Sunday, February 28, 2010

Being A Doll

A couple of weeks ago, I surprised J by taking her out for breakfast early on a Saturday morning. As is her wont, she stood in front of the menu for a good fifteen minutes, trying to figure out which kind of bagel she wanted and if the strawberry smoothie was the drink to go with it.

While we stood there waiting for epiphany to strike J, a cute  toddler waddled up to me with a doll tucked in her arm. "My doll's name is Millie" she said to me and then pointing to J she asked "What's your doll's name ?". Her parents and I burst out laughing and I told the little person "You know, she's not a doll. She actually walks and talks just like us."

Millie's owner considered this piece of information about J somewhat skeptically but did note that J was smiling at her. Her mom said to her "She may not be a doll, but she really is very pretty isn't she". We ordered, got our bagels and drink and left. On the way back J realized that she had been complimented on her appearance and felt rather pleased with herself. Overzealous mom that I am, I could not let such a "teachable moment" go waste.

I pointed out to J that  physical beauty is directly related to the goodness of a person's heart. As long as she continues to be a good and kind person she will remain pretty but if she loses that inner beauty, the outward perfection will disappear too. If she became vain, unkind or arrogant, she would no longer seem quite so doll-like. If she likes how she looks, she must continue to be a good kid and never forget the importance of humility.

J is no stranger to having strangers come up and tell her how pretty she is, so I have taken it upon myself to temper that with lessons I believe will help build her confidence and self-esteem in ways that have nothing to do with her physical appearance. I hope for her sake and mine that I can prevail and that my methods are right.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Best Friend Plus

I had an interesting relationship conversation with a gay friend recently. She has been with her partner for over twenty years now and a lesson she learned from the ups and downs of their relationship is useful for anyone. B has come to realize the pitfalls of expecting the significant other to also be one's best friend. The two can and likely should be different people, though some people may find one person who can be both.

While that can be a happy coincidence, it is never good idea to enter a relationship with that being the expectation. Sometimes best friendship can actually undermine the chemistry between two people. A little friction between them can on the contrary, help keep the spark alive. According to be B, when we are drawn into a relationship by the strong bonds of friendship or once in it expect that to blossom magically, things can go really wrong.

This is a mistake I know I have made at least once. In R (my ex), I did have a best friend but he was just not the kind of husband I needed. He was never meant to be both but I insisted upon it and the rest is history. I am sure, I was a disappointment to him for the same reasons and like me he wanted for me to be more than what I was able to be to him. Having lost both companionship (as inadequate as that had been) and my closest friend, set the tone for  future relationships as well. I was asking for too much and was naturally disappointed.

In my own way, I have arrived at the same conclusion as B. The realization helped me nurture the close friendships of many years standing, that I had neglected in the tumult of marriage and the aftermath of divorce. With the need for friendship satisfied, I was able to focus on what I really sought in a relationship and was surprised to discover that my needs were very simple.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bystander

Reading this heartbreaking account of a boy's abuse by his stepfather with the tacit consent of his mother had me depressed for days. I found myself thinking about the summer weekends when my neighbor L and her two daughters splashed in the pool all day with her boyfriend. I always thought the man was a little too friendly with the girls who were eight and ten years old at the time.

Like their mother, they were both very beautiful, friendly and outgoing.Since L seemed comfortable with the interaction between her boyfriend and her daughters, I did not think it appropriate to voice any concerns - maybe I was just being paranoid and needlessly cynical.The mother was right there with them, it was not like he was alone with the girls. Surely, she would be able to tell right away if anything was amiss.

After reading Joel Johnson's story, I don't know anymore - maybe L, like his mother knew what was going on and chose to turn a blind eye. The need to have a man in her life may have been compelling enough for her to do so. Maybe I should have trusted my gut and sought help. My maternal instincts made me want to rush out and take L's daughters out of harm's way  - and I felt guilty about not doing anything. I needed very badly to believe I was wrong in thinking what I was about L's boyfriend and that everything was just fine. I feel an even greater need now.

L has moved out of the neighborhood. Last I heard, she was getting married to her boyfriend. I hope never to see the day when L's daughters share a story like Johnson's with the whole world - I pray they never have the need to do so.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Art of Bragging

Found this article on how to brag via Marginal Revolution. The insights are interesting but not necessarily path-breaking. Being blatantly boastful is painfully obvious both to the person who is participating in the conversation and to on-lookers. It definitely makes them unpopular. Subtlety definitely helps but even that becomes evident after a while when there is a pattern to leading questions and remarks that open the opportunity to brag. Bragging just a little on occasion clearly has its uses :

'In situations ranging from a first date to a job interview, people commonly face the dilemma of how to make their listeners aware of their success without being perceived as braggers,' Tal-Or said. 'The present research provides a possible solution to this dilemma.'

There is also the issue of the person chosing not to be boastful being at a distinct disadvantage because they have to stand out in a crowd where everyone else is not making any effort to be humble. This is a lot like being the only at a party in jeans when every one is dressed to the nines. You stand out for being different but not necessarily in the most favorable light.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Better Options

This article on a better drop down menu for gender made for interesting reading. It is not a perspective I had - it was good to learn something new. A slight variation on the slider model that the author presents might by something like a heat map. A user so inclined, could find a spot on that best identified who they were or what their position was on a certain issue. 

