Gmail is different: Why I quit using Google Mail after 14 years

A revolutionary email service

I signed up to Gmail back in 2005: There was a “beta” tag next to the logo. Joining was only possible with an invitation from someone who was already using it.

As I did not know anyone using Gmail I had to find a random person online who could send me an invitation. Giving my email address to some stranger felt a bit dodgy, but it worked out to get my signed up.

Welcome to Gmail in 2005: “We think Gmail is different”

In 2005 Gmail was better than any other email provier: It gave you 1GB of space for free, so you could store any email you would ever receive without having to delete.

The only caveat was: Agreeing to have Google read through your emails.

In 2005 I was fine with ads next to my emails. In fact I checked out some of the ads. To my disappointment, they were not actually matching well with the email content.

Yet a lot of things changed over the years. I’m not fine with Google analyzing my emails anymore.

Structured data down to every little detail

Google knows and understands all my online purchases, hotel reservations, app downloads and flight destinations. All of this data is stored in a structured manner so Google can target the right ads to me.

When I log into myaccount.google.com,I can see all flights and hotel reservations I’ve made going back to 2013:

Example of data gained from analyzing and structuring email data

Google structures data down to the level of flight reservation numbers. Overall that feels quite scary. For online orders, data includes the shop where you ordered, all line items, prices and delivery time.

Structured Data on IKEA Online orders

How much should Google know?

Add up the information from Google Search History, Android Location History and YouTube viewing history. Google knows basically everything you are doing online. And as a final touch link all of this with all purchases from your personal debit or credit card.

As a result you get that Google pretty much knows what you are doing in every second of your life. It analyzes, structures and links any information it stores. All of this for the purpose of better understanding you and displaying more suitable advertisements.

Yes, you can turn some of this tracking of and delete data when you want to. However, for me it is more a question of principles.

Making a principle-based decision for change

When making the decision I asked myself three questions

  • Do I want to be customer of a company that profits from knowing what I do in every second of my life?
  • Do I want my personal profile to be sold to other companies?
  • Do I want to take the risk of storing a large amount of personal information with one company?

The answer for all three questions was no. (I would be curious if anyone would consciously answer yes ). Therefore I decided to quit Gmail and changing to an independent email provider. The cost of paying with personal data feels higher to me than paying a few euros for an email service that values privacy.

To conclude: Google was right in 2005 when they told me “Gmail is different”. I just did not understand the full story how.

Reading vs Studying

Reading is enjoyable. Pick up a great book and you will quickly be drawn into it. How about studying? Doesn’t sound so fun, does it? As a student I was even looking forward to read books assigned to class.  However, when it came to the exam, I was blank. I read the book, but it was so much content and so many details that I did not remember much of it.

I did not understand nor correctly apply the distinction between reading and studying. If you are a student, this is one of the most important distinctions to understand. Being aware the differences can save you a lot of time and frustration ( I mean it!).

Reading often comes before studying. Especially if you are not familiar with the topic: You need to get an overview first. In other words, its hard to study something if you have not read it.    

Reading is the fun part and studying is the part no one is excited about doing. You get the big picture. Similarly as going to the gym can be a chore, once you are there and doing the work it almost always feels different.

Reading vs studying in bullet points

Reading

  • You are following the flow of the text.
  • It feels easy and relaxing; can be done for entertainment
  • Low retention of content
  • You are not doing anything else than reading
  • Doesn’t feel like work

Studying

  • You are in charge of the process. Selectively choosing content and skipping sections.
  • Takes effort and energy; you are thinking through content and connecting ideas
  • High retention of content
  • May be applying study techniques and methods: summarizing, note-taking, marking up
  • Difficult to get started, often feels like work

Final advice at the end of the post

  Read widely, but be picky about what you study. Study only what is necessary for you to achieve your goals.

How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)

This is the title one of the best tweet storms ever written. All credits go to Naval Ravikant. Being interested in getting rich without having luck involved I was intrigued and read through the whole series of tweets.

I was planning to copy a few of the best tweets to my own notes. What I ended up doing was typing every single tweet to my notes. And I wasn’t the only one doing that. To date there are 14K retweets and over 35K likes.

Naval Ravikant is the founder of AngelList and one of the most successful angel investors in the US. So if you’re looking to be successful in investing he is someone whose advice you should listen to.

Before giving you the link to the Tweet Storm, here two quotes that resonate with me:

“The Internet has massively broadened the possible space of careers. Most people haven’t figured this out yet.”

“You will get rich by giving society what it wants but does not yet know how to get. At scale.”

Link to the Tweet Storm:

Naval Ravikant – How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)

Mark Hyman – ‘Food: WTF Should I Eat?’ Review

If you are like me, you are interested in eating healthy but confused by all the options and different kinds of advise out there.
Which diet gives you most energy? Which food should you eat and which one should you better avoid?

I found the answer to these questions and would like you to also be able to find it!

About the book

In Food Dr Mark Hyman examines every food group and gives you everything you need to know on a few pages. Mark refreshes your knowledge and even shares with you what researchers have gotten wrong in the last years.

Did you know that food pyramids often contain outdated advice? Indeed what you have learned over the last years about food is incorrect and could pose a threat to your health. Milk has been advocated as a health food, while eating too much eggs was seen as unhealthy. Many more of similar myths are debunked with research.

