Tuesday, June 30, 2009
In the exhaustive list of FAQs, I did not find one that asks how this project could be viable if the only way to get data were to be people willing and able to spend $100 to trace their ancestry. I would imagine there is large amounts of existing data - collected at low or no cost to the participant.
Now that it exists, this the monetization opportunity by appealing to the curiosity of the those who don't mind paying as much as they would need to in order to satiate it. This is a lot like paying for a seat on a space-craft though the price tags are orders of magnitude apart. It may not be too long before DIY DNA Analyzers become affordable enough for a lot of people - that combined with public databases could do make the business of ancestry tracing far more egalitarian and in the process more accurate.
Monday, June 29, 2009
The stories come from across the political spectrum which proves that voices of dissent are not safe no matter what side of the ideological divide they come from. There is Lebanese-American Debbie Almontaser who is attacked because of a convoluted association some people found between her and an offensive tee shirt, a young man named Chase Harper who is suspended from his high school because he wore a tee shirt proclaiming homosexuality to be shameful.In both cases, the individual's right to free speech came under fire.
Liz Garbus presents each story in context of the time and surrounding circumstances which give the viewer a keen appreciation for what the average American is up against in today's world. Her father reminds us that the right to free speech cannot be taken for granted merely because it is guaranteed in the American constitution ; history has borne witness to many occasions where the right was temporary suspended ostensibly for the "greater good". He believes Americans must be prepared to fight every day for preserving this most fundamental of all rights.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
When sorrow fades
Come the memories,
And each of them
I wonder what comes at the cusp of fading sorrow and the rising swell of memories. I know I have felt strangely numb, it feels as if time is tied by a tourniquet. You seek respite and want it to loosen - for things to start flowing once more. Then after memories have been relieved in full-color, they recede too. Finally, there comes a time when there is room left behind by departed sorrow and memory - a place of stark emptiness that nothing seems to fill.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
As it turns out, the more "average" of the lot who put in the relentless hours of "deliberate practice" the author refers to, ended up faring better than the extremely talented. That said, I am big believer in the virtue of hard-work. While one cannot control the amount of innate talent one has (or does not have), effort is entirely in one's control and that should confer a feeling of empowerment, in my mind. One of the first things I taught J was the Thomas Edison quotation "Genius is one per-cent inspiration and ninety-nine per-cent perspiration". Needless to say, the hare and tortoise parable has been repeated a gazillion times in our household to ensure the lesson is well learned and never forgotten.
Friday, June 26, 2009
In high conflict households, children go about their lives with a sense of rudderlessness. They have no one to take direction from or look up to, no one who is always emotionally available to address their problems. Some marriages take a lot of work to keep them viable - when spouses need to invest disproportionately into their relationship, their ability to attend to the needs of the children suffers. Single parent households have no such distractions and this often works out to the child's advantange.
I have long believed that using children to glue a bad marriage is the worst way to go about the job. Children are not supposed to and cannot mend the relationship between their parents. By placing them in a position where that is the desired effect, parents burden them with the most onerous kind of responsibility. Instead, they should take ownership of their problems and resolve it independently of their children. Sometimes, the only solution might be to end the marriage and that could be the best thing to do - specially for the sake of the kids.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
If love is simply chemicals, doesn't that change its meaning? And how soon before we create a scientifically valid love potion? (Already under study, by the way.) What about a love vaccine to help us from falling for the wrong person? And if you have to rely on chemical enhancements, do you get an asterisk next to your name in the book of love, like Barry Bonds?
All of that sounds straight out of science fiction though it could not hurt to be inoculated against falling in love with the wrong person - what a lot of time, energy and emotions saved and spared that would be ! According to the article, the odds are already stacked against us by nature - In a cruel twist of bioengineering, the romantic craving actually gets more intense post-dumping.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
While there are advanced capabilities that remain available only on campus, that boundary is rapidly receding.