The idea being that the traditional drop down is good if your goal is to bucket people into clear categories but is not nearly useful as a tool for an individual to express themseleves. Somewhere between writing a thousand word essay on gender (the topic of Sarah Dopp's article) and picking either Male or Female is a myraid of user interface possibilities. It is a wonderful idea with diverse applicability and it would be great to see it implemented on main stream websites in a way that appeals to the non-geek crowd as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Walk Score

One of the first things I research about neighborhood before an upcoming move is school district - used to be daycare centers before that. Naturally, this is a very common thing for parents of school age kids to do and there is a rash of websites to help with the process. It is only by chance that I landed in a neighborhood that also has a lot within walking distance - quite a rarity in the suburbs.

Last month when we got snowed in for a week, J and I were able to walk across the street and get some essential groceries - no small blessing in that kind of weather. It was not until my friend D's husband came in an dug my car out of the snow that I was able to drive anywhere. At times like that you realize the importance of having your most basic needs available at walking distance - something WalkScore does.

My street address scored  32 out of a 100 but it is enough to survive. A friend's house scored a mere 5 and the difference is exactly representative of the relative walkability of our addresses. I had to look K's address up as that is in the absolute boondocks and not surprisingly, it scored a 0. Now, I feel better about being hit by a ton of inertia each time K invites me over - it takes for ever to get there and it is still in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Start Up Demographic

Read Write Web has this great article on the changing demographic of internet savvy users and the need to meet their needs by bringing diversity into the start-up minded entrepreneurs. The story is mainly about the why women are not part of this demographic in proportion to their numbers on-line but it also notes that there are others who need to look at other sources - specially non-technical, non-engineering ones for the most promising ideas :

There are just as many women online as there are men (74% of each gender in the U.S.), and none of us Internet users are getting any younger. In order to address the needs and interests of millions of older and increasingly diverse Internet users who aren't necessarily geeks, it would be wise to look at projects originating from the same source - from ordinary entrepreneurs who now have the Internet savvy to make a significant contribution.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ahead This Year

Sienna Farris looks at her Magic 8 Ball in this AdWeek column. The first three are already happening so more likely than not it will continue in the new year. The fourth requires having some social media marketing experience under the belt. Farris suggests : You'll see more companies using simulations and augmented reality to provide users branded text overlays and 3-D virtual demos on their phone viewfinder.

I would argue, that may be where companies need to reach but not a lot of them will able to go quite that far yet. Making that gaint leap in a year may not be feasible. I really like the last implication on the list : 
 
5. Crowd sourcing will turn social media into a direct sales channel. 

This could be the place where the interests of sales and marketing organizations can converge instead of being at odds with each other as they traditionally have been.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kicking Tires


I have blogged before on my view that dating is not a necessary detour to marriage and found something to ponder over this story I read some time ago, about a Japanese man marrying the avatar from a dating game. There are some interesting possibilities that come to mind. A lot of people swear by the efficacy of getting to know their potential partner over time - trying to simulate conditions of their real life after marriage. The idea being that they will be able to uncover "the real" person. When the right circumstances intersect, the stress will be enough to peel away the facade and the truth about who they are will become evident. When that happens, making a decision one way or the other becomes simple. 

More often that not, the "stress test" method fails because it is almost impossible to weight the large number of variables that are at play, exactly right. Sometimes, people will get entrapped in situations that they will regret later and at other times they will have walked away from a person and relationship that would might have been ideal for them.

A dating game if set up right should be able to do a lot more for two people in a Second Life setting (not a sim) than they might be able to left to their own devices. They can take their relationship through the paces without actually being there.What would make things more useful is for players to save and share their previous games with new partners. When a relationship turns serious it would default to full-disclosure mode so there is nothing left to guess or need to spend time in the whole discovery process that  dating is all about. The more pre-scripted the moves, the more efficient the whole process would be. Assuming people are busy and time is of the essence, it becomes imperative that the game goes from start to end fairly quickly and the results are unambiguous. If a game ends up taking months to complete and/or the outcome is not deterministic then one might as well go out and date in the real world and deal with all that it entails.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Life Line

On what could have been a quiet and even lonely Valentine's Day, Zubin called Sheila early in the morning. There was nothing romantic about it - they were two old friends catching up on a weekend. When she asked him what he had planned for the day, Zubin said "I have already done what I was supposed to today - I called you". Sheila's first instinct was a compelling need to feel guilt - he was another woman's husband and here he was telling her what he was. Her inability to work up contrition, made her feel that much worse. "That's charming and I am flattered. But what about the woman you are married to ?" she found herself asking. 
"I'll probably take her out for dinner and buy her a gift" Sheila wondered how it might feel to be that woman. The husband was going through the expected motions of Valentine's Day - he probably did the same on her birthday and their anniversary as well. To the world outside, they would appear a normal, happy couple. In his heart, he felt no connection with her - calling Sheila to just chat about mundane things was more fulfilling to him on a day considered special for lovers. 
Yet, they had never been lovers - he had never put words to describe his feelings for Sheila and neither had she for him. For the longest time, they did not even know what those feelings might be. It was understood that they had a place in each other's hearts - the nature of which would likely never be fully articulated or defined. In never having transgressed the line of friendship, they felt safe calling their relationship platonic but it was too profound to not matter to their respective significant others. After they got off the phone, Sheila wondered how they ended up in this complicated place - why was it that she did not feel she was doing wrong by Zubin's wife by allowing him to stay in touch with her, enjoy her company even if only through phone calls and email. 
She should have felt bad about waiting for him to call on weekends, having him say "Keep me company on the phone - I have a couple of hours to drive until I reach London" on his way to a business meeting. After talking for an hour, he might call again later and say "Looks like I haven't had my fill of you today. Can we talk some more ?". The man was hungering for companionship that his own marriage did not give him - he was begging her for a little time with her. He did not seek more and would have left without a word if Sheila ever told him that she did not want to continue this situation they had going on.

