White noise

A short post on Flow State yesterday got me thinking about white noise. The Celestial White Noise guest Taylor recommends is one we’ve used in the past to put Baby to sleep. We’d gotten halfway to Kansas City before we realized we’d forgotten our white noise machine at home––KEVIN!––and we needed a strong backup that would last at least 10 hours to allow baby uninterrupted sleep.

Some other good white noise tools:

Noisli – beautifully-designed site where you can choose from oceans, nature, trains or whatever combination might help you sleep.

Binaural – for focusing and entering flow state at the task at hand.

LectroFan – highly recommended to us by fellow parents.

(Flow State is a favorite weekday email of mine – it recommends ~two hours of music a day that you can use to focus at work.)

July in London

I’m going to be in London for a few days mid-month.

It’s been a few years since I was there last – July 2014, actually!

What are some good places that I should check out and/or dine in? (And don’t just say Dishoom, because obviously that’s happening).

And have you any recommendations for great people to meet while there? Hit me up on twitter @naveen.

Send-to-Kindle from Chrome

I came across Postlight’s Mercury Reader not too long ago. It’s great for improving the readability of long articles and essays online. Soon after, I also found out that it can send such pages to Kindle! This is a really cool hack to be able to read long reads from the web on your Kindle, with all the nice formatting and fonts that you’re already used to.

The Parser behind their reader is now open-source too, which I thought was cool.

Related: Amazon also has a Send-to-Kindle via Chrome extension, but it doesn’t seem to work as well for me.

Newsletters and the Inbox as our News Feed

All of a sudden, it seems just about everyone is either a) starting a newsletter or b) bragging that they started a newsletter back in 2012. (“I sent one before it was cool.”)

The move towards email newsletters has been going on for a while. Not sure the initial trigger that kicked off the conversation this past week. In one corner, maybe it was the good Craig Mod post “Oh God, It’s Raining Newsletters”. It’s newsletters once more because email is an open system that no one owns, a do-what-you-will-with-it bit of freedom from the big tech giants. We’re “leaning on an open, beautifully staid, inert protocol. SMTP [is] our savior.”

Underneath the trend:

  • We’ve all been wanting away from the social platforms and the noise they bring: Email allows the writer to feel as if they’re writing in “Distraction-Free Mode”: they’re writing only for you. They don’t have to go into a platform to see everyone else’s thoughts before contributing their own. Curating links and writing thoughts takes time, and the writer better do a good job, lest they get unsubscribed. On the other side, when someone else reads it, their interface also is “Distraction-Free”: it only shows the writer’s note by itself, one-email-at-a-time — tap in to read it and swipe back to list;
  • We crave owning our data, not just content, but fans & followers as well – their emails, the ability to start a new conversation directly with them, leaving it to the individual to determine whether to respond, block or share you;
  • We want some sort of decentralization, whatever that means for who you are and what you care about: no middlemen taking a cut; no central authority in charge; no algorithms getting in the way and determining who and what gets seen; no bad actors getting between your content and your fans;
  • We crave direct access to numbers – engagement, opens, replies – not the algorithms and what the central players decide – but what end readers care about. The readers are the ones opening your emails and sharing them based on how good your writing is.

To me, none of this is any different than all of us slowly starting up (or restarting) our blogs again. It’s a way to get back to owning our own destinies once more: brand & design, domain names & URLs, followers & micro-communities.

With our social feeds being so polluted these days, combined with the fact that we no longer have easy ways to subscribe to specific people and feeds through well-designed feed readers, we have no place else to go. The inbox has become the feed reader by default, as it used to be before we had RSS, readers, social feeds and the like. We’ve gone full circle to where we started, and there are many things broken about it (e.g., discovery), but it’s a move towards something better.

Borrowing e-books from NYPL

I feel like I just discovered some sort of superpower. And I can’t believe I’m only now jumping on this when others have probably known this secret for a while now: You can borrow e-books (and audiobooks) from your local library. You don’t even need to leave home (well, except to get a library card if you don’t already have one).

To get going, you’ll need to link your library card – NYPL, in my case – to an app like OverDrive’s Libby. Then, you place holds as you would physical books, and depending on the number of books your library can let out, you’ll be put on a wait list. After a book is borrowed, you can also have the app send them to your Kindle, so you can read them alongside books you’ve also bought on Amazon. This is quite nice, because you can stick with the device and reading app you most prefer, as opposed to being forced into a new reading experience inside Libby (as great as it is).

Now that we nearly always seem to have Baby in hand, I’ve been getting into audiobooks as well. The great part about using an app like Libby is that you can borrow audiobooks for free from your library too. There’s a place-hold/wait/borrow flow similar to e-books.

