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Showing posts from December, 2005

Friends Past And Present

I have not been in touch with Karen for over a year and with Anuradha for two. We had as much as in common as we had in different. Our acquaintance was probably deterministic and eventual friendship followed either from shared life experiences or the lack of it.

For instance Karen broke up with her boyfriend of four years a month before I did with Malhar. There was a time of searing pain and emptiness in both of our lives that coincided. Meeting up for margaritas at a tapas bar felt like a perfect antidote for that state of mind.

We've both moved on since, our lives have not intersected quite as perfectly again. I called to wish her a happy new year. We had nothing left to say to each other anymore. We will probably flit in and out of each other's thoughts for a few more years until passing into oblivion. If Karen was once a friend, I have now lost that friend.

Anuradha is many years younger, has interests that are very unlike mine. We met by chance when I answered the door for m…

Bursting Hearts

Heard a few bars of a lovely song called Bursting Hearts on the radio and it was over. The tune stayed in my head for a little while and then it had faded too. Something close to the heart had burst and faded just like that song - and I wrote this.

"I don't inspire poetry like others did"
you say to me.
True.
True also that you skewer
my heart like no other man did.
Except I don't tell .
I tell you of pain one day.
You ask "Where ?"
How do I begin describe a pain
that begins where the heart must
approximately be and claws me
with its its shivering vines.
"No just forget it." I say
"Why ?" you ask.
Because you
don't get inexactitude.


You give me a comma separated list
of your unfulfilled wants from me,
terminate them with etcetera.
I hyphenate them to one over-arching
want - that of wanting my body
for you to possess and own.
I tell you the time for that
is yet to come.
I need to dip inside the skin of you,
know where it hurts and how much,
if the wounds are …

Cutting Corners

I picked a paperback edition of Cheaper By The Dozen years ago that someone had thrown in the trash and was impressed by the extraordinary time management and operational efficiency tips and tricks in it.

When I read the book J was not around so I did not know what it was to constantly race against time. I should probably read that book again. In the interim, this nifty decanter with two spouts would cut down our daily breakfast ordeal by a good one minute and that counts on weekday mornings.

The next thing I need to find is a device that will let J sing her favorite song uninterrupted even as she eats. As much as I love to hear J sing, her timing leaves much to be desired.

Skimming The News

Having been a consumer of on-line news for many years with almost no print publication in my media diet, I am no longer able to compare the relative merits of the two. Apparently, online newspapers haven't got the formula right.

Kirk McElhearn reminds of something I did instinctively with a real newspaper and have never done online - "skimming" and yes, it is a distinct loss in terms of user experience.

When you read a newspaper, you use special strategies called "skimming" and "scanning" to navigate the pages. Skimming means you glance over pages until you find things you want to look at more closely, reacting to certain words or photos, and scanning is taking a closer look, reading for gist, or reading introductions and conclusions that give you more information and often help you decide whether you want to read an entire article. With online newspapers, however, you don't have this option.

It's amazing how users can get conditioned to a less t…

For The Love Of Music

Beautiful account of how programming and re-programming software for a cochlear implant gave a deaf man back the joy of listening to his favorite piece of music so many times over. Particularly loved the last line in the article :

"My hearing is no longer limited by the physical circumstances of my body. While my friends' ears will inevitably decline with age, mine will only get better."

But for his love for Ravel's Bolero, Michael Chorost may have never challenged technology to return to him more than he had lost.

Maybe in time techlogy will bring musical sounds in nature like that of wind whistling through holes in a bamboo glade, the shivering of leaves in rain and the rustling of grass in breeze much closer to the bionic ear than the real.



Expensive Procrastination

In Paul Graham's article on Good and Bad Procrastination he says :

"I've wondered a lot about why startups are most productive at the very beginning, when they're just a couple guys in an apartment. The main reason may be that there's no one to interrupt them yet. In theory it's good when the founders finally get enough money to hire people to do some of the work for them. But it may be better to be overworked than interrupted. Once you dilute a startup with ordinary office workers-- with type-B procrastinators-- the whole company starts to resonate at their frequency. They're interrupt-driven, and soon you are too."

