Showing posts from April, 2006

First Book

After begging and bribing J for several months to read me a book, she obliged last evening. The book is called Who Is Who by Patricia C. McKissack and it is A Rookie Reader. She had shown some interest in a couple of Dr. Seuss books before but it had not proved enough to overcome what I think was the "fear of reading".
She has been able to read four and five letter words for a while now but the progression from discrete words to whole sentences seemed to scare her. The more I tried to make her take the leap the more she resisted until I gave up. With J I have learnt to push only so far and no further. But maybe I had not quite given up yet.
Yesterday morning I spoke in her language. I said to J "All my friends have their babies read to them. I am the only Mommy whose baby does not read to her. That makes me really really sad. I never get a turn to tell them what J read to me". J said in all seriousness "I'll read to you today so you can tell your friends, J …

Pass Thought

If I live long enough and technology incubates fast enough, I might be checking my bank account online autheticated just by thinking the correct password in my mind. The new biometric signature pass-thought seems incredibly cool and rather scary.

What if someone came up with the equivalent of the Trojan-hearse malware that intercepted your thoughts and scrambled them. Its one thing to have your computer and data held to ransom and quite another to have your mind remote controlled. Sounds more science fiction than science but that could very well change in a few decades.

This is technology that feels a little too close for comfort.

At A Carnival

I took J to the spring carnival at what will be her elementary school come September. It was gorgeous day and the grounds were full of kids in bright summer colors having fun. J absorbed the scenery more than she participated in anything - I guessed the crowds must have overwhelmed her. We sat on the grass watching the excitement all around. In the far distance they were playing music - surprisingly Beach Boys.

Then I heard Johnny Cash singing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!'' I wondered who had picked that song and how it could be considered appropriate for the occasion. You read about purging schools of weapons and then on a carnival at an elementary school they play music about one man killing another just to see him die. Only days ago the Columbine High school massacre of April 99 was being commemorated in the media. Something felt wrong about this picture - almost disturbingly so. All around the fun times rolled on. No one had paid the slightest attention…

Tie That Binds

An WSJ opinion piece written by an woman just a few days ago, brought memories of home (India) and grandmotherly advise. Naomi Schaffer Riley argues that feminism endangers women and defies common sense. Drinking alone at bar at 3:00 a.m. is inviting trouble and rapists alike.

Growing up I had heard grandma say "She should have known better" while talking of women who had been sexually assaulted. To ask why it should be acceptable to have rapists at large was never questioned. Presumably there are all kinds of sick people in the world and you had to look out for yourself.
I find myself sitting on the fence like I did in my growing up years wondering if Riley is right or wrong. I am already teaching J about "bad people" with bad intent and how they may try to snare her. I don't feel any qualms about outraging her innocence in describing what a "bad guy" might do to her. I am being a typical paranoid mother. Not once am I questioning why these lessons sho…

Packaging Gaffes

I have been following the Kaaya Vishwanathan's story about a story with interest. Thanks to Joe Malchow's, post on the subject I discovered Ivywise - a hothouse for grooming kids for Ivy League schools. Apparently Vishwanathan was packaged by them.

I haven't had a chance to real the Opal Mehta story but seems from reviews like a harmless and uninspired piece of teen chick-lit with a desi flavor for zing. Successful teenage writers are not all that uncommon, but when a seventeen year old wins a half a million dollar book contract they come under intense public scrutiny as Ms Vishwanathan is.

Carson McCullers was twenty one when she wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. There is nothing adolescent about her theme or her masterful handling of it. Vishwanathan's youthful celebrity is unlike McCullers' in every possible way and for that she is fated to be hounded by charges of "plagiarism" and those of "packaging" herself and her book for the big league.

Kindergarten Enrollment

I have many memories of school admissions mostly unpleasant ones. The first time was starting kindergarten at what was supposed to be the best school in town. My mother was a woman on a mission - she would move heaven and earth if that's what it took to get me enrolled there. It turned out that she had a friend who had graduated from there summa cum laude. One summer morning, I was taken to be "introduced" to the school principal by mom's friend.

I remember the anxiety that clouded all discussions in our home about my kindergarten admission and my mother's painstaking efforts to prep me for the "audience" that I had been so fortunately granted. At less than four I had been tasked with making the equivalent of an elevator speech and work my way in. I could tell a lot was at stake on how I fared. I don't remember what (if anything) I was asked. Maybe the event and all that led up to it was stressful enough to make me forget.

