Monday, August 31, 2009

Three Marriages

In response to Vicki Lovine's case for three right marriages in a woman's lifetime one commentator astutely observes :

Young women are desperate to wear the white bridal dress and the groom is often just a prop in the bride's pageant. As far as your theory about people marrying three time in life, again, I think you're spot-on. The ideal has always been to have one spouse for the length of one's lifetime. The problem is that human life spans have nearly tripled in the last hundred years. One spouse per lifetime was great if you only lived to be 30 years old, but now we live much longer than that. You're not the same person at twenty that you will be at fifty. Life changes us as we get older and people drift apart.

The author groups women into two - those that get the formula right the very first time and those that take up to three tries to do so. While her analysis of the rationale that drives marriage at three different stages in a woman's life is spot on, she neglects to mention the baggage that carries over from one marriage to the next making it difficult to parse out what one really does not seek and what one is avoiding out of apprehension.

Even after winnowing the two apart there remains the business of knowing oneself in order to choose a mate well. If the process of self-discovery is done at the time of entering into a marriage, it will be the one that sticks - be it the first or the nth one. Often this exercise is best undertaken in solitude without the noise of short term relationships to disturb the peace. Lucky are those who get it right either by happenstance or by deliberation the first time but lucky are those too who know to exit immediately upon finding out they were wrong. Luckiest however are those who erred at first but got it exactly right afterwards - they are able to appreciate what they have a lot better than those who have never been wrong to begin with.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Abroad At Home

The angst of the children born to new immigrants is a genre teeming with books. Many if not most of them are one hit wonders. Even the most talented and prolific writers often produce their best output when the are telling intensely personal stories. It is no wonder then that the first generation expat writers of Indian descent tell their coming of age (in America or elsewhere in the Western world) stories with much intensity of feeling. While their experience has been written about in excruciating painful detail, not a lot has been heard from their parents.

Nandini Pandya seeks to fill this gap in her excellent compilation of essays and short stories in the book Abroad At Home. Full disclosure - the book contains some articles I wrote as a columnist for Desijournal. The writers represent a wide swathe of expat Indian society from around the world. There are voices from Singapore, America, Canada and France who are physicians, scientists, technology consultants, artists, musicians and journalists among other things.

Each vignette in this collection covers an unique aspect of the expat experience - be it finding a spiritual home in a foreign country, assimilating the local culture while holding on to one's own, parenting challenges, having one's daughter become a soldier in Iraq or the anxiety of waiting for several years for a green card to materialize.

These are stories that will resonate with many who have not had their experiences abroad given nearly the same shelf space or importance as the genre that their kids went on to create. Pandya's idea of bringing the offline and online worlds together enriches the reading experience in an unique way. Readers of the book can read comments from the time that these essays and stories were first published online and now add their own. If you have wanted to hear the other side of the hyphenated Indian story, this book is a must read.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Youth Knows No Pain

Mitch McCabe takes an intensely personal look at the anti-aging movement in HBO's Youth Knows No Pain. As the daughter of a plastic surgeon McCabe has always been age-obsessed. The film is an exploration of both her inner conflict with the business of age reversal and an attempt to understand those who have gone through the process themselves. McCabe makes no effort to conceal her own insecurity about aging and she is likewise able to have her subjects speak with complete candor about theirs.

In the process, she is able to reach some solid conclusions. In a society that is obsessed with youth to the point that is valued over the intrinsic worth of a person, it is not surprising for women (and men) to want to be on the winning side. Most are convinced that looking good equals feeling good and therefore they can nip-tuck and Botox their way to happiness and fulfillment. That is the demand side of the story. On the supply side are the cosmetic manufactures, plastic surgeons and physicians who abandoning the disciplines they were trained in to get in to on anti-aging bandwagon.

