Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dazzled By Stencil

Discovered this delightful website CreativeHunt a few days ago. While the content is definitely worth coming back for, what I loved best was the lovely stencil-style header. It took me a while to even notice it but once I did, I could not stop scrolling text up and down to see how the title rendered as the text shifted. The last time I was this thrilled flipping pages was when I laid my hands on my first pop-up picture book at age four or five. Mother Goose Rhymes if memory serves. Until them the pictures has remained in-situ on the pages. Now suddenly things popped in and out, moved this way and that.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Halloween is upon us and so is a time of great indecision for J. In her "baby" days things were a lot easier. It was not too "lame" to dress up like an angel or a princess. The all-pink outfit was at hand complete with dollar store tiara and wand thanks to the thoughtfulness of my friend E who knew exactly what 3-4 year old girls would like to be for Halloween - a knowledge I was sadly lacking in at the time. Unfortunately, she does not have the magic formula for 6-8 year olds by when it is not nearly as straight forward. Needless to say, any idea that I come up with is dead on arrival.

J usually juggles with a half a dozen options for a few weeks, confusing and frustrating herself in the process of selection that has no clear elimination criteria. Each time we sense closure, a new idea will bubble up and trash everything planned thus far. She is back to the drawing board. This has been the routine the last couple of years. I have learned the hard way to hold my peace and wait until J is done mulling over her choices and narrowing it down to zero.

The day before she is will come out and tell me that she still does not know who or what she wants to be and will not be able to go trick or treating. There is a subtext of guilt inducement there that I pretend not to understand. I am not sure what if anything I could do to be of assistance but make sure to bring home candy. In the days that follow co-workers, friends and neighbors will unload more and more candy on me.

At some point J will get over her disappointment over not being able to figure her costume out on time and begin to gloat over her growing stash of candy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

By The People

Last year, if you lived here in the US it was impossible not to follow the news of the presidential elections. It did not matter what your political leanings were or if you did not even care about politics. The excitement (in the early days) and tension (toward to the end) around it was simply too palpable to ignore. After having seen and read so much about the subject of HBO's By The People - The Election of Barack Obama, it is a challenging proposition to tell the story in a way that is fresh, engaging and insightful.

The filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams manage to do all of that and much more with this film. The moments that made headline news are interspersed beautifully with candid interviews with volunteers, supporters, key players of the campaign team and family members of the then presidential candidate. News stories and analysis that viewers have seen before become imbued with fresh meaning and significance as the film reveals what went on behind the scenes even as headlines were being made. It is a moving experience to see so many people come together in their shared faith in the need for and the power of hope in politics.

The theme of "By The People" is explored along several dimensions. The passionate support of young people hungering for change and a different kind of governance and indeed America, the confusion in the minds of an older generation of Americans about the country's readiness for a black president and finally the powerful grassroots level outreach effort that brought the campaign its thousands of supporters from expected and unexpected quarters. A definitely must-watch movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tweeted Wit

For anyone who has wondered what Twitter is good for, here is a fine example of where it makes perfect sense. One guy just writes down "shit my dad says" and it makes for hilarious reading already and is ony over a couple of dozen tweets as of this writing. If he is able to keep the pace up and his dad continues to deliver, his following should go through the roof. As I read the tweets, I found myself thinking what a perfect vehicle this might be for capturing the wit and wisdom of those who can keep it short, sweet and memorable.

Some kids will say the darndest things all the time - Twitter is for their parents. Bits of overheard conversations tweeted can be fun following if done well. Twitter Novels have already been around - whodunits seem like they might be the best fit for this kind of delivery.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trade Winds

Read this quote by Mahatma Gandhi in the book The Leader's Way :

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

I cannot think of any better way to communicate to my eight year old daughter J, the importance of appreciation, understanding and empathy for other cultures and value systems while staying true to one's own. I read the lines to her and then had her read them herself. We talked about what it means. Clearly this is a quote that will be revisited more than a few times in our household because application is much more difficult than understanding.

First generation immigrants and other culturally displaced people strive for just the balance that Gandhi talks about and yet it seems the hardest thing to achieve. Not everyone is able to withstand the strong gusts of foreign cultural influences blowing through their home and not everyone has roots deep enough that can hold them steady.

We try to teach our children about a land and culture that they have never come into intimate contact with, recreate the ambiance of our own childhoods in a home that bears no resemblance to the one we grew up in. We try our best to give them roots they need to stay firm and steady. We are deeply convinced is for the best - that it is something they will come to appreciate and value as adults.

While those are exactly the right things to do, we frequently err somewhere else. Instead of allowing the "the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible" as Gandhi suggests, we allow our prejudices and preconceptions to impede their flow or worse direct them in a way of our choosing.

A lot of us have never stepped outside the parochial confines of our hometown until a combination of circumstances throws us in a foreign land. Unlike Gandhi we lack the perspicacity to embrace the unknown and unfamiliar without feeling that it challenges what we believe to be our identity. We try to sift and sort through everything that comes our way trying to determine what works in harmony with who we are and what clashes.

So the roots become shackles instead of the unwavering anchor, the balmy breeze of foreign culture and influence turn into a Harmattan or a Tramontana, scorching or freezing in their wake. We are left to wonder why despite our best efforts to get our children to appreciate and understand their culture and heritage, they don't quite acquire the qualities and characteristics we may have desired for them to. Why it is that they end up being two dimensional shadows of our vision of who we had wanted them to become.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Watching Movies

Not being a big fan of watching movies with company, it was interesting to read a professional perspective on this.

