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Showing posts from May, 2008

Forgotten To Play

As a teenager, I never tired of babies and children. I could spend the whole day playing with and entertaining them and be ready for more the next day. Having a family with a young kid visiting our home was the best treat I could have. It was around the same time that I felt my earliest longings to have a child of my own. There was this groundswell of tenderness and love for children that I wanted to shower on my own - I could hardly wait for motherhood.

J came along many years later and my life circumstances were very different from what they had been in my teens. I was now the sole provider for this child I had given birth to, the marriage had gone kaput and I was living in a foreign country trying to make it all work out for the two of us. Somewhere in the muddle of things, I lost my ability to play with a child tirelessly as I was once able to. Here I was mother of a child as I had always wanted to be and in some ways I felt I was not doing half the job I was able to do back when I…

SocialSpark

I learned about SocialSpark recently and had an opportunity to chat for a bit with the company's CEO Ted Murphy and learn more about the concept of being sponsored to produce content for your blog.

HC: I'll start with the most obvious question - Why SocialSpark ?
TM:That's a broad question but I will try to answer.
TM:There was a need in the market for a service that allowed advertisers and bloggers to more efficiently and effectively connect.

HC: Does this offer the blogger and/or the advertiser something that an AdSense type service does not ?
TM:Yes. Adsense is purely display advertising with no real connection between the advertiser, the blogger and the product or service. SocialSpark is all about sponsorship. Bloggers create sponsored content on behalf of the advertiser or have the advertiser sponsor their blog. The relationship is more intimate and each party selects the other.

HC: What kind of bloggers would find a paying market for their content through SocialSpark ?
TM:W…

Songs About Aggravations

I am a habitual misplacer of things and my memory is like a sieve. It takes a sizeable rock of an experience to be retained. I always thought of this as an aggravation and then I heard Lorraine Feather - she sings about them and makes the whole annoying business of losing your keys quite delightful.

I was listening to her songs on the way to J's music lesson. Needless to say, I was running just a little late thanks to bad planning earlier in the morning - it is a malaise closely related to constantly misplacing. Her choice of themes combined with the comedic element of her lyrics and the crystalline purity of her voice made me think about the importance of perspective in life.

Listening to "We Appreciate Your Patience" ,a song about being on permanent hold with a with a non-human appreciating our patience with call centers makes you smile at a very familiar annoyance.

Oddly Happy

An unconventional mix of circumstances makes for the happiest country in the world. John Carlin's article begins with what would have otherwise been a catastrophic catalog of woes except that it is not:

Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together - loads of children, broken homes, absent mothers - and what you have, surely, is a recipe for misery and social chaos.

Research shows that you don't have to live in a tropical paradise to be happy and money can't necessarily buy it. Even if you don't live in a particularly happy country, you can pursue happiness on your own - it is "understandable, obtainable and teachable" requiring 15 hours and equaling one 1 credit.

John Carlin concludes his essay on Iceland with words of wisdom for the rest of us :

Partly by dint of trave…

Mommy 2.0

When I first started checking out the offerings of the children’s' section of public libraries a few years ago, I found there were books about every conceivable life situation that a child could possibly need help coping with.

Divorce, death, religious and cultural differences, bi-racial families, moving and a new school, same sex marriage, a sibling coming along after a long hiatus - you name it and there was a picture book that explained the deal in simple terms. With more and more Mommies going under the knife to get a new and improved look, there is Mommy 2.0 - A new picture book about plastic surgery aims to explain why mom is getting a flatter tummy and a 'prettier' nose.

The goal of the book is laudable no doubt - it aims to answer questions kids have about their mother's new appearance and the process leading up to it. But as the article points out, there is a downside too. It quotes child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of "Raising Kids With Character…

Weird Indicators

Rising hemlines and length of beards, women's hairstyles are among strange economic indicators. Saw articles on a couple more in the NYT recently. The sale of lipstick and number of crime tipster calls. While the former may help the bottom lines of Sephora, Estee Lauder et al, the later is definitely far more helpful - the proverbial silver-lining to the clouds of hard times.

For the uninitiated, it might be a good time to start stockpiling canned food when they see a combinations of bad signs like empty Costco parking lots, few cars on the road during rush hour and too many women with short hairstyles. Seeing Porches on the Wal-Mark parking lots, coworkers taking "staycations" instead of vacations, not being able to find parking any time of day at the neighborhood Taco Bell, SUV drivers going at less than 50 miles per hour on the freeway seem to tell a similar story too.