Thanks to my mother's &q…

Primitive Art

My grandfather had an ancient Kodak box camera he had bought second hand in the 1930s. It was his pride and joy. When the season and the slant of the sun was just right he would herd the family up to the terrace to take pictures. There are many shutter bugs in the family with sophisticated equipment but none can rival him as a photographer.

I learnt from him that a good photograph is about perceiving the mundane and commonplace in an extraordinary way. It is about having an artistic slant to life. That a bare terrace with crows perched on clothes-lines is as good a background as any other if your eye is keen and focused on your subject. That a pinhole camera can create lasting works of art.

It would have warmed Grandpa's heart to see the beautiful images one giant and primitive camera has created.

Tracing On Mist

Sometimes on a misty morning, I trace J's name on the window pane. I remember the first time I did it on a whim. J watched me and her face lit with happiness. "Mommy wrote my name on the window !" she squealed in delight. Since then she looks forward to mist at daybreak and will ask me to trace her name on it. I have no idea why this ritual has come to be so special for both of us. There are perhaps "muted meanings" in the impermanence of writing on water that are for me to discover.

Wet Poet by John Engle

Today the rain
writes warm, wet poetry
on my window pane.

Long, liquid lines
arrange themselves
in lyrical patterns
and designs
that flow
with muted meanings
that I need to know.

And as I read,
my words
are taught to fly
with music
brought to me
by cloud and sky.

Sophie's Choice

I had tried to read Sophie's Choice by William Styron years ago and did not make it past twenty pages - it just did not flow at a pace that makes reading pleasurable for me. I watched the movie this evening and it made me cry.
Maybe because I am the mother of a little girl, it left me feeling terribly depressed and disturbed. I know I will not be able to get over the image of Meryl Streep making the choice that would haunt her for life or the heart rending cries of her baby girl as she is taken away to die.

Sometimes when you have read a book and loved it, your expectations from the cinematic transfer come in the way of being able to enjoy the movie. I am glad I did not read the book before, now I don't want to because it may take away from the Sophie I got to know. I don't know if Alan Paluka stayed faithful to Styron's story but to have Streep bring his character to life so amazingly could be a writer's dream come true.

This is possibly the most powerful performance…

Cake Burger

Apparently having a sweet tooth is not a male thing. Real men would rather disguise their cake as a burger than be caught eating "cake"

There are plenty of sweet-toothed men, but many feel too embarrassed to eat elaborate cakes and the like in public. For men like this, especially middle-aged businessmen, the great thing about the sweets at Mamido's Burger is that they come disguised as fast food. Such men can now walk around town munching away, safe in the knowledge that nobody will ever suspect that what they have in their hand is not a hamburger but a cake. Perhaps this is why men number so highly among the shop's patrons.

The success of the cake burger venture is perhaps explained by the role food plays in perceptions about gender held by the individual and society.

Liberated Desi Female

In my town, there are more Indian women at the workplace and the desi grocery stores than there were seven years ago. What's more they are of a very different stripe as well. A lot of them I can tell have arrived fairly recently from India and are working onsite for their clients.
The girls from the bigger metros are smartly turned out and at perfect ease in their surroundings. More often than not they have worked in the US and elsewhere in the world before. Typically in their late 20s to early 30s, these women are largely single and seem to be enjoying it. A lot of them tend to be conspicuous spenders. Its heart-warming to see how far the desi woman has come along. Back in the day all one saw was the hapless H4 wife that followed her H1 husband mutely wherever he lead her devoting her energies to finding "good deals" on everything that her household needed or desired.

Given the abundance, one would imagine the desi guys would be spoilt for choice when their thoughts turne…

Instantly Accessible Memories

My memory is often like a sieve and what's more fairly random about deciding what to retain and what to let go. As a student, committing stuff to memory took forever and still remained perilously close to slipping away. Over the years I have found lesser and lesser use for my ability to remember and so my inability is not quite the handicap it once used to be. James D. Watson's essay "On My Mind" talks about long lasting memories and why it is not as valuable an asset to human beings as it once used to be. He says:

Until the development of written languages, all of human experience and culture had to be carried in our brains. Older people with vast memories of the past were necessarily more respected than their younger, less-experienced counterparts. Today, however, much of our culture is stored in books, in musical scores, in enduring works of art, and now in the hard drives of computers.