She simply could not bring herself to be so cruel as to deprive Zubin the one joy of his life - talking to her sometimes. She felt sorry for all three of them - surely they all deserved better than what life had cast in their lot. The wife did not know the Zubin she did - he had never made an effort to get her fully acquainted with the person he really was. Not surprisingly, their marriage left lifeless - Sheila blamed Zubin for this.

He would say, he had tried but she was just not right for him - something that had become evident a few years into their marriage. After the newness of physical intimacy wore off, there was nothing of substance left besides a shared gaol of making things work out while keeping on a happy face. If the life line that Sheila provided him were withdrawn, he might find it even harder to go through the motions of a happy marriage.

Effeminate Fashion


In the last decade, ethnic wear for desi men has undergone some pretty cataclysmic changes. The dull colors that dominated the kurta and sherwani section of their wardrobes have now given way to a Full Monty of rainbow hues in pastel and rich jewel tones.There is almost no color that a desi man will not wear. When you add the intricate embroidery and other embellishments that go with their ensembles, it is hard to tell a man's attire apart form a woman's.

I have always wondered if men feel differently about themselves when dressed in colors that were for the longest time associated with women and therefore embody femininity. Does it help or hurt their masculinity to go well past the traditional boundaries of their gender.

Each time I see a desi man thus attired, I feel slightly perplexed - maybe I am far too old school to be able to appreciate this particular aesthetic sensibility. I have had other Indian women express their puzzlement over this relatively recent trend as well. A lot of them would prefer their own men to stick with traditional "male colors" with a dash of modern day pizazz thrown in. They would much rather not have their men look like a kurta model from a fashion magazine minus the physique and chutzpah required to carry something so decidedly unmanly.

Just like a stunning woman looks beautiful even when dressed in men's clothing, a very handsome man can look perfectly masculine and attractive  while wearing a sequined lavender kurta paired with lime green pajamas. Clearly, it is a not a style option for everyone as it has become lately. When it does not work out (as is often the case) it is an eyesore and a source of embarrassment to the women related to the man in question. 

Read this interesting comment on the feminizing men's fashion  that talks about some of the peripheral effects as well. Contemporary fashion for desi men's is takes feminization to an extreme that western attire does not readily allow. The worst offender may be a hibiscus patterned shirt in red and yellow which can't hold a candle to one of those turquoise zardosi numbers paired with yards of silk or chiffon in the form of an ankle-length scarf. Such crimes in the name of men's fashion that can be committed only within the desi ouevre.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shaken By Buzz


The Google Buzz nag screen's come up a few times the last couple of weeks and I was foolish to ignore it and proceed to my mailbox. Reading a very uncomplimentary article on this latest Google offering, prompted me to go check what it was all about. I was shocked to find that I was following some people and others were following me - that my chat status updates would be broadcast to pretty much anyone who had ever mailed me. To say I was outraged would be understating it.

Clearly, you have limited rights when you get a service for free but what Google has done here is beyond egregious. Most likely none of us knew what was happening to us. In a mad rush to get into the social media and buzz business, Google had prodded us against our will into sharing with each other what we may not want to. Apparently, they learned nothing from Facebook's recent experience with hijacking their user's right to privacy.

While a Gmail account is a personal email address, not all contacts are alike - J's dance teacher, a former co-worker, my neighbor, old friends, new acquaintances are very different from each other and I may not want to share things alike with all of them as Google has taken upon itself to do. I had to unfollow myself and block those who were following me just to get back to where we were before Buzz happened. Even after having done all that, I don't feel particularly safe as far as my privacy. What if they decide to sneak up and share other things without first giving me a choice to opt out.

Used to be that Google was about one thing - Search. Also used to be that they were not Evil. First there was Wave and now there is Buzz, a month later it will something else because there is the cool new thing that everyone's checking out and Google will want in on the action. The way things are, it is hard to decide what they want their users to do though the least they could do is to leave us alone.

While the landing page is still minimalist, the clutter, confusion and general lack of cohesion is not any different from Yahoo - it's just a couple of clicks away instead of being in your face. The result is no different - Google like Yahoo is losing focus and history is known to repeat itself. This reminds me of what a buddy who works for Microsoft told me once "Wait for a few years and Google bashing will become even more fashionable than Microsoft bashing".

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Empowement In Contradiction


When I first started blogging some years ago, I used to frequently visit a certain well known blog (at least at the time it used to be). Besides the content (which was consistently excellent), I found the blogroll particularly interesting - it represented a myriad of interests from science, music, economics, politics, graphic design, technology, gourmet cooking to the lives of high end call girls and everything in between.

Thus came about my acquaintance with Belle de jour and the blogs by some other high end escorts. They were all well written and apparently belonged to women who were spectacularly beautiful and accomplished and did what they did for the money (not to mention pleasure). Instead of feeling entrapped and exploited they found it empowering to do be able to command the prices they did and on their own terms.

The rationale being that if one is a free agent then this line of work is no longer demeaning At that point it just becomes a job that happens to pay very well. The dollar value they had been able to assign to the trade was very satisfactory - that any amount of money could be considered a "fair trade" for granting sexual favors is a glaring contradiction to empowerment in my mind but that's just my opinion.