This moment is akin to the turn of the last century, when philanthropists funded the spread of libraries to provide community access to the kinds of collections that had previously been available only to institutions and wealthy individuals. Fab labs are like libraries for a new kind of literacy, the reading and writing of objects rather than books. Instead of building a few big labs, it’s now possible to build a network of many more-accessible smaller labs that can be used for technical empowerment, training, incubation, and invention.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
As much as I admire Kafka as a writer, I find it very hard to read his writing because of its profoundly depressing quality. I pretty much never returned to Freud after the initial encounter. One quote by the character of Dr Brulov, a psychoanalyst in Spellbound "We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of intellect" got my attention. I don't know how a man's brain operates when he is in love, but I know from personal experience and that of many other women of my acquaintance, that Brulov is exactly right about women.
I have been appalled (not to mention ashamed) at my ability to completely take leave of commonsense, rationality and reason - faculties that becomes painfully acute after falling out of love. Innately smart and sensible women will act in ways incomprehensible to their family and friends when they are hopelessly in love. Often their behavior at the time is totally incompatible with their personality. It is only after they emerge from that phase of the relationship, they begin to display their more familiar traits.
Monday, June 22, 2009
First it was e-publishing and Kindle that was threatening the survival of the old fashioned book but with such a device, every customer browsing in a bookstore could mean lost revenue instead of a potential sale. Yet in every innovation that promises to be the death of the old way, there is often hidden opportunity waiting to be discovered and monetized. Inside a book-scanner there may be ways to generate buzz for goods and services relevant to text being scanned - and that is just the most obvious idea. It would only be a matter of time before much better ones came along.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
In an extreme oversimplification, if Doniger can be taken to represent the a certain culture and ethnicity, her views could serve as a proxy for their view of Hindus and Hinduism. Having this external cultural perspective on something as personal as religion can be instructive even if it is not agreeable. Instead we have a lot of earnest people who believe passionately about ensuring the facts present are right, and agonize over the accuracy of the interpretation.
If we could instead view the material as a creative writing and not assign to it any gravitas, we might get a lot more value out of it. I would almost equate it to an inoculation against the full-blown disease. Thanks to Tyler Cowen, Doniger is now on my reading list.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
I'd much rather they expend the energy in a physical sport. If their minds need a work-out there are many time-tested ways to do that as well - strategy games, logic puzzles, creative DIY projects come to mind. Littlebits sounds like the happy medium between off-line and online world for learning while having fun. As the technology matures, it can only become more accessible and hopefully easy enough for young kids to work with.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Compared to the purely commercial applications in the same space, their pricing was attractive but there was not a great deal of track-record to go by either. With the rising number of offerings in the open-source arena, anyone with a good idea and the perseverance to bring it to fruition can do so at little to no cost and that sounds wonderful in theory. While many are attempting to do just this not every enterprise hits pay dirt. This article in Techdirt titled Free Gone Wrong..Or Free Done Wrong may have an answer to why that may be the case.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The idea of a collaborative art projects is not new - SITO has been around for years. Then there are sites like Haiku For You that take an idea submitted by a visitor and turn it into an illustrated Haiku. A more controlled art experiment with twelve artists working together on a themed quilt can result is some beautiful creations.
Doodle Bar is almost a throwback to a time when the walls of a cave served as a canvas to chronicle events of life big and small - in that it is a little different from other contemporary collaborative art projects.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I don't do anything for backup I said and he expressed both surprise and concern at that. The pictures I like very much, I print and put in a physical album. The rest are all over the place. I don't find myself feeling attached to digital images. They are special only when they tangible. Obviously, there is a limit to how much I can turn "tangible" or would even consider worthwhile to do so. This essay on the the transient nature of digital collections in The Morning News deals with just this idea. The author says :
Old formats ooze historical significance; new ones are deleted with a tap.
Just that makes digital media rather difficult to get attached to. Besides everything that is digital is probably recoverable as well - specially if you did not produce it yourself. You can just plug in to the universal repository of media via the web and all at once you can have everything you lost back again. Sure some things are easier to find than others but with some persistence and patience an accidentally wiped out music collection such even as esoteric as the author's can be rebuilt.
