Saturday, January 28, 2012

Morning Coffee

It is morning in January
Bright and chilly.
He offers her his jacket
The steam from coffee
clouds her eyes.
They talk of times past to now
like it were a tiny ink blot
upon the vastness of the white
unknown, undiscovered ahead.
Such are beginnings perhaps.
A good bye was said but not
before it was found that she
deserved a hug. A warm embrace
that promised to melt all pain away.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Not So Augmented

Unless I am completely missing the point here, this story about augmented reality plus personalization is a text message on a skin that just happens to be a chocolate bar wrapper  Per Digital Trends : Augmented reality is the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real-time. Based on that definition this does not qualify to be termed Augmented Reality.
It would be another thing if the message magically appeared on the bar of chocolate someone was physically holding in their hands. Imagine having the chocolate serenade you in the beloved's voice just as you were getting ready to unwrap it - now that would be more in the realm of augmented reality. 
Some commenters have pointed out that some augmented reality chocolate would be nice - the satisfaction of chocolate without the guilt or calories. Or maybe when I am getting ready to buy chocolate augment the bar with information on a better snack option based on my health/fitness goals and lead me out of temptation.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Information Diet

I am so convinced the way we consume information is terrible for us that Clay Johnson had me on his side just by choosing to write a book on this subject - The Information Diet. Given my bias, I don't know that I can be the most dispassionate and objective reviewer. Ironically, I might be going exactly what Johnson cautions the reader against when it comes to consuming information - taking affirmation over information. That said, I highly recommend this book to believer and non-believer alike. If you consider that the filter bubble Google, Facebook et al are creating for us is in our best interest, this book is for you. If you want to break free, assert your autonomy and consume information in the raw sans spin, filter, churn or bias, this book is for you.
Johnson starts by describing his background and credentials for writing this book. He goes on to draw parallels between an unhealthy diet and its effects to the human body to lack of deliberation and consciousness in consuming information and its effects on our minds. Simply stated, Johnson wants us to evaluate our relationship with information consumption and get on a fitness regimen so we can work ourselves out of our mental obesity. He paraphrases Micheal Pollan's exhortation on diet "Eat. Not too much.Mostly plants" as "Consume Deliberately. Take information over affirmation"
Johnson recommends an Infovegan lifestyle to combat Information Obesity. It involves " mastering data literacy - knowing where to get appropriate data, and knowing what to do with it, using the right kinds of tools. It means making sure you're not put into situations where you situations where you're forced to consume overly processed information"
I could not completely agree with the Information Diet that Johnson recommends for a few reasons. Cancelling cable or satellite TV is great but to I am not sure that the best replacement is a combination of Youtube, Hulu and Netflix. Navigating them is an art and science that most of us are not well-versed in. While we may be in the driver's seat in consuming information, we may not be able to direct ourselves optimally. As such, we may become malnourished through our information diet. There is value is listening to talking heads on television. If they are in the business of churnalism and agnotology (I learned both words from this book), there is value in subjecting ourselves to both in low doses so we remain inoculated. 
I do agree with the idea of incorporating diversity into the information sources you consume from. I read Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble recently and have become even more deliberate than I was before about avoiding personalization. I love Johnson's examples of websites that do a terrific job of being information synthesizers. He names Khan Academy, TED and Kickstarter ( I was not aware of this one)
Even if you do not agree with the prescription, this book will make you think about information consumption, educate you on the research in this field and prompt you to take control of that diet.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Slipping Up