Fragrant Films

I was excited to read on Yahoo News "Movie fans bored with hi-tech sound effects and graphics will soon be able to experience cinematic smells". My first guess was some company like Digiscents had finally made good on their promise of being able to permute and combine the basic smell types to create the full olafactory spectrum. So I was dissappointed by a system considerably cruder " The six smells, which include forests and citrus, are released under cinemagoers' seats."

Years from now this may well read like the first attempt to make a talkie movie. You started with a live orchestra playing backstage and moved on to better things. Maybe there is hope for scent technology yet. I was never quite able to figure why VCs did not think Digiscents had potential.
I remember trying to convince R (my ex) that we should take a look at their API (which they were giving away to developers for free along with the SDK), because this could be huge if it worked out. R had smil…

To See List

For those of us who are drawn by places of historical interest, the itinerary is clearly planned and prioritized (if one goes by the year when noted at risk) by this list of endangered world heritage sites. There is also the most endangered sacred sites around the world. There are many such lists out there with different criteria for inclusion.

I regret most the places in India that feature on these lists that I never visited some of which were literally down the road from the where I've lived and grown up in India.

Yet when I think about it what's to regret ? Would it not be worse to have seen history and to have it disappear twenty years later like it never existed. Maybe the endangered sites are much better served if tourists did not feel like it was their last chance to see it. That may give nature enough time to heal.

Below The Belt

Reading a Russian political leader's characterization of Condi Rice in this article from Daily Times got me wondering if he may have taken similar liberties in talking about a powerful, single man.

It is sad and shameful that men will stoop so low and that the most powerful woman in the world is not immune to crude remarks about her personal life. Instead of rebutting her offending statement about Russia as would befit a political adversary and an intellectual equal, he chooses the crude, tasteless option of hitting below the belt.

"This is because she is a single woman who has no children. She loses her reason because of her single status. Nature takes it all. Such women are very rough. They are all workaholics, public workaholics. They can be happy only when they are talked and written about everywhere:"

"This is the only way to satisfy her needs of a female. She derives pleasure from it. If she has no man by her side at her age, he will never appear. Even if she …

Middle Aged Teens

Most often, teen fashion looks perfectly nice on teens but on not their moms even if the woman in question is in great shape. It is increasingly common, however, to see older women dressed like teens. In doing so they do disservice both to themselves and their children who are likely to view them as flippant if not undignified role models. How seriously can a boy of sixteen take a mother who wears low slung rhinestone encrusted jeans not unlike his girlfriend ?

When women keep up with latest fashion, they keep up with icons increasing younger than they are. As time goes by the disparity between the consumer and ramp models who dictate their choice of clothes and accessories increases. There comes a point when a woman needs to find her own style or seek role models closer to her age or run the risk of looking ridiculous on clothes that are twenty years too young for her.

While many older women have bodies that can fit in painlessly into teen-wear, it does not give them elegance and sophi…

Spanner In Works

Though its well known, acknowledged old news every once in a while the "real" cost savings from outsourcing makes headlines. That it may take "research" to derive the obvious, common sense conclusion is quite baffling.

"This research proves that the promise of massive operational savings is unrealistic when you take into account the costs of procurement and ongoing contract management,"

One small detail that researchers don't seem to uncover is the role that fear of unemployment plays. Most places I have consulted typically have a local resource that acts as the lead developer and designer - the number of such resources is proportional to the size, "presumed complexity" and budget of the project. More often than not these individuals act as a major bottleneck in the process and play havoc with planned expenses.

The typical lead developer/designer (from my experience) has not had an opportunity to keep up with latest technology because they were…

Class And Caste

The Indian caste system is much maligned in the west and desis of the progressive stripe try hard to take "caste" out of their genes and system. Professor R Vaidyanathan of IIM Bangalore has a very interesting and logical counterpoint. He argues :

"..the caste system is undeniably a valuable social capital, which provides a cushion for individuals and families to deal with society and the state. The Western model of atomising every individual to a single element in a right-based system and forcing the individual to have a direct link with the state has destroyed families and erased communities. Every person stands alone, stark naked, with only rights as his imaginary clothes to deal directly with the state. "

The west has its "caste system" too. It distinguishes very sharply between new and old money, the colors black, brown and white among other things. Only the "system" of classification does not take unique inclinations and talents of a group o…

Linked And Apart

Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a disarmingly charming little book. It does not read like a scholarly tome and is like an interesting story told by someone erudite with a mildly avuncular air. In summary it makes for very enjoyable reading and a Sunday afternoon well spent.

It was fun to test the six degrees of separateness rule. I picked Bill Gates to check if the rule applied to me. Turns out I could be about two degrees away given that I have an acquaintance in Microsoft who worked pretty close to Gates a couple of years ago.

