I made a point to catch it live. Not much for this one, as almost everything - including the buds - was leaked. That’s why you control the leaks - they mar the interest. And with that your best chance to market to masses.

Tue, Oct 15, 2019 thoughts

Facebook has launched the next version of the Portal and The Verge has the review. After more than 1700 word, they end with this - it’s still a camera connected to Facebook inside your home”. I think that is all the review could have read.

Tue, Oct 15, 2019 thoughts

Tik Tok, Tick Tock…Boom.

Tik Tok is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on US social networks convincing US consumers, in particular kids, to download and use the app. This is fucking brilliant, by the way.

I have managed to stay away from this social phenomenon” - but am always impressed with the creativity on display in the app. Everytime that happens, I cautiously move away - I do not want another mindless entertainment fighting for my attention.

And am not even thinking about the political backdrop and its effects - which this essay from John Battelle nicely summaries.

Tue, Oct 15, 2019 replies links

I recently had my wisdom teeth extracted. Boy oh boy, if I had known earlier that the road to the recovery from this procedure is not straight forward, I would have never undergone this without much thought.

There are so many precautions to be taken — from keeping the mount clean to monitoring what you eat. This is in addition to easing the swelling and the pain. I would have liked to time this better. With just a day to go to start going to the office again, it would be some difficult times ahead.

Sure, my dentist did explain all the intricacies involved before the procedure. He also mentioned what all I would have to be careful about. But it was only once the teeth were pulled and the gums stitched back that I became cognizant of the complications.

And all this for a set of teeth whose only purpose is to jam up the number 32. Sigh!

Sun, Oct 13, 2019 thoughts life

Get yourself a blog

Nice reminder from Dave Winer (who else) on what blogs are not.

You imagine that your blog is lonely and angry that you’re not visiting, but that’s purely a figment of your imagination. The blog doesn’t exist in any corporeal sense. It has no thoughts or feelings. I doesn’t give a shit if you live or die, because it doesn’t have an ego, it doesn’t care about anything.

Yep. There’s no reason to not have a blog. Get some space for yourself on the web - select any platform that lets you do so for free. Write anything. Or just share links and pictures.

Don’t look at numbers. Don’t promote. Don’t yearn for likes or replies. It is a chore that will hamper your interest. Get rid of such mindless distractions. Forget your blog exists if you want. It won’t feel bad. But next time you have a thought, just put it on there. No one will mind.

Sun, Oct 13, 2019 thoughts

When do I want Automation?

Derek Sivers recently wrote about how he does not prefer using automation for things that he would better do himself. Or he enjoys doing manually. According to Derek, the decision of whether one wants automation or not comes down to is this.

how much of an expert you are at controlling this thing yourself, how much you still enjoy doing it, if you want the kind of assistance it provides

I believe there is one more aspect that drives this decision for me - how convenient will the automation make my life after all? And what is the the cost associated with automating that?

The price one pays might be in terms of the personal data he or she needs to relinquish. This is relevant primarily when the automation workflows are built and served ready-made by the companies. For example, as part of various functions of the smart assistants.

It can also be in terms of the actual time one has to put in to build the overall automation workflow. This comes into picture when you are linking multiple applications and services to get a use-case handled. For example, while using Shortcuts or IFTT, Zapier and likes.

In both the cases, whether I want the automation or not is a trade-off between the efficiency I gain due to the automation and the price I have to pay for that.

Sat, Oct 12, 2019 thoughts

I had to stop reading Thinking Fast and Slow. Not sure if it was the audiobook form or my current frame of mind, but it was monotonous, bland chapter after chapter — like a textbook. I will pick this up again some time later, may be. But for now, this isn’t for me.

This particular review from Jacques at Goodreads resonated with me. Especially this part.

There is also the struggle between wanting to speed up the book due to the slow and monotonous narrator, but wanting to slow it down to absorb the information.

Thu, Oct 10, 2019 thoughts

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.

Sun, Oct 6, 2019 opinion technology

I recently went through an experience that put my rational mind under a scanner. After a tiring session of shopping for clothes, I stood in the queue to pay for the stuff that my family had finally decided to buy. I always hate the process of selecting clothes in the shopping malls - more so when my family’s doing it than me. I just can’t fathom the sheer number of parameters my wife, my daughter and my sister together can cobble up while deciding a piece of cloth to be selected (to be frank, rejected seems to be more apt). Anyway, it is a battle that I have lost many occasions over years - so moving on.

The billing process that follows isn’t painless either. I am always bombarded with so many questions.

Do you have membership? Why not? There are no many benefits like blah.. blah.. Why won’t you become a member?” Which card do you have? Why don’t you pay this way rather than that?” Would you need a shopping bag? 1 Large? Or 2 medium?”

It’s an unending sequence of dreadful moments till I leave the shopping mall. But this time it ended in slightly different manner. I was offered an offer which am convinced now must have been part of some psychological study. The lady behind the billing counter explained it to me somewhat like this (emphasis her and mine).

Sir, you made a purchase worth a specific, nontrivial amount, so you stand a chance to win an assured gift. This is not a lucky draw, you will win some gift1 for sure. All you have to do is pay a significant amount. That will make you eligible (wasn’t I already?) for this assured gift. And the cost of the cheapest assured gift is twice as higher than the price you pay (how can I verify). So, of course, I should include that, right?”

So, in short, it is pay (over and above what you have already paid for the shopping) to win assuredly? Like what you would do in a casino - but with some surety angle? Why not just have an aisle full of assured gift cards? Why link it to billing? I couldn’t help but think it had to do with the fact that my abilities to think rationally are depleted due to the exhaustion from the decisions made earlier during shopping. And my mind is at my most vulnerable state.

With the pressure from the people queued behind me growing, I nervously said yes. But within seconds, pushed by the pressure from my rational mind, I said no. I wasn’t ready to undergo the scrutiny of my thoughts.

  1. The gifts included bedrolls, luggages, some OLED television set, bikes and even car.

Sat, Oct 5, 2019 experience life

Every now and then, you come across people who are filled with negative vibes. There is nothing constructive that they can ever think of about any activity at hand, individually or for the team. And it is with these people that I find working with the hardest.

Laziness and incompetence are both undesired quirks in a person. But I am fine to have people with these traits on my team than those who are pessimists.

Lazy people can be nudged with a smaller, broken-down tasks. Incompetent people can be trained. Worst case you can decide not to work with them. You only lose that one person.

A negative thought, on the other hand, is contagious — it ruins the environment in a team. It rubs off on to others, bringing down the productivity and the quality of everyone around.

It is even worse if such people are also skilled at one particular job - making timely noise. Because the noise they make first portrays the team in poor light and second dents the morale of the whole team.

Learn to not be a naysayer — wish people could be forced enrolled in such courses too.

Fri, Oct 4, 2019 thoughts