It makes sense then that I have notebooks, cards and letters from twenty years ago to this day but have very little by way for digital memories. The time-stamp on an email even ten years old never triggers that rush of nostalgia that the date on an hand-written letter can.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
As soon as I felt comfortable, I stopped using the stroller and carried her in a backpack slung in front of me. She would fall asleep in minutes. It was a remarkable change in behavior and so it is easy for me to believe this study that suggests children can feel emotionally impoverished if they are placed in strollers that face away from the mother. It made a huge difference for me as well to have her sleeping and close to me - maybe there is an element of emotional impoverishment for the mother too.
Monday, June 15, 2009
The lifestyles and habits that worked so well for men in more dangerous times may not be working so well for them in the information age. In every age from the caves right on through the second World War, it worked for men to take big risks, have short attention spans and be driven by ego. These days, those things are more likely to get in the way of doing a good job. Hunting wild boar and hunting through Wikipedia require a different set of skills.
That makes a great deal of sense in a workplace situation and can possibly be tied to a the process of learning even at the grade school level. Taking big-risks, short attention spans and being driven by ego don't seem to be the most valuable characteristics for success there either. The challenge for educators and parents must then be how to instruct boys in a way that is compatible with their natural traits in a world that appears not have much use for them.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
This wall of garbage orbiting us all seems like a symbol of the great dilemmas facing humanity in the twenty-first century. We have become capable of the most stunning technological breakthroughs – but we are sabotaging them by proving ourselves incapable of the most basic forms of self-restraint. At the moment of victory, we regress. The achievements of our frontal lobes are undermined by the backwardness of our adrenal glands.
He is exactly right in that observation. He closes his article with a statement and a question :
Individuals restrain themselves all the time; why can’t we do it collectively?
I don't know if I could agree that individuals restrain themselves all the time. For the most part, people act out of fear of consequences when they are acting alone as individuals. True restraint would require them to act in the same way even when no one was looking, there were no societal norms or law enforcement. It is possible that we are emboldened by numbers when act as a collective and hence don't feel obliged to be restrained in any way. Also, nature is inherently chaotic so perhaps as humans restraint just does not come to us naturally.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I remembered the wisdom of Mrs. G recently when a client I work for, floated an RFP out to a few Indian vendors along with some near-shore ones in Mexico and Canada. The responses that came back were interesting and educative. The Canadian company did not offer any significant cost advantage over a local development shop but they tried to make up for it by going the extra mile to please. Even before we had asked for it, they came back with design and prototype demos to show us what to expect and of course showcase their capabilities. Everyone was very impressed and it put the vendor in the running despite their high price point. The Mexican outfit came up with a boiler-plate response that was viewed immediately as a testament to their greenness in the technology outsourcing business even if such may not have been the case.
Then there was the two well-known desi shops. There were exhaustive list of clarifying questions from both to make sure they had understood the RFP correctly. We liked the thoroughness and the fact that the questions were quite meaningful. However, it became clear within the next couple of meetings, that there was a significant gap between their initial estimate for the job and what was really involved. They had not been able to size the job right.
All things considered, the client ended up picking the Canadian company. I tried to imagine a scenario where the desi shops each had a robust A-team fully conversant in cutting edge technology, demonstrated their ability to think strategic along with the tactical (and not become a victim of paralysis by analysis like they did with ten questions on the exact function of one Submit button) and not trying to under-cut each other on cost. It is likely that everyone would have all fared better, created a fruitful partnership and made more money in the end.