Knowing someone that links to a major hub puts you several degrees closer to anyone you care to link with. For instance, my friend Kate's sister is an aspiring Hollywood starlet and that gets all of us who know Kate several degrees close to stars who would have otherwise been completely out of reach. Kate becomes our connection to the Hollywood hub. Everyone knows someone who is either connected to a hub or knows someone who is. It was fascinating to wor…

Mommy To J Ratio

"I'll be done with my breakfast in one Mommy second" J said when I begged her to hurry up for the gazillionth time this morning.

"What is one Mommy second ?" I asked her never having heard that one before.

"It is the time J takes to finish her milk" she told me.

"So what would one J second be ?" I wondered aloud

"The time it takes Mommy to finish her breakfast" she replied promptly.

I also found out that "one Mommy second" is bigger than "one J second" and this is obvious for more reasons than one. According to J, they vary in direct proportion to our ages. Thus Mommy Second/J Second = Mommy's Age/J 's Age.

I guess the point she was trying to make is that my expectation for the time it should take her to finish her breakfast is unrealistic given the Mommy-second to J-second ratio. This was possibly the simplest lesson on gravitational time dilation anyone ever received.

Awarded Patience

My co-worker T got engaged over the weekend and conveyed the glad tidings to us this morning. Much friendly bantering ensued and like a birthday boy, T did not get much done today besides basking in the attention. By popular demand he promised to be available until there were visible signs of his hitched status. A date for the wedding has not been fixed yet.Later in the afternoon we went into a meeting where T was the only man. One woman congratulated him, soon everyone knew and "Oohs" and "Aahs" followed. Then there were questions. "So how did she react ?", "How did you propose ?", "Was she expecting it ?" (the answer to which was "I guess it was about time. We've been dating seven years. She has waited enough") Nevertheless the ladies persisted "Did you go down your knee when you proposed ?" (acting out the Cinderella and Prince Charming fantasy I guess) ,"She must be overjoyed ?", "Have you dec…

Brick Lane

When I started reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali last evening, I was not looking to stay up past midnight to finish it. It is the kind of book, that if I don't finish the first time, I will never get back to again. Unputdownable books are not always the most memorable. It requires that the story have a reasonable pace but does not call for introspection or any deep emotional response.

The theme of Ali's story is common enough. A dependent woman trapped in a dead marriage meets a breath of fresh air - a man unlike anyone she has seen in her cloistered life. They have an affair, the marriage morphs in fundamental ways but survives. In the end everyone wins. Nazeen, the trapped hausfrau gains freedom - she opts to stay on with her two daughters in London, Karim her lover is absolved of his obligation to her when she says she does not want to marry him. Chanu her husband returns to Bangladesh to start over after thirty years of being an impoverished failure in London.

Despite its ver…

Linked List

A line from a New York magazine article on SMS as the new hook up tool reminded me of a job interview over ten years ago. The line in question being

“I was on a date at a restaurant and was holding her hand across the table while texting underneath the table with the other hand to another woman I was dating. The other woman was on a date with someone, too—a tragicomedy of texting, if you will.”

Unaccountably that image of two people on a date cheating on their dates via SMS with others who are similarly on dates in an infinite chain of linked messages brought to mind a question I was asked at that interview. "Can you explain what a linked list is and an give example of its use ?" Those were my C programming days and the question very typical. I may have answered the example part very differently today when there is the "tragicomdey of texting" to illustrate pointers.

Being Nimble

At the local Wal-Mart, I recently noticed something new. An area full of colorful displays seemed to have been carved out in the middle of the store. You walked in out of curiosity to find a slew of stuff priced between 50 cents and a dollar. If you were planning to swing by the neighborhood Dollar Tree later, Wal-Mart had just saved you the trip along with some change.

Not too long ago, I was reading that the only credible competition to Wal-Mart comes from the dollar stores. This appeared to be a move to make inroads into that segment. A few days later the display was gone. I figured it was a teaser campaign. Maybe it will be back again to research the market in a different set of conditions. Over time, we as consumers will determine if it is worthwhile for Wal-Mart to get into dollar store space. We will possibly help eliminate the only competition there exists in our quest to stretch a dollar past break point.