Having worked for startups and conventional companies, I could not agree more with the effects of diluting the workforce with type B procrastinators ( to paraphrase Graham's definition of type B - people who lack the ability to prioritize and spend a bulk of their time on projects with minimal impact at the risk of jeopardizing what is …

Named After Typo

I woman of my acquaintance has a son she has named Alvil. Not being familiar with the name, I asked her what it meant. There was a certain pharmaceutical ring to it to my ears at least. She told me it meant "bravery and valor" but was not sure of the exact etymology or even the language.
"So how did you find the name" I asked her. "On the internet" she replied. This woman is hardly the most net savvy person I know, but doing a Google search on "boys names" is a no-brainer. I am sure she gets strange looks from people when they hear her son's rather unusual name. To a lot of people like her the internet's veracity is a foregone conclusion. They don't feel the need to verify or corroborate.
I hope for her sake and the boy's that someone was not exercising their right to be an idiot when they wrote up a post about Alvil and that it is a real and meaningful name.

Roots In A Box

With my nomadic existence over the last few years, my possessions have grown fewer and fewer. Each move has involved parting with things I could do without. I have experienced at times "the unbearable lightness of being" - specially when I consider how it contrasts with the lifestyles of my acquaintances many of who are proud owners of tastefully furnished McMansions.

It takes only a couple of big brown cardboard boxes to move me. Possessions are called that for a reason - they make you grow possessive of them, they are the roots that you grow unawares. Having close to none, I have no roots or sense of belonging to any place.
I have the traveling-through-town state of mind. Yet when J and I sit down to dinner in the evening I fleetingly wish we could both really be "home". The dining-table in a box that goes where you do is one thing I thing I would love to own - a possession that would uproot and replant itself as often I need it to.

Dispersed Cheer

We went out for breakfast this morning. The part of town I live in is a new suburb. Woods and farmland have been taken over by strip malls and more. Stores and restuarants open up all the time and there is plenty to choose from when planning to eat out.
J was all excited that we were going out for breakfast - we had never done that before. Dinner is more common and sometimes lunch. I picked up a place at random. Liked the cute name mainly. It called it self a cafe and bistro. There were only a couple of patrons, which I figured was okay given the early hour. I looked up the menu as the waitress waited patiently.

"Can I have a two spinach and feta croissants and a small latte ?" I asked.

She gave me an embarrassed little smile and said "Let me check if we have the croissants" She went into the kitchen and came back to say "Sorry but we can do one spinach croissant".When I get into an establishment, I feel committed to work with them for better or worse. If th…

FSM Gospel

Seek and ye shall find seems to be in effect for me. I can't seem to be online for more than ten minutes without running into something to do with religion. I find out that the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is in the works. Given J's known affinity for the FSM, this book might make the most sense to her.

The interview with Bobby Henderson is hilarious. Particularly loved the idea of a pirate ship outfitted with cannon balls to get the Word out. I wonder if the Pastafarians would be opposed to J's idea of God (in this case the FSM) putting bad guys into "time-out for forever months".
J has lately taken to discoursing on God and his mysterious ways at breakfast time making me late to work every single day. She gets the sense I know close to nothing about the subject as she goes her merry way. I clearly need help and am to the point where I am willing to consider the FSM Gospel.

Life And Death Lessons

J knows about death but does not understand it yet. She has questions. I am struggling with how to convey a simple message that is consistent with my religious beliefs. It is easier said than done. When she asks me "Will I see my grandparents again ?" I wonder if she is making a connection between old age and death. I tell her that they have many years left to live and will meet her several times. I don't mention death and she does not ask in specific.