There are women who will miss their mortgage payments to be able to pay for their cosmetic enhancements. Instead of fearing age, they begin to fear not having enough to pay to reverse it. McCabe discovers that anti-aging can become addictive. From super-expensive anti-wrinkle creams to Botox shots to a full blown plastic surgery - these are rites of passage in the unending quest for eternal youth. There is always a superior product or procedure out there that will shave five more years from a body or face.

Once you begin there is no looking back because you get used to seeing a youthful even if plastic version of yourself in the mirror - a reversal from that to natural aging would be anathema for those who so firmly believe that they have to reverse aging. From being a holdout who wonders why she is so obsessed about age and if she is more an anomaly than the norm, McCabe succumbs to the dragnet charm of Botox.

Her story and that of those she features in the film are a great indicator for societal attitudes towards age and reduced vitality. As long as women believe they come with an expiration date and must to whatever they can to extend it, as long as employers are unwilling to hire anyone over fifty and lifestyle magazines in their photoshopped glamor shots purvey the unrealistic ideals of physical perfection and youth, the ant-aging business can only continue to grow. McCabe ponders and provokes questions about where this will all lead to in the end.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Making Sense Of Data

For several years now, data analytics has been a big part of any gig I have been a part of. Some themes recur across a lot of large companies I've worked for - there is a lot data floating around, the linkages between different data sets is often weak if not altogether missing and finally there is no single version of the truth. What makes things even more interesting is that powers that be will want to mine this data cesspool for business intelligence they can act on to gain competitive advantage. By now, we are asking for the impossible and yet somehow we pretend that it is possible to deliver on it.

There is a strong tendency to gloss over systemic issues around data quality and jump right into analysis, predictive modeling and such. When I read about
Trimetric, my first thought was to kick the tires with some of the data I deal with day to day - data that is often not as clean as it needs to be to arrive at consistent conclusions. Maybe it can actually do as it says it can - "help you make sense of data". Maybe I will find out or learn something about the data that I don't know yet. Whatever, the outcome in my specific case, the idea of Trimetric is an excellent one.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Celebrating Graduation

Not having attended too many graduation parties, I am not the most conversant with its norms. Recently I was at one that made me wonder about why parents do what they do and how it must feel from the young person's perspective in whose honor this is being done. In this instance, the family had rented out a small auditorium with dinner arrangements outdoors.

The young person in question was to showcase her talent with a short dance recital. At the foyer the parents had put on a slide show with the big events of their daughter's eighteen year old life. Invitees were handed out flyers cataloging her accomplishments since her kindergarten. In essence, this was a celebration of all that she was at the brink of adulthood.

In concept, that is a nice thing but I find the execution somewhat cringe-worthy. As a parent, I have every right to be proud of my child - celebrate all her accomplishments big or small - it is my prerogative. However, when I take the show on the road and enlist a captive audience of hundred odd to be party to this adulation fest, I guess I might be overdoing things just a tad.

If a young person has distinguished themselves significantly in this day and age, chances are that a Google search on their name will produce an exhaustive catalog of what makes them special. There should be no need for the parents to hand out resumes to everyone. I had to wonder if the graduation ceremony is a way to acknowledge and validate the work parents put in to raise a child or if it about placing their trophy on the shelf for all to see and admire.

The former in my mind is a fundamental responsibility each parent acquires as soon as they become one - there is no credit deserved or earned for doing their job even if it is done exceptionally well. The later probably does not work in the best interests of the child because they correlate the love and adoration of their parents to what kind of trophy they are able to become for their parents.