Any true movie fan can tell you that there’s no experience quite like sitting in a cinema, being engrossed by the narrative, mesmerised by the actors and seduced by the score.

If I could have it my way, I would sit in an empty cinema every time I see a film. Watching movies alone should not just be seen as acceptable, but the ideal way to experience cinema.

I am not brave enough to do the socially awkward thing of going to watch a movie alone but the only way I enjoy it is to watch it alone in my room on my laptop. The genres I enjoy don't benefit a great deal from the big screen or big sound experience. Sometimes J and I will watch movies together too. These tend to be movies that she enjoys and I like being there with her to share in the experience. This works with friends and family as well for movies where immersion is not nearly as important sharing the emotional response it triggers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Upping Intelligence

Had this been the month of April, I would have dismissed this article as a joke. The story is, if the Baby Einstein videos did not up your child's IQ, you could get a refund. Since they don't ask for evidence of IQ before and after in order to determine eligibility for refund, it seems as if it is a foregone conclusion that there will be no uptick. Talk about truth in marketing. My first thought was obviously to check if I had any such videos from J's baby days.

I do recall having borrowed some Baby Einstein classical music CDs from the library - I figured, a little bit of Bach or Mozart can only be a good thing for anyone babies included. As it turns out, I don't own any Einstein media and so there will be no refunds for me. That was a little disappointing. Here I was counting my unhatched chickens at $16 a pop. Naturally the article prompted a flurry of reader comments. One which I really liked was :

Any parent who believes that plopping her infant in front of a TV to passively watch a bunch of DVDs could have any positive effect on the child's intellectual development is certainly... no Einstein.

Touche ! Lawyers have apparently found a way to profit from the situation and reward parents who they seem to be suggesting had outsourced child rearing to Disney only to be duped.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Staying In Touch

That the billionaire SAS co-founder is still writing code should be inspiration for so many managers and executives who unlike him are no billionaires and yet have no tangible skills. When comes time of organizations to trim fat and become the bare bones versions of their former selves, there folks are the worst hit. Their skills don't always travel well and they are so far and long removed from any core discipline that it becomes hard for them to actually "do" any real work.

This is particularly true in the information technology business where technical obsolescence renders management and executive skills irrelevant as well. Consider someone whose last hands on job experience involved programming in Cobol for mainframes, chances are they would find nothing to borrow from that learning that is relevant to their present day job. They would not be the most qualified to make technology purchase or implementation decisions let alone be a good mentor to the team. Then there is the whole idea of leading by example. In geek circles, a manager who gets it is much more likely to earn their respect and cooperation that one who is largely clueless.

Friday, October 23, 2009


A dreamer is a stubborn
weed, impossible
to uproot or kill.
Many disappointments
later, she will sprout

tiny tendrils of hope,
latch on to anything

that resembles love
to be her espalier.
In her nature there
are two states -
dream and death.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ploys In Love

Product placements are often often as intrusive and annoying as a buzzing fly in the kitchen. You cannot ignore it, often cannot get rid of it until it leaves of its own accord. Annoyance and intrusion reach new heights when love is used as a ploy to place a product - a valedictorian professes her secret passion for a classmate which turns out to be plug for a product. Used to be that certain aspects of our lives and social interactions were completely off-limits to the outside world.

The reality show business changed that premise quite fundamentally and now the cow is clearly out of the barn and now there is no limit to how far she can stray. For cash strapped teens, having a corporate sponsor for an important date would seem like a good idea. Everyone wins - boy gets to impress girl, they both have a great time and the marketing whizzes get a bang for their buck as well. There is no reason why this cannot become the logical next step from the valedictorian event.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Costume

Recently I was chatting with a friend who is the parent of a pre-schooler. His child attends an expensive Montessori that his employer happens to pay for. My friend and his wife despite their affluence are middle-class at heart and don't feel comfortable flaunting their prosperity. Quite often they find themselves in their daughter's school surrounded by rich, well-dressed parents who view them somewhat superciliously. They are treated like outsiders in the clique of rich, fashion forward parents.

I am able to relate to their experience based on my own at J's school. The women wear and carry only designer labels and look like they spent a bomb on their perfect hairstyles and manicures. I am brand label averse and definitely not a slave to fashion. I get the sense that I am being socially rejected. It may be completely unrelated, it has also taken me a while to gain the attention of the teachers.

My friend thought we should just save ourselves the trouble and get a "costume" for school. If all it takes to be accepted are a few designer duds, might as well do it and blend in - we were not necessarily compromising on our values by doing so. There is a certain social signaling going on there which we cannot participate in because we are dressed all wrong.

I asked him if that would not mean setting the wrong example for our kids - they might want to do what it took to fit in as well. How do you help them parse the difference between intent and action. After all blending in is always the path of least resistance. It has taken me all of three years at J's school to be taken seriously and without Prada, Gucci et al to help me out. It proved to be an invaluable learning experience and can only help me help J navigate the cliques of cool kids that she will need to deal with in a few years.

Was watching this interesting video on the
psychology of wearing designer knock-offs and I wondered if the parent cliques my friend and I were talking about had some of these knock-off wearers as well. What if people played the part in costume like he was suggesting. The idea would then be too beat the fashionistas at their game by taking the cheap route while pretending to blend in - the cheating here is happening at many different levels.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flying Geese

There is a lake near our home and we often see geese flying in formation over the woods across from the balcony. Every once in a while, J has pondered why they fly the way they do. Each time, I have said I don't know why but we can look it up. Inevitably, the business of the day gets in the way and the birds are forgotten once they are out of sight.