Then there are amusing statements like "When bad people die they go up to the hill". I correct her and tell her it's hell and not hill. She insists on calling it hill presumably because she knows what it is. She adds "God puts bad people in the dumpster and then takes them to the hill"

Clearly her friends are educating her about God, heaven and hell and J is putting her own spin on it. I ask her what happens to the good people. J says "God takes them to live in his house" This sounds a lot b…

Barbie Butchers

Until reading this article in Forbes on Barbie mutilation by young girls I had no idea Barbie owners had so much pent up resentment. The article cites different reasons why little girls might wreck havoc on her but surprisingly does not consider anger. Is it possible the prepubescent girls hate her for all that she represents - the ideal of impossible physical perfection ? Parents are exhorted not be alarmed and treat such behavior as a normal part of growing up.

"Whilst for an adult the delight the child felt in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls is deeply disturbing, from the child's point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling,"

If J was busy micro-waving body parts of her favorite doll, that argument would be a hard sell to me. I would be very very concerned for my child's mental health. Counted my blessings that J is uninterested in Barbie and her ilk.

Yarn Of Yarn

This is a yarn about yarn and three generations. It starts at a time when there was such a thing as the USSR but glasnost and perestroika were blowing winds of change. We subscribed to a Soviet magazine whose name I forget. It went out of publication when the country ceased to exist giving the final issue much historic significance.

In that last issue was the pattern for a sweater than my mother and I loved. The model was a pretty Ukrainian teenager. That winter I came upon a sweater like hers in the color of burnt amber instead of periwinkle blue like in the picture. I have worn it sparingly and it is one of my favorites. My mother loved to knit and I had plenty of hand made sweaters growing up.

This morning I wore my favorite amber colored cardigan. J looked at it admiringly - I thought I saw some longing in her eyes as well. I asked her "Do you like my sweater ?" and she said "Yes, I do". I told her "You grandma knit it for me many years ago. You can have it …

Undistinguished Middle

I used to be something of a movie buff in what seems another life. For the past year or more time has been scarce and the movies watched few and far between. Yet I don't feel like I have missed much. The previews just don't entice me enough to make the whole three hour commitment. Maybe it has something to do with overwhelming mediocrity. I quite agree with A.O Scott's argument :

"Disasters and masterpieces, after all, often arise from the same impulses: extravagant ambition, irrational risk, pure chutzpah, a synergistic blend of vanity, vision and self-delusion. The tiniest miscalculation on the part of the artist - or of the audience - can mean the difference between adulation and derision. So in the realm of creative achievement, the worst is not just the opposite of the best, but also its neighbor. This year has produced plenty of candidates for a Bottom 10 (or 30 or 100) list, but I fear that none of the bad movies are truly worthy of being called the worst. And t…

Tandem Story

I have a longish short story in mind that I can't get started on because it will be a first person account as told by a man. As much as I try, I can't seem to get the words into my narrator's mouth that sound like they belonged to him and not a woman. It just does not sound right.Surely the problem is well documented in the annals of literature. I am hoping as well to find the workaround. As of this writing, I continue to be the clueless woman trying in vain to speak a man's language. It would seem like I was trying to speak and think Martian when in fact I had not so much as set my eyes on anyone from that planet. That I should find it as difficult as I do, is telling of my lack of understanding of the male of the species. As I read this real life tandem story co-written by a man and a woman, I realize that I am part of an universal condition.

Getting Mortified

There is possibly no better way of growing up than being able to laugh at oneself and what better than staging a show of your most embarassing moment for an audience ?

I doubt if I could bring myself read some of my painfully saccharine verse from the early teens even to myself let alone to others. I have them stuffed in a big brown envelope, stapled and scotch-taped - so high is their cringe quotient. Not sure exactly why I still hang on to them - foolish sentimentality perhaps. But then I never considered the potential they have to make other people laugh.

Just shows I have long ways to go before I am comfortable in my own skin - flaws, blemishes and all.

Serendipitous Wisdom

There is a sense of the Oracle being spoken when one chances upon serendipitous wisdom. Like in reading an interesting essay on death by information I run into the lines that seem to be speaking only to me and my current state of mind.

"I am referring to the fact that the world in which we live is very nearly incomprehensible to most of us. There is almost no fact -- whether actual or imagined -- that will surprise us for very long, since we have no comprehensive and consistent picture of the world which would make the fact appear as an unacceptable contradiction. We believe because there is no reason not to believe. No social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical or spiritual reason. We live in a world that, for the most part, makes no sense to us. Not even technical sense."

