Thursday, October 24, 2013

Longing To Create

One of the comments on this article about the biological urge women feel to have babies, mirrors my own experience

I remember being 28 and having an urge to have a baby. I swooned at every kid that I saw....how cute, want one.
Well I began painting and the urge went away. 


Several women echo those sentiments in the comment thread. I used to wonder about my sporadic urge to paint water-colors. Before there was J, I had several of these "episodes" some lasting a few weeks others several months. But for the last decade or so it has been completely dead. 

And then recently, it struck me again - not sure how long this phase will last but it is as manic as it as ever been. I hear myself telling my friends that I miss having a baby and that J will be gone to college soon - five years is not that far away. J still allows me to baby her sometimes. I am starting to make peace with the fact there will not be another baby. Maybe the longing to create one is being channelled this way - it would explain the ten year hiatus.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lapsed Bengali

Recently, my father was lamenting my disconnection from all things Bengali to the point that I had even missed Durga Puja this year. How would J ever know what it means to be Indian and Bengali he asked me ? Did I not consider part of my job as a parent to create connections to her roots ? A person without roots is destined to be forever lost he warns me. 

Our opinions on the subject are too far apart to hope for reconciliation. I have made peace with the fact that he will vent sometimes and that I will need to absorb it gracefully. 

Reading Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri was like drinking a perfectly brewed cup of Darjeeling tea - a thing that many Bengalis of my parents' vintage feel quite passionately about. Though one could argue (and rightly so) who cares about stupid Darjeeling tea or whatever other holy cows of Bengal. The same cast of characters, in their familiar locale - we see them in different avatars in all of her writing but her story telling seems to get better and better with time. 

It would be great to see similar growth in the substance of her narrative - in what is left unsaid for the reader to discover.This story to me felt like John Updike meeting Alice Munro but still missing something. A vignette from the life of a Bengali family reproduced with amazing fidelity - no detail too small to omit. Add life-spark to this and it would be a thing of remarkable beauty.

I thought I would share it with J so she learns something about the culture and a way of life I am not familiarizing her with but more importantly about the fine art of word-smithing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Signs of Spring

I am sitting in the cafeteria of an art museum with a beautiful view from the walls of glass around me. J is here with with her art teacher to learn about different brush strokes. This place has a lot of memories for me - all very happy ones. There was temple in my home town in India where I liked going to when in need of renewal. This is where I come now. The two places could not be more unlike each other.

Outside a photographer is taking pictures of a family - they are jumping on cue and it takes many tries to get the moment right. Everyone is having fun with it. No lilies in the pond this time of year, the sky is overcast the wild grass is a dreary shade brown. But the smell of coffee and the sound of smooth jazz connects me to moments of renewal past - times when there may or may not have been any outward signs of spring. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Inflating Expectations

I had to go check out Healthcare.gov after reading one too many articles like this one - which was by far the most balanced in its observations. The experience of going through the registration and submission process was fraught with deja vu for me.

The design is slick, web 2.0, senior friendly and demands very little from the user. While that's all good, its sets certain expectations of a frictionless finish. So when the submit option results in a blank page and you are left hanging there is a sense of deep disappointment.

What we have here is a building with a beautiful facade but missing plumbing and electricity. So familiar from engagements I have worked on over the years with big clients. The common theme is the idea of designing a system based on use cases and the oversimplification that follows from this premise. A user interacts with a system in a certain number of ways and workflows are constructed around them. 

This is fun work - a cross functional team can come together and build something that everyone can understand equally well. There is also the false sense of comfort that the needs of the customers are being fully considered and to that end the finished product will be perfect. 

The business of integrations that need to happen under the hood and the data flows to keep the systems of engagement in lock step with the systems of record,  are not given nearly the same attention - this is not use case driven stuff. Not everyone in the project team understands what this is about, the communication between technical and non-technical members of the project team become harder and frequently break down. The results manifest themselves as they have on Healthcare.gov where the scale of challenges (based on the stated objectives and not what ends up being delivered) is orders of magnitude greater than anything most of us in the IT business have ever encountered.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Baby Pictures

For a recent school project, J needed a picture of my grandmother. We pulled out the album of J's baby pictures which has one of her on grandma's lap. Checking out  baby pictures is an activity everyone in my family enjoys - specially J. DB gets to be part of her life that precedes him so he wants to know the stories behind the pictures. Compared to these very creative pictures, mine are very pedestrian. They made me think about how we capture childhood as parents and what that says about us. Most of us are inspired by cuteness - we want to capture that precious moment. 

Most of the ideas come from his daughters – eight-year-old Kristin and five-year-old Kayla. Jason says that they are never-ending source of ideas.