In the absence of a good scientific explanation, J has used her imagination to fill the gap - the leader bird knows the way and so they have the central position in the pattern. If everyone lines up behind the leader then they can't see the path they are supposed to take very well - the V helps by giving everyone a clear line of sight. That is J's theory but she is not fully satisfied with it. I finally found the time to look it up like I have always promised to.

She got some of it right apparently - there is indeed a leader and communication between the birds is enabled by the V formation. As a parent, I am always trying to find the correct answers to her questions - often over zealously I may add. It is as if I would be doing her the greatest disservice by not doing so - shirking my responsibilty as a parent. While I need not know the answer, I feel I am required to make every effort to find one out. Yet, when I let things slide, J was able to piece parts of the puzzle together even if it was not complete or correct. Perhaps I should let more of the questions answer themselves without any help from me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Books

Maybe this is a factor of age and experience but I find it increasingly difficult to find an author whose writing I enjoy book after book. It didn't used to be this way before - maybe I expected less then or perhaps I am already done reading the pool of books I will love for life. When I read Patrick Suskind's Perfume I thought I had at the long last found an author who would thrill me time after time. Then I read Mr Summer's Story. Had I read the books in reverse order chances are I would have not even tried Perfume - and the loss would be entirely mine. Sometimes, the author's purpose in writing what they write is so inaccessible to the reader that they end up missing the point of it entirely. Such may be the case with Suskind's Mr. Summer. As much as I tried and wanted to, I just did not end up getting it.

Naturally there is a strong element of disappointment - specially when a previous book was entirely enjoyable and its premise fully appreciable. It feels like discovering that your best friend is not really the person you had though them to be. It puts your entire relationship on a shaky footing. No matter what they do to help you regain your confidence, it is never quite the old thing that you shared. So it is with writers - one disappointment and you hesitate to return to them. With Suskind, with a third book I would wonder if it will be more like Mr Summer's Story or Perfume or another third thing that will disappoint in its own way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Schmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags

It would be hard to come away from watching HBO's Schmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags without worrying about the future of your own job in America. The statistics are as compelling as the personal stories that make up this documentary. "In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here." Those numbers may not be that different for every manufacturing industry in this country where jobs have gone overseas never to return. The American garment industry was competitive as long as the working conditions were inhumane and owners could run sweatshops with impunity.

Post unionization, the life of the workers improved a great deal but at some point, the lure of cheaper manufacturing costs proved too compelling for share holders to keep the jobs local. The sweatshops they could no longer run the New York City could be run on their behalf by their suppliers in third world countries. In the meanwhile the unpretentious garment business metamorphosed into the glitzy fashion industry with multi-billion dollar marketing budgets, celebrity endorsements and glamorous models at the helm. The gloss covers over the real pain and suffering involved in the process of creating these clothes.

You hear about the downfall of the American apparel industry from a variety of people - the seamstress, the grandchildren of the first union leaders, the designers, the union leaders and more. Then there is the effort to protect what little is left of the Garment Center. While everyone agrees that the jobs and the industry should stay in America, there are no easy answers to the question how that could be done.

The film provokes a lot of difficult questions - Do you buy as cheap as you can knowing that you are contributing to the race to the bottom ? Yet when someone has been unemployed or under-employed for a while, do they really have a choice ? How do you compete in a global economy where there is always someone somewhere in the world who is willing to work for a tenth or less than you do ? As a consumer of any good or service do you look out for yourself or think about the greater good ? Finally, how much deregulation is too much and when can greed go so out of control that it brings an entire economy to its knees.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Failing To Connect

Read this great post on why corporations are largely failing at social media. While the author's five point summary of the reasons is excellent, she really hits the nail on the head in a response to one comment :

In all, I think the larger point is not even that companies don't get social media - it's that they don't know how to be human, be helpful and get out of their own way. Social media exposes that.

Just that says it all. Companies are not inherently social animals - having the human touch is therefore nearly impossible. They look awkward and contrived when they try to promote a "culture of fun" in the organization. Even if they are halfway successful at it, being social does not equal buffoonery. It is the smaller shops with small, close-knit crews that have a better chance of getting social media right - it would an expression of their natural state on-line.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Emotions Jacket

Getting under someone's skin becomes more than a figure of speech with the Philips Emotions Jacket.

The result is that, when wearing the Emotions Jacket, viewers feel that they are truly part of the on-screen action, sensing for themselves the emotions experienced by the main character or others prominent in a particular scene.

While that could be make for an immersive experience, there is something creepy (if not gross) about the notion of feeling another person's physical sensations by proxy. Some of the non-entertainment applications of the technology are easier to appreciate.

As an example, it may be possible to sense when a baby is restless and then stimulate the right emotions to help it settle, without the need for parental intervention. Another possible application would be to de-stress patients in hospital or doctors’ waiting rooms. Other areas such as sleep and increased productivity are also being considered.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Art And Trash

The difference between art and trash is sometimes recognition, controversy and an award. Both J and I love to work on little art and craft projects and our materials are not bought at a store. We are more browsers less buyers at craft stores. As a child, my mother encouraged me to consider the possibilities hidden in something that was discarded or was soon going to be. In her mind, that would foster an artistic and aesthetic sensibility in me - something she held in the highest esteem. According to her, you are able to live your life more gracefully when you have the ability to see beauty in where none is immediately evident.