While Wal-Mart can be faulted for a lot, the lack of nimbleness at middle…

Puppet On Chain

Celebrities who fear that they may be reaching the twilight zone of their career have much to learn fromcartoonist and comedian from Minnesota, Aric McKeown
His is possibly a great way to get the fan base to pay for their soon to fade idols. This is much bigger than reality TV. I can imagine the mass hysteria that will overtake India if it were possible that anyone could SMS their votes for what Amitabh Bacchan would have for breakfast that morning. Better still buy out the competition and popular vote so he ate something of their choosing.As fans up their ante to have the puranpoli score over rava dosa and poori sabzi, Bacchan would be laughing all the way to the bank. I'm expecting that he would webcast or podcast himself eating what his fans have either voted or paid for him to eat. So once the puranpoli has won, there are deals to made for five star restaurants who seek his endorsement of their version of the recipe. With some luck the purveyors of silverware, china, table line…

Serially Blinged

There is the word bling and the word bling-bling. I have tried to figure the difference between the two based on usage and context because the standard definitions of the two seem to vary little. It seems that an instance of unnecessary, expensive ostentation is bling where as bling-bling is a large assortment of these blings.

The other way to interpret this could be that a bling for a bling is a bling-bling. For example a horribly expensive little electronic gizmo could be the bling in question. A very pointless accessory like a platinum doll charm to dangle from it be the bling-bling. Now if the charm came with any further add ons (like a pair of diamond shoes for the said doll) those could be the bling-bling-bling.

So being in possession of blings ad infinitum is about having huge amounts of time and money at hand. The neat thing is that for every bling there is a potential bling bling - layer after layer like a Russian doll. The universe of blings remains in balance because whereas …

Managing Marriages

Marriages must be in a state of emergency if it now takes "Managed Monogamy" to keep a couple together. The significant difference between this and its older avatar "Open Relationship" comes about through the connotations of the word "managed".

Whereas in an open relationship you presumably set each other free to pursue extracurricular activities, you ceased to have any control over what your partner did on their spare time. There is a greater sense of empowerment in managing. You get to determine the rules of engagement upfront and are required play by those rules. This is a more constrained type of open-ness. The old ball and chain tugs you ever so slightly if you stray too far away.

The underlying premise seems to be that marriage is a form of entrapment desirable for the social acceptance that it affords among other things. However, the natural instinct of both the parties is to break loose and turn fully polygamous. That being assumed inevitable the be…

Emotional Intelligence Aid

A lot of "normal" people would benefit from the device that warns you if you're being boring or irritating. Captains of industry for example, given as they are to tendencies of megalomania, assume their words routinely spellbind their audience. Often times the audience is fast asleep. Surely a cue to stop while they are still wakeful would be useful. Talk show hosts would likewise benefit except the signs of boredom and irritation would have to be transmitted over some distance and that should be easy enough.

For the emotional intelligence challenged the device would serve equally well in social situations and the workplace. They would be able to avoid needless faux pas that make them unpopular. Having something like this handy at a job or college admission interview could be construed as cheating. You have a prop to guide the course of the conversation that works to your advantage. That's quite a bit like getting SMS messages on a cell phone to cheat on an test.


We Are Family

Every once in a while, I revisit the importance of a father-figure in J's life. The best way I have found is to ask her how she feels about it. She has gone through distinct phases in the last few years.

When I first broached the subject of "father" her reaction was one of vehement denial. She did not want to hear anything about him and most definitely did not want a father. The next time, there was some curiosity along with a grudging acceptance of the fact that she missed having a father. While she still did not want her "real" father who she has never seen, she was interested in a "good daddy" and trusted Mommy would find one in short order.

Thankfully children have a very mutable notion of time. An hour could last an eternity if a treat is promised after naptime. Yet the years that she has been waiting for the "good daddy" to come into her life could be only as long as a few minutes. Last night we spoke about her father or the lack of one.…

Offshore Bound

My friend, A was on the market for a consulting gig at the beginning of this year. She discovered that headhunters had rebranded in 2006 and were now referring to themselves a "talent acquisition professionals". We thought that was a hilarious nomenclature given how clueless most headhunters are about the "talent" they supposedly go scouting.

Unless it passes the resume scanning software's selection criteria based on keyword density, a jobhunter has little hope of getting noticed - and that's exactly what happened to A. She is a business process re-engineering specialist. That analysis would logically precede any reengineering would seem an obvious conclusion but we forget that we are dealing with bots - the humans are too busy taking clients out to lunch to keep the requirements flowing in.
Whereas in truth A is overqualified as a business analyst, recruiters usually assume she has no experience at all.

Like A, I have consulted long enough to be very disillus…