Reading books: quality over quantity

Out of the 11 books in my this year’s reading list, I already read five books in the last few years and some just the last year:

  1. What I learned by losing a million dollars.
  2. The Psychology of Money.
  3. Atomic Habits.
  4. Style: the basics of clarity and grace.
  5. The Customer Service Survival Kit.

I am going to re-read them all this year.

The year-end lists of books read by some people I follow are really long! And I only read a handful of books for the past two years (2019 and 2020). While I am cool with the amount of reading I do, I must admit, at some corner of my mind I had the nagging feeling of having to read more. Nevertheless, when I made a tentative list of eleven books to read in 2021, I included the above five books that I already read in the years past.

I felt validated last week when I read the blog post of my ex-colleague and an excellent human Jeremey, titled On Re-Reading and The Book Quantity Trap. I particularly liked this quote in Jeremey’s post:

A good book gets better at the second reading. A great book at the third. Any book not worth rereading isn’t worth reading.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB

That validated my thoughts on reading and re-reading a few, but good books. And today’s meditation of The Daily Stoic emphasized the same point.

What if, when it came to your reading and learning, you prioritized quality over quantity?

What if you read the few great books deeply instead of briefly skimming all the new books? Your shelves might be emptier, but your brain and life would be better.

May 20th page of The Daily Stoic

Here’s to reading and re-reading a few but what I believe are great books!

Hey, HEY!

Last night I bought my @hey.com email address subscription after trying it for a few days. I have been following HEY ever since Jason gave a heads up earlier this year. Since this is from Basecamp, I knew it is going to be amazing and it is! I signed up as soon as I got an invite a few days ago and I loved everything about it: the onboarding, speed, features, simplicity and privacy. But most importantly, I subscribed to the HEY Manifesto and the principles of its principals Jason and DHH and their Small Tech company, Basecamp.

I never thought I would pay for an email service, but it is probably the best ninety-nine US dollars I spent lately. Like many people, last time I was this excited about an email service when Gmail was introduced in 2004 (or 2005?). Big Tech is so pervasive, and it is not going to go away anywhere or any soon. But where possible and affordable, I think we should support subscription-based services offered by Small Tech companies; they cost money upfront, but they don’t sell your privacy and data to the highest bidders to display ads.

If you want to check more about HEY, I suggest these links: 

Fibre Ultra

I upgraded my fibre internet to Fibre Ultra, technically called Gigabit fibre which has the advertised speeds of 900 Mbps down and 500 Mbps up.

First, some backstory.

My first fibre connection I got in 2018 was solid (Fibre 100 – 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up). After some time I grew unhappy with the puny 20 Mbps upload speed. I felt uplink could be better and so I upgraded in 2019 to Fibre 200 which doubled the download speed, but oddly enough it did not change the upload speed. So I saw no point in paying extra just to improve only the download speed. I downgraded back to Fibre 100 to save money.

Fast forward to this April. A discussion on Bill Bennett’s blog made me lookout for other offerings with higher upload speeds. After doing the price math, I settled for Fibre Ultra from Skinny.

Fibre Ultra is supposed to get me 900 Mbps down and 500 Mbps up. It does, but only on the ethernet. And I don’t like cables. On WiFi, I get only 300 to 400 Mbps down and 400 Mbps up. Nevertheless, now the downlink is about 4 times and uplink is a whopping 20 times what it was. That itself is amazing!

Was – Fibre 100
Now – Fibre Ultra

But I felt like I am not making the most of the downlink. While I did not expect to get all 900 Mbps down, I hoped to get at least 600- 700 Mbps. I wrote to Skinny and am disappointed by their response:

Internet service provider’s advice 🙄

I generally like the customer service of Skinny (one of the reasons I moved to them), but I wasn’t impressed by this specific advice esp. the note about the hardware. As a professional troubleshooter, I checked and played with the WiFi router settings, and tabled it for later since I couldn’t find that elusive setting that could bump up the download speed to 500+ Mbps.

