In praise of Samahan

A couple of these little sachets in hot water makes for a soothing drink for the throat. Been using them even more regularly in the last couple of years and do feel the difference.

It’s quite popular in South India and it’s been really available on Amazon for the last few years. Incidentally it’s made in Sri Lanka.

Getting rid of ads with Pi-hole

I’ve been using Pi-hole running on a Raspberry Pi 3B+ for the past 2 1/2 years, and it has really spoilt me to the extent that I have forgotten what ads on web pages and mobile apps look like (the limited travel in the last couple of years has also helped). It’s pretty effective in getting rid of the pop-up mobile ads and the in page banner ads on all devices connected to the wifi.

The setup process is quite simple if you have your own router or at least change the DNS server on the home router:

  • First off, get hold of a Raspberry Pi (even the model Zero is powerful enough for the Pi-hole), and the necessary peripherals like a case, SD card, charger & LAN cable. There are many readymade kits with the OS preinstalled sold online including Amazon, which saves a good deal of time.
  • Initial setup is easier with a monitor & keyboard + mouse attached to the Pi. Once this is done you can connect it to your router using a LAN cable and access it through a Telnet client/mobile app like Putty on any of your devices in the home network.
  • Next, you need to install Pi-hole on the Pi (you can do it during the setup itself), and configure the router to use the Pi as your DNS server. If you are stuck without admin access to your router, then you may need to configure each device to use the Pi separately.
  • You can also install mobile apps to manage the Raspberry & Pi-hole quite easily through your phone. There are multiple apps available for both Android & iOS.

Once everything is setup, you should have an ad free experience on your devices (not all ads can be blocked of course). I’ve found about 10-15% of the queries on my home network getting blocked, and this includes devices like Android & iPhones, iPads, Android TV, Amazon Echo, Homepods & Windows laptops of course.

Harken back to the late 1990s with this re-creation of the dialup Internet experience #LinkBlog

For the times when you get nostalgic about “the good old days”, just take a look at this video.

 It takes a full 3 minutes and 27 seconds to download an executable 120kb file for a simple software update. The whole video will make you grateful for all the technological advances over the last 20 years—especially for the comparatively vast amounts of bandwidth we enjoy today.

Source: https://bit.ly/3nt7HjS (via Pocket & IFTTT)

Coming out of blog hibernation & moving to Android

It’s been over 16 years since I started this blog, but I have not posted anything in the last couple of years. So, taking another shot at reactivating it by restarting my linkblog posts through Pocket & IFTTT, and a bit of a tweak to the theme as well.

As for my gadget journey, quite a lot has happened in the last couple of years, starting with iPhone 11 Pro that I got to replace my iPhone 7 Plus. I also added the Homepod & Homepod mini towards the end of 2020 along with the Apple Watch 5, Airpods Pro & iPad mini the same year.

I was getting more & more entrenched into the Apple ecosystem till about a couple of months ago when the iPhone 11 Pro died (no damage – just refused to wake up). I ended up getting a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G along with the Galaxy Watch 4 for the same cost as a replacement for the 11 Pro. The rock solid reliability of Apple hardware seems to be faltering for me, with the Airpods Pro also developing an issue on the left ear piece. I’ve also had different issues with iOS over the years ranging from failed updates requiring device resets to crashing home screens, so the OS side of things is not overtly different from Android in terms of stability.

That said, it has been quite refreshing to get into the modern Android ecosystem, with my last proper usage being Android 6 on the Mi 4. Quite a few things seem smarter on the Android side thanks to the openness of the platform, despite the flexibility Apple has introduced in the last few years with Shortcuts & the likes. Microsoft has also done quite a bit to enable integration with Windows. The link to Windows feature is quite handy to get notifications on my laptop in addition to being able run Android apps from the phone on the laptop as well. Then there’s the DeX mode on Samsung phones that comes in handy when editing videos or creating content using a monitor + keyboard + mouse combo, and of course the split screen & floating apps on the phone that have been around since the early Galaxy Note days.

The camera on the new phone is about on par with the 11 Pro with the telephoto having a longer focal length which I prefer, but the ultrawide is not as wide. The camera app performance is not as smooth, especially on the shot to shot performance when using the on screen shutter. I did try a few Google Camera ports, and their shot to shot performance is better but image quality is on the iffy side.