When we were heading home, J asked me if she would have a similar graduation party when it is her time. It will take me a while to help J understand my position on the issue and possibly longer for her to appreciate it even if we cannot come to an agreement.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beneficent Technology

As immensely useful as RFID can be, it is often in the news for the wrong reasons. PSFK's article on the RFID enabled "Smart Cane" for the visually impaired is a great example of what is possible when technology is brought to bear upon a problem that until then had no good solutions. In another context an RFID-GPS combination would be perfectly 1984-esque but in this situation it only sets someone with a visual impairment freerer than they might have been able to be. A not so happy use of the same technology would perhaps be something like the M-Meter:

"Together with FOCUS, we have adapted this technology, which has so far primarily been used in logistics and inventory management, unconventionally and creatively for better research of readership", explains Dominik Berger, Managing Director of RF-iT Solutions and inventor of the so-called "M-Meter". To that end, stamp-sized miniature chips are applied on each double page, and a reading device specially developed for FOCUS delivers accurate data from the test households showing who used which page of an issue when, how often and for how long. The use of editorial content as well as contact with advertisements can be measured passively in a magazine for the first time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Illiterates

Read this wonderful quote by Alvin Toffler : The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. In the information technology business nothing could be truer. Be it the inability to adapt with changing landscape of product and solutions in the marketplace, recalibrate design and architecture ideas to fit the advances that have taken place since those ideas were first formulated years ago, or failing to spot the most promising technologies to invest in - there are innumerable ways in which to be a 21st century illiterate in the IT business.

I have had the pleasure of knowing some outstanding literates over the years but the legions of illiterates are a force to be reckoned with. Often the constitute the drag force that hobbles the technology infrastuctre of business that depend on it - become the key reason for them falling behind their competitors.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kindred Art

There are very few things quite as fugly as the Styrofoam coffee cup - i.e unless you are like this artist who uses them as his canvas to sketch on with Sharpie pens. Suddenly the lowly cup becomes a beautiful work of art. The pictures reminded me of the black and white illustrations in the version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam I had many read years ago - I cannot remember the name of the artist though. Yet the difference in context of the art could not be starker. One a volume of old love poems made more magical by sketches and the other the doodlings on a thoroughly modern disposable coffee cup.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Which Way Home

HBO's Which Way Home is a difficult film to watch. Having grown up in India, I have seen poverty right outside my backyard, seen kids just like the child migrants to the US, the movie follows - children with no prospects, no hope, no education, destined to die in the same miserable conditions they were born into.

The families back in Gautamela, Mexico and Honduras that these migrant children come from are not nearly the same dire straits as the most marginalized in India. And yet they would risk life and limb to make the dangerous crossing across the desert, travel for days on freight trains hoping to make it into the US - have a better life. They fully understand the risks involved and are completely unfazed by it. It is amazing to see the amount of grit and determination these young people have - you can't help respect them for their courage.

Several kids profiled in the film have one or both parents working in the US - parents they have no hope of ever being reunited with unless they are able to cross the border illegally. The poor and destitute in India have nowhere to go across the border where they may hope to find a better life - but such is not the case with South America. The US is this mythical place where all dreams can come true and it is within reach.

As legal immigrants to this country, we feel trapped by the system whose sole purpose appears to be to frustrate people to the point that they return home. Yet very few return - we continue to waste the best years of our lives trying to gain a toe-hold in a foreign country so our children can have a better life than we did. These child migrants come here so they can help the adults back home. That is the common thread between the stories of all immigrants no matter what their provenance - we sacrifice large chunks of our lives so those we love can have a what we could not. I could not help feeling a strong sense of kinship with these young people while feeling humbled by their fierce sense of purpose and ability to defy the odds stacked against them.

At a time when any discussion on immigration reform, stirs up some pretty strong emotions among voters in the US, Which Way Home highlights the plight of the children (who will eventually become illegal immigrants in America) who are desperate for a better life well past the point where they can be deterred by any means - they have the freedom of those who have nothing left to lose.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Husband Plus Career

Maureen Dowd's caustic commentary on the wives of famous, philandering men has this one gem of an observation that any woman would do well to heed :

If you make your husband your career and you lose your husband, you lose your career, too.

A lot of women make the "ultimate" sacrifice of their own career, education and more to further the cause of their husband's career. When these men stray, the women as Dowd notes feel "doubly betrayed". While is she right in that observation, the reasoning is a tad incomplete.