Unfortunately, we desis don't learn lessons from our history. In a very different way from the time of the British Raj we continue to be divided and ruled by foreigners albeit of a different stripe. They get to dictate the rules of engagement that Indian IT companies follow with servility comparable to the minor Rajas and zamindars of the old days. Instead of starving their farmers to death to pay taxes to the Empire, the present day IT overlords are working our young generation to the far end of depression and disease. As they continue to under-cut each other with impunity, the tech drones end up working two shift days and through the Holiday season to make good on the reckless and unreasonable commitments made on their behalf.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Trufans. “I want the new book by Author X.” And sure, I’ll try to help you with that. The Trufan ignores three salient points: 1. the author may not have a new book; 2. despite ads or reviews or internet rumors, the author’s new book may not be coming out for another 3 months, or 6 months, or a year (or ever); & 3. the author may in fact be dead.
I have been guilty of being a Time Suck both at book stores and at libraries. Per the author, Time Sucks are those "who want help, and personal recommendations, and plot synopses and books just like their favorite author’s but not their favorite author’s because they’ve read all those" - this is exactly what I need to do when J has greatly enjoyed reading a certain book. If the book is a part of a series, the solution is simple - she can read the rest. If it's not then I have to become the "Time Suck".While bookstore employees may hate Time Sucks, we love them if they are knowledgeable and are able to lead us to what we seek.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
So while cute, easy and well-illustrated children's books are a dime a dozen, a select few become iconic classics like Caterpillar.It seems the same rules apply for writers who write for adults too. When I think about authors who I admire most - almost each has been very intimately acquainted with pain and suffering. Then there are those whose lives are far shallower in comparison - those who have experienced minor privations and therefore have the luxury of aggrandizing them to compensate for the real thing. While great imagination can fill in a lot of gaps, the authenticity of voice is not one of those things.
What you have not experienced is hard to express with passion or conviction - you don't even have the material with which to create a fantastical, imagined world. From such writers you get well-crafted work that is steeped in mediocrity. You read and forget them with equal alacrity.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
What is different about the American homelessness story is that a "regular" person with an all the trappings of a "normal" and "functional" life can suddenly find themselves homeless. Once they are there, the barrier to re-entering the ranks for "regular" people who have homes becomes very high. It seems like this terrifying line which once crossed can be forever. Simple things like going for a job interview can become an insurmountable problem if the job-seeker has no where to park his belongings, or has no money to commute to work until they get their first paycheck.
Listening to Eric Sheptock reminded me of the character of Chris Gardner played by Will Smith in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. If one is super-talented and blessed with extraordinary will-power like Gardner , then no barrier is impossible to break - for most homeless people, however the obstacles in their way to economic and social recovery would be impossibly daunting. In light of all the bad news about the economy, growing joblessness, the rising tide of foreclosures and the like, this a chilling reminder of what can happen - potentially to anyone. A combination of circumstances in a bad time can be what it takes.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I often tell J that I am the luckiest Mommy in the world because I have her. She wonders how it is that she could be so incredibly precious to me and mean nothing at all to her father who saw her last when she was four months old. How does he not want to know about her, talk to her or see what she looks like. If she was as precious and special as I claimed she was, would her father not be a little more interested in her. It just does not add up for her.
I have struggled to come up with a way to explain this dichotomy and inspiration came in the form of a fictive ice-cream sundae (one of J's favorite treats). I told J "Pretend two friends go to the ice-cream parlor on a Sunday morning. The shop is very crowded and by when it is their turn to order, there is only one ice-cream sundae left. One friend suggests that they get it and divide it in two because they both love it more than any other kind of ice-cream"
"The other friend says, that he would get something else instead so that way they won't have to share -he does not agree with the idea of a half a sundae. So the first friend has the whole ice-cream sundae and loves it. The second friend gets a flavor that he really does not like that much and ends up throwing it away in trash. On the way back, the first friend is really happy she got her favorite treat and did not even have to share it with anyone. The second friend is mad because he made a bad choice and could not enjoy any ice-cream at all.He wishes he had agreed to split the sundae but now it is too late"
"I am like the first friend, you are like the ice-cream sundae and your dad is the like the guy who had to have everything his way or nothing at all. He is the one who lost what was most important in life and will realize it t only when it is too late. So now you see why I say I am the luckiest Mommy in the whole world ?" My "sundae parable" brought a big smile to J's face.
