A look at overnight stays at US National Parks
When should you pitch your tent? Or when is it better to opt for lodging? When should you visit to avoid the crowds? Let’s have a look!

[Source: Jordan Vincent].

Spending time looking at the varying and beautiful images of our planet from above in Google Earth, zooming in and out at dizzying rates, I thought it would be interesting to compare all of these vistas at a fixed scale—to see what New York City, Venice, or the Grand Canyon would look like from the same virtual height.

[Source: The Atlantic].

The iOS 12’s Shortcuts is a really cool new addition to the iPhone and warms the cockles of my automation and programming heart.
[Source: How To Use iPhone’s New Shortcuts! – YouTube].

However a tolerance of immigrants also indicates, at best, an apathetic disregard for them, and at worst, an active hostility kept under wraps simply because they are perceived as necessary. Empirically, negative views of immigrant cultures and traditions seem to persist, as does a view that immigrants should behave more like native-born “locals,” that they conform more tightly to the attitudes of the majority.

[Source: Open Borders: Essay competition winner]. Simply brilliant.

Of course, I’ve always wanted the best camera possible in my iPhone, but the size of the Plus has never been right for me. I like to stay nimble, lightweight, and discreet—especially with my cameras. Today, I can confidently choose the iPhone XS knowing it’s smaller and lighter yet wields the same powerful camera as the iPhone XS Max.

[Source: Austin Mann]. Even as a pro photographer, Austin echoes my sentiments when it comes to making a decision about what iPhone I should get. This year, Apples makes it easier for me. I did not enjoy the large-sized Plus but the camera shot much superior photos than my wife’s regular-sized phone of the same year model.

Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough went searching for his biological parents. He found them where he never would have expected [Source: ESPN].

This is such an incredible story that’s almost too good to be true.

Check out Micro.blog

Getting rid of that pesky property mortgage insurance

One of my former work colleague’s grandmother gave her $20,000 for a downpayment when she was buying a home. When we sold our home in College Station, the buyer’s dad wired her $100,000 from Brazil [1]. For the rest of the schmucks like us who do not have any social capital in this country, we also don’t have access to that kind of financial capital when we decide to buy our first home. We were simply lucky enough to be able to make a winning offer on our current home without any competing all-cash offers.

After pooling our savings and the meager $500 we made off our previous home sale [2], we could only obtain an FHA loan that required a minimal amount of downpayment. We were also lucky in the sense that our home in College Station sold very quickly because our home purchase in Austin was contingent on that sale. In spite of that bit of luck, not everything was smooth.

So fast forward five years after regular mortgage payments, my wife happened upon an article in Apple News, of all places, about removing your property mortgage insurance (PMI).

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  1. That source of funds almost led our realtor to believe that a foreign investor was buying our home []
  2. You need to live in your home in a hot property market for at least 5 years to build some amount of equity []

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Last night we watched Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’, her Netflix special. This was our first time watching her ‘stand-up’. Apparently she relies on self-deprecating humor in her act. But this special, she literally disavowed her style and even went to the extent of retiring from comedy.

“I built a career out of self-deprecation, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says. “Because you do understand what self -deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

It was more of a narration of her personal journey as a lesbian growing up in Tasmania. Interspersed with humor, she delivered several gut punches with unapologetic expression of anger. It was more of a performance art than a routine standup act. The last time I saw something close was Neal Brennan’s ‘3 Mics’. I don’t want to reveal much lest I spoil the experience for you but I highly recommend that you all should watch ‘Nanette’ just so that you’re aware of the privilege that you and especially straight white men live with.

Spending Trends 2017

We use Mint to track our spending. We’ve been doing so since 2008 and so after 9 years, we’ve amassed a trove of data[1] that helps us analyze where and how often we spend our money. I usually tweet out certain tidbits but I thought I could share them on here for better perusal and sharing. Of course, I will not share exact dollar amounts we spent but only overall trends and at the most name merchants that we frequented more often than others. Previously, I blogged about exact dollar amounts we earned as part of our credit card cashback.

Overall, we ended up spending quite a bit more compared to 2016. We frequented 332 distinct merchants in 2017[2].