As luck would have it, yesterday Bill published another blog post in which he clarified:

if you connect to, say, Speedtest, from a home computer connected to gigabit fibre but linked to your broadband port via Wi-fi and nothing else is running you might see speeds of 300Mbps to 400Mbps on a good day. Some connections will be slower.

I like to think of it this way: Gigabit fibre is faster, so the bottleneck moves to the Wi-fi network.

Sigh! Now at least I know that I am not missing out any router settings. Thanks again, Bill! You saved me a lot of time.

I feel better now knowing that I couldn’t have done anything to make the most of my internet connection, other than perhaps plugging in ethernet, which I am not going to do. Around 400 Mbps both ways is still pretty awesome as it is!

Outlook app issues

I finally removed the Microsoft Outlook app from my phone. It still keeps freezing and getting in my way.

The Outlook tech support person was kind and offered further help when I blogged and tweeted my troubles with the app in October.

https://twitter.com/officesupport/status/1183981187485843456

However, I still face this problem with the app. The frequent “performance improvements and big fixes” in the app’s version history doesn’t inspire my confidence. I captured only the latest few in the following screenshot but the same note repeats for many earlier versions.

Version history of Microsoft Outlook iOS app

I have enough demands in my life that I don’t want to spend any time to uninstall, reinstall, and configure my email accounts, and setup my preferences.

I just want a simple app that lets me check my email on my phone with as little effort as possible, so I can move on to deal with other challenging aspects of my life.

Outlook app is not fitting this bill anymore. So I simply uninstalled the app and reinstalled the iOS Mail app.

That’s the brutal reality of life. And I say this as a tech support person myself. It helps me empathise with the problems my customers face with the technology I support.

Uninstalling and reinstalling is not as easy as it sounds on the surface. It costs time and effort that can’t always be justified. It is much more quicker and easier to switch to an alternative app like I did. It helps to remember this fact and acknowledge it before dispensing this seemingly benign and common advice to customers.

It’s not the customers’ job to help troubleshoot problems with the technology they have been kind enough to use in a world where they have a lot of choice.

A debate between Matt M and DHH

Recently REWORK podcast recorded and published a fascinating debate between the two people I admire and respect, Matt Mullenweg and DHH, about tech monopolies and power of the open-source.

I look forward to another show on Venture Capital and funding. Hopefully, they are able to record it sooner!

Messaging app with VIP features

It is 2019 and I wonder why there are no messaging apps that will let me choose the people from whom I wish to receive notifications. Right now, the notifications are all or none deal and I default to none. Which is better, but not best. As people start getting detached to devices and start prioritising their offline lives, I think there would be a lot of demand for a user-centred notification system.

The closest I know is of the VIP feature in the iOS Mail app. But that’s not good enough. My dearest people will not email me; they either call or text.

I’d be very willing to open my wallet for such an app. Let me know if you know of any. Although I am sceptical that someone will build such a user-friendly app, I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong.

Twitter’s half-truth about its app settings

Bill Bennett, a local technology journalist I respect, tweeted a CNN Business article about Twitter’s overzealous algorithm.

That article quoted a Twitter spokesperson:

… We will continue to work to improve our efforts here, and people always have the option of turning off our curation if they just want to see content from the people they follow.

This quote is sketchy and only half-true.

The other half-truth, which this Twitter spokesperson did not say, is that although you can turn off curation, on the phone app Twitter turns it back on within a few days without your consent. The settings on my web app are untouched though, which is likely what this well-meaning spokesperson has quoted.

If you really want to improve your efforts here, Twitter, stop changing your users’ app settings and start respecting their preferences.

And definitely educate your spokesperson with your phone app’s hidden features as well, so they can share accurate information about your platform.

Fibre upgrade

After about fourteen months on 100 Mbps fibre connection, I asked to double the speed of my internet to 200 Mbps for a $15 extra per month.

I will see how long I go before I get used to this new, high speed and stop appreciating it. So far so good, although I am a bit surprised at first that the upload speed did not improve.