Listing It All

Lists are good for many things not the least as a recap of the what you need to know when time is short. Listanity has a wide variety of themes so there should be something there for everyone. You learn by the way that "There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don't. " If you are a listmaniac and get all of your lists by a RSS feed, you are probably getting the best bang for the buck as far as your infotainment needs.

As you browse through the lists on Listanity you quickly realize that no list is complete no matter how it is described - "Top XX lists, collection of, best of, resources, greatest, hottest.." The list of comments following it will inevitably have recommendations and point out the misses. To that end, allowing listmania to grow uncontrolled could be a problem because there is no definitive uber-list that wraps it all up neatly - an idea key to list making and list seeking.

Birdsong Recitative

J, I suspect is beginning to understand the uses of technology. On our way back from the pool this past weekend we heard an unusual birdsong coming from the nearby woods and wondered what bird that might be. J said "We can record the sound and look it up. Then you'll know which bird it matches with". Made sense and I was not surprised to see that just such a thing existed in the market.

It is interesting how kids growing up in a time of immersive and interactive technology are able to make such effortless connections between real world problems and technology solutions. In my day, for the want of options a child may have imagined a magical bird whose enchanting song made you want to follow it until it lead you to its fairytale world.

J had a fairly robust imagination as a pre-schooler before homework routinely included projects that had to be researched on the web. It seems that the flight of fancy was cut short a little too abruptly and the moon no longer dines on stars…

Star Jumper

I have tried J to get interested in the imaginary, whimsical and the fantastical in reading and otherwise. Sometimes we make up stories as a game, adding to each other's plots until the results are quite crazy. My efforts to send the protagonist through a door that leads to a magic kingdom or have Aladdin come upon his cave is always countered by J's unyielding realism.

The characters are yanked right out, set straight and put on their way on a more mundane and believable course. I give up in the end not quite able to fathom my practical little Virgo who does not have one shred of my love for the imaginary and improbable. She has no yen for the girly stuff either when it comes to reading. She'll tires of the goody two-shoes and the divas equally and very quickly.

Now a story like Star Jumper - Journal of a Cardboard Genius by Frank Asch is something she can enjoy. After she finished reading it recently, I asked her to tell me about it - what the story is about, what she li…

Reskinned World

Being able to alter one's view of reality at will would offer the much needed escape from it. A better option (at least at first glance) than psychotropic drugs. When we are all behind our rose colored glasses, feeling happy and peaceful about the world around us, we are likely to advance the cause of both collectively.

The only problem seems to be that the ugliness of "reality" would become unbearable after having re-skinned it accordingly to our preferences. We have never want to get off such a wonderful visual drug. Were it possible to implant a device so our brains would register only what we wanted it to, or better still reprogram us genetically so we never had to see the world for what it "really" is. This almost makes the concept of "Maya" comprehensible.

We should also be able to time travel after a fashion if we choose to re-skin our world to our favorite period in history or perhaps fast forward to a place and time that exists only in scienc…

Spreading Wealth

Though IHT thought it fit to write a story on the theme of unequal success in India, it is really quite unnecessary. The contrast being drawn is between a telecom tycoon and a flower seller trying to peddle her wares at traffic signals. Sure, this mode of commerce is uniquely Indian but the contrast in wealth is most definitely not. If IHT were to likewise contrast the life of a pan-handler in inner city Mississippi with that of Rupert Murdoch the effect would be identical.

The same story can transfer across the globe - to any place of where free enterprise is allowed to thrive, corruption is either low grade and pervasive or big ticket and in high places and the survival of a democratic form of government depends on head count and not on the prosperity of individuals or the ability of leaders to deliver on their electoral promises. Singling out India to highlight inequitable distribution of wealth is gratuitous and like they say those living in glass houses should know better than to…

Uses Of Simplicity

Seeing the world in a grain of sand has physical and metaphysical implications as this slide show proves. Whatever the perspective, a grain of sand is not as inconsequential as it may seem. Similarly when watermelon is carved to look like a blossom , or butter to look like a diety, they like the grain of sand transcend the limitations of their identity. Nothing is as simple as it seems Joel Spolsky notes . He cites the example of the many complications that can come into play with a simple file read and write operation. He says :

Something as simple as copying a file is full of perils. What if the first argument is a directory? What if the second argument is a file? What if a file with the same name already exists in the destination? What if you don't have write permission?

What if the copy fails in the middle? What if the destination is on a remote machine which is available, but which requires authentication to continue? What if the files are large and the link is slow and you nee…

Eating Too Much

I am as miffed as the next desi at India being blamed for the global food crisis. The punditry is right in asking "Why do Americans think they deserve to eat more than Indians?" That would be like asking why does aristocracy get offended by the ostentatious nouveau riche.

