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Showing posts from February, 2008

Backyard Glaciers

If you have a big enough backyard you and the conditions are right you could be making glaciers in it not to mention doing good things for the environment while you are at it.

BACK in the 13th century, when news of Genghis Khan and his marauding Mongol hordes reached what is now northern Pakistan, the people there came up with an unlikely means of keeping them out. According to local legend, villagers blocked the mountain passes by simply growing glaciers across them.

Whether or not these stories are true, the art of glacier growing - also known as glacial grafting - has been practiced for centuries in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges. It was developed as a way to improve water supplies to villages in valleys where glacial melt water tended to run out before the end of the growing season.

That is an interesting piece of history trivia that you never most likely never learned at school. History such as this would be so much easier to remember and love. Who cares about …

Copy And Paste

I've had my online profile on dating site copied and pasted by a guy and my resume "borrowed" shamelessly by someone I thought was a friend. My initial reaction was one of puzzlement, surprise and even anger - someone just stole "my" thought process and commoditized "me". Why would they want to be me when they were them ?

How can replicating a slice of my personality (as in the dating profile) or many years of my professional career help those who were distinctly different from me in both areas ? When I thought about it some more, I realized I must be commoditzable enough for them to be able to do so. I was no better than a factory manufactured widget and just as easily reproducible. In the end, no one would know the difference. That being the case, the hand-wringing is entirely pointless.

If someone is truly exceptional in their professional or personal lives, copying their profile or resume would not make any sense. Their uniqueness would be the best…

Internet And Religion

Nicholas Carr begins his essay The amorality of Web 2.o with the line : From the start, the World Wide Web has been a vessel of quasi-religious longing.

He ends with the closing arguments for why amoral

Like it or not, Web 2.0, like Web 1.0, is amoral. It's a set of technologies - a machine, not a Machine - that alters the forms and economics of production and consumption. It doesn't care whether its consequences are good or bad. It doesn't care whether it brings us to a higher consciousness or a lower one. It doesn't care whether it burnishes our culture or dulls it. It doesn't care whether it leads us into a golden age or a dark one. So let's can the millenialist rhetoric and see the thing for what it is, not what we wish it would be.

This was written a few years ago and has been provoking comments to this day ! That is probably the best endorsement for Carr's case - three years is a very long time on the internet.

I don't know if I'd go as far as Th…

Honey Trappers

The sound of "honey trapper" has a wholesome, folksy ring. You'd expect a person engaged in this line of work to be outdoors, setting quaint traps for bees as they collect honey. Nothing could be further from the truth. As it turns out, honey trapping is for those who don't mind hanging out at bars and nightclubs in the evenings to snare cheating partners and spouses. Being outdoorsy is not a required qualification and it comes recommended as a second career.

Under the vacancies section of their Web site, the detective service is on the look-out for

"confident, bubbly, outgoing men and women with an ability to think on their feet."Becoming a honey trapper demands reliability, honesty and accuracy, it says, and because most of the trapping takes place outside office hours, it can offer "an ideal second career."

This is a little different from the old fashioned detective agency checking out if someone's suspicion about their partner's fidelity…

Memory And Oblivion

I watched Bridge on the River Kwai twenty or more years after I had read the book. The story had made a deep impact back and I that thought (at least at the time) the impressions were indelible as well. Watching the movie, I realized how little I remembered - everything was new and unexpected once again except for one thing. The Colonel Bogey March theme was the surprise connection between the past and the present.

They use to play this among other march music during morning assembly at school. I must have heard it several hundred times in my school life and was able to recognize it at once. I had the strangest dreams in the nights following the return of the Colonel Bogey March theme in my life. A lot of them involved classmates I have not thought about in all these years. For a few days it was like having gone back in time with all the experiences from the years in between.

While so many forgotten fragments of my childhood returned to me vividly, the book and the story itself remained…

Unbeaten Path

Your frame of reference when you try to find something often limits the range of possibilities. A simple example would be a search on Google. Lets' say I am looking for an eggplant recipe .Logically those would be the keywords I enter in my search.

I would then have results that match my query. I would most likely never know about a travel and food blog that might have provided unconventional inspiration for an eggplant dish. It may be been unlike anything that shows up handily on a Google search. When I find do it accidentally, I realize my search criteria was not able to connect me to what I sought - infact I had no idea what I was looking for until I had actually found it.

