The Joys of Being an Absolute Beginner – For Life

Monday, March 22, 2021

Over the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about learning, especially in this last year when there was so much time to just think.

I really liked this piece in The Guardian by Tom Vanderbilt. As I read through it, it hits the right notes for me about (adult) psychology, human behavior, the desire to learn and overcoming inhibitions.

Like the author, I have wanted to learn how to play chess well for a really long time, but haven’t gotten around to it. Similarly, I struggle to follow through on learning Mandarin, despite having made a few attempts over the years. Most recently, I have realized I want to learn how to ski.

This excerpt will stay with me for a long time:

Learning new skills also changes the way you think, or the way you see the world. Learning to sing changes the way you listen to music, while learning to draw is a striking tutorial on the human visual system. Learning to weld is a crash course in physics and metallurgy. You learn to surf and suddenly you find yourself interested in tide tables and storm systems and the hydrodynamics of waves. Your world got bigger because you did.

I’ll be a student for life, yes.

Why I'm not Buying a new iPhone

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

2020, like everything else, has changed my perspective on how to decide whether to get a new phone. Some of the reasons I switch to a new iPhone are: a) Camera, b) Software, c) Design, d) Speed, e) Length of ownership. I compare the state of my current phone, with the new phones, to decide whether to buy that year’s iPhone to replace my current iPhone.

Once I buy a new phone, I use it for years, and thus always buy the top-of-the-line phone from that series. 8 years ago, that meant it was the iPhone 5 (64GB). When the time came to replace it 4 years ago, that translated into an iPhone 7 Plus (256GB). Plus because of its better camera (first iPhone with a telephoto lens).

Every iPhone released thereafter (8, X, XR, XS, 11, 11 Pro, 12) have ticked off atleast one of the boxes on my list, but none checked off all the boxes. For instance, the 11 Pro checked off everything except design (the 11 line-up had a dated design).

Until the iPhone 12 Pro. [I thought] I was due for a new phone, and the iPhone 12 Pro intro was like a checklist down my wishlist. And yet, the pandemic is the black swan which has changed my plans.

I have no complains with my current phone. It works well, is fast, and has been stable (battery life notwithstanding). I love the design because of the color (hey Jet Black!). It supports iOS 14 and from the software-perspective the only thing I miss from the X-class phones is Face ID (which is not really a bane in these mask-totting days), and ProRAW. It all comes down to one single criteria: Camera. And the 12 Pro appears to have that comparison in the bag.

As I contemplated which of the new phones I should order, I started wondering if I should order one at all. Most of the photos I click are when I’m traveling. In the middle of a pandemic that has meant I’m not traveling nearly as much, what am I even going to take photos of? Yes, it will not be the same forever, but won’t there be a new iPhone next year when I probably will be closer to resuming more travel? So why buy a new iPhone now, to replace my very-capable 7 Plus?

Handwashing with an Apple Watch

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

One of the two standout features in WatchOS 7 for me was handwashing. Today, it has been just over a week since I turned on handwashing notifications.

Some background on the new feature:

  • Apple Watch can now detect when hands are being washed and encourages you with gentle taps on your wrist to continue for atleast 20 seconds.
  • When your return home, it can now remind you to wash your hands.

My observations so far:

  • When I said “Hand washing countdowns are cute and I love that they exist ☺️,” 3 months ago, I under-estimated it.
  • Handwashing is detected only when actually washing hands, typically about 5 seconds after I start scrubbing my hands.
  • It appears to be relying on accelerometer movements to determine when hands are being scrubbed, not microphone to determine flow of water.
  • I haven’t experienced a single false positive yet on notifications to continue washing my hand.
  • No false positives when rinsing hands or doing the dishes.
  • The first time I returned home after turning this on, I was reminded to wash my hands just after I had removed my shoes as I was about to change my clothes. Pretty darn incredible feeling, that.
  • That same day, a permission dialog popped up asking how frequently I wanted ‘Handwashing’ to have access to my location. Cute.
  • It does not detect movement within my apartment complex (mailbox, parking) as leaving the home and returning.
  • It can, however, get reminders for returning home wrong. I was once asked to wash my hands just as I was driving out of the parking garage.
  • It doesn’t appear to be using barometer readings to determine the height, so the parking level is treated the same as my home (a couple levels over).
  • I was out camping over the last weekend, and washed my hands with water that was a few degrees over freezing. Those were some pretty rough 20-seconds, but the Watch’s motivation made it a game that I had to win.
  • I didn’t realize just how many times I had a tendency to not scrub my hands for a full 20-seconds; it seems I was often in the 15-second range. (No, I do not have a handwashing song.)
  • I appreciate the gentle nudges whether I am anticipating them or not. It leaves me with a smile on my face everytime I wash my hands :).

Definitely one of those Apple-y things that surprise and delight. Truly.

Online Privacy Should Be Modeled on Real-World Privacy

Monday, September 7, 2020

I read Daring Fireball often and one of the things I strongly agree with Gruber on is privacy. I think privacy ought to be a fundamental right and I loathe the practices of tech companies that are formulated on invading it. That is also why I use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine.

John Gruber wrote this post following Apple’s new iPhone ad (watch it, it is a great one) about companies act as privacy thieves by tracking people across the internet. I agree with it in its entirety.

They have zero right, none, to the tracking they’ve been getting away with. We, as a society, have implicitly accepted it because we never really noticed it. You, the user, have no way of seeing it happen. Our brains are naturally attuned to detect and viscerally reject, with outrage and alarm, real-world intrusions into our privacy. Real-world marketers could never get away with tracking us like online marketers do.

We definitely wouldn’t accept this type of behavior in the real world!

The tracking industry is correct that iOS 14 users are going to overwhelmingly deny permission to track them. That’s not because Apple’s permission dialog is unnecessarily scaring them — it’s because Apple’s permission dialog is accurately explaining what is going on in plain language, and it is repulsive. Apple’s tracking permission dialog is something no sane person would agree to because this sort of tracking is something no sane person would agree to.


The privacy thieves have, unsurprisingly, come out against these expected changes coming in iOS 14, and tried to defend their entitlement. They should have none. And they would have none if their business models were based on asking users for permission (as Apple’s system is expected to).

More privacy for one and all.

Good Sudoku

Saturday, August 22, 2020

I’m a sucker for sudoku. I was obsessed about 7-8 years ago and solved it every single day for a while (thanks, Mumbai Mirror!).

In the week after I watched and posted about the Miracle Sudoku, Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger released a great sudoku game. I have been obsessed and can’t stop playing.

Screen Time on Good Sudoku

My total daily phone screen time is ~2.5 hours and >20% on average has been playing Good Sudoku for the last few weeks. That’s how much I love it.

Go, have some fun and play it. (Also, send help. I really need to limit how much time I spend playing it…)

How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

One thing that has constantly been on my mind for the last 7+ months: The COVID-19 pandemic 1. There’s so much I have read about it, heard about it, tried to learn about it, but a thought exercise around long-term implications of it fascinated me early on.

Thereafter, I spent a weekend looking at the how walking and driving habits had changed in various Indian cities.

More recently, as discussions around vaccines progress, and we learn more about SARS-CoV-2 and how it attacks the human body, I have also been thinking about what we can expect in the medium- to long-term as governments succeed or fail in controlling the spread of the pandemic.

The rest of 2020 will almost certainly continue more or less the same way as it has for the last 7 months, but what might the world look like in 2021?

Megan Scudellari for Nature, in “How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond”, provides an important view into what epidemiologists are thinking:

Around the world, epidemiologists are constructing short- and long-term projections as a way to prepare for, and potentially mitigate, the spread and impact of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Although their forecasts and timelines vary, modellers agree on two things: COVID-19 is here to stay, and the future depends on a lot of unknowns, including whether people develop lasting immunity to the virus, whether seasonality affects its spread, and — perhaps most importantly — the choices made by governments and individuals.