As a parent, one is required to dole out punishment in proportion to the offense. Nothing confuses a child more when such is not the case. What seems so self-evident is often hard to practice in real life unless you happen to be the perfect parent. I have slipped up on this rule several time in the last ten years that I have been J's mom. 
Back in the day, I attributed it to unmanaged stress, having too many balls to juggle and no one to help - to err was human . With DB coming into my life and taking on the responsibilities of the dad J never had, I no longer have the same excuses. And yet, I ranted at her furiously for ten minutes straight while driving her over to her friend's birthday party. 
As her life has become more and more "regular" ( two parents, a home instead of an apartment, multiple vacations in a year, a closet full of clothes, more media and electronics than she has ever had ), J has relaxed. Used to be that she thought it was her responsibility to work around the constraints of my "situation". She bore it without complaint or question - at the cost of thwarting the natural flow of her childhood. That has since changed - J now has the ability to be a child and a tween, act up sometimes in ways that drives us crazy. Her offense was just that - she was being her age. I read into in quite a bit more than I should have, did not react until the tenth repeat of the offense. Basically, she had no idea she had been doing wrong until I blew up - suddenly and uncontrollably.
I came home and shared with DB - told him that I felt like a monster for saying cruel and hurtful words to J; I feared that what I said may leave scars for life. He advised not to apologize to her to make it right. "Talk to her about how her behavior disappointed you and that you got really frustrated. Let her talk about how she felt. The love you have for each other is too strong a force for something like this to weaken it" and then when I felt a little better he added "Extend the most patience you have to J - that way you will not have such severe reactions" 
When I tucked J in at night, we had talked about it - she realized where she had been wrong and what she could do different. I told her that we could not pretend that I did not say what I said or that she did not feel what she felt - we had to acknowledge that. Despite my failings, I felt well loved - by J and by DB and I was very grateful for that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Best In Class

I asked J during dinner last Sunday about her thoughts on the Lady Gaga New Year's eve performance at Times Square we watched on TV. I have given up on understanding such phenoms being that I am too old and culturally out of touch to get what they are all about. She said she didn't much care for it but had this to say about why this performer is so popular. "She is best in class for talent plus weirdness" 
According to J, there are many other more talented singers and definitely weirder people out there. But Lady Gaga tops the talent plus weirdness combo and that's the reason she is so popular. J made it very simple for me "To be wildly popular you have to be the best in class at something". I cannot remember another time I have been so enlightened on popular culture in so few words.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Connecting to Desiness

During J's winter break, we were visiting with a friend of DB's whose wife recently had a baby. It is not often that we get five days of the immersive desi experience so it was almost like a trip to India minus the cost and the hassle. We had freshly cooked meals four times a day - both DB and I love to cook so we gladly pitched in. The mom-in-law caught her desi soaps on the living room TV and after the kids and grandma went to bed, we watched a Bollywood flick. This family is all set to return to India in the next couple of years - it has been their plan from the start. The amped up desi ambiance around the house is supposedly for the benefit of the kids who will find the transition easier. They socialize only with their kind to minimize the impacts of a culture that will soon become foreign to the children.
As we watched some of the ridiculous shows grandma is hooked on to, we could not help comparing them to some of  the entertainment Doordarshan provided in 80s and early 90s when there were no other options. They were infinitely more sensible and represented the India that we lived in. These folks go back every year and spend a few months in their home town - unlike DB and I, they have never grown strangers to India. It was interesting to see that they agreed with us. We would all love to see Indian television do something that spoke to us and our desi-ness. It certainly does not to me and many of my desi friends - maybe desi-ness as an idea and identity is in a state of flux right now. Until we are able to find our true voice, the popular media will sound cacophonous.
In the middle of all this, I decided to check out Aravind Adiga's Last Man in Tower and retired hurt. Past page thirty or so, I could no longer keep up with the burgeoning cast of characters. Adiga had pulled off an afternoon desi soap on the reader. The plot does not flow or expand on it's own merits but is padded and propped by characters and stories that contribute nothing to the denouement.
Our hosts recommended that we watch the movie Kaminey since neither DB or I had watched it before. We were advised to follow the plot closely because it was a complicated one. I am guessing the idea was to go for edgy, ironic and different - take done to death the twins separated at birth story and turn it on its head. Every few minutes there would be a part that was really nicely done -with that came an expectation of more and better to follow, but that did not seem to happen. The whole experience was like a roller coaster ride with frequent ups and downs. May have been fun for thirty minutes and under but intolerable for a full length movie.
Reading this story out censoring the sense out of American TV shows made me think about how our friends are preparing for their family's return to India. Maybe all of this is symptomatic of the state of confusion we are in as a people.