You never know how to seek out what you don't know to look for. Sometimes serendipitous connections do happen. But more often than not, problems seek solutions along the beaten path and end up with mediocre outcomes. The idea of Innocentive seems to make those connections happen more organically and lead se…

Underage Obamaphilia

I have a pint sized Obamaphile (or should that be Obama-bhakta – bhakta in Sanskrit means devotee - in deference to her Indian roots ?) in the household. These days, he is included in J’s morning prayers which is a honor normally reserved for things and people closest to her heart. She has been following his fortunes in the primaries for a while now and has managed suck me into it as well. Obamaphilia is quite contagious as it turns out. Thanks to my daughter, I keep an eye on CNN for the latest on Obama because J’s need for information on him is insatiable.

The latest tidbit on him can delight her as much as a Fun Dip – her very favorite candy. I figure it’s a much healthier option given her cavities. But I truly outdid myself on the night of the Wisconsin primary when I stayed up long enough to know the results so I could tell J first thing next morning. Seeing that big smile on her face when she woke up to the news of his victory made it all worthwhile.

Then came the debate in Austin…

Small Innovations

On a hot summer's day, I always miss the fresh sugar cane juice that was so easily available in India. The vendors had hand cranked equipment and served the juice in a grimy looking glass that had seen better days. If they had disposable cups your concerns about hygiene were alleviated some but you stayed away from the crushed ice because the water was of unknown provenance.

You drank your tepid sugar cane juice from a flimsy plastic cup on a sweltering summer day thinking what a difference that ice could have made to your experience.So while a glass of fresh sugar cane juice is the most refreshing drink on a hot day, you did not enjoy it as much as you could have.

It warms my heart to read about Cane-o-la. This sugar cane juice maker may not qualify to be low-tech innovation but bringing just a bit of equipment and organization to bear upon something fairly mundane is not exactly hi-tech either. Whatever its place, this is just the kind of innovation that bridges the traditional …

Quinnapoxet - Two Readings

Thus goes the third and final stanza of Stanley Kunitz's Quinnapoxet

I had nothing to say to her.
But for him who walked behind her
in his dark worsted suit,
with his face averted
as if to hide a scald,
deep in his other life,
I touched my forehead
with my swollen thumb
and spalyed my fingers out -
in deaf-mute country
the sign for father

Gregory Orr in his book Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry explains it as follows :

In the poem "Quinnapoxer," Kunitz takes his stand in relation to the figures of his two parents. He rejects the mother and makes a gesture of communion toward the father. For the first time, Kunitz overtly links the key image of the wound (here a "burn/scald" to the father and thus to the father's suicide.

in his dark worsted suit
with his face averted
as if to hide a scald

I am sure he is right and it also adds up in the context of the first two stanzas. But there could be another way of reading these lines in isolation from their context.

The wo…

Turning Home

It was raining when Sheila got ready to leave Vibha’s on Sunday afternoon. Vibha insisted on packing her a something to eat for dinner so she would not have to cook after reaching home. For the road there was a big sandwich, an apple and a bottle of water. “You’ve become your mother" Sheila joked as her friend fussed over her comfort just as Mrs. Shah had done when the girls were younger and hung out at Vibha’s on the weekends fuelled by an endless stream of steaming hot chai and spicy snacks. “ I guess its in the genes. I can’t seem to help myself” Vibha laughed as they hugged goodbye. “Stay in touch and I’ll see you again at the baby shower if not sooner” Sheila said ducking into the car quickly to avoid getting drenched.

She absently fiddled with the radio knob trying to tune into a station that did not play those mushy soft-rock tracks she absolutely detested. She was thinking about the two versions of Vibha’s life that she had become privy too quite unexpectedly. The frantic …

American Education Abroad

Thanks to the sequence of unplanned events that were set in motion over fifteen years ago, my dream of going to graduate school still remains that - a dream. My friends don't fail to remind me that I could still do it, work on a program part-time, get a degree online and so forth. To me none of that is the real deal. I have always wanted to go back to school full-time, to be a student and nothing else and it is safe to say my time has passed.

Reading this NYT story about American universities setting up campuses abroad, I wondered what it might have been to have access to these in India when I was getting ready to go to college. Families like mine who have believe in keeping their daughters near them until they are married would have loved it. If the cost is significantly lower, it would be a huge blessing for meritorious students who lack the means to travel and live abroad.