Big Increase Categories

But first, paying to replace the aging roof out of our own pocket[3] accounted for nearly half of that increase. Also, we did start remodeling our bathroom so the ‘Home Improvement’ category was much to blame. But it’s an investment in your home so money well spent. Second, we noticed we spent more on eating out especially at fine dining places. Here are the top ten places we ate out at ordered by the amount we spent:

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  1. Admittedly, so has Mint []
  2. Think about that when you’re estimating the economic impact of one family on a region []
  3. AllState is known for evaluating very strictly and admittedly, we didn’t have much hail damage. The roof was just too old. []

Leaving Facebook

I deactivated my account on Facebook on New Years’ Eve [1]. There was no specific reason or motive for doing so. I’ve been living without the Facebook app on my phone for more than 6 months now [2] and have not missed it much. I used to access Facebook via the browser on the phone and laptop using the web view interface. It works just as well if not better in case you’re wondering.

So why did I quit a social networking site that I’ve been using for the last 12 years [3]? Continue reading

  1. Why wait for the new year to begin your resolution, right? []
  2. Admittedly, after hearing about Facebook’s attempts at tracking our location even when we’re not using the app []
  3. Yes, I opened my account back in 2005 when Facebook was open to only college students in select universities. I used to enter the classes I was enrolled in to find my classmates to add as friends. I still had some of them as friends []

Maximizing Cashback

Before I recap my 2017 spending trends using Mint [1], like I do every year, I wanted to elaborate on my use of credit card cashback. I do not use actual dollar amounts on my spending trends post but I’ll make an exception for cashback trends. We made a total of $926.95 on cashback on our 3 credit cards – Bank of America CashRewards, Discover, and Citi Card DoubleCash[2]

The first reaction to mentioning this to anyone is – wow! you guys must’ve spent a lot. Although there’s a strong correlation but not always a linear one. Also, we earned nearly $200 more in cashback this year compared to last year and even if you assume a 1% cashback rate, we definitely didn’t spend $200,000 more. In fact, we DEFINITELY didn’t spend that much in total. Further, even if I tell you the exact cashback rate we get on our credit cards which I will shortly, it’s nearly impossible to extrapolate that to our total spending for the year. Finally, note that for big spending items for home repair and upkeep like changing your roof, we save up and use cash. You don’t get cashback on that spending although ironically you would make the most on that. I’ll explain why you shouldn’t even if the contractors accept credit cards.

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  1. check back after Jan.1st []
  2. We’re not frequent travelers and have no interest, no pun intended, on airline miles []

Pet Peeve #452

One of my pet peeves is retail people assuming I don’t eat pork. I would hesitate to call it a micro-aggression because I’ve experienced this behavior from all kinds of people. Desi guys at Subway, the Asian guy at a Chinese restaurant, and white people at supermarkets. When I order a sandwich and order bacon on it, I get a concerned look and a warning that bacon is pork and if I’m ok with it. Fuck yeah! That’s why I ordered it. Or more infuriating is when I order pork belly and am warned that it’s pork. I almost want to snap back that I sure hope it is. The supermarket is especially galling at the samples table. I amble up to try a sample to the guy screaming at everyone to try the latest ham and get a warning that it’s pork. I’m like, yes that’s why I came over unlike the others who’re pretending to ignore you.

I’m not sure where this unwanted concern comes from. Maybe it’s the assumption that all brown guys are Muslims and Muslims don’t eat pork. It’s almost like if I manned the supermarket samples table and warned all white guys that the meat samples are not kosher and wonder what they’re doing out on the Sabbath.


Whenever I’m done browsing Twitter, I always end up more angry and frustrated than when I opened it. I usually check Twitter first thing in the morning and sometimes only at the end of the work day to catch up on the news and am horrified at what has transpired in the past 8 hours. This doesn’t include the various notifications and alerts you get. Regardless of whatever good is happening in your life, you end up despondent. I want to break out of this cycle.

The drastic step is to delete your Twitter account. However, we do rely on Twitter for news. I first heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death on Twitter [1]. So what’s the tradeoff here? Is ignorance really bliss? I have always been the person who’s interested in keeping up-to-date on current affairs. I pride myself on knowing what’s going on at all levels of the world I exist in. But we often hear about news that often don’t pan out and we just end up freaking out early and often.