The kind of women Dowd describes are not making a self-less sacrifice for their husbands. Often they funnel their own ambitions through the most suitable conduit for it - namely their husbands. Sacrifice is hardly the right word to use for such an action - betting or gambling is more like it. These ladies are betting that they have their money on the right horse which when goaded enough would yield the results they seek.

Sometimes, the bet is wrongly placed or worse the horse turns out to be willful and unmanageable. They might want to be more than the receptacle of another person's ambition and agenda. Such marriages are not necessarily the healthiest to begin with. Not surprisingly under the right amount of stress, the palace of cards often comes tumbling down.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Attribution

If a majority professional publisher start to use solutions like Attributor to monetize their content, it would be at the cost of lost prolificity in blogosphere, twitterscape and the like. Today, anyone with an internet connection and an opinion can go to town for free, re-linking to their sources without fear of having a fee slapped on them for their trouble. It seems to be fair to everyone, only attributions that result in search engine rankings at par or better than the orginial source shoud be paying (if at all).

The no-name blog that shows up on page 30 of search results is noise that no one is hearing anyways - to that extent their attributions have little meaning. They should probably just be allowed to add their two cents for free. This would give the little people who feel empowered today with blogs and tweets as their vehicle for communicating ideas to continue to enjoy that freedom.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

iPod Obituary

Even before I got around to buying myself an iPod, the pundits are writing its obituary. Only in the world of technology can a Rip Van Winkle emerge from a decade long slumber can fit right in. All you miss is a couple of over-rated hype cycles that have all but fizzled out by then. You just latch on the newest fad wave that comes along and all of a sudden the last ten years that you were absent does not count for so much - you are just as up to speed as everyone else who was around the whole time. Something seems wrong about that picture. When history becomes discrete packages that can stand alone without needing a the broader canvas of events and ideas that helped form them, it does not feel real. Large chunks of time can be purged out of the records without impacting much.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Four Day Week

This Scientific American article on the economic and environmental benefits of the 4 day work week implemented by the government of Utah, has provoked an assortment of comments for readers. Clearly, the 10 x 4 work week is not everyone's idea of work-life balance panacea. The first thing that comes to mind is the coverage of daycare and after-school care centers. Unless they synchronize their hours of operation to match those of the Mon-Thu workers, the benefits would disappear very quickly.

If schools were to operate closer to a 9-5 schedule it would do a world of good for the parents - not only will they have to spend less on child care costs, they would be spending less time on the road back and forth from picking up and dropping off their kids at locations that call for lengthy detours from their home to office commute. Obviously, such an arrangement hurts the prospects of childcare businesses but in the long run, both parents and children can have a better quality of life - a goal that should definitely be worth more than lost revenue for businesses that exist solely because of the misalignment between school and work hours.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Slowness Drink

I am all for embracing slowness and often wish everything and everyone around me felt the same way as I do about excessive speed. Be it the frenetic pace at which we go through the work day, try to gobble as much information as possible while we are on-line (which for many is all the time) or the corners we cut while putting a meal on the table, speed is ubiquitous.

There is this notion that the faster we get there the better off we are. Those that want to slow down get left so far behind that they are not socially viable any more. Paul Davis in his article on slow reading challenges this idea. He says :

That never-ending data stream isn't going anywhere, and the fact is, we may need its addictive distraction more than it needs our attention.

That said, I love the idea of an anti-energy drink and can't wait to try Slow Cow. Maybe if they had these things coming out of vending machines at workplaces, people would give calm a chance over a shot of energy when they stressed, doing themselves and others a favor in the process.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fixer

The news of Afghanistan is almost always present in the media and it is rarely good. Yet when delivered to us by the perfectly coiffed newsreader from the comfort of their newsrooms, the intensity of what is going on there is hugely diminished. The distance between our living rooms and killing fields of that country feels so great that any real connection to the people caught in the strife and violence is impossible. In a few minutes they have moved on to other news of the day. We may have caught a glimpse of this war-ravaged country for thirty seconds, heard an abbreviated testimony from a captive journalist and so on. Life goes on.