While this is like the proverbial mountain moving to the Mahomet, you wonder what it all means in the long…

Immortal Pets

A modern day cat blessed with a rich owner could have nine lives or more. Then the family feline can be passed down the generations. Today's Macavity could be doing much more than making a fakir stare at his defiance of gravity

He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare.

When fact and fiction get so close to each other, the cusp generation people are left to fend for themselves as far as being able to accept the new realities of their time. For those of us who did not grow up seeing cloned pets all around them, this can be a challenging transition. Some will end up taking such and other developments in stride, waiting eagerly for fact to overtake fiction. The rest will resist their understanding of the natural order being so fundamentally challenged.

Not being a sci-fi reader leaves you at obvious disadvantage as you have no idea of what to expect next.

Unreal Test

Adam Shephard's test of the American Dream is nothing like my own except for one common factor - the reassuring presence of a safety blanket. Poverty and desperation cannot be simulated neither can someone from an affluent, educated background presume to be able to think and act like those who have not had those advantages. My recent post about different consumption patterns as seen from the vantage point of a grocery store checkout line is a riff on this theme.

When I decided to leave my ex and end a marriage that was self-destructing at an alarming rate, I had plan no for the future. J was about a month old. I had quit my job and gained over thirty pounds in weight. Instead of following conventional wisdom about appropriate next steps in my situation I was determined to experiment and make the best of the mess my life had turned into. I stayed home in India with J for a year and tried to loose the stubborn thirty pounds the best I could - it was the one goal that kept me form sli…

Awed and Bedazzled

When I became a teenager in the 80s the standards of beauty were not nearly as unattainable as they are now. There was the stuffed, padded and white-washed Bollywood star beautiful that no one seriously considered a benchmark – they were them and we were us and the twain was not meant to meet. The sari clad models on the cover of the Indian glossies (which were the only kind that were easily available at time) looked quite real.

Even so confidence in physical appearance was not easy to come by or keep for an adolescent girl. Beauty potions both home made and over the counter were extremely popular. When girls came of age, they were stacked up against cousins, friends and neighbors mainly based on their looks. There was always this one girl in everyone’s acquaintance who was considered the paragon of beauty – every one else merely a distant also-ran.

This girl was placed on a pedestal and made to believe she was destined for greatness by way of marriage to a very successful (and handsome…

Retail Therapy

I was at Wal-Mart a few days ago waiting in the regular check-out line with a little over twenty things. It's been a very long time since I stood here - I don't usually have more than ten things in my cart. So anyways, J and I prepared ourselves for a long wait. A family of four was ahead of us. The woman had her cart filled to capacity and was cheerfully estimating the total to be in the late two hundreds. The man appeared to be her boyfriend and she was trying hard to engage him in a meaningless but "cheery" conversation. She might as well have been talking to a wall.

He was clearly not interested in what she was saying and eyed the never ending stream of items on the belt with growing concern and unmistakable irritation. In the five or ten minutes that I stood there waiting, I learnt that her son with his father for the weekend, the rest of the family was her two girls and their dad (the silent man). "Lend me a hand, Daddy" she said to him as he set yet m…

Six Degrees

Nice article on the value of marketing the influentials with the aim for turning it into a viral campaign. The central theme of this argument which is in complete contradiction of Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point theory :

Cascades require word-of-mouth effects, so you need to build a six-degrees effect into an ad campaign; but since you can never know which person is going to spark the fire, you should aim the ad at as broad a market as possible--and not waste money chasing "important" people.

No wonder Time magazine named "You" person of the year.

Col-Pop

I was reading this SciAm article on the complex causes of weight gain and then read about Col-Pop which is possibly the most non-complex way to gain it and gain it fast. This could be a great idea to extend to lunch boxes for school going kids. I'm already thinking lassi in the drink section and kichdi in the food.

A snap on condiment jar (as one commentator suggests) for a dash of achar and you have a full Indian meal on the go. Now if hot can stay hot and cold at least cool this would be the killer app in the lunch box space - even better than the Bento Box which I have eyed with great longing upto now. I hope the South Koreans take this wonderful innovation to the next level.

Driving The Bus

Beginning an RFP process driven purely by business requirements is like being in the market for a new car knowing no more about what you are looking for beyond “I want a new car”. You could be car-shopping for a very long time and be deeply disillusioned by your purchase when you do end up making it (if ever)

Doing functional requirements is like specifying the features you want in this imaginary car. It will pare down the list of options some but chances are most automakers provide the same set of standard equipment give or take a few in the same price range. So you are down from 10,000 to about a 100 possible options.