Either way, I’m in the Android ecosystem as my daily driver and the performance has been perfectly fine. Plus, the flexibility in using smarter apps for SMS & the likes is a more than worthwhile tradeoff for the camera performance.

The Founding Murder and the Final Boss

Welcome to Dancoland

We have to talk about WeWork again!

So I guess they’re postponing the IPO after all, now that we’ve spun the roulette wheel and landed on “too toxic to handle” rather than “trillion dollar market opportunity for community enlightenment”. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens to WeWork. But in the meantime there’s something fascinating going on: how the rest of the tech community is spinning its wheels overtime in order to make sure that WeWork’s failure to IPO does not inflict any collateral damage on the rest of the ecosystem. It’s a great excuse to dive into one of my favourite topics: the norms and rituals and beliefs that make up the Silicon Valley Kayfabe, and what happens when we face a credible threat that our belief system might fall apart.

First, let’s go on a little journey. Longtime Snippets readers may remember one of my…

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Technology Is as Biased as Its Makers

The road ahead is going to be turbulent as more people realize the extent to which technology can be biased. What we do about now will possibly set the direction for the next few decades…

Longreads

Lizzie O’Shea | an excerpt adapted from Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Teach Us about Digital Technology | Verso | May 2019 | 30 minutes (8,211 words)

In the late spring of 1972, Lily Gray was driving her new Ford Pinto on a freeway in Los Angeles, and her thirteen-year-old neighbor, Richard Grimshaw, was in the passenger seat. The car stalled and was struck from behind at around 30 mph. The Pinto burst into flames, killing Gray and seriously injuring Grimshaw. He suffered permanent and disfiguring burns to his face and body, lost several fingers and required multiple surgeries.

Six years later, in Indiana, three teenaged girls died in a Ford Pinto that had been rammed from behind by a van. The body of the car reportedly collapsed “like an accordion,” trapping them inside. The fuel tank ruptured and ignited into a fireball.

Both…

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Down the memory lane with Digit

My tryst with the modern PCs started in the mid 90s when the internet was almost non existent in India. At the time, software and games were not easy to come by and magazines like Chip which have away trial versions and freeware in CDs along with their copies were quite sought after. Chip later became Digit in India but the freebies continued.

Digit magazine July 2019

It was with this thought that I attended the Digit Squad Tech Day in Mumbai today and it was fun to see all the colourful assembled desktops, consoles and mobile phones placed around the venue and fellow Digit Squad members participating enthusiastically in the different contests. Felt quite nostalgic to soak in the geeky environment.

Didn’t sit around idle of course and instead captured a few videos of the front camera fall detection in action for the smartphones on display. You can catch the video here.

OnePlus and Oppo seem to be catching on quite soon and they flash a dialog on screen while Samsung seems to be partially retracting their module. The Redmi K20 pro is similar in terms of responsiveness to Oppo and OnePlus but it closes the camera app instead of showing any alert. The Asus Zenfone 6z provides an interesting experience where you can see the arc on screen as the module rotates to its resting position.

And here are a few more shots from the event

Whose advice should you take?

A useful way to look at advice…

It's only chemo

My wife finds it irritating that I often take a long time to get round to following her recommendations, even though the ones I follow almost always turn out to be successful. This post is about what sort of advice is worth taking – my view of the evidence is, not much – and why a (very basic) bayesian attitude is worthwhile.

Everyone wants their advice to be taken, but almost no one actually wants or ever follows unsolicited advice. That paradox is worth thinking about.

The quality of people’s advice varies considerably depending on how specialist it is.

Even those people who are experts offering expert advice may not be that useful to you. A 2014 meta-study found, ‘deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions.’

All that practice will give…

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Facebook’s Crypto Strawman

This is their first attempt after all…

Welcome to Dancoland

If you haven’t heard already:

Welcome to Libra | Facebook
Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: all you need to know | Josh Constine, Techcrunch

I mean, hey, good for Facebook for… going for it, I guess? After two-plus years of being called all sorts of nasty names – a threat to democracy, a nest of lies, a horde of children playing run-the-universe, you get the idea – Facebook has announced their newest plan to get everybody mad at them: they’re launching a new cryptocurrency / payments product for their users around the world. They call it “A simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.” And it’s called Libra.

The actual mechanics of the Libra blockchain protocol are a real Rorschach test: whatever it is you already thought Facebook was doing, you’re probably going to keep thinking that, but armed with more talking points: 

  • Libra is a private…

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