It is thanksgiving week, and the start of the official holiday season. I am using the holiday break as a way to completely disconnect from the Internet, and media. I am looking forward to two blissful weeks of a total and complete digital sabbatical.

It should give both my eyes, mind and soul a break from the unending data streams. It would be a good way to break from faux-punditry, wannaprenuer sermons and everyone who thinks they are an expert on something or everything. Instead, it will be silence. Glorious silence. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

November 23, 2021.

Many who visit my journal don’t care much about cricket. In recent days, the world of cricket has had to confront its ugly racist past and present. An English cricketer of Asian origin talked about how he was mistreated and undermined at Yorkshire, the county he played cricket for most of his life.

Yorkshire is like the Red Sox, an old storied franchise with a glorious past, and is host to some of the top English cricketers, including its present captain. Azeem Rafiq, the British Asian cricketer, in a testimony in front of the British parliamentarians, laid bare the heinous culture of racism and discrimination. His agony brought tears to my eyes. 

As I reflected on the 57-page report, I couldn’t help but wonder how can those who aspire for greater glory will undermine a young person whose talent can help them achieve their goal. How can a workplace be so toxic that every day as a young man, your goals and aspirations are crushed by demeaning abuse? 

Sad as I was, I had a chance to reflect on my own life as an immigrant and as a minority. A lot of words came my way, but I don’t remember. All I can remember is how many great editors at Red Herring, Forbes, Business 2.0 and lately my partners at True helped me along – they taught me, encouraged me, and helped me push myself to where I am.

The gift of a non-toxic and positive workplace is the ultimate encouragement when can give the talented. I had tried to do that with my own company, paying it forward, and even today, the success of my former team members is the ultimate gratification.

I am grateful for my good fortune, especially considering how many don’t get the fair shake at work. Rafiq’s ordeal is even a bit more complicated — it happens against the broader socio-economic reality of England’s fading power. The establishment wants to maintain a status quo, and retain control, and maintain the past. Change, however, is the only consistent.

November 20, 2021. San Francisco

It is not often you get to do something you have never done before. That is an argument made by a close friend, who has been urging me to take on everything uncomfortable and difficult during what is a personal transition. He often reminds me that being uncomfortable is what has kept me moving forward, evolving, and perhaps improving. So, after some misgivings, internal anxiety, and lots of fears, I embarked on a new adventure today.

I took my first driving lesson today. (In a somewhat ironic turn of events, someone else took their first driverless robotaxi ride in San Francisco.)

Driving hasn’t been a priority for me. I grew up in Delhi and learned how to ride a scooter and motorcycle. It was enough to get around, and more importantly, that was all my family could afford at that time. My parents taught me to live within our means. It is a lesson that isn’t easily forgotten even after all these years. 

Even though I had friends with cars who would have readily obliged, I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to teach me. Nevertheless, I could remember roads and quickly navigate, which landed me some navigator gigs in car rallies. I still never drove myself. Later, when I moved to New York, I found no need to drive. MTA was a godsend. Even in San Francisco, I found myself taking public transportation and later taxicabs. Uber solved many of my mobility problems.

Owning a car, the carbon footprint of a car, and just dealing with the bureaucratic complexity of ownership made me not bother with driving. Even today, I would rather be part of a collaborative transportation system,

However, as my passion for photography has increased, I have found myself constrained by the limitations of on-demand transportation. I have often missed the morning light because I couldn’t get to the desired spot in time. My friend, who encouraged me to take on the challenge, reminded me that I could drive to destinations that opened up more photography opportunities. 

I honestly (and perhaps naively believed) in technology to bring driverless self-driving cars to the masses and that I would never have to learn to drive. Let the machines do what is clearly a highly complex task. 

Despite Elon Musk & Co.’s best efforts, the recent launch of Cruise’s driverless robotaxis, and all the hype, it might be some years before a driverless future becomes a reality. That doesn’t mean that I doubt the future — the chips, the lasers, the software, the networks, and everything else is improving exponentially by the day. 

However, should I wait or take matters into my own hands? The answer was pretty obvious. And for the first time in my life, I sat behind a steering wheel, and in the company of a driving instructor, I drove for about three miles on roads with actual traffic. Most of the session was about learning how to find the delicate balance between accelerating and decreasing speed. The accelerator and the brakes are two sides of the same coin, really, as long as you can find the right balance. I suppose in time, and with enough experience, you start to find harmony. It will perhaps be an excellent way to measure how far I have come along on this journey. 

So how were my first two hours behind the wheel? Nerve-wracking, to say the least, even though my instructor thought I was relatively calm. I got back home and exhaled — drenched in sweat and relieved that I had passed the first hurdle. 

As I sat down and replayed the two hours in my mind, I could start to see my specific challenges and driving challenges in general. I gripped the steering wheel too hard, and that made sometimes keeping in the lane a bit tough, as my tension made the car twitch a bit. I need to learn to breathe easier behind the wheel, and perhaps they will allow me to hold the steering easier. It is what I need to start to develop trust in the machine itself. 

More importantly, the whole process made me confront myself — I like to have everything controlled and managed, where I have enough time to deliberate and make decisions. That is part of the analytical approach that has become part of my daily rigor. Driving is nothing like that — it is almost the exact opposite. You need the staid approach of a grownup with the reflexes of a teenager in order to be an alert and efficient driver. 

Even though it was my first attempt at driving, it was evident that driving is not about being the perfect driver. Instead, driving is about being intelligent and agile enough to deal with the imperfection of the world around you and assuming the human ability to do irrational things. 

