“Between the World and Me” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, and finally found the time to do so at the end of 2020. Wow! What an insightful read! I’m glad I got to experience it.

Based on reviews and comments about this popular book, one might go into reading it expecting an intellectual conversation about the history of race and racism in America. I was however enthralled by an intensely emotional and honest telling of a personal narrative. Even though the story is of an individual, I couldn’t help but think about the countless human stories similar to this one, having been lived and is being lived out every day, some perhaps more tragic. I also found myself comparing the story with how I grew up and found my ways in the world, and how different my experiences and thus perspective are. Yet there is a common humanity in the personal struggles and the human emotions that I could relate to and recognize. That is the lesson I took away from the book – while the conversation about race and racism is often explored through the lens of rationality and morality, it is first and foremost a lived experience, and one filled with intense and personal feelings and memories.

Values-based grouping

I just watched this TED talk about the end of globalization and where it goes from here.

I don’t fully agree with it – some of the statements are generalizing and simplistic. However, it raised some interesting thoughts.

For the last few decades, globalization has seen a blurring of borders, many times based on geographical proximity. Some examples I could immediately think of include the European Union, North America (in the context of NAFTA), ASEAN etc. There are probably many other, though I’m not as familiar.

What if in the future, we see more blocs coming together of alliances based on value systems instead of geographical attributes? Systems that would include economic policies, population size, diplomatic outlook, technology, human rights advocacy or abuse etc. Are there examples of such grouping already in existence?

Firestore backup with GitHub Actions

I needed a way to perform automated backup for my GCP Firestore database. I found out that Firestore has Import/ Export functionality, and it seems to be the recommended way to do backup. So I created a simple GitHub Actions workflow to do this:

name: Firestore backup

    - cron: "0 19 * * *"

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest

      - uses: GoogleCloudPlatform/github-actions/[email protected]
          service_account_email: '<service-account-name>@<project-id>.iam.gserviceaccount.com'
          service_account_key: ${{ secrets.SA_KEY }}
          project_id: '<project-id>'

      - name: Backup
        run: |-
          gcloud components install beta
          gcloud beta firestore export gs://<storage-bucket-id>

This workflow can be triggered in 2 ways, manually (due to workflow_dispatch trigger), or on a schedule (cron syntax).

The first step set up and authenticate the gcloud cli. The second step triggers to export action on GCP.
Currently firestore export is only available on gcloud beta, so an installation step of the beta component is needed.

The cloud storage bucket would need to be created beforehand. I created mine with the NEARLINE storage class to save on some cost.

“Affluence without abundance” – James Suzman

This was the first book I read in 2020, and the first book I’ve actually read from start to finish in many years. I picked it up hoping to hear some philosophical wisdom on human happiness, or social commentary on the state of Western late-stage capitalism and obsessive consumerism culture. In hindsight, perhaps I was seeking for some form of validation of my own personal feelings.

Needless to say, I found none of that in the book. Instead, it was an incredibly rich description of life in Southern Africa. It was a good reminder how humans lived as hunters and gatherers for hundreds of thousand of years where they only take as much as they needed for a few days at a time from their surroundings. While there were lean periods, in general they do not spend more than 15-20 hours a week in the pursuit of sustenance. Land rights are one of the many modern concepts that upended that way of life, even though it has been around for much longer than what we think of “modern” human history, whether you measure that in thousand of years, or hundred of years since the industrial revolution. One could argue that where we are today is an inevitable destination of the human psychological evolution journey, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge or insight to affirm or deny that. Nonetheless, it was interesting to be presented with the incredible research and understanding on how life was and how it has been drastically altered in the course of recent human history.