With HBO's documentary Fixer : The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, we have the unique opportunity to understand what kind of personal sacrifices and life threatening risks journalists have to take in order to bring those three to five minute mentions of Afghanistan in mainstream media. Naqshbandi was an Afghan journalist - or more accurately a fixer (defined in Wikipedia as "a local guide who assists foreign journalists in volatile countries, they often provide interpretation, personal connections, and transportation as a service")

The story weaves in an out of the events leading up Ajmal's capture by the Taliban, the interviews he helped fix preceding that and reactions of his friends and family at his execution. He comes across as a man wise beyond his years, with a deep understanding of the politics and power play that makes Afghanistan the hotbed of violence and social unrest that it is today.

This film is also a moving testament to misplaced trust in one's countrymen and the plight of a people who have nowhere to turn to for help when they need it most desperately. The deaths of Nasqbandi and several others like him would not have been completely in vain, if thanks to this documentary, at least some consumers of news pause to consider the people who become stories about Afghanistan or better do something about their plight.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Memory Aid

Recently at a CVS near my house, while I was waiting for the pharmacist to help me, I spent my time checking out the wide assortment of pill boxes on sale. Each contraption was obviously designed to help people remember to take medications on time and while being easy to access. While it was fascinating to see how much energy had been invested into solving this very common problem, the chances of any of the systems in being really helpful seemed slim.

Now, the
Glo Cap Connector with its ability to play increasingly insistent melodies to prompt us take our medicines is likely to be a lot more effective. While they are at it, they might want to embed a little something in the pills to make sure we are actually eating it and not flushing it down the toilet.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Birthday

The last birthday I spent with my ex (R) was the also the first (and upto now the only) one in which I was pregnant. I did not know at the time that it was going to me the last time I would be growing a year older while still married to him. Yet it was a very special date - a date that cleaved my life in two. One before motherhood, the other after; one as a woman who believed in the posterity of marriage and the other who was ready to leave from it. It was also the day that I realized I did not love R any more and it was an irreversible state.

We were like two planets hurtling in opposite directions powered by that amazing force of repulsion generated when extreme love turns into its antithesis. If ever there was a day in my life when I had complete clarity of thought, that was the day. The mists has lifted and I was finally able to see my world for what it was. Every birthday since then, I have had J and each year she has continued to chip away at the pain of things that I have lost in life.

This year, J knocked at my door well before sunrise. She burst into the room with a rice paper lamp with a tea light candle shimmering inside and a bag full of hand-made gifts to wish me happy birthday. She had asked my parents who are visiting to wake her up early so she could surprise me and had barely slept at night from all the excitement of planning. I told J that she came in like a Florence Nightingale with a lamp in her hand.

She is too young to understand my choice of metaphor; the healing power of her presence in my life and her ability to salve old wounds, revive and renew me on my birthdays. Some day she will know why I said what I did. As for me, this birthday will remain imprinted in memory for ever - J in her green tee shirt, lamp in hand, bounding in with her cheery 'Happy Birthday, Mommy !' to give me a big hug and fill my world with happiness such as only she can conjure.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Perfume And Corona

Read this beautiful poem by Tony Hoagland in which he describes a woman in love. He writes in Grammar:

some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,


As you grow older, you don't see a lot of these women in your social circles. Almost everyone is past their falling in love days - it is an old marriage, a committed relationship of several years or maybe it is the choice to go it solo. There is no corona to find and neither is there "the perfume of fermenting joy" to be attracted to. I found myself thinking of friends from years ago when I read these lines - they had been at that time in their lives, the kind of women who could be only described the way Hoagland does.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts On A Break

D's mom took J and D to the movies and dinner a few weekends ago. As she left our house she said to me "Enjoy a little break". She obviously meant well and indeed if there is one thing I have precious little of, it is time for myself. While I fully intended to make the most of the short break, I found myself growing restless altogether too soon. Once that feeling wore off, the house felt too silent and bare - like the life-spark had gone from it - I longed for J to be back and set things right.