The month has been full of upheaval, change, dramatic endings and the like making it an unexpected end to a rather quiet year. I have wondered why recent events have made so little sense. I think …

McWorld

Almost everyone in J's class is bigger and taller than her. She is perhaps the only kid at four going on five who has never tasted soda. Candy is rationed as is all manner of processed food.

I'm not sure how long I will be able to continue what I have started with her when it's a McWorld after all. I try to replicate my mother's kitchen the best I can so J remembers the food that satisfied her soul as an infant. So she remembers the love of a grandmother who was more mother to her than I had the time to be. It's the only way I know to immerse J in my culture.

Ira Boudway may be right in saying - "Perhaps we are simply destined to live in a world where local cultures exist only as residue preserved for the sake of tourists."

Smokers All

Growing up around chain-smoking uncles, grand uncles and grand fathers, I am very familiar with the smell of tobacco and stale smoke. They form a part of my childhood memories.
Back in the day, second hand smoke was not quite as sacrilegious as it is now. It was out of deference to elders that a smoker took his business outside the house. The patriarch had no reason to do so. A chain smoking grandfather in the middle of the living room full of non smoking people was an accepted norm.
Having seen quite a few styles of holding a cigarette and blowing smoke into the air, the semiotics of smoking naturally piqued my curiosity. Reading this was more entertaining than enlightening and rather nostalgic.

Born From The Heart

Months ago J asked me where she lived when she was "wee little" qualifying that further by saying "really really teeny weeny". I told her the she has lived in my heart forever and when the time was right she came to me as a tiny baby.

J is astute enough to know that tiny babies pop out of their Mommy's tummies. "Did I pop out of your tummy ?" she asks just to make sure and I say "Yes, you did". She was not overly concerned about the mechanics of it or in the fine print. The matter of her origins has since rested in peace.

A few days ago J announced "When I become Mommy, my baby will pop out of my heart and not from my tummy" This took me by surprise because J is a very good about sticking to facts however unpleasant unless she is in "pretend" world where absolutely nothing is what is seems.
Besides the human body is her current fascination. At breakfast time J will claim she is so "full and tight" that her "in…

Technology Victims

Anyone who has hit the roof when their cellphone battery died at the wrong time or worse lost signal while on the road knows about being a victim of technology. We completely forget that we once coped very well without the cellphone and could surely survive a couple of hours now.

Kathleen Hall's statement in the article rings ominously true though one could argue the sound of a baby's cooing and gurgling changes an adult's expression too - so would that also be considered Pavlovian ? Maybe not simply because it is free form, natural and does not make any demands of us unlike a buzzing Blackberry at work which could mean reminders, deadlines and worse.

"People have almost become victimized by the technology," she says. "They're
addicted to it. I have patients that when their cell phones and Blackberries buzz, their expressions change. They're responding to the stimulus of the bell, like Pavlov's dog. What they don't realize is that it takes away…

Nowhere To Hide

Privacy increasingly is turning into a lost cause. How much control does anyone have over being photographed without knowledge or consent by a cellphone camera and then have that picture posted on the internet ? If that were not invasive enough there is now the facial recognition plus meta tags to recognize a face among million others and tag it to a name.

While more and more people have unlisted phone numbers or VoIP phones with area codes of places far from their physical location, they still don't have the anonymity they seek. A fully spelt out name could be their undoing on Zabasearch and for a little money their car tags could throw up a whole lot of information. You can run but you cannot hide. A sense of being stalked in cyberspace is getting to be a feeling that even ordinary people can relate to.

Car Thoughts

Sounds like a great first step - self-healing paints for cars. If technology could likewise heal dents and at least diagnose mechanical problems , auto repair scam artists would go out of business. It does not seem far fetched idea if the state of the art allows cars to predict when they will breakdown

Right now I'd be very happy if I could do something to my car that would cause snow to either slide off it or melt upon contact. How hard can that be ? Maybe I should call in one Saturday morning when CarTalk is on with that question - I think I have heard far stranger questions asked and answered.