At first it was hard to do what she was asking me to - I would grow frustrated about the limitations of the supplies with which to create something, but over time I did start to see trash in a different light. This is a learning I value a great deal in my life and have passed to to J with good results thus far. There is little that J cannot think of a way to re-purpose. Our projects are more whimsical than useful but that does not diminish the fun of working on them in any way.

Reading this news story about an artist winning an award for creating something with the discards of other artists made me smile. While it probably did not deserve to be the winning entry, an honorable mention would have been a good way to get people to think about seeing the beauty in discarded objects.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Morning Joe

Saturday mornings are Sheila's favorite time of the week. The weekend has kicked in and yet its full potential remains unexplored. Checking her email in bed curled up in her comforter, she wishes for a cup of coffee to materialize by her side magically - that would make the moment perfect.

The phone rings and the instant messenger chimes in near unison breaking the silence. The call is from Katie - early bird as always she is calling to see if Sheila is up for a run in the park. The ping is from Vasundhara, an old friend who has been out of circulation for several months now. V is notoriously late responding to email, never checks voice-mail but will insist on meeting for lunch with a couple of hours notice.

V: Shell, hey !

S : Hey yourself. Up so bright and early ?

V: Have you ever wanted to kick yourself in the butt real hard so you’d stop dreaming about some guy who does not give a shit about you and move on with your life ?

S: Uh-uh. That sounds familiar.

V: And then regretted not having someone to drum some sense into your thick skull because you couldn’t reasonably land a kick on your own butt ?

S: Yup. Been there too

V: So wtf do you do when that happens ?

S: Wait until the urge to dream, mope and kick your own butt dies on its own . It happens eventually. Until then get used to feeling like a prize idiot.

V : What it’s been seven years and it still does not happen ?

S: That sounds like something a medical professional needs to work on. Is it who I think it is ?

V : Shut up ! Yes it is. Seriously, what do you do then ?

S: Don’t know. Mine have never gone past a couple of years. And I used to think I was weird. You give me hope, V.

V: This guy keeps interrupting my life every time I am really close to being over him – his timing is absolutely brutal.

S: You can put a restraining order on him.

V: How do you do that stuff online ? You can't ever disconnect online even if you do in real life.

S: Unfriend, block him , remove him from IM.. Set up an auto-reply that says “Get out and stay out !” each time he emails.

V: But I like him being around him in my life.

S: So you want trouble, you get big heaps of it. What exactly is the problem ?

V: Nothing. Never mind.

S: But seriously. What is it ?

V: I want it over with but cling on hope that he’ll be back and actually stay this time – it proves to me that we share something really special.

S: A strong desire for self-abuse is what I can see you clearly share. Not sure about anything else.

V: He is really fun.

S: Is he still single ?

V: Yes. Technically at least.

S: Nice. You really like him or is he just hot and you’re crazy infatuated ?

V: Mostly former maybe a little later.

S: I am thinking you have the order in reverse.

V: Not true.

S: Sometimes its hard to parse the two out. Been there, done that.

V: Can it be a little of both ?

S: Sure. But its important to know the proportion. Makes all the difference in the world.

V: So what do I do ?

S: Like my friend Danielle would say ask him to shit up or get up.

V: Interesting turn of phrase

S: Try it on him the next time and let me know how he reacts.

V: Yeah

S: You know what you want from him ?

V: I guess.

S: After seven years, that's quite promising.

V: Quit being snarky, Shell !

S: For an e-kick in the posterior, IM me any time.

V: Will do.

S: Ciao!


Sheila smiled to herself as she signed off and climbed out of bed. That chat was almost as fun as the day's first cup of coffee.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wait Time

While everyone may not have much use for a Starbucks iApp, the same idea extended in other ways can be very useful. Waiting at the doctor's office has got to be among the most aggravating things on earth. If one could sign in using an iApp, take care of the co-pay business, fill in the drive time and be notified to make it there and have to wait no more than five minutes would be great. Being able to cut wait time is almost always a good idea. Be it picking up dinner at a Chinese takeout or being told fifteen minutes ahead of one's turn at the DMV counter.

In countries where such or similar technology has been around for years, this might seem like a silly wish list but when you have wasted the best part of your Saturday, two weeks in a row trying getting something really simple done at the local DMV, you begin to appreciate the brutality of wait time. Add to that a doctor's appointment in the middle of a workday where five minutes of face time with the doctor to discuss nothing that is of earth-shattering importance costs you two billable hours.

As a side note to the second irritant, I may add that talking to a garden variety physician an increasingly underwhelming experience when you have done your homework on-line They tell you nothing that you don't already know which begs the question why you have to wait as long as you do and pay what you pay to have all of that repeated in their voice, in the comfort of their office. I hear the same thing from friends and family who have unfortunately had to go in for far more serious matters than a routine physical.

Monday, October 12, 2009


A tarantula spinning his web
or a wizard his golden orb.
The gossamer of dreams dims
the light of day, nudges all
that is real a little further
away - out of reach.

You ask that I believe in what little
we have now - offer platters
full of imaginary food -"Taste"
you say. I share our Barmecidal
feasts with you each night
sleep tired, bewildered and
sometimes even happy. I wait
again for the wandwaver, the
teller of tales, the imaginer
of futures that can be. "Dream"
you say. I weave in and out of
our two step waltz, with an
invisible partner who drifts
between near and far.
"I miss you" and "I love you"
are two interwoven strands of
spun silk - glimmering, tender
and fragile. I fear it may snap
when the orb slows down,

when the web is woven,
when the light of day
to see dreams turn real
breaks through the mist.