I realized I am at that point in my life when I no longer know what to do with myself when I am not working or doing chores. Here was the much desired "break" someone gifted me and I had no idea what to do with it. J is twined so close and tight to my life that her absence even for a few hours becomes a strain. If anything this serves as a cautionary tale for me to wean myself from all-consuming all-encompassing Mommyhood.

This is an essential rite of passage I can defer for later only at my own risk. I loved growing up in a home where parents were available when required but never hovered too close for comfort. They both had a full life outside their identity as parents. To not be able to give J the same kind of space and freedom I enjoyed would be nothing short of being unfair to her.

Being a single-parent has had many challenges but the rewards of being a mother has always compensated for them. Somewhere along the way, I must have failed to see the signs of my own dependence on J or worse ignored what I did see. I may end up having a very normal, well-adjusted child for my efforts to that end but become the parent lacking some of the same equilibrium that I strive to build in my child.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rewarding Sustainability

Ecopup is a nice idea and it seems easy enough for all kinds of environment conscious organizations to latch on to without too much effort. A customer could be rewarded for shopping brands they endorse, better still for not patronizing businesses that have a poor track record for being eco-friendly. With the incentives designed right any system similar to Ecopup can set up a virtuous cycle that will prompt people to act in ways that helps the enviornment and the communities they live in.

Enlisting one's friends to participate in sustainability efforts can be rewarded to prompt folks to spread the word around. The Ecopup idea taken to the extreme would probably involve Amway style recruitment efforts so individuals could rake in their points, rewards, clique and buying power. That may be the point at which it becomes too much of a good thing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Internet And Libraries

The Internet has competed for my woefully few reading-for-pleasure hours - ever since I have had it around 24/7. Before that books had my undivided attention. That said, I am able to appreciate Ray Bradbury's tirade against the internet. He has the following to say about it :

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Distracting, unreal and ether-based - absolutely but meaningless is perhaps a little too harsh an indictment. Bradbury loves libraries and is fighting to keep them around and well-funded - needless to say this is the right thing to do. If you do have the good fortune to have unlimited access to libraries, the internet may not been a life-saver but in a poorer, more backward country where libraries are a luxury, access to the web would be what it takes to bring the citizenry from figurative darkness to light. It can make the difference between making it across the digital divide or being left behind in technology prehistory. That is not meaningless.

Even if that were an over-statement given the not so erudite ways the medium is put to use by those who stand to benefit the most from it, the power of the internet is undeniable.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Half Truths

I have been recently stumped by a question (actually a pair of them) from J - Are there more good people in the world than there are bad people. I gave her the optimistic world-view but was I sure I was right or even convinced that was the case ? Her next question was obviously - Why then do they always show only bad news. Why do I not hear any good news or about things the good people do?

To tell her why I thought the news cycles wallowed in the unhappiness of the world would quickly nullify what I had said about the inherent goodness in all people just a few seconds ago and prompt her to ask more difficult questions I was unprepared to answer. I could have of course recoursed to a shameless lie but was spared that option because something diverted J's attention. Parents lie and often with what seems to be good reason and yet there are consequences. Paul Graham has an insightful post on this topic.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Throwback

Love the idea of a clock powered entirely by water. At $16, the price is a nice surprise. How wonderful it would be to have more household appliances powered similarly. Equally nice is the idea of an evolving photo tree. Being able to touch and feel images does more to relive the happy memories associated (at least for me) than watching a stream of digital images on a screen-saver. The beauty of both these ideas lie in their ability to connect us to a simpler time in the past.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Negative Price

Home buying is no walk in the park even in the best of times and these days the process seems to be fraught with even more unknowns and variables. When you read that at some point, a prospective buyer of a condo could actually get paid by the seller so the property is off their books, you have to wonder what else is left to see.