Here’s a quick preview of key take-aways from the book

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and greens
  • Reduce meat and buy higher quality, always ensure its organic and grass-fed if possible
  • Avoid wheat and bread
  • Enjoy healthy fats such as coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter or olive oil.
  • Avoid diary
  • Eliminate sugar

Following the advice laid out in the book does not feel as effort or tedious work. Instead I enjoy implementing the diet. Each chapter starts with a quiz, that will show you how often what we think we know about food often is wrong.

The great thing is that you do not have to follow every little detail of the diet in the book to be successful with it. You can pick whatever you agree with and implement it straight away. The book is like a buffet, you can take time to look at the different food groups pick what ever you like. Come back to it anytime for a refill!

Recommendation

Grab a copy of Food: WTF Should I Eat? and get more healthy with food. Implementing the advice given in the book has had a positive impact on my energy and health, which is why I highly recommend to give it a try.

4 (Counterintuitive) Ways to Learn Chinese with Ease

Many people think learning Chinese is difficult. I do not think that is true, but rather think that it is one of the most easy languages. Why? Chinese requires you to learn less grammatical structures, there is no conjugation and time is not that relevant.

The only challenge about Chinese is that the language is different and entirely new. If you speak English you may find it easy to learn similar languages like Spanish or French. So due to being completely new, it may take a little more time to learn Chinese but I promise you the process is simple.

About two years ago I started learning  Chinese from scratch. During this time I experimented with different learning methods and figured out what works best. While I would not claim to be perfect, I am now able to hold basic conversations and get around in day-to-day life.

The focus of the strategy I present in this article is on speaking and listening skills. In my opinion these are more important than writing and reading.

1 Focus on speaking skills and pronunciation first

Many Chinese courses overwhelm beginners. They make you learn Chinese characters, pronunciation, meaning of words and grammar at the same time. Yet speaking and listening is in my experience the most important skill. If you are able to speak with people, this will motivate you to keep on learning. Further having a clear and correct pronunciation will save you from many embarrassing situations in the future. Let your teacher know that you would just like to focus on speaking skills first and learn the characters later. Or pick a course straight-away that focuses on it.

2 Invest in a quality course

Many people think being a language teacher is easy, yet it requires extensive knowledge about how students learn a language. There is a difference in quality between language courses and books.  I have found the best course for Beginners to be offered by www.yoyochinese.com. The website offers a comprehensive course schedule and makes learning easy. You only need to come back to the website, watch videos and follow the process.

Further great options for intermediate to advanced students are Fluentu and Chinesepod. These mainly improve your listening skills and help you to expand your vocabulary.

3 Do not do language exchanges but practice with a tutor

This seems counterintuitive but let me explain. Most language exchanges are ineffective for two reasons. First, language partners have misaligned incentives. If you have a language partner, they may be interested in becoming friends with you more than helping you improve your language. This way you waste time socialising, you could spend on learning. Secondly, language partners may not know about specific grammar or structures of their mother language. This way if you have question you are likely to get an answer along the lines “I am not sure why, but this is how you say it”.

If you are seriously interested in learning the language get a tutor to help you with learning instead. As you pay them, they are interested in teaching you and will be focused on this. Further they are likely to be more knowledgable about grammar and can explain mistakes.

I have personally used www.italki.com to practise my Mandarin speaking skills or check assignments with tutors. It is inexpensive and you will find skilled tutors through the platform.

4 Study on a regular basis

Keep up your progress by ideally studying on a daily basis. Do not study for hours, but reserve 20-30 minutes every day for studying and revising. It’s ok to take a break for a few days once you feel you need it, but make sure to keep up the frequency.

With these four essential tips for studying Chinese, I believe that you got a head start on other learners. The toughest thing about learning a language is staying motivated over time. I found the best way to do this is through using quality learning materials or courses and through studying in small chunks on a regular basis. Counterintuitively, language exchanges may not be right for you, but you can achieve better results by investing in a tutor you pay for their work.

Make Meditation a Daily Habit with Headspace

I love meditation! It helps me to live a more mindful life. When meditating, I feel relaxed and focused. That is why I made meditation part of my daily life. Indeed, I notice a difference between days on which I meditate and other days.

When I discovered it a few years back, I struggled to make it a daily habit. I tried several methods and tools, but none worked for me. It was too much effort to download and find new meditations that were suitable for my level. A few times I also lost motivation over time.

Finally, I discovered Headspace. Headspace is an app that offers daily guided meditation. The founder Andy Puddicombe will be your teacher. Sit down, press a button and follow his instructions.

The app has structured courses from beginner to advanced to choose. You will learn the basics, common mistakes and misconceptions. No need to worry about taking on too challenging concepts. All learnings are spaced in manageable chunks, there is only one new aspect per session.

Today, I have been using the app for over half a year and meditated 2000+ minutes. The tracking feature is one of the reasons I love Headspace. I can see the progress I made over time and feel more encouraged to continue.

If you do not know anything about meditation, start with Talks at Google on Youtube. There are many free talks about meditation and mindfulness. Search the channel for ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’. By watching the talks you can get an overview of the what and how to meditation.

Would you like to live a more mindful life? Why not give meditation a shot. Start with learning more on Youtube – Talks at Google is awesome! – and try out Headspace. Headspace is free for 10 days, afterwards $7.99 a month.