I cannot live on hope alone I say,
give me something real -
you have words of comfort
but no warm touch,
whispered promises

but no covenants.
I am a junkie for hurt feelings
you pour in a deluge to fill my need.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vernian Imagination

A friend has been pushing me to read the book Daemon for a while now, more recently I became aware of Feed. Not being a sci-fi fan, I have yet to read either book though I have them on my to-read list. In this article about the what the future holds beyond data and technology, the author writes in reference to a Jule's Verne book Paris In the 20th Century, which happened to be remarkably prescient about the world in 1960, a hundred years ago :

Returning to the present day, it is this type of Vernian imagination that will carry us into the future. And the first step is to move beyond the 'data city', move beyond the delights of the digital and start scratching our heads about what is to come next. That's how we will become New Millennium People.

From what I have gathered, both Daemon and Feed are about "delights" and the potential of the digital. It is not about the stuff that might come next - the kinds of things that cannot as the author says be "projected forward" based on where we are now. I wonder if there is a modern day Jules Verne. That would definitely be sci-fi worth reading even for those who are not the biggest fans of the genre.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Public Disservice

It is not often that I read an article that irritates me quite as much as this piece of sophomoric inanity on WSJ by Meeti Shroff Shah did. She makes mockery of the legions of highly educated and qualified H4 wives who are pushed to the far end of despair and desperation by their visa status. It can be argued they all come to the country fully aware that they will not be able to work so there is nothing to complain about. They just need to stop feeling entitled to employment, shut up,suck it up and learn salsa if time hangs much too heavy on their hands.

Imagining life in a foreign country as a wife and the reality of living that life are absolutely different things – and I speak from experience when I say this. Several years ago, in a very different kind of economy, I was an H4 wife by choice for a little over six months. It was as Shroff Shah points out, a time for self-discovery and rejuvenation. I had worked without a break since the time I graduated from engineering school and felt exhausted. With marriage being a phase change in my life, I also wanted to pause a little. It ended up being a good time for me because I had options, I knew I could get back to work whenever I choose to – it was a booming job market those days and employers did not think twice before sponsoring an H1 for someone. It also helped that my marriage had not quite crumbled at that point. In short I, did not feel trapped in a situation from which there was no escape any time soon. Even so, it was not the life I wanted to have indefinitely and was only too glad to be back to work again.

I have since then known many other H4 wives who do not have the same freedom of choice I had in my time and/or are in a troubled marriage. Such a combination takes their visa enabled entrapment to a whole different level of pain. They could have been doctors in private practice in India who have nothing to do here because the process of getting qualified to work in America is too onerous and expensive. They may have years of experience in fields that ten years ago could have easily landed them a job but is impossible now. Often, these women are married to H1 visa holders who have a green card application in the works. They imagine that it is only a matter of time before they become unencumbered from the restrictions of their H4 status – they are willing to make that sacrifice in hopes of a better life in the future.

Used to be that the wait for a green card was no longer than 3-4 years. A woman had to bite the bullet for a bit, indulge in her hobbies, take the time to enjoy the activities she never had time for in the past and maybe begin a family. She could count on being able to join the workforce when she was good and ready to do so. This article would have been passingly credible in the mid to late 90s but is the worst kind of misrepresentation of today’s reality – specially with the vast majority of people having no interest or understanding of the plight of legal immigrants in this country. If such stories are given space in reputable publications like the WSJ, the chances of them being any better educated or informed about the subject are non-existent. Might that be the covert intent here given the prevailing public sentiment on immigration ?

I have to wonder who the writer’s target audience is. She does public disservice to potential H4 wives who may actually believe they could have a life similar to the one she so gushingly describes. She minimizes the suffering of her ilk with her over the top Pollyana take on what is in reality a very difficult life to lead. She provokes the rest of us who actually know the score on the H4 situation to rant like I am doing here. In a newspaper article one expects opinion and commentary to be relevant to point in time. This is not a work of fiction where content and context can be completely at odds with each other if the writer so chooses. As an aspiring writer, Shah Shroff would be aware of the fantasy genre and should have chosen that to be her vehicle for this piece.

With wait times for a green card being closer to ten years these days, the H4 induced sabbatical is hardly the walk in Central Park as Shroff Shah makes it out to be – to even suggest as such is a slap on the face of thousands of women who are craving a more dignified, financially independent and productive life than this particular visa will allow. Instead it is a mind numbing state of suspended animation that can last for an unknown length of time. While it may be a lot of different things, it is most certainly not the dream of freedom and liberty they may have had while coming to America.

Yes, they do state their intent to not work in America when they interview with the Consular Officer to be granted an H4 visa but I doubt if they fully grasp what they are getting into when they do so. They likely do not realize that they will need to abandon their career aspirations for good because by when they acquire the legal credentials to work, their skills and experience would have become too old and out-moded to be marketable. They also don't understand that continuing education and training during this indefinite wait time will become a logistical nightmare not to mention be financially prohibitive on a single income. Chances are, even their husbands are not fully aware of what to expect, or how severely limited the woman's options might really be.

Perhaps women coming to America after marriage should be made to read and hear testimonials from the worst hit victims of the H4 visa right up to the minute they go in for their interview at the American Consulate to see if they still willing to take the plunge - make this huge sacrifice at the altar of marriage. There may be no better deterrent to immigration than that.