If is makes sense for the seller to pay someone to take ownership of their property, logically,it must not be a good deal for the buyer even at a negative price. Do they then wait a little longer to see if better inducements to come along - maybe someone will throw in a late model car in as well so they can get rid of the condo.This Bankrate article has a succinct analogy for
negative equity which makes it easy to appreciate how hurtful it can be :

Having negative equity is like walking on a treadmill with an injured knee. You don't get anywhere, and it's painful. If you're lucky enough to be financially solvent, that puts you in the enviable position of being able to make the house payments, even though it feels like you're throwing hard-earned money into an abyss.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Books For Kids

I have blogged before about my challenges in picking a book J will like, less find a a genre or two that will always work. I frequently defer to experts and follow their recommendations being that I have no recent experience with children's literature. Also as frequently, J rejects what I find for her though every once in a great while she'll love a book and want to read everything that author wrote. Saw yet another list of classics for children.

The first thing that caught my attention about it was the absence of C.S Lewis and J.K Rowling - I do find it hard to think of the Narnia Chronicles or Harry Potter as classics. Also, there was the repeat appearance of E. Nesbit one of my favorite writers as a child. There are quite a few books on the list that I have not read. Maybe now would be a good time to make up for what I missed out as a child and as a bonus, it way well pique J's curiosity to see me reading something at her reading level.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Desi Fact Check

I logged into to an old email account after a long time to check if it was still active. Back in the day of my disastrous forays into the world of desi dating, I had used this address and no sooner than I had logged in, did I get pinged. The guy's name was not even vaguely familiar but he insisted we had chatted at some point in the past. What is more he insisted on chatting now. I figured the only way to shake if off would be to go offline or go invisible. But I got lucky :

Him: where r u now a days ??
Me: (name of my state)
Him: ok...
Him: how long u have been there ?
Me: is this the typical desi fact-check - how long lived in US, when arrived, visa status, annual salary, rent or own, skill-set ?
Him : lol
Me: I don't respond to any of those qs

Never heard a peep from him after that. I was able to clean-up my Inbox in peace and sign-out when I was done. I guess the desi bro had nothing else to ask me outside my will not respond to questions. Strange are the ways of the brethren.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bings And Tweets

While I would love to have alternatives to Google as a tool to navigate around the web, I'm not sure Bing is the thing I am looking for. The focus on being the exact opposite seems to get in the way of its substance. The big background image (as opposed to all Google's stark white) with links embedded all over it begs the question "Why do I need all this ?"

Even so, I have been using Bing sometimes to search just to see if I see significant difference in results - it's none too obvious from what I can tell. I just don't seem to get the usability of this site - too many misplaced options, too little by way of intutiveness. Then there is this odd marriage (or maybe not if the idea was to get on board the real-time search bandwagon) between Twitter and Bing called BingTweets.

Just the clutter on the trending topics was fugly enough for me to not want to return. Add to that the annoying left scroll bar and the frame in frame search results all clamoring for attention and I am really ready to leave. I guess I won't be in a hurry to enlist Bing's help to decision make.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nature At Work

A time-lapse camera to catch the blooming of a flower is a very charming idea. However, unless you watch the footage at the speed in which it was captured, it has no special value - it is just another movie of a flower blooming. The other applications of the camera seem to be more realistic :

Weather resistant and discreetly green, the GardenWatchCam is designed to naturally blend in to a garden. But, of course, it needn’t just be gardens you document. You could speed the painfully slow process of building a house, for example, into a two-minute masterwork of construction. Or watch leaves change color... or figure out whose dog keeps fouling your lawn.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Boy Interrupted

In her proposal for Boy Interrupted, Dana Perry writes :

We hope that this film will stand as a vibrant portrait of a wonderful, complicated young man - struggles and all - that will inform and enrich viewers with a clear-eyed look at the alarming reality of mental illness and suicide.