One woman described an  elaborate screening process she had established that would determine if a man would be eligible to be her client. The idea was they did not barter sex for money or gifts indiscriminately and they were not this profession for the lack of better options. Many like Belle de jour had advanced degrees and high paying jobs. This gig was no more than moonlighting but it paid very well - with international travel and diamond trinkets thrown in for good measure. As far as they were concerned they were putting nature's bounty of youth to good use and monetizing it for all it was worth.

A reasonable reader might take this all in with grain of salt - anything that looks too good to be true often is. As a marketing ploy for a book, I thought this was a terrific idea - it got the readers piqued if not anything else. Reading this book extract from Superfreakonomics at Delanceyplace made me wonder if the depressed wages for prostitutes affects these women too and if that would in turn affect their perception of empowerment.

"Why has the prostitute's wage fallen so far?

"Because demand has fallen dramatically. Not the demand for sex. That is still robust. But prostitution, like any industry, is vulnerable to competition.

"Who poses the greatest competition to a prostitute? Simple: any woman who is willing to have sex with a man for free.

"It is no secret that sexual mores have evolved substantially in recent decades. The phrase 'casual sex' didn't exist a century ago (to say nothing of 'friends with benefits'). Sex outside of marriage was much harder to come by and carried significantly higher penalties than it does today."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spotting Food


Foodspotting is a lot like Foursquare except it is only about food. This is different from a restaurant review or recommendation in that "Foodspotting is a visual local guide that lets you find dishes instead of just restaurants. It's powered by Foodspotters, who can share their food photos and expertise while building a rich collection of foods and where to find them."  

My zipcode yielded no results (why am I not surprised) and invited me to be the first Foodspotter in the area. As with any niche social media application, this one has its own vernacular "Noms are for foods you've tried and loved best. But there's a catch: You only get 5 noms to start with and must earn the right to nom more foods after that! The more reputation points you earn, the more noms you're allowed to give out."

As the languages are lost in a globalized world, new dialects such as this are being created.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Facebook Happy

About five years ago, I came to got acquainted with a man (let's call him S1) - a physician by profession. He had been single after a serious relationship that ended a while ago. Given the demands of his job, he had little time to date or try out a relationship to see if it had staying power. To that end, he found desi matrimonial sites very helpful. Both parties come into it knowing there was a specific end game. If there is a click you get hitched, if not you move on. Sounded pretty sensible to me but there were a few red flags. S1 was extremely secretive about his personal details, he acted like we were getting married before the week was out and finally there was all together too much talk of physical intimacy being inevitable in "our situation". 

He did share quite a bit about his ex. They had gone to med-school together and were very much in love but there were far too many obstacles on the way to getting married. She had since married another man. S1 was attractive, attentive, interesting and intelligent - any woman would have found him worth her time. And then one morning his wife called me and told me about their six month old twins, a piling credit card debt and  a completely dysfunctional marriage - he had been threatening to divorce her for a while but she can't imagine such a future specially with her new born babies. 

She knows all about his cheating but is desperate to save her marriage. She called him a sociopath and yet worried that he may leave her. The woman's name was the same that of the girlfriend he had supposedly not been able to marry many years ago. The cleverly constructed edifice of lies came tumbling down in a few minutes. I knew that day this marriage was for the long haul. There was no way S1 was going to change his ways when the woman he was married to was so anxious to do whatever it took keep the marriage going - business as usual. He had absolutely no incentive to change.

A few months ago, on the Facebook wall of my blog I saw a face that looked very familiar. It took me a while to realize that it belonged to S1.In the picture he is accompanied by a woman and two young girls ( I am guessing it is the wife and the twins). He happens to be connected to someone I am connected with - such is the confounding web of social links and chains. It was not so remarkable that I should run into S1 in this manner but I was struck by the irony in a couple of things. 

He and his wife are smiling ever so broadly in the picture. Had I not known what I do know about them, they could be a poster for a perfectly happy (and an attractive) couple. Back when he was talking to me, S1 had guarded his personal details like a Cerberus at the gates of Hades.Thanks to his social presence on Facebook everything anyone needs to know about him is just a few clicks away. In real life, the very private business of a broken marriage had become public knowledge and yet commonplace things like name, age and place of work were kept secret. S1 had also lied about his religion which I still find quite remarkable. 

The "happy couple" picture on Facebook is perhaps restoring the balance between private and public.The marriage is painted bright and happy for everyone to see - the sordidness can remain private as it rightfully should. And yes, I was right about the longevity of this marriage - more than five years since the event, they are still very much together.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fun Challenged

My co-worker S was lamenting her inability to come up with cute, creative and fun ideas to entertain her four year old with. Her ineptitude became particularly evident over the last couple of weeks when we were all snowed in. Whereas every other mom she knows did "fun" stuff with their kids and created wonderful childhood memories while they were at it, S struggled to think of something fun do with little Jason.

Being that misery loves company, I told S I was similarly challenged. We both agreed that we were failing to make the grade as mothers and should try and get with the program. Clearly, that is easier said than done. This is about temperament and ability - you either have it or don't. I asked her if she thought our kids were unhappy because of the way we are as compared to the kids of "fun mothers". S was not sure that was the case but there was still the nagging sense of guilt.