Sure women would be well advised not to marry anyone on H1 so they don’t find themselves in such a pitiable situation in the first place. If a combination of circumstances do lead them to become H4 wives, they are left with no recourse – the strain of adjustment to this very odd way of life, tells on their physical and emotional well being. If the marriage is floundering, this can well become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The writer does much disservice to the average H1 employee whose life is fraught with a great deal of anxiety. She makes it sound like the H1 people are living a charmed life in America with nary a care in the world when nothing could be further from the truth. A layoff could terminate their American Dream, uproot children from the country of their birth and one they have come to think of as their home. The end of a contract could throw their entire lives into disarray – they have to make tough choices and within 30-60 days if they even want to stay on in America. Just like the dual intent of their visa (immigrant and non-immigrant), their lives are riddled with ambiguity.

Their career advancement opportunities are limited because they cannot have a job description any different from what was stated by their sponsor at the time of H1 filing – often this is a seven to ten year gap we are talking about. In the surreal world of H1 visas, time's arrow does not move forward - you are expected to remain who and what you were ten years ago if you aspire to gain permanent residency in this country. Your unemployed spouse bored out of their mind will atrophy alongside you too keep you company.

When the best years of someone’s career dissipate into mediocrity and drone work in the interminable wait for a green card, chances are they may feel depressed too. They are likely to be worried about their diminishing prospects in the job market. They are unable to make long term investment decisions because they have no idea what the future holds. Instead of being able to arrive in life at the age they believe they should, they find themselves in the frustrating state of trying to reach there. With all that they are often not able to be the emotional anchor the hapless H4 wife so desperately needs given her own circumstances.

Clearly, the harsh reality of the H4 wife’s life as she struggles to occupy herself gainfully in suburban America, where without a second car and public transport, she is a prisoner in her own apartment, does not shine through when the writer dishes out such self-absorbed platitudes:

I have discovered Iranian cinema, online poker and stand-up comedy. I have painted a wall, fixed a shelf and tried a combination of the mambo and cha-cha-cha. I have explored New York City. Sometimes while biking around Central Park with my husband and sometimes on my own, walking around the Village, entering shops and caf├ęs at whim. I have fallen in love with new writers, new restaurants and Broadway. And recently, wondering why I hadn't thought of it earlier, I wrote to the International Rescue Committee, volunteering my services for its media department. Having long wanted to write for a good cause, I realized once again, I now had the time.

While I wish Ms Shroff Shah well, I hope she will do us all a favor by writing a redux on this topic after seven or eight years of being a dependent wife. I look forward to reading it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Overheard At Lunch

Recently while out at lunch with a friend, overhead an interesting conversation between two men at the table next to us. One appeared to be in his late fifties and the other in his mid thirties. The younger guy was seeking the other man's opinion on whether to hold or sell the stock of a certain company. The older guy was of the opinion that the stock price had gone as high as it probably could and now with health care reform in the offing, the company could be negatively impacted.

A large chunk of the business this company did was made possible due to inherent deficiencies of the health care system not to mention the prohibitive costs. If the government stepped in and did something to improve matters, then any business who viability depended on such inefficiencies would be hurt. The younger man agreed with this analysis. It is interesting that they did not think that government intervention would mess things up even more and create a cornfield of business opportunities.

I found the conversation revealing in many ways. The rationale seemed to be that if free enterprise was allowed to flourish and it turned every available lapse in processes and systems into an way to make turn a profit, all would be well. When lives and livelihoods are dependent on being able to exploit problems rather than solve them, resistance to even a whiff of a solution is only too understandable. Any idea that even tries to place the collective good over that of the individual would be considered socialism in such a framework and therefore be unacceptable.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Under Influence

A while ago, I read about the genesis of birth control pill which in turn prompted this blog post. Today, read about the pill again and how it influences a woman's selection of a mate - in a negative way. If there are certain male traits that a woman on a pill finds attractive or not, chances are that it will be among the driving factors in who she selects as a mate. This would be true for those who are on it most if not all the time. However, things can get confusing if she goes on and off it. Who and what she found appealing while on it may not be quite match her preferences once she is off it.

When it comes to relationships, the exercise of free will is a challenging proposition even in the best of circumstances. Apparently, a bunch of chemicals have the ability to consume what little is left of it. This is a lot like picking up someone at a bar in a state of inebriation and finding out they were all wrong the morning after. Except, after the hangover has worn off, the woman has to contend with the baleful influences of her morning after patch. How ironic that the thing that was supposed to have done the most for the cause of female liberation, is now turning out to be what ends up making women do things that they may have not have otherwise done - in essence, the very antithesis of liberty.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Quick Summary

If two minutes is all you got and you are not sure what to make of this Google Wave thing, this excellent video may be a great 101 on the subject. Then there is a review from someone who actually has an invite to this coveted thing. He says : "Google’s Wave will crash hard onto the beach of overhype." For email or chat, this may be too many strands of conversations to follow but it could be really helpful in other ways.

Putting together requirements for application development, or have multiple people edit the a document concurrently are examples that come to mind. What takes several people, several days to accomplish and becomes a version control nightmare can be done a lot faster and with much lesser confusion. With some workflow options, this could even become a digital asset management tool. All of the parties that create, edit and approve content could be working in concert and make changes based on real time feedback.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Education And Options

I have been reading The New Global Student and am a little overwhelmed by sheer volume of choices to the traditional on-campus university education. The idea of the book as the subtitle states is to allow parents and students to get comfortable with skipping the SAT, saving their money and getting an international education. This Mashable article takes matters to the logical next step - an education that is completely free and available to everyone who is interested in it.