Twitter is changing my timeline preferences

Recently I wrote about how I reduced the noise on my Twitter timeline by changing the default timeline preference from top tweets to the latest tweets.

Since then I noticed that from time to time my timeline preference is falling back to top tweets without my intervention. But I wasn’t totally sure because I did not think Twitter may be overriding my preferences. Today I realized it is indeed the case!

As shown in the following screenshot of the iOS app on my phone, Twitter is overzealously overriding my timeline preference to what it wants me to see.

Twitter screenshot showing its overzealousness with changing my preferences.
Twitter is changing my preference 🙁

Every time Twitter does this to me, I have to tap the star icon at the top right and change the preference to latest tweets.

This is my first-hand experience of a social network’s aggressiveness towards its users. I still stand Twitter because I often find useful information on it via the cool people I follow. But when the time comes, I don’t think twice to leave the platform. Until then, I will put up with this nuisance.

How to quickly add tasks to your to-do app

The usual workflow to add tasks to any to-do app involves loosely a few steps:

  • Find the app on the computer
  • Open the app
  • Find the Inbox folder
  • Click the Add task button
  • Type the task name
  • Hit Enter to add task

These manual steps of adding tasks are way better than not having a to-do system in the first place. But the problem with manually adding tasks is the number of steps it involves. The six steps I listed above don’t even include deciding the project of the task, priority, due date, labels et al. The basic six manual steps are hard to do (and hence easier to skip) especially when we are busy doing other things. This often meant, I missed adding some tasks or had to distract myself from my current task and take a detour to my to-do app just to add the tasks.

This has been my biggest problem with how I used Wunderlist. Until I discovered Zapier early last year.

Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time.

After seeing some of my colleagues use Zapier for automating some work tasks, I got curious and started exploring it. This lead me to learn about zaps.

A Zap is a specific link between two services you’ve connected on Zapier.

Zapier provides a ton of app integration ideas. You can start from here: https://zapier.com/apps/integrations/ and explore some integration ideas depending on the apps and services you use.

My recent move from Wunderlist to Todoist wasn’t complete until I have also moved some Todoist zaps on which I rely a lot for work and personal life.

For work I use the following Zaps:

  1. Add new starred emails to Todoist as tasks (so when I just star a Gmail, it appears as a task in my Todoist with the link to the email for the context)
  2. Add new starred Slack messages to Todoist as tasks (so I just star a Slack message, and the message would appear in my Todoist with the link to the Slack message)
  3. I use Alfred a lot. So I setup Zapier for Alfred workflow which allows me to add tasks to my Todoist from the Alfred window.
  4. Unrelated to Todoist, but I also set up an Alfred workflow to add events to my work calendar right from the Alfred window, through a Zap in the background.

I also have a version of all the above zaps (except the Slack to Todoist zap) to work with my personal email, calendar and Todoist lists.

All these zaps allow me to add tasks to Todoist or calendars without having to stop what I am doing and without leaving the keyboard.

Regardless of which apps you use, there are a ton of zaps and Alfred workflows that offer myriad options. But a word of caution though: too many options means often we end up using none! After experiencing this for a long time, I optimized my workflows for simplicity and inexpensiveness in terms of both my money and cognitive energy. This means, I use Zapier’s Free plan which allows me to have only 5 zaps, and each of those zaps can only connect two apps. And I can use only 100 tasks per month. This seems to be sufficient for my needs and is working pretty well for me.

Likewise, if you use Alfred, you will find many sophisticated workflows that allow you to set tasks labels, priorities and other details right from Alfred window. While these options are good, it also means I need to learn those options and remember them. This often requires mental bandwidth and energy. This mostly lead me to stress and confusion and as a result, uselessness. So again, I optimized for simplicity and just use a basic workflow that sends whatever I write in Alfred window to Todoist’s Inbox from where I will triage later, so I don’t have to remember much or leave what I am doing. This works well for me rather than trying to use complicated workflows that require me to learn and remember their options.