The film is everything the Perry wanted to it to be and more. We see the thin line that divides the normal and sane from its that which is not. A cute and precocious little boy can suddenly, unaccountably and uncontrollably go over to the dark side - a place that is as frightenening for him as it is for those who love him. This is the story of Evan Perry's short life. His family struggles to find him the help him needs to cope with his illness and Evan when his is bright, happy self even wants to help himself.

Yet, the struggle between the forces of light and darkness that are interwined inextricably in his life is unrelenting. The emotions that normal children feel become life-threatening when experienced by Evan - it is the mental equivalent of a severe phyiscal impairment. It is like Evan's brother Nick puts it - Evan lacked the emotional shock absorbers that most of us have.

In documenting their son's life and death, the Perrys make the remarkable sacrifice of reliving the pain and trauma they have suffered. They manage to draw the viewer completely into their world. If shared pain is pain divided, then hopefully it brings them the closure they must have sought is creating this film.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Testing For Flaws

The first time I encountered a Personalysis type test was in high school. We had a career counselor come in to advise on career options that were best aligned to our intellectual abilities (measured by an IQ test) and our personality. The IQ test was one thing but the other battery designed to reveal the real me really got my goat. The woman who administered the test had this smug look about her that suggested that she'd tease out every last secret from our souls because she was a psychologist and had the tools to be able to do so. When you are in your teens and believe that you have it all figured out, for an adult to come across with that kind of attitude is a open invitation to fight.

So I answered the test that was supposed to reveal the "real" person behind my facade as misleadingly as I could. For every honest answer, there were ten others that were not. In hopes of making things more confusing for her, I did my best to randomize the pattern of my inaccurate responses. After the test was done, when I compared notes with my compadres, I was delighted to find that almost everyone else had taken the test the way I had. We gloated over our cleverness and our ability to game the very system designed to "help" us.

When the results came out, we were surprised that the findings were not as far off the mark as we would have wanted them to be. It was a mirror (even if considerably grimy) held up to our true selves. I briefly wondered what might have been revealed if I had taken the test the way it was meant to be - if the findings could have actually been helpful.

This article about an online test that would predict an individual's probability of suffering depression piqued my interest. Looking at the questions reminded me of what I had found annoying about that personality test from years ago. There is very little imagination is what is asked and how it is asked. Anyone can tell the difference between a "good" and "bad" answer. No one wants to viewed or be identified negatively - acceptance of problem is half the battle won.

There would be no need for a test if people were so willing to come out and ask for help when they needed it. A good test in my mind should be designed with a lot more finesse. The questions should offer no clues whatsoever into their intent and similarly the answers should not be recognized as good or bad. A test is worthless when the subject of the test is so readily able to manipulate it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ways To Fish

Interesting article in the Prospect magazine on the web as seen through Google. The author writes

Pampered by Google, most of us have got used to thinking of the online world as one seamlessly interconnected whole: 30bn pages all instantly accessible via the right search term and the click of a mouse.

Indeed for most of us, if it does not show up by way of Google search it does not exist for all practical purposes - the world wide web spreads only as far and wide as it's net can be cast. With everyone having access to the same tool to look for the information they need, knowledge is as egalitarian as it is unoriginal.

Ten years ago, one might have picked up a few books to keep up with the latest in technology, today they would simply subscribe to the relevant feeds and podcasts. While in the past, you could have been limited by your access to limited physical resources, it also inherently made for a good amount of diversity in what people knew about any subject. In turn this made possible a healthy exchange of ideas and the opportunity to learn something from person to person interaction. Today, Google holds all the answers making the human sources mostly irrelevant.


So if it takes, Bing, Biadu et al, to give people different ways to fish from our common pool of knowledge, chances are we will not all be catching the same the exact same thing - and can only be a good thing for everyone.