The conversation with S lingered on in my mind even after I came home. I asked J if she wished her mom was more fun like many other moms we both know. J said "I like you just the way you are". Even though I don't do a lot of fun stuff with you, I asked. "I don't care. If I needed to do anything fun, I could do it all by myself. I don't need any help" J replied nonchalantly. Apparently, she had worked around my general lack of ability in the fun and entertainment area. What's more she had become more self-sufficient as a result. It is not often that our omissions and inabilities as parents have such fortuitous results.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Greatness Today

Reading this article by Anil Dash on the perks and perils of being on Twitter's A-List, brought to mind lines from  Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and of course the irony in having made that connection itself :

"but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em."

In the Twitter situation, Dash has had "greatness thrust upon" him but as a blogger, did "achieve greatness" on his own . In that both are true are true for and about him, one might hazard a guess that he may have also been "born great" as in he had always possessed some innate, natural ability that would turn him into something of a celebrity geek in due season.

In Shakespeare's view greatness could come by in one of three ways to an individual - and presumably they were exclusive. But the modern world, challenges that notion. Greatness and fame are related and Francis Bacon considered some questions about the nature of fame:

What are false fames; and what are true fames; and how they may be best discerned; how fames may be sown, and raised; how they may be spread, and multiplied; and how they may be checked, and laid dead.

Extending the Twitter parallel, Biz Stone has probably given us the modern response to Bacon's question " how fames may be sown, and raised; how they may be spread, and multiplied;". It would probably fall to Dash and other like him to determine "how they may be checked" or if they were so disposed "laid dead"

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Child's View

A few weeks ago J and I met with a friend, her kids and her boyfriend for dinner. Like me, the woman is desi but unlike me she has dated and continues to do so hoping that will in time, lead her to the right man. We both came out of arranged marriages that did not work out. Her position (and it is a fairly common one in the circumstances) is that not spending time together ahead of time was the reason that marriage did not work out. This time around, she will not be rushed or rush into things. 
The man has been part of her household for the last couple of years, the kids like him but do not want her to marry him. That makes things complicated for her because at some point, they have to take the logical next step with their relationship or end it. I was curious about J's take on what she saw - specially because she can relate to the woman and kids very directly. This is a lot different from seeing an American single mom and her household - there is an expectation that the cultural difference will account for the unfamiliar life style choices even if that were not true.
J said what she has said before "I want you to have a husband and me to have a daddy but I don't want you to date - a boyfriend would confuse me" I found it surprising how the same situation can lead kids to have entirely different ideas on how they would like to see things unfold. In a sense, our kids are being supportive of the direction we have chosen to take.
Since L, my friend has dated men in the past and continues to do so, her children want her to remain in that pattern and not disrupt it with a marriage. They have grown comfortable seeing their mother move in and out of relationships and have come to accept it as the natural order of their life. J on the other hand, has never seen me be in a relationship but wants to have a family. In her mind, that can happen only when I am married. Me having a boyfriend does not give her what she wants and she extends that to mean it is not what would serve me well either.

Slow Parenting

If slow cooking results in something that is better tasting and more nutritious than fast food, chances are slow parenting is better than the hot-housing formula. As the author describes it "Much of Slow Parenting is simply re-learning how things used to be before we starting treating parenting as product development, or as something to be learned via books, videos, magazines or classes."

A parent who eschews the hot-housing method may be called a "free-range parent". Assuming the parent is hands-off and allows the child to be a child sometimes and engage in mindless activity, wouldn't it be the child that was being raised "free range" ? The analogy to poultry or cattle is a little disconcerting but other than that I am on board with the idea.

J has activities she participates in after-school and outside school. I figure that keeps her and I plenty busy and whatever downtime we get over the weekends should be strictly that - downtime. Many parents I know have kids who keep a busier schedule than J does but make sure to get in a healthy dose of fun. For an activity to be tagged "fun", there must be a good amount of time and money spent  and significant distance traveled. Fun and home simply do not coincide.

A low cost, low effort outing is only a step above the sublimely boring business of staying home and not a candidate for the "fun" tag. By the popular operating definition, the art and craft projects J and I work on togther, the board games we play, the music we introduce each other to , the stuff we talk about, the movies we watch or the books she and I read together, do not really qualify as fun. I must be an idle-parent.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Case Against Adolescence

The idea of ending adolescence is not entirely without merit. Specially like the practical implications (if this can ever become reality) because it would be such a blessing both for the jaded high-schooler who is ready for bigger challenges and for the all of often cash-strapped parents.

The fact is, most young people want to be challenged and given real responsibility. They want to be treated like young men and women, not old children. So consider this simple proposal: High school students who can graduate a year early get the 12th year's cost of schooling as an automatic scholarship to any college or technical school they want to attend. If they graduate two years early, they get two years of scholarships. At no added cost to taxpayers, we would give students an incentive to study as hard as they can and maximize the speed at which they learn.

While the devil may well be in the details, the utter simplicty of the solution is definitely attractive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Human Nature

Tyler Cowen's post on the economics of snowstorm shopping  and the comments to it make for very interesting reading. All commentors do not agree with Cowen's reasoning of why Eggo waffles would fly off the shelves, much faster than less known brands in the event of a snowstorm. One argument is the vendors stock the stores independently and it may just be a logistics issue that prevents them from replenishing supplies in a severe weather situation. Another one is that people stuck indoors might be missing on eating out and to compensate may spend on higher end groceries than they might otherwise have. 