@sqrlta recommended not reading Twitter first thing in the morning and instead reading Washington Post. I agree. That would make a profound difference and it has. If we read news, we rather read it in depth instead of bite-sized takes by random people. But I decided to try something more. I tried the following steps:

  • Disable all types of notifications including mentions from all Twitter accounts on all devices. Yes, they can wait. Respond only if I’ve the app open at the time I get a mention.
  • Disable notifications from news apps. No news is breaking unless it’s happening in my immediate vicinity [2]. I can read about it later when the rumors have died down.
  • Delete NYT apps and evangelize unsubscribing it among those who will listen. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know why.
  • Mute prolific political accounts for a week and see if I miss anything[3].
  • (Eventually) create or subscribe to lists for political accounts and unfollow them from main timeline. Dip into those lists during major events that you hear about from elsewhere like the Alabama special election.
  • Engage more on my professional Twitter account especially given my new role and responsibilities at work.
  • Stay busy at work and home or read more long-form articles and books.
  • And yes, blog here more often. About anything. Even if no one reads it. Especially so.

I’ve done this for 3 days and my life already feels better. Anything you would add?

I have been already living without the Facebook app for the past couple of months. I haven’t missed much and don’t think people have missed me either. I’ve posted maybe couple of times in this time and mostly let A post and tag me. I access it once a day at the most using the web view. Listen to this Hidden Brain episode and you’ll see how even the oh-so-sacchirine Facebook can be toxic.

  1. Turns out I wouldn’t have missed it if I wasn’t on Twitter []
  2. We get text alerts from UT in that case. It’s not like I am going to stop a terrorist attack as it’s happening. I’m no Jack Bauer []
  3. I already follow fewer than 70 people on my main Twitter account yet feel overwhelmed. Not sure how those who follow hundreds cope []

Being Mortal

I started reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal nearly a year ago and somehow never got around to finishing it. It’s admittedly a difficult read in the sense that it can be overwhelming at times. I finally finished it last night partly because my wife wanted to start it on the Kindle and also because my grandfather, or as everyone called him, Dada passed away on Sunday. He was the last of my immediate grandparents to pass away.

By all measures, he lead a good and charmed life. He was 95 and suffered from no major illness apart from heart disease that afflicts all Indian males. He lived couple of blocks from my parents and my dad regularly checked on him; so much so that my dad would refuse to come visit us for more than a few weeks because he didn’t want to leave Dada alone in case “something happened”. The “something” never happened. Dada was never limited in his movements and walked all around the town as far as I can remember. He passed away peacefully during his afternoon nap. It’s the kind of death that everyone wishes for but very few get. He outlived my grandmother who couldn’t recognize her own son by the time she passed away, by three and half years. Dada had a fractious relationship with his children and grandchildren. As they say, if you can’t say anything good about a person after he’s dead, you are better off not saying anything. So I’ll not say anything. All I’ll say is that I hope I don’t end up like him in spite of him leading a charmed life.

Going back to Gawande’s book, the premise focuses on the quality of life rather than the length of life and more specifically, the manner in which you choose to pass away. Medical science has advanced to such a degree that humans can be kept alive for a much longer time than you would imagine. But no one has stopped to ask the question of whether we should. Or as in Amitabh’s immortal (no pun intended) words, yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai. Gawande cites several examples from his professional and personal life that focuses on the individual’s choice on care and ultimately, way to die. The Republicans’ favorite chant ‘death panels’ actually referred to the end of life counseling that doctors offered their patients. It’s the ultimate decision you can take for your life.

You do not choose to be born in this world and as of today, most laws even prevent you from actively choosing to die but at least you can choose the way you die when and only when you’re diagnosed to. The DNR is the most commonly known legal process in our pop culture and medical professionals are taught to honor it just as they’re taught to honor the first do no harm principle. Others like hospice care are fraught with emotions that you may not be fighting back hard enough. But after a while, it’s useless fighting nature.

Being Mortal will not only make you aware of your mortality but actually prepare you for it. I say that in the most humble and optimistic way. You aren’t immortal. You’re going to die. You’re born in perhaps one or two ways but you can die in umpteen different and uncharacteristic ways. The worst I believe, waiting to die which can be a long and painful process not only for the person but also for their loved ones. Modern medicine can perhaps keep you alive for as long as it is possible today but it’s entirely within your rights and choice to decide when enough is enough.

Even before I finished reading the book or even before hearing about Dada’s death, we had confirmed our appointment for signing our living wills and codifying end-of-life processes with an estate planning attorney. I have had the conversation with my brother about his role in the process. It reminded him to do the same as well. It’s the conversation we should feel comfortable having with our loved ones. It shouldn’t take a death to start having that conversation.

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