Monday, June 08, 2009
To me the later is the terrifying part - it feels like once you fall into the system, you can't always come out of it. It is not surprising that people will seek a better, less expensive way to deal with their illnesses - one with a finite end point in terms of time, treatment and money spent. Considering all this in light of the fact that about 60% of the bankruptcies in America are a consequence of medical bills makes you really wary about the system. It is about time that customers were given a choice even if critics of that choice dub it Snake Oil Science.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
The final piece of evidence is the financial crisis itself. After the 2001 tech bust, trillions of dollars flowed into the U.S.—but most of it went into government bonds and housing rather than into innovative sectors of the economy. While subprime mortgages boomed, venture capital investments have more or less stagnated since 2001, with few tech startups going public.
A lot of readers blame the paucity in innovation on the intellectual property litigation. While it's contribution cannot be denied, many would argue it is important to have the checks and balances in place so IP gets the protection it deserves. It does not help that that countries with lax or unenforced IP laws have not been the hotbed of innovation because it weakens the litigation argument somewhat.
Having experienced the dot-com bust and some of the euphoria preceding, it appeared that public appetite for all innovation had vanished once the house of ill-conceived e-commerce venture cards came tumbling down. The malaise of the IT sector seemed to have tainted things that had nothing to do with it. Instead of finding the next cool thing to bet on, people simply stopped placing bets altogether. If anything, the average person learned to be wary of investing in technology and products that they did not quite understand or found too intangible to be comfortable with. In that sense the dot-com bubble preempted innovation in other sectors that may have otherwise happened.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
They usually come geared for the next thing on the calendar. They all look pretty serious for their age - even with a room full of 6-10 year olds, there is absolutely no noise or chaos. It is not as if their parents are monitoring them - the kids are pretty self-regulated. If their music lessons are any indication, they go through the motions of "learning" whatever it is their parents want them to on auto-pilot. They practice enough to have the tunes right, are well-prepared for tests and quizzes but you will be hard pressed to hear the sound of joy in their singing.
J used to look around in wonderment when she first started taking lessons. She has even asked me a few times if she should learn some of the other things that these kids were learning. I would guess it is about fitting in with a group that at least resembles her on the outside. I would imagine it would be hard for a desi kid who socializes with other desi kids almost on an exclusive basis to not feel like a loser if they were not learning at least five things at the same time besides getting straight A's at school.
Being a desi parent, I except I share the cultural genes with my brethren. So when, I try to buck the trend and take a different approach with raising J than is the norm in desidom, I do feel some level of anxiety. In taking the road less traveled, I am likely to encounter problems and obstacles for which there is no ready solution in the desi-parenting playbook. I will need to figure stuff out as I go and hope that I get it right. As for J, she has settled in the desi fringe content (as far as I can tell) to think of these kids more like her than not at least in outward appearance.
Friday, June 05, 2009
The molecular gastronomy people on the other hand have created the first completely synthetic food. They have a worthy cause too :
"If you use pure compounds, you open up billions and billions of new possibilities,” Mr This said. “It's like a painter using primary colours or a musician composing note by note.”
He says compound cooking will enthral our taste buds — or, rather, our trigeminal nerve — and help to end food shortages and rural poverty because farmers could increase profitability by “fractioning their vegetables”.
Whenever I read the phrases end food shortage and rural poverty, the image of third world farmers being coerced into farming practices that they are not comfortable with comes to mind - the Green Revolution was once touted as the best thing that happened to Punjab.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The fact that stands out most prominently, at least in my mind, is that the company that posted the job ad on Dice is Indian owned and the recruiter in question is desi as as well. This is both a telling sign of the times as well as an example of abysmal depths companies like Abstar will sink to make a few quick bucks. It is no secret that shops like Abstar are owned and staffed by people who bring absolutely no skills to the table except having the legal status to set up shop in America - i.e the owner is typically a permanent resident or a naturalized citizen. Beyond that they operate like they were in an Indian sabzi-mandi selling vegetables (IT contractors) to customers ("end clients" and "preferred vendors to end client") at the best price they can get. Their business practices have about the same level of sophistication and require no better qualifications than what it takes a sabzi-wallah to set up shop at a mandi.