But also, don’t stop washing hands or wearing masks. It helps:

But there is hopeful news as lockdowns ease. Early evidence suggests that personal behavioural changes, such as hand-washing and wearing masks, are persisting beyond strict lockdown, helping to stem the tide of infections. […] The team concluded that if 50–65% of people are cautious in public, then stepping down social-distancing measures every 80 days could help to prevent further infection peaks over the next two years4. “We’re going to need to change the culture of how we interact with other people,” says Neto. Overall, it’s good news that even without testing or a vaccine, behaviours can make a significant difference in disease transmission, he adds.

So, what really happens in 2021 and beyond? We don’t know. Not yet:

The pandemic’s course next year will depend greatly on the arrival of a vaccine, and on how long the immune system stays protective after vaccination or recovery from infection. Many vaccines provide protection for decades — such as those against measles or polio — whereas others, including whooping cough and influenza, wear off over time. Likewise, some viral infections prompt lasting immunity, others a more transient response. “The total incidence of SARS-CoV-2 through 2025 will depend crucially on this duration of immunity,” wrote Grad, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch and colleagues in a May paper14 exploring possible scenarios (see ‘What happens next?’).

That’s a somber reality.

  1. Early on, I kept up with COVID-19 stats using John Hopkins’ tracker. Thereafter, I found this incredibly simple2 but informative tracker and haven’t looked back. ↩︎

  2. There’s a brilliant profile of the teen that built the tracker I’ve been using for the last few months on MIT Technology Review↩︎

The United Nations of Uniqlo

Friday, July 24, 2020

Over the last 18 months, Uniqlo has gone from being a brand I had no idea existed to my preffered clothing brand. The simplicity of the designs and the great quality of the clothes have won me over. Be it solids, polos or graphic tees.

So when The Economist had a profile piece about Uniqlo by Amelia Lester, you bet I read it.

Some quotes that are telling of the story of the company, its success and its goals:

Uniqlo’s parent firm, Fast Retailing, is now the world’s third-largest clothing company, after Inditex (which owns Zara) and h&m. Today the ubiquity and predictability of Uniqlo’s products are part of the brand’s identity, an essential component of Yanai’s aspiration to become “the first truly global clothing brand from Asia”.

On the clothes:

Unusually for a clothing company, Uniqlo measures its significant milestones not in iconic outfits but in manufacturing breakthroughs. After its success with the fleece, Uniqlo rolled out more product lines that were distinguished by their functionality: a first-of-its-kind bra top with sewn-in cups, thermal underwear, moisture-wicking fabric and lightweight puffer coats filled with down.

What differentiates it from its competitors:

Unlike competitors that often feature aspirational pictures of models in perfectly fitting garb, Uniqlo stores use rotating putty-coloured mannequins (“a neutral colour that is not white”, a PR officer tells me).

I agree:

Uniqlo’s plainness and restraint appeals to consumers across the globe. These design principles also help the company negotiate the tension between the low cost of its garments and the perception of good quality.

On the shopping experience:

The retail experience seemed very Japanese: the shop was crowded, though not disorganised. The long queue to pay moved swiftly, with an efficiency not often encountered in suburban America. After I made my purchase, my credit card was handed back to me with two hands, as is customary with all interactions involving money in Japan.

Takeaways from the WWDC 2020 Keynote

Monday, June 22, 2020

I am an Apple enthusiast, and I just watched the WWDC 2020 keynote. Here’s what I thought (in no specific order):