It’s still too large a pool to make an intelligent and timely purchase decision. Analogously, you float the RFP out with "implementation agnostic" business requirements, get a bunch of bids with every vendor claiming to be the very silver bullet your organization seeks. You spend hours stacking them every which way to make sense of what you are dealing with, d…

At Vibha's

The house was was dark except for the living room. Sheila could see a flickering television screen through the window. Vibha answered the door right away. "Come in" she said as if they had met last only a week ago. It was a tastefully furnished home without any ostentation. The smell of spices wafted in from the kitchen. Setting the cake on the dining table, Sheila followed Vibha into the kitchen "Smells lovely. What are you cooking ?" she asked. "Nothing much. It's chicken dhansak and rice"

She was on her third glass of wine while Vibha sipped her OJ. "So why did this guy keep calling you if you wouldn't answer the phone ?" Vibha asked puzzled. Sheila was recounting her recent experience involving a man in his late fifties who had once interviewed her on the phone. She had not accepted the job, but the man kept calling her from a private number and never left a message. The first couple of times she had answered but then she stopped. He …

Vocal Terror

This article on "vocal terror" reads like a despatch from the "Ministry of Fear". Should this ever come to pass we would need to rethink our notion of trust. You hear the voice of a loved one on the phone and can't be sure its really them until they answer the security question correctly.

Yet long after conversations have been hi-jacked by rouge technology, we might have our music left to keep unspolit. So on a bad day, when we are not sure if that soothing voice on the phone is our grandmother's or some hacker's clever attempt to con us, we can still rely on the Radetzky March to lift our spirits, or Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto to bring life back to your broken leg.

Nonzero

If one replaces Rome with America in this line from Robert Wright's Nonzero, history seems to have fast forwared to the present :

When a civilization such as Rome dominates its neighbors, it typically possesses some sort of cultural edge: better weapons, say, or better economic organization. Yet this dominance is hard to maintain precisely because these valuable memes [ideas] tend naturally to spread beyond its borders, empowering its rivals

Except for the conventional weapons, the neigbors across the pond must not find it too hard to catch up with everything that made America the formidable forerunner. If history is any indicator, the fall of America from its position of preeminence may not deal a deathly blow to progress in the rest of the world. Wright says :

No one [world] culture is in charge, so no one culture controls the memes (though some try in vain). This decentralization makes epic social setbacks of reliably limited duration; the system is 'fault-tolerant' as co…

A Nostalgist's Map of America

The best poetry is like looking through a kaleidoscope. The world always looks different through and each time is a delightful surprise. I love these lines by Agha Shahid Ali because I can read and savor them so many ways. This could be about love, friendship, nostalgia, illness or death depending on what I want it to be and mean to me.

I love the way the words flow like they we were a stream coursing gently over smooth, shiny rocks with metaphors glinting like specks of sunlight. I could pick a handful from anywhere and it would be the same clear water. The images conjured up by the "disguised climate of Southern California", "rain from distance drenched arms" or "the eavesdropping willows" commingle as rain drops do when falling upon a river.


A Nostalgist's Map of America

by Agha Shahid Ali

I kept speaking to you
after I hung up, my voice the quickest
mail, a cracked disc with many endings,

each false: One: "I live in Evanescence
(I had to build it…

Automatic 2nd Date

With retail excesses of Valentine's Day all around, it is the perfect time to do a plug for a book which focuses on the 2nd date. Anyone who has been out on a string of first dates and had nothing follow thereafter will appreciate the emphasis on the second. So without further ado, over to Victorya Rogers on her book The Automatic 2nd Date


Dating for any single woman involves plenty anxiety. Dating as a single mom takes the anxiety to a whole other level. After all you can’t just freely run out and date anyone, anywhere or anytime you want because you have precious children at home depending on you. And you have to REALLY pay attention to WHO your date is because your children’s lives will be equally affected by your choice in a new mate.

So what are you to do? Here are some dating tips for single moms, as well as for any single woman looking for your next great date who just turn out to be your ideal mate. I hope these tips from my latest book THE AUTOMATIC 2nd DATE help take the …

Dropping Fractions

Interesting news story on why fractions along with long division are obsolete and don't need to be taught in schools. Decimals are very cool and more state of the art the good professor argues but I can't imagine a child slicing their birthday cake into .833 portions.