Between the two readings, I feel optimistic about the time when J is ready to go to college - she may have a great deal more choice on how to spend time and money in return for an education that is meaningful to her. It is heartening to know that beyond the narrow confines of a typical American public school
education, there are wide open vistas where a young person may run free, go as far as they want to without needing to hock an arm and leg to pursue their dreams.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Passing On

Recently, a former co-worker succumbed to cancer. She had been battling the disease for over two years with a great deal of courage and good humor. I remember the strong medicinal smell around her cubicle and sometimes (maybe in my imagination) that of death and decay. Yet there was nothing about her manner that would suggest that she expected to see the end soon. We all admired her spirit but truth be told she often exasperated us with her know-it-all attitude - she was by no stretch of imagination easy to work with.

In doing an outstanding job of ignoring her condition, she made us forget how much she was suffering, the emotional and physical toll it was taking on her. B leaves behind a husband and four young children. We might have been far more accommodating had we always been aware of her condition - but she made sure she was not treated any different from anyone else.

When the news of her passing came, we all recalled her best qualities and if my own example is any indication, with complete sincerity. We remembered her willingness to go out of her way to help others and her resilience. She was no whiner or defeatist. When she was alive, it took an effort to like her though admiring her was easy enough. In death she has both our love and respect - that must be a life well lived.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Manga Guide Series

I grew interested in the idea of using animation characters to teach after reading The Manga Guide to Statistics (a book I have reviewed before). Recently, I have been reading two other books from the same series. One on Databases (a subject I am very familiar with given my line of work) and the other on Molecular Biology (something I know absolutely nothing about).

I was curious to see if degree of familiarity with the subject contributed to how much one could get out of these really well thought out books. In both volumes, the introduction to the key concepts is done very gently. The storyline seemed to get in the way with the database book maybe because I already knew the concept being explained. Several times, I skipped over directly to the end of the chapter which reads like a traditional text book.

With the molecular biology book, given my total lack of awareness, I did find following the adventures of Rin and Ami's with Dr. Moro's virtual reality machine that allows them to travel through the human body, helpful and instructive. In summary, this is a series that would work well for readers with both beginner and intermediate level of subject matter knowledge.

The ability to go back and forth between the non-traditional manga themed lesson and the regular text book style is very helpful for all readers. It helps with breaking the monotony and well as support different knowledge levels and learning styles. I would highly recommend these and any other books in this series for anyone who feels bogged down by a dull academic tome or lacks the time to make a very detailed study of the subject.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Story Time

Their "story date" as Umang referred to it, was at a park close to Sheila's house. It turned out that he enjoyed long walks just as much as she did and the weather was perfect. They had picked up a couple of Cuban panninis for lunch. Umang insisted on paying for that and "a drink of her choice". She had gone with a bottle of lychee juice, he got a beer. She told him about the first time she had met MJ.

When she was done, he asked "I can't wait to find out what happens next. Do I have to wait till the next time ?

"Typically, I would end here. But you have only a few more days and we may never meet again - so I'll make an exception." Sheila smiled as she brushed off the leaves from the empty bench. Then she told him about the next time MJ came back to her life.

"Did you guys meet that time ?" Umang asked as he handed her a sandwich.

"No, we did not. Instead, I let him weave in and out of my life several more times over a period spanning four years. I learned lot of things about him during that time. I learned for instance that he had lost his virginity at nineteen to a twenty six year old Ukrainian woman. After they broke up, he dated an assortment of women - typically older than himself."

"He had had short liaisons with married women just for the heck of it. In short, MJ had been there and done that. There was nothing new or interesting about a woman's body to him. He had no interest in her mind or spirit because he had never learned to appreciate those aspects in any woman. He did not get the concept of romantic love unless it quickly turned physical."

"Are you saying he had never fallen in love ?" Umang asked.

"His first experience was a purely physical one - for the longest time that was love to him - it was the only kind he knew. He sought it over and over again with other women but it never quite felt like the first time. On one hand this woman defined perfection on the other she stood for everything he did not want to ever see repeat in a relationship. Over time he came to realize that he was looking for someone with whom the emotional connection was far stronger than the physical one. I was probably that woman to him" Sheila explained as she wiped the last crumbs of pannini from her lips smudging her lipstick in the process.

"That's a good thing isn't it ? A guy like that not looking for sex but for real love " Umang commented as he watched her refresh her make-up in the mirror of her powder compact.

"That's what I thought too. But it turned out that he was depleted and exhausted from his many sexual encounters to the point that the idea of a conjugal life terrified him. In a relationship he could bail the minute he was bored but in a marriage he had no choice. He often said "After three nights in a row with a the same woman, I am ready for a new face". That is not really a winning recipe for a marriage. So, we had this unique dilemma - he thinks I am the one for him, he wants to marry me but he is not able to move forward because he is absolutely sure he will get bored with the physical side of it and that will end the marriage very quickly. Why start something that is sure to end. I found him charming enough to be okay with this rather unique predilection and his even more unique solution to it" Sheila paused.

"And what might that be ? " Umang was curious to know.