Advantages:

  • you don’t have to spend $25+ on an audiobook;
  • the library hold queue is nice because you can just add books as you come across them, and Libby will alert you once it’s been borrowed;
  • the 14-day or so hold periods are nice because they force you to read or listen to a book and give you a short window in which to do it. If you don’t like a particular book, it more quickly gets you to a state where you say, “I think I’ll just return it”, instead of trying to slog through it.

Disadvantages:

  • bookmarks and highlights work, but you’ll have to borrow the book again to find out what they were. So for some books in particular, especially those you want to come back to and re-read, you’ll probably just want to buy the physical or Kindle copy.

I’m only a few weeks into the year and I realize I’m on leave, but I’ve already gotten through six books using this method so far.

README

I’m trying a new experiment: a Telegram channel where I can share interesting reads. TBD how long I can keep up such a thing, or what I might learn from it, but here goes! My hope is that it will be less noisy than the other social graphs, and much more two-way a conversation than the read-it-later sites which aren’t really meant for sharing with others. I imagine it will mostly be about technology, startups, New York City, dogs, and soon, about babies.

Subscribe if you wish: naveen/README.

The Hacker’s Dozen HOPE

For a little bit this past weekend, I hit 2600’s HOPE XII (A Hacker’s Dozen).

I didn’t spend long enough time hanging out and exploring to really get into it this year, so my new learnings list is far smaller:

  • Qubes has a lot of cool features:
    • Discrete VMs for each app, and perhaps for each document or link you might want to open
    • The ability to intercept clicks on links so that you don’t accidentally click phishing links and can route which VM to send them to. So, technically, you could click on a link in your email client in one VM, and then capture that to open it in a completely separate throwaway VM where the other side won’t have your details from your client you don’t want them to.
    • sys-usb – an interesting way to control and route all USB devices you plug into your computer (as soon as you plug in a device, it’ll ask you what you want to do with it, and you can redirect it to a specific VM, if you so choose)
    • For very serious compartmentalization and anonymity, you can run Whonix inside of Qubes and tunnel the whole thing via Tor
    • If you really want to separate your Signal identity and be anonymous, or have multiple ones (which you can’t do on your phone because it’s tied to your phone number), you compartmentalize a Signal desktop with a Twilio number on top of a Qubes VM (!)
  • Kali is a Linux distribution specifically designed for digital forensics and penetration testing and comes with all the pen-testing tools pre-installed, so you can just run it off a USB stick.
  • Hologram and Particle are cellular connectivity platforms for IoT, like those you see in all those electric scooters: they all need an easy way to phone home cheaply and efficiently.
  • Four Thieves Vinegar Collective works to put out guides to making your own medicine, especially if it’s not otherwise available or if you can make it for far less money than you would pay (they’ve been eluding the FDA by only making guides, not actually selling drugs).

Towards the end of the first day, my friend Chad reminded me of an old-but-great Times article about a hacker gathering in the Puck Building in 1997. This gathering, of course, was the second HOPE conference: Beyond HOPE. (Be sure to click to step back into 1997 Lafayette Street & the Puck.) The article was about hacking the at-the-time newly released gold MetroCard – the only way to see if it’s secure and a threat to privacy “is to tear it down and see how it ticks”.

Disguised in his trademark red ski mask and a yellow Transit Authority baseball cap given to employees, Red Balaklava — who refuses to identify himself, for obvious reasons, but who showed his Transit Authority identification card to a reporter — gave a seminar yesterday summing up the progress thus far. Overcoming the now ubiquitous Metrocard is an issue of privacy, he insisted, not free rides.

”They can tell where you’ve been and when you’ve been there,” he said. ”All the information is stored on their computers. Does anyone here have a problem with that besides me?”

”Yes!” came the resounding reply.

Privacy was a major theme at the last HOPE I attended too: it hasn’t gone away or gotten any easier for any of us in the last two decades. With all the talk these days of where your data resides and who can do what with it, my favorite part came at the end of the article:

Katie Lukas, 20, of Brooklyn said she already had the best way to ”hack” the Metrocard.

”I use tokens,” said Ms. Lukas, who wore a beeper in the waist of her skirt. ”It’s the Transit Authority, you know. Anything that is going to store information at all and has the word ”authority” on it, I try not to use.”

How times have changed indeed.

Just kids

A wander through the old Whitney building (now The Met Breuer) always reminds us of one beautiful part of Patti Smith’s Just Kids where she and Robert Mapplethorpe go exploring the city.

On other days, we would visit art museums. There was only enough money for one ticket, so one of us would go in, look at the exhibits, and report back to the other.

On one such occasion, we went to the relatively new Whitney Museum on the Upper East Side. It was my turn to go in, and I reluctantly entered without him. I no longer remember the exhibit, but I do recall peering through one of the museum’s unique trapezoidal windows, seeing Robert across the street, leaning against a parking meter, smoking a cigarette.

He waited for me, and as we headed toward the subway he said, “One day we’ll go in together, and the work will be ours.”