The same outcome but so many different hypothesis and each is a good, reasonable one. Such are the challenges of trying to fathom human nature and use such understanding to turn in a profit.  That might explain why Macy's continues to send me brochures, discount cards and such when in fact I shop no more than a couple of times in year (if at all) at that store. By some analyst's estimation I must fit the profile of the kind of shopper they seek. They could not be further off the mark. Each time, I see something from Macy's in my mailbox I wonder why they continue to waste their time and resources on one such as myself.

Likewise if Eggos were to try and glean insights into customer behavior - year round and seasonally (as in a snowstorm), they may end up trying to push their waffles to those who like them least.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Growing Too Soon


Children often grow up sooner than would want them to. As a parent the best I can do is to offer the support  J needs, instead of allowing her to stumble along with ill-formed ideas she gathers from her surrounding unprepared to accept and process them. I have written about J's fan-ship of the President from back in the pre-election days. So when a kid in her class, said that to J that President thought it was okay to kill babies - she came home sad and bewildered. She asked me anxiously "Mommy, is that really true ?"

I was not ready for this and had no idea where to begin. Talking about birds and bees is one thing but to explain the arguments for and against abortion to a young third grader is quite another. I asked J to give me some time to explain the background around what her friend had told her, so she could arrive at an independent conclusion. Help came to me in the form of a book - 33 things every girl should know about women's history. I had J read the chapter titled Body Politics by Anastasia Higginbotham from it. The author provides a succinct primer on the pro-life vs pro-choice debate along with historical context.

After J was done reading, we talked about what she had understood (or not) and it became a lot easier for me to translate what she had heard from her friend into something that was factual and coherent. But for the book, I would have been hard pressed to figure out where and how to begin talking to an eight year old about a subject I had not been planning on discussing with her in a long time. 

Real life unfortunately does not allow a parent the luxury of having a timetable and being able to follow it - disruptions are more rule than exception. This incident is a lesson for me as a parent and I would do well find the help I need (and ahead of time) to keep up with a generation that is growing up a little too soon relative to my sense of time at least.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Conscientious Wealth Creation

Read an inspiring article about combining one's education and passion successfully.  This entrepreneur has been identified as one of  "35 women globally under the age of 35 who had "something special to offer the planet: wealth creation that’s not at others' expense."

Winnie So is in the luxury travel business and by her definition luxury does not always have to equal expensive.“Most people think ‘luxury’ equals expensive, but in my mind, luxury is just having freedom and being able to do what you want to do, what you want to see and experience what you want to experience.”

She is able to combine her love for travel along with her ability to listen to what the client is saying to come up with a travel plan that is luxurious because it is so unique.

Specially liked the part about wealth creation that’s not at others' expense. What a rarity that has become in today's world !

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Chat Roulette


Another take on Chat Roulette in this article titled Human Shuffle. The author describes his expectation as : an ecstatic surrender to the miraculous variety and abundance of humankind. He found out that there was some distance between expectation and reality : I hadn’t felt this socially trampled since I was an overweight 12-year-old struggling to get through recess without having my shoes mocked. It was total e-visceration. If this was the future of the Internet, then the future of the Internet obviously didn’t include me.

Anderson describes his whole scale rejection by random strangers of all stripes, a slightly better experience when he and a male friend went on Chat Roulette together and even more friendly reception when he went there with his wife. He gets to the heart of what is wrong with this mode of social interaction : The default interaction on ChatRoulette is roughly three seconds long: assessment, micro-interaction, "next." This might seem like yet another outrage of the Internet era—the Twitter-fication of face-to-face interaction. The results can be good or bad but they would always been in tiny chunks.

As with all things online, the goal is always to maximize - the number of friends, followers, interactions - or whatever the currency is for that particular application and experience. Obviously with high quantity comes compromise in quality. In Anderson's words : Eventually, I realized that clicking “next” was not so much a rejection as it was pure curiosity, like riding a train past an apartment building at night, looking briefly into as many lit windows as possible.

In the world of on-line dating, a lot of people find it impossible to stop looking and settle - there is always the possibility of meeting another person merely by clicking next, who is more perfect. The decision to move on is made a lot quicker online. The investment is very little to begin with so there is not much to lose. The nano-second interactions on Chat Roulette takes uncommitted, superficial social interaction to a new high. It will be interesting to see if this mode of unfiltered, unmoderated interaction catches on in the world of social media. In nature, entropy always increases until it nears maximum value near equilibrium. Maybe it is unnatural to try and limit chaos as in a well-ordered social network and Chat Roulette may be what all things sociall media will ulimately resemble.

A very well written article and definitely worth reading in it's entireity.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Fresh Thought

A lot has and will be said by both pro-life and pro-choice activists in defense of their respective positions. You figure you have heard both sides and the argument and neither has anything new to add. Richard Dawkins says something that I had not read before :

If you follow the 'pro-life' logic to its conclusion, a fertile woman is guilty of something equivalent to murder every time she refuses an offer of copulation.