Talking of cars reminds me of a former colleague who on first meeting me told me that he owned an Acura and was now in the market for an Audi. He added that he planned on keeping the Acura lest I misconstrued.

Why a man would share this with a perfect stranger within an hour of meeting her has long puzzled me. For the year that we worked together he continued to be "in the market for an…

One Simple Lesson

Found a really simple and elegant lesson in economics. If the subject had been this demystified to me when I was younger and more impressionable I may have been able to make sense of the pundits spewed economese.

For years I have heard or read discussions on economics with vapid incomprehension wishing someone would hand me the keys to the magic kingdom where everything suddenly makes sense.

Understanding how a broken glass pane sets a chain of events in motion should not be very hard.



Quick Home

In a dinner table conversation recently a bunch of us were discussing dream houses. The majority were home owners already and fairly satisfied with what they had - typically suburban McMansions. The ones who were yet to buy wanted something new and big in the suburbs.

When I said I'd love an old fashioned cottage with a big yard and koi pond, there were indulgent smiles all around. I am hardly alone in my aversion for lifeless ostentation and love for old homes, but I am sure my well meaning friends would advise me against it if I ever tried to buy one of those charming things. Though I understand zilch about real-estate, I seem to be on the right track in wanting to buy myself a tiny little cottage in an upscale neigborhood - even when the same money could buy me a monstrosity of a home in the exurbia.

Who knows, my yen for simplicity may lead me to buy a push-button home and place it upon a clearing in the woods. While the literal home may still be within reach the figurative one …

Degrees Of Separation

J went to a klezmer music concert this afternoon and tried out the rugalach. We both missed our self appointed activity director who is out of town these days. Turns out that the activity director missed us too. She called this evening to check on what J and I were up to on the weekend.

J enjoyed the performance but didn't care too much about the rugalach. Sitting there with an elderly crowd interspersed with few toddlers of a color and culture very different from mine, I wondered if J saw any difference between herself and everyone else. And if she did what she thought about it. I feel like an outsider who is treated with amused indulgence by those who really belong. Hopefully with time I would have acquired the air of a curious but detached tourist who is not looking for any acceptance at all. I am still too new in this country.

J has had opportunity to sample vignettes from diverse cultures but has seen close to nothing of her own the last one year that she and I have been on our…

Misnamed Or Mistimed

I first arrived in the US in the middle of hurricane season. Coming from a tropical country I was no stranger to rain and storm but the fact that they were given male and female names fascinated me. The storms that year were nowhere near as devastating as Katrina or Rita. No one who shared names with them could have felt conscious of their names like I guess the Katrinas and Ritas among us might today. I would hate to have my name bring back terrible memories each time it was spoken - it can't be a good feeling. I wonder why storms can't be named after mythological characters. Since they are acts of God that would hardly be inappropriate.When a name or a date comes to acquire larger than life proportions it's personal significance to ordinary people gets compromised. A 9/11 birthday or anniversary will not feel like one for years maybe - as long as it takes for public memory to turn numb to the odiousness of the date.In saying "Hello Katrina, wonderful meeting you&quo…

Enticing Scarcity

I am the kind of consumer that is hopelessly confused by an excess of choice. Confused to the point where I feel relieved if a restaurant has a sampling platter so I won't need to select from a never-ending menu. When people of my stripe go out shopping their indecision renders then incapable of making a purchase. We consider our options carefully to be sure that we don't suffer buyer's regret. Less may be more for us and it seems like a winning formula for one successful clothing retailer.

In Zara stores, customers can always find new products—but they're in limited supply. There is a sense of tantalizing exclusivity, since only a few items are on display even though stores are spacious (the average size is around 1,000 square meters). A customer thinks, "This green shirt fits me, and there is one on the rack. If I don't buy it now, I'll lose my chance."

Up until the mall culture came to India, shopping was about being at the right place and the right …