Going the creative route and getting ideas from the subject on how to photograph them never occurred to me. The two young ladies in these adorable pictures tell a story that is so special and unique - it is only about them and their father. Every child like J has a ton of cute baby pictures and all babies have cuteness in common. These pictures end up being about the photographer's view of their childhood and not  their own experience. Only a child would think of duck taping their baby sister to the wall - and that memory can be relived for ever.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Departing From Common Sense

A local government agency that deals with a lot of data wanted to use the services of a hometown entrepreneur ( a guy I am acquainted with) who "does Big Data" to help them figure out what Big Data could do in concert with their traditional Business Intelligence platform. I am sure there will be a way to fit a solution to a problem that does not completely exist. Reading this Forbes article about the key themes in the Big Data space was interesting to me for a couple of highlights cited :

Banana production in Central America is twice the rate of trash production in New York City - as an example of the hidden nuggets of wisdom you may glean from crunching through a ginormous amount of data. Being that there is a market for everything, the thought is it may be important for someone to know the precise relationship between banana production in Central America and trash production in New York City. 

That is the holy grail of big data analytics - to uncover stuff like this. The there is the next level of detail - how to keep the flow of such nuggets coming in at a steady clip and how to derive competitive advantage from them. There are any number of product companies out there who promise to do one or both. But the quantitative details on their case studies are sparse - an irony considering all they deal with is data and way too much of it.

The second relates to the obsolescence and irrelevance of KPIs in the brave new world of Big Data

..old-fashioned Business Intelligence (BI) with its insistence on pre-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPI) is no match to big data analytics, which does not require pre-defined “schema.” 

Not sure what KPIs have to do with having a pre-defined schema(or not)

..big data delivers “a command center that shows you what’s happening, not a dashboard with 40 KPI.”

It would seem commonsenical that when the deluge of data and factoids is upon us and our critical analysis abilities as humans is not skyrocketing to keep up, that we may need some help in the form of structure. Those old fashioned KPIs may be what it takes to introduce method to the madness.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Reaching Limit

I met my friend C for coffee this morning. She has just returned from her honeymoon - a second marriage for both her and her husband. We were talking about how our first marriages fell apart. 

Our experiences are identical only in one way - we were deeply miserable every day and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. There was nothing "materially" wrong. Nothing that we could pin point as the reason this was not working out. Yet we felt deeply compelled to leave - a decision hard to explain to family and friends. Our decision isolated us even from those who cared for us - loving is often not the same as accepting.

My friend M's marriage ended after her husband overdosed himself on prescription drugs and had to be hospitalized for the second time - he had been battling his addiction for a while. This the kind of thing that people find easier to rally around - it is just cause and lacks ambiguity. 

Talking with C reminded me of this Alice Munro quote that is very close to my heart

“There is a limit to the amount of misery and disarray you will put up with, for love, just as there is a limit to the amount of mess you can stand around a house. You can't know the limit beforehand, but you will know when you've reached it. I believe this.”

Not only do I believe this, I know this to be true. I had reached that limit once and my soul begged for deliverance. It is a feeling like no other. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Coming Of Age

J is in the middle of middle school, a year younger than her peers and is experiencing an assortment of anxieties that go with such territory. One particular issue, I find particularly hard to grasp - J thinks she is not nearly as pretty as some of her peers. These are the young ladies who at thirteen have the poise of a mature woman, have moved on from childhood in both body and spirit. A child would naturally feel inadequate around them - they barely acknowledge my existence and some of these kids I have known for years. 

There is a certain hubris that comes from transcending the limitations of age and biology; being catapulted into the stratosphere of precocious youth from where the normal kids like J look like so many milling ants. J does not have the advantage of experience I do - she does not know that twenty years out, none of this will matter. The stuff that really counts is determination to succeed, learning to appreciate and be grateful for all of one's gifts (natural and acquired) and making the most of life's adversities. There will be those that win and those that fall behind - my life experience completely validates this Salon article - specially the idea of non-conformity being critical to success :

Popularity is composed of three elements: visibility, recognizability and influence. The people in school who have those three qualities are often that way because they conform to a standard. Meanwhile, the kids who won’t or can’t conform are the ones who are left out. Nonconformity is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood.

There are larger issues here than what I am struggling with - why J does not see herself as pretty. Would being less perfect than she is visually have made her more self assured ? Would she have been less self-critical about her appearance ? She takes pride in her sense of humor - while it is good, it is not the greatest. I have known kids her age that have impeccable timing and pitch perfect delivery. But she does not lack confidence in her ability to make people laugh. She is willing to work hard to improve her game, fail until she gets it right. Our encouragement at home has helped too. We have failed however in being able to shore up her confidence in her physical attractiveness. I am so used to hearing how picture perfect J is that I took it for granted - it is too absurd an issue for me to understand let alone know how to resolve.