Such may be intended consequences of taking things to their logical conclusion. His argument might be "logical", but it  ends up diluting the case of pro-choice advocates. It should not be necessary to go quite this far to make a point. In that it does, exposes a weakness or lack of convinction the other side could exploit. You have to wonder if Dawkins had taken his line of reasoning to it's logical conclusion as well.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Empty Nest


Early as it is, I find myself preparing for the empty nest that I will have in time. J was rather busy last weekend - to the movies and dinner with a friend and her family one day and a play date on the next. This is not very typical for J but I love the energy she gets from having been out and socialized independently. She comes back feeling like she's a little more grown up than she was when she left home. Each time she's gone a while, the house feels like lifeless shell. I would much rather go out myself than stay in an wait for her to come back.
J is hitting a growth spurt lately. Anyone who sees her after a few weeks tells me she's grown taller. As much as I would love for her to be my baby, she is a girl now and before long her wings will be strong enough to fly. This is the stage of parenthood, I find myself unprepared for - babying her was easy but this is far more difficult. When to let go, when to pull back and how much - so much to balance in a flux of ever changing variables.
Every time I feel like J's baby years are going to be officially over soon, I rush to give her a big hug. Closing my eyes, I try to feel like I did when I felt held her in her arms - when her heart beats close to mine, I can still feel the same connection I felt when I first felt her move inside my womb. It is a such reassuring feeling. The nest may be empty sooner than I can imagine or prepare for - the early years of motherhood feel so very short.

Being Good

I received a couple of bars of fair trade dark chocolate for Christmas from a friend. Since I find it impossible to toss out anything that has writing on it without first reading it, I spent some time reading up the inside of the wrapper. It went on at length about all the good things the buyer of this bar of chocolate was doing for the environment, the farmers and for themselves. The feel-good factor of the copy abnormally high or maybe it felt that way because of the mood enhancing properties of the chocolate itself.

I take pride (very foolishly I am sure) in that I cannot be manipulated my marketeers and sales people to buy things I did not want to buy in the first place. The imperviousness clearly has its limits. If I had to choose between a bar of generic, mass-produced chocolate and something like this pristine fair-trade number, I would most likely settle for the later - all other things being equal. I think the word used to describe this buyer behavior is eco-consumerism. I would no doubt be attributing my choice to the superior taste and quality. Subliminally the message about me being good and kind to others, myself and the planet would have played a big part in the decision.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fifteen Minutes

Anyone who is able to create a well-lit watering hole on-line these days can have a kinds of wannabes beg to give their content away for free. The gathering place can be resultant of the creator's celebrity, notoriety, quirkiness - just about any adjective can work as long as the amplitude is high enough. The content offerings will come pouring like like an algal swarm.

There are a few reasons for this phenomenon. Everyone believes they have a shot at fame and even deserve it. If they are not able to gain a direct entry into the hall of fame, the gathering places may be their second best shot - maybe they will get the recipe right and even go viral. This was simply not how people perceived themselves or their place in the world back in the day. Celebrity was a rare thing and the rest were happy to stand by and clap for the select few.

I am hardly the social network hub and despite that I know no less than ten published authors - they run the gamut from fiction, non-fiction, music appreciation, children's' literature, crafts and hobbies, cookbooks to technical books. If having some fan following on MySpace and a CD or two counts for success in the world of music, then I know about the same number of "published", concert giving musicians as well.

A generation or two ago, regular people like me did not count authors and musicians among their friends and acquaintances and that too in such copious numbers. They looked upon such people with some awe and assumed that their worlds were not meant to intersect. The transformation I believe this has a lot to do with the declining standards of what finds it way to the market. With the means of distribution having become so egalitarian and the channels so numerous a lot of sub par material is finding its way out there.

We have all experienced reading a "critically acclaimed" book and wondering how such drivel makes to the top anything list. Those who have the chops and determination may go as far as to think they could do a lot better than that and actually make it happen. So you have a rash of books by unknown authors who vanish without a trace after their debut offering. I don't keep up with current music but have to imagine it would not be a lot different.

One woman of my acquaintance was looking for book on  a niche subject to help her prepare for a certification exam. Frustrated with not finding one, she ended up translating her notes and research into a book that found a willing publisher. Suddenly, she is a published writer of a technical reference book and it may be the last one she writes.Having written a technical book or two is becoming common enough that having that on the resume is no longer guaranteed to make it stand out from the crowd.

In such a fluid enviornment, snatching the spotlight for fifteen minutes from the clamorous (and capable) contenders needs a watering hole and those who meet this huge pent up need stand to make a killing if they know who to snare and how.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The New How

Anyone who has seen a top down strategy implementation gone awry will know after reading the first chapter of The New How, that Nilofer Merchant gets it.Instead of the traditional approach to strategy creation and execution, she suggests a collaborative, inclusive style. She recounts with extreme candor her own missteps so the reader may learn from her mistakes instead of making their own.

Of the gap between strategy and tactic, a primary driver for failure. Merchant says : One person's strategy is another's tactics. The unnecessary and fruitless war of what is tactics or strategy or execution must end. That hits the nail on the head.She also lists the many telltale signs of trouble in teams, who don't have direction fully translated to a realizable execution plan. The bulk of the book is devoted to the alternative approach - one of being co-creators of collaborative strategy.

It is easy to agree enough to with Merchant's recommendations, but this is the kind of organizational change that cannot go from bottom up. It has to flow down and spread across - and in that may lie the biggest challenge in implementing it. Opening up the super-rarefied environs of strategizing to the hoi polloi, is not likely to make every C suite exec jump for joy. How do they then differentiate themselves from the rest and justify their power, influence or compensation even. If everyone, including folks down in the trenches were to be partners co-creating collaborative strategy, the first thing to go, would need to be the over-size corner offices so partnering could take place on equal terms and in shared space.