So much easier to say 1/12 and have it visualized and understood. It makes more sense to start with a fraction so the kid gets the idea and then convert it to a decimal and explain how the two are the same. Adding a 12.5 and 3.2 is mechanical but understanding those numbers as a whole plus a part is what really counts conceptually. Once the concerpt is understood, doing the math mentally, by hand on paper or using a calculator becomes a matter of preference. Someone old school like myself would pick mental math as far as possible.


Penn State mathematician Andrews says he believes DeTurck's ideas will "unfortunately" gain traction because of the misguided belief that math education can somehow be made…

Frustrated Swearing

My former client W came to mind when I read this report on how swearing at work boost team spirit and morale. We were a group of six who frequently collocated for several hours everyday in a big conference room. W joined us when she could and swore like a sailor as the drama of the day unfolded. When the team was new, most of us chucked along hesitantly at her colorful language. After a while, she found a comprador in K who speciailized in double entendres.


The stress levels were extremely high and I have to admit because of the two potty-mouths the atmosphere grew much more convivial, we relaxed and at times laughed until our sides hurt. Shit continued to flow downwards, management made absurd decisions that reduced us to a hobbling pace from a bracing spirnt that we had managed to achieve with a great deal difficulty. We all hated Monday mornings with a passion. K constantly dreamt of "calling in rich" after winning the lottery.

The quality of our worklife never improved b…

Sybil

I watched Sybil a few days ago and the shocked numbness is yet to wear off. Sally Field's performance is stunning to the point where it she is Sybil to the viewer and not just playing her character. Some of the scenes are so painful to watch that I just closed my eyes and muted the sound until enough time had passed.

Whatever the truth of the story, it makes you ponder about multiple personality disorder. In Sybil's case it was apparently her way of coping with horrific sexual abuse she had been subjected to as a child with her mother being her perpetrator. The mangitude of the disorder was proportional to the intensity of her suffering but doesn't everyone have several personalities to a certain extent ?

The cheating partner has one face as a spouse and a parent at home. They may be someone totally different with their lover. Both of these personas would have little in common with who they are at the workplace. Don't we find ourselves suprised at times by the behavior…

Staying Dry

Somethings are best when not wet - like a toothbrush, a park bench or a bunch of herbs. Things that we can and have done without but would be nice to have - the kind of innovative conviniences that are easy to get used to. Then there is this brilliantly designed website that makes you consider the store's garden variety of appliances in a whole new light.

Back in the day when I was a programmer, I would have given an arm and leg to be on the tech team that made this possible. The closest I got to doing anything "cool" was to be a junior developer on a game development team with an anal rententive technical lead. I never had what it took to reach his exacting standards but thanks to him, I cringe at the sight of inelegant code to this day and can recognize a job well done when I see it. I guess he managed to teach me art appreciation even if he failed to make an artist out me.

Toilet Manners

Recently during happy hour one of my co-workers was wondering about the proper etiquette when you are in a bathroom stall ready to flush and the party across the wall is engaged in what appears to be a very meaningful cell phone conversation. Do you flush the toilet and give away the whereabouts of your neighbor or wait until they are done ?

The question weighing on his mind was what conversation was so important that it could not wait until after taking a leak. Naturally, this lead to talk about how long to wait and what if inappropriate sounds were emanated and heard by the party on the other side of the phone. Would it not be embarrassing for the party with bowel movement challenges to have their plight broadcast via cell phone ? Did people no longer have a right to some measure of privacy in a public restroom as they answered nature’s call ?

Such are the conundrums of the modern world. Time was when you retired to a secluded spot in the woods to do your business undisturbed by man o…

Happy Deja Vu

While it may have been a serendiptious discovery, deep brain stimulation to revive memories could be the most beautiful gift one could have. Imagine going into to a spa and having the best moments of your life recalled in their original splendor for a whole hour. With some effort it may also be possible to kill the memories you've struggled to forget but have never been able to.

I was watching Prozac Nation a few days ago and the protagonist Elizabeth says “Seems like everyone’s doctor is dealing this stuff now. Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in a Prozac nation… the United States of Depression.”

Her resistance towards her therapist and disdain for therapy itself is perfectly understandable - she is way too smart to need being analyzed or being told what is wrong with her. Her doctor does not have anything new to tell or teach her - she is only empowered to prescribe Prozac to provide her the "breathing space" she will need while she resolves her problems on her …