iOS 14

  • Reaching for the top row apps on my iPhone 7 Plus is not easy. I can rarely, if ever, use my phone with a single hand anymore. So, I appreciate the new home screen layout. It definitely appears useful at first glance.
  • I can see myself adding Dark Sky (wait, will it still be updated?!) and Fantastical widgets, but I don’t think I’ll add much else. We’ll see.
  • Pinned conversations, inline replies, mentions… Love it all. Also, mask Memoji 😷!
  • As someone that obsessively downloads (and keeps) apps from cafes, stores, and parking apps I only need about once every year, and refuses to delete them for the one time time I might need them again, I love the idea of App Clips. I can (hopefully) get rid of all those unused apps.
  • I am nitpicky about my home screen layout, so I’m conflicted about the new dynamic App Library. I can imagine it being useful, but it might also play against my muscle memory.
  • No more full-screen popovers for phone calls or Siri! YES!
  • Rarely use iPhone to watch video, so couldn’t care less about picture-in-picture.
  • Lot of appreciation for the new privacy features. I have desired approximate location for so many apps that I don’t trust, but still have to provide location information to.
  • Camera and microphone usage indicators are godsend. I have often wondered how many apps exploit those permissions because they have them.
  • Overall not a lot is changing, which is a good thing.

Apple Maps

  • Biking directions with elevation! I have wished for this to have existed for months as I struggled with mapping my bike rides. This alone will make me update to iOS 14 on day 1.

iPadOS 14

  • Neat improvements to handwriting recognition and scribble.


  • Seamless switching: Why did it take so long?!
  • Spatial Audio: Tempting me to buy a set of AirPods Pro.

watchOS 7

  • Hand washing countdowns are cute and I love that they exist ☺️.
  • Sleep tracking appears cool, but I also don’t like wearing my Apple Watch while I’m asleep.


  • Amazing new privacy controls. I use Safari all day, everyday. It is already very fast, secure and neatly integrated. The privacy improvements take what is great and make it even better.
  • I’m going to obsess for a while over the Privacy Reports of some of my most visited websites.
  • The new hover-on-tab feature that displays a tiny thumbnail is also really nice. It is one of the things I miss the most from my days of Firefox.

macOS Big Sur (11.0!)

  • I like the new design aesthetic in the apps, but hate the new icons. The iOS-ified icons feel out of place. Maybe they’ll grown on me over time.
  • Control Center is neat, and so is the new notification pane.
  • Messages and Apple Maps are Catalyst ports, but get feature parity with iOS. Cool!
  • Overall: A slate of nice updates for a mature desktop OS. Lots of polish, I hope.

App Store

  • Simple, easy to understand privacy policies for every app before you download it? Yes, please!

Mac’s Transition to Apple SoC

  • This might actually go through in a seamless way than I had thought.
  • A12Z running Final Cut Pro and 3 streams of 4K, and driving the 6K Pro Display XDR? Damn, that’s powerful.
  • Emulation also appears to be fast.
  • Not a fan of iOS and iPadOS apps running on macOS. That sounds like a recipe for lazy developers to not make good, native macOS apps, while allowing Apple to boast ‘millions of apps on day 1’.
  • I can’t wait to learn more about the upcoming Mac line-up. Such an exciting time!


  • The production quality of this year’s presentation was exemplary.
  • It was uncanny (and weird) to look at close-ups of Tim Cook and Craig Federighi as they talked to the camera. It was too close and too in-my-face.

The Miracle Sudoku

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Trust me and take 25 minutes out to watch this. Just trust me.

Playing with Apple's COVID-19 Mobility Data for India

Saturday, June 13, 2020

I came across Apple’s COVID-19 mobility dataset in mid-May. Instantly, I was curious. I have been interested in understanding how the world is changing ever since the pandemic begam, and thinking about what it means in the short and long-term.

As I started exploring the data and seeing some interesting patterns in there, I started thinking about if there were ways I could share it and make it public. Of course, there’s always Jupyter Notebooks, but I don’t enjoy making my notebooks overtly formal and presentable.

Around that time, I remembered streamlit (a UI framework for converting simple Python apps into websites) as something I had wanted to try for a few months. Next question: How do I host it? Well, I had heard and read about Heroku1 being a simple and fast way to deploy websites and web apps.

Lo and behold, it all came together over a weekend into something I like. I just updated it today with more recent data and some additional notes.

  1. I host my website using Netlify, which is great for static-sites. There is probably a way to get streamlit to output a static site, but I went with the easiest path to get it out there. ↩︎

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