Merchant refers to two different kinds of elephants in the room when she discusses the nuts and bolts of collaborative strategy implementation. The first elephant is the big issue that everyone knows about but it's a somewhat taboo topic, so no one brings it up and the issue never gets addressed. The second is one that looks different from every perspective : an important but multifaceted issue that many people see, but each in a limited way. While the idea Merchant proposes in The New How is a very good one, getting it to work may involve getting the first if not both elephants out of the room.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Aiming Simplicity

Webdesigner Wall lists what to expect in UX/UI design this year with everything pointing toward simplicity. The wish list items are nice too. Early in the list, is mentioned the single page website : Each time a visitor clicks deeper into your site, a fraction of their interest dies. With the evolution of users, you can get to the point quickly. As a corollary to that, the website should likely not have too much to say either. If you can't get it all to fit on a page, you are likely saying more than you need to or are off topic.

Maybe the same page can render in entirely different ways based on who the visitor (and their intent) is. I would love to see personalization done much better than it is now - its a lot more than saying Hi, Firstname Lastname ! and showing me what I did the last time I was there. If done right, the content could actually fit into a page engage the customer in ways that are uniquely contextual to them. Pursuing the goal of reducing everything to have to one page site just to achieve the goal of simplicity may be a bad idea in many cases.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Dave Aur Jenny

Some weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog by two non-desi New Yorkers living in Delhi,  writing about their Indian experience. What struck me most was the thoughtful yet upbeat tone of the posts. Here were a couple of foreigners, who had made Delhi their home and were ready to embrace that experience for all that it implied. From what a reader can tell, they are having a wonderful time.

It was very refreshing to read about India as viewed by western eyes without the gratuitous exotification that often goes with the territory. It is not every day that a desi gets to hear about India from "goras" who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the Indian experience. It is far more typical is to hear from observers who remain outsiders even if they live in India, providing a commentary that remains woefully two dimensional because they have not really "lived" the life they are writing about.

Dave and Jenny were kind enough to answer some questions I had for them.

Me : Are you able to be as indulgent as you are about even your no so pleasant experiences in India because you are visitors there and always have the option to return home ?

Dave says: “Any commitment is made easier with the knowledge that one has fallback options. If the economy exploded and our jobs did their best Harry Houdini impression, we could go home. The same thing went for our exploration of India: if we ate one too many gol goppas from the wrong guy, we knew we could always go flying back to Mommy.”

Me : This is a question for Jenny - Do you find Indian men treat you differently that they treat Indian women ?

Jenny says: “I found that both Indian men and women were a little more formal towards me than they were too each other. They didn’t tease me as much as they teased each other—but they were always quite friendly. So I guess I got all the good parts of it.”

Me : In your post about Dehi's safety you conclude with the question "Never mind what Delhi’s apocalyptic news media says. The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?" While the math and the statistics may be right, is your impression that an unaccompanied Indian woman in Delhi is safer than she is in New York city ?

Jenny say: “In this regard, I think New York is safer for unaccompanied women, only because in New York there aren’t as many dark street corners. Even in the middle of the night, there’s always tons of people around—but in Delhi after 11, it’s a ghost town.”

Me : I have American friends who have lost their jobs because of outsourcing and find it difficult to get hired here because they are considered too old to "fit in" in most IT shops. Would you recommend a single white woman in her 50s to seek job opportunities in India assuming she has the appetite for the adventure ?

Dave says: “We recommend India to anyone! We had an amazing experience. As long as she realizes that a single white woman in her 50s is even RARER in the Delhi IT world than in the US IT world, she’ll be fine. But there’s no doubt that everyone will know who she is the first day she shows up for work.”

Me : Another question for Jenny - Have you ever felt that not having a male partner could be a handicap in Delhi ? Would your Indian experience be just the same without Dave accompanying you ?

Jenny says: “Without a man around, my experience would have been quite different, I have to admit. I would have found it much more difficult to enter into negotiations and I would have felt a lot more insecure. I sometimes attracted unwanted attention, and I felt more comfortable having Dave there to ward it off.”

Me : What about India would you miss the most when you leave for good ?
The food. Without a doubt. And the people, because we’ve never been in such a friendly city.

Me : In your post Gora Evasion you write "So when two Goras converge on a road, there are no pleasantries. No acknowledgments. If our eyes meet, it’s only by accident, and we both quickly look away." Interestingly enough, desis do exactly the same thing when they run into other desis in America. What is your theory for such evasion ?

I've written extensively about this in the upcoming book, but the basic theory is that people traveling abroad want to pretend that they're on a grand adventure. So we close our ideas to any evidence that other people came before us -- it makes us feel less special.

Me : What do to make of Bollywood and the desi fascination with it ?

We wish we understood it better. It's clear just how complex and nuanced the culture is when we see a movie -- we could live in India for another twenty years and still not understand everything.

Me : Of all the places that you have lived and visited in India, which one was the closest to what you had imagined India would be like and which one was the farthest ?

I think the Old City in Delhi comes closest to our expectations, in the sense that we knew we'd see something amazing every time we went. The biggest surprise was walking around Jodhpur, I think -- not the tourist areas but far into the outskirts. Everything was so beautiful and everyone was so friendly.

Me : Where have you found India's assimilation of western culture to be the most beneficial to the Indian people and where has it been an been a really bad misadventure ?

It's hard for us to say, because we don't have enough perspective to know what it was like before. And it makes us nervous to say anything, because we don't want to sound like a cultural imperialist. But we can say this: we love coffee, so the more CCDs that open up, the better the world will be. :)

Dave and Jenny have a book in the works which they call "part memoir and part guidebook: an in-depth exploration of the Delhi we lived, the lessons we learned, and the funny things that happened to us". You can get on their mailing list for "announcements, invitations to the launch party, and more!"