"He wanted me to be absolutely free before and after this hypothetical marriage that would take place sometime in the future. I needed to keep him interested in me by having many sexual relationships. Apparently, it would bring out the most feminine in me, renew his interest in me time after time and wonder of wonder bring us closer emotionally. For the most part I humored this crazy idea even though I had no intention of being any part of it. It took me a while to realize that he was dead serious about it and what's more it was a show-stopper in as far as being able to turn relationship into marriage" she explained.

"Just out of curiosity, would this be an open marriage then ?" Umang asked.

"Interestingly enough, no. He would stay home and wait for me to come back from my forays in the world outside. He already had the freedom to do as he pleased, why bother getting married to continue the same lifestyle. His need for this emotional anchor was real and strong, he just did not know how to make it happen. In his mind he was making me an offer I could not refuse - I would have the best of both worlds. He could never understand why I would find this proposition unacceptable" Sheila answered.

"What happens next ? " Umang asked.

"We have a chance to meet for a few hours one evening. This is close to five years since we first met. He had become a pale shadow of his former self, physically I did not find him nearly as compelling as I once did. I almost wished that I had never met him again - at least I would have a memory to treasure."

"Suddenly it dawned on me that we may both have been infatuated. He was looking for someone to idealize and I just happened by at the right time. He never had anything to offer me except in his imagination. I loved the challenge he posed by being so difficult to reign in emotionally. I loved that he was completely honest about who he was and what he wanted. Yet this time I felt very sorry for him - I knew that delaying the goodbye any longer would only prolong the pain" Sheila said.

"So you guys broke up ? Hey, I did not ask but did you want try the beer ?" Umang wanted to know.

"No, I am good with the lychee. With MJ you can never fully break up. He refuses to give up on someone he feels connected to at least a little bit emotionally. He has overdone sex to the point it spoils everything for him a relationship that he sees potential in. Yet, never having experienced romantic love, he has no idea how to engage a relationship without expressing affection physically. The relationship of significance instead of progressing over time as one expects, suffers from the most painful stasis. He will not let go because he thinks he will be able to figure the way out eventually. He wants you to wait until then even if you are not able or willing to stay in touch regularly or do any of the things that people in a relationship do" Sheila replied.

"What about you ? Are you able to let go ?" Umang asked.

"That is not the point of this story" Sheila smiled. "The story of MJ's early defloweration and the downward spiral of his love life since that time is a parable for all guys who are considering losing their virginity young and in a rush. It is getting dark, we should head home before the bugs start coming out"

"Are you taking me home ?" Umang smiled hopefully.

"No, you go back to your hotel and think about what you heard today. Call me sometime." she replied as she waved him goodbye.


Friday, October 02, 2009

Sudden Ends

Found this sad and comic link to an YouTube video via Kottke in which JD goes backpacking around Europe for two weeks leaves his phone behind and does not check his email. He thinks he has told his girlfriend that he will be out of pocket but apparently she did not pay attention to what he was saying.

Then she starts emailing him - which is what t he video is about. He ends his story with two observations - one to be careful about falling in love with passionate people because they can be just as extreme in hate as they can be in love the second to keep the phone on while on vacation.

While those are good lessons learned, there is possibly a third - you find out a lot about yourself and your partner when the relationship it put into an unfamiliar, unexpected pattern. In this case, the woman was quick to infer infidelity which suggests that the relationship was not on a very strong footing. She might have been worried sick about the man if his loyalty was completely assured in her mind. The two week hiatus revealed the inherent weakness and flaws in the relationship that may have gone unnoticed and undiscovered for much longer if nothing changed out it's regular pattern.

To that end, it is always useful in a new relationship to put it through some stress tests just to see if it has staying power. Sometimes a long hiatus can be a good way to decide if there is enough mutual interest and attraction to revive the connection or make it permanent.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bengali Scrooge

I would be the Bengali Scrooge when it comes to enthusiasm over the festival de jour of our community - Durga Puja. I never got the point of pandal hopping and weeklong rabble rousing in the name of religion though as an extended carnival it is quite alright - specially if carnivals are your thing. It seemed to me that with each passing year, the religious and spiritual elements of Puja were harder and harder to discern in these over-crowded community events. My distaste for the festivities grew in proportion.

This year, thanks to an over enthusiastic acquaintance, J and I made a trip to a city some hours away from where I live to participate in the Durga Puja celebrations at the temple there. It involved us getting up at the crack of dawn, driving to their house, car-pooling to our destination with a few missed turns and wrong directions thrown in for good measure. Three hours later we arrived. The Puja started one hour later than schedule, J got extremely hungry and looked at me like I was punishing her. The crowds has swollen to the point where making an exit was difficult - besides I did not want to offend our host.

So we sat through the whole thing. The priest chanted mantras that sounded like a Bollywood-style bhajan. He kept repeating invocations to the whole pantheon of Hindu gods but the names of Durga remained conspicuously absent. Nothing else about the rituals looked familiar - he appeared to be improvising as he went supported by assistants that appeared just as clueless.

Then there were the conch-shell blowers, drummers and cymbal players. Between them, the decibel level in a closed auditorium was a force to be reckoned with. Around me the ladies gossiped about what was growing in whose backyard, whose in-laws had fallen ill, where they had bought the sari they were wearing and such.

When we finally got home at the end of what seemed like the longest day ever, J said to me "I can't believe you made me sit in that car for five hours just to listen to that racket". This was supposed to be her introduction to a slice of "bengali culture" that she has seen very little of. Clearly, that effort had not amounted to much or perhaps being Scrooge is in her DNA.