You have to pay so much attention to multiple data streams entering your brain when driving on the road. It is a bit overwhelming, and more than anything, makes you appreciate how vital self-driving technology will be for mobility. It also made me appreciate the complexity that all these automation systems will have to deal with, reinforcing the importance of data collected by these self-driving companies. You also start to realize the vital edge Tesla has over its rivals when to all the training data it has collected and algorithms it has crafted as a result. 

While self-driving and its proponents come under intense criticism — and why not, they do overhype things too much — we can’t but be excited about the possibilities. I was not fortunate enough to be around at the birth of personal computing, but I did see the rise of commercial internet from a courtside vantage point. The same was true for the rise of mobile computing. 

Self-driving and automation are new kinds of computing environments, and their journey is exciting for me as a technology enthusiast. I have been following the emergence of new kinds of chips and technologies. As an investor, I have invested in Veniam, which enables the networks that power this automation. 

And as a student driver, I will do my best to get my driver’s license. I am not sure if I will even buy a car. All that is in the future, as is the time, when I can say: hey Tesla, drive me to Hawk Hill!

November 13, 2021. San Francisco.

Today is “the first Friday in November,” which is officially Fountain Pen Day. As we fountain pen nerds like to call it, the idea of FPD started in 2012 to celebrate fountain pens. I have often written about the benefits of writing with a pen or a pencil, but for me, nothing beats a fountain pen. If you have never had the pleasure of writing with a fountain pen, then today might be a good day to start your journey into a slow, deliberate, and organic approach to writing.

In a previous post, I explained why:

Computers have a unique way of making us writers a bit mentally lazy — indulging in a stream of consciousness writing. One doesn’t take the extra few minutes to think about what one is going to write or think about the missing pieces and how they all fit together It is, perhaps, because, we can cut, paste and modify with relative ease. We are constantly in “draft” mode and any addition and subtraction of words is nothing more than a mere act of readjustment. In comparison, writing with a fountain pen brings a different kind of rigor — forcing you to slow down, think, visualize and compose the story before committing it to paper. 

There are many other benefits of writing with pens on paper. I understand, this is a dying method of writing, what with pencils and iPads. But still, experience the joy of a beautiful nib gliding on amazing quality paper, laying a beautiful blue, purple, or any other shade of fountain pen ink. I am biased towards turquoise and lavender inks. I have a fondness for handcrafted pens from Japan and lately have become a fan of Ranga Pens, an artisanal brand based in India.

Happy Fountain Pen Day!

November 5, 2021. San Francisco

Thinking of Paris.

After a few weeks of hectic activities — fun and travels — it was great to return home and enjoy the silence of my apartment. It gave me enough time to do the mundane things around the house — everything from restocking supplies to rearranging the wardrobe for the changing seasons. I am again enjoying my daily morning ritual of grinding and making my pour-over coffee. I can carry my music, my books, my wardrobe, my favorite devices, my favorite soap, and other small luxuries of daily life, but I can seldom replicate the coffee ritual. I have tried and traveled with a coffee-making kit, but it isn’t the same. Making coffee in the morning is a good reminder that I am home. 

Talking about coffee, it seems that climate change and skyrocketing demand have started to impact coffee prices and the availability of good beans. I was reading this article that explains why there is growing momentum for lab-grown coffee. A handful of startups such as San Francisco-based Compound Foods, Voyage Foods, and Seattle-based Atomo Coffee have jumped into the fray. 

In one of my podcasts with Howard Lindzon, I postulated that the pandemic was a beta test for a much harsher future for humanity. Whether it was robotic deliveries, lab-grown meat, or vertical farming — we have to start to live with the limits and limitations imposed by climate change. The sad truth of climate change is that all those who work in the coffee ecosystem will suffer the most. What will happen to the workers at coffee farms, small farmers, and their families when climate change takes away their livelihoods. 

Perhaps that is why every time I drink a cup of coffee — I want to appreciate it and fully savor every drop. 

Being away also was an excellent opportunity to step away from the daily torrent of media inanities, the Facebook whistleblower melodrama, and the eternal sermons of Twitter gurus. In his Big Technology newsletter, Alex Kantrowitz observes that the social media preachers live on a BlowHard Curve.  

“The journey from sage to blowhard is instead a progression, one involving several steps and tradeoffs between being authoritative and overexposed,” he writes and makes a strong case for a momentary pause. Alex’s advice extends to his brethren in the media and newsletter writer community, who start exciting but quickly become tiresome. 

It is hard to be good or brilliant if you are constantly talking (metaphorically speaking.) Even the best television series with millions of dollars spent on talent become drab and drag on after a while, and who can blame “brofessors” with life experiences of a hummingbird. 

We live in a world of platforms, algorithmic content monsters that constantly need to be fed by content. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It is just a means to create engagement. The feed doesn’t judge. It just wants to devour attention and feed on engagement. Whether it is pandemic, the vaccines, the NFTs, or just some new 

Anyway, that’s it from me for today. This coming week will be fun — there is a likelihood of new MacBook Pros and new M1 Chips. Talking about chips, I just wrapped up a piece on the A15 bionic and hopefully will get it edited and publish it this week. 

October 17, 2021. San Francisco. 

Reading List:

  1. Eco-friendly, lab-grown coffee is on the way, but it comes with a catch. [The Guardian]
  2. The Blowhard Curve. [Big Technology by Alex Kantrowitz.]
  3. How Hunter Thompson, the writer, became a legend. [Rolling Stone]
  4. What’s the story behind GlenPark BART Station design. [FoundSF]
  5. The Newsfeed is dead. Ben Evans said so in 2018