You don't expect the illiterate guy hawking potatoes in an Indian bazaar to have the discernment to judge what is appropriate to post on a public job board. So it does not surprise me at all that the recruiter had no qualms posting such a blatantly racist ad, I am very pleasantly surprised to see the desi brethren rise up in arms against it. We tend to far too accommodating, willing to look the other way and pretend what is happening does not touch us directly or generally be fatalistic about the hand dealt to us by Fate. It is reassuring to see that the we are still capable of collective outrage when outrage is the only acceptable response.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Whereas, they realize that reading opens up whole new worlds of ideas and experiences, they are not quite able to see how the ability to solve challenging geometry riders enriches their lives. This disconnect is often hard to solve for, specially if the kid is an advance level reader. After a while, they tune out of math because the sense of empowerment they achieve by way of reading is far greater than being able to work out math problems based on a set of rules - once they have achieved proficiency at problem solving they are bored.
The Manga guide uses simple examples from a kid's everyday life to introduce concepts in statistics. In doing so, it is able make math come alive and connect with real life. For a lot of kids, this would be a fascinating connection that they had not been able to make before. From being merely math smart, they may go to actually loving the subject. If you are looking either for a riveting comic book story-line or serious tome on statistics you will be disappointed. The book aims to shows the reader how real life problems can be framed and solved using elementary statistics - and it does a wonderful job of it.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
The parents worry about what the operation entails and if their children may be safe. A big part of Pankaj's job is to work soothe the anxious parents so they actually bring their children into the hospital. The surgery is beyond a miracle for these families who would have never been able to afford it. The children go from being stigmatized and isolated, to having a real childhood - they return to schools they had dropped out of, work and play like the rest of the kids.
In the developed world and also in the more affluent urban India, treating a child's cleft lip or palate is a routine procedure - these children have not gone through the experience of being afraid to look at their face in the mirror. It is amazing to see what a huge difference such a "small" corrective procedure can make in the lives of those who have woefully little. In an immensely complex world, Pinki's story is one of utter simplicity - it is one where giving a child the gift of a smile is among the best gifts a doctor can possibly give.
Smile Pinki premiers on HBO Wednesday, June 3 at 7pm (ET/PT).Here is a trailer.
Monday, June 01, 2009
One reader Claude B. Fischer writes :
"Hsu gets it wrong by focusing on the cultural froth, like music, food and clothes. The real story, at the deeper level, is how much and how quickly the children of immigrants from many continents apart come to adopt WASP culture ..."
He goes on to cite the facets of WASP culture that have universal appeal to immigrants of all stripes. Marrying for love, the pursuit of personal success. He calls it "the culture of personal expression and personal salvation, material achievement, voluntarism in social matters, and egalitarianism"
Another reader Ryan Karerat who is Indian American, writes :
"There may be no "white culture" but white people still dictate our societal norms. To become a cultural elite in America, one has to whiten him-or herself."
I can't help comparing the non-white immigrant experience in America to the unique way in which Parsis have assimilated the local culture and enriched the lives of Indians they have come into contact with - some in small ways, other very profoundly. They have made good on their promise to be like sugar in milk, but have not given up their unique identity. While some Parsis may argue it has become too much of a good thing and their survival as a distinct race is at risk because of their ability to blend in a little too harmoniously.
If a people have lived in a foreign country for over thousand years and yet managed to preserve a distinctive character, that should in all fairness count as a good deal more than mere "survival". Apparently, the dragnet of WASP culture is America is far too strong for immigrants to resist. As a result none of the non-white ethnicities that come to make this country their "home" will be able to emulate what the Parsis have achieved as a community in India. It is hard to tell whose loss will be greater - the milk's or that of the sugar and spices which failed improve the medium they were thrown into.