Unfortunately the bar for "flashiness" in this case is dangerously low - the Indians have had their hand slapped by Big Brother for going ahead and eating a full meal. We have apparently made news by eating food produced in our own country, purchased with our own currency. The implication is somehow that we should have been mindful of our lowly station in the world and known better than to "start demanding better nutrition and better food".

After the more deserving people have had the best portions and the bulk of it, us desis should be grateful to scrape and survive on the left-overs. Instead, flush with money from a booming economy we have gone and flouted long established tradition an…

Mammoni

Watching this series on Italian men in the 30s and 40s who still live with their mothers, made me think how bad habits if continued long enough and in large numbers can take on the mantle of "tradition" and "culture". I've seen a few Bengali Mammonis in my own family. Men who stayed on and on with their often widowed and impoverished mothers. In return for a portion of their paycheck, these women waited hand and foot on their over-grown boys just like the Italian mothers do in the feature though its not clear if any money changes hands.

These women were glorified housekeepers who would never enjoy superannuation. When the sons finally got married, the brought home the wives to live with their mother. Nothing changed in the domestic situation except that the mother now had more kids to look after. Her domestic responsibilities increased as did her age. Came a point when she could no longer do what had come to be expected of her and the suddenly she became the e…

Vindaloo And Lassi

This post on the consequences of the rising power of the Indian Rupee is a lot of content for the average person to digest. What is more, it does not give you the two-three sentence summary in English that someone like me can take away and possibly mull over.

I am quite bedeviled by the detail and the lack of a conclusion which is probably because the story is still unfolding. That said, I did find a little nugget of a metaphor explaining the risk of over-heating by the economy by large capital inflows. The author says :

just like a strong vindaloo without the de-rigueur mango lassi accompaniment a rising currency produces its own kind of dyspeptic discomfort

You have to be a Desi to attest to the truthiness of that example and if you are economics challenged like myself you will also wonder if the central bank's market stabilization scheme the author refers to further along in his article is the mango lassi to the vindaloo perpetrated by the plummeting dollar.

Staying Home

ABC News profiles a 21 year old girl from India who is happy in Mumbai and would not trade her life for anything. She scores bonus points for not knowing who Brad Pitt is. Nisha Mehta is neither an anomaly nor does she represent her generation or the state of present day India as seen through the eyes of a 21 year old.

Back in my day when I was 21, India was a very different place - there was not a plethora of career options. The only sure bets were medicine and engineering and it was no walk in the park making it to a decent school. The kids who could not keep their nose to the grindstone and get an education that would translate to a job had very limited options at home. America looked far more promising in comparison.

It took a student visa to get their foot in the door and anything was possible after that. Today the average kid has choices that never existed in India before. They are not compelled to step outside their comfort zone for a good life. Also, the whole "idea of Am…

Rain And Sun

Like many people, I think Aishwarya Rai is picture perfect but like many others I am almost always underwhelmed by her acting. Two exceptions to that would be Raincoat and Bride and Prejudice. Love and marriage are the main themes of both but that's the only thing they have in common unless one counts the refreshing Rai performances.

Raincoat is possibly film-noir. The incessant rain makes for a dark and gloomy ambience in which the story unfolds. Two old lovers meet somewhat by chance one afternoon, talk about the past and where they are in life now. Both pretend that they are happy - she in her marriage, he with how well his business is doing. The truth about their lives comes out in the end. The story is told with deliberate slowness and it draws you in. You become a fly on the wall observing the two navigate their perilous way through a maze of half-truths and white lies.

Bride and Prejudice is an unapologetic Bollywood musical with a little bit of Broadway thrown in for good me…

In The Motherhood

While checking my nearly defunct hotmail account, saw this series culled from real life experiences of mothers on the MSN portal. Even allowing for quite a bit of hyperbole it is fun to watch. This mommyhood confabulation roller-coaster is described thusly :

In The MotherHood is the first scripted Web series by moms, for moms and about moms. Conceived by Suave and Sprint, the story will be written in part by YOU, based on your funny, comical and no-holds-barred experiences of motherhood.

Colicky babies, toppling toddlers, terrible-two tantrums, kindergartners uttering obscenities (during parent-teacher conferences, of course) — the comedies of motherhood never seem to end!

Executive Shoe Shine

As a child, my mother taught me how to recalibrate when I felt proud of myself or thought I was better than the rest of them. She would point to the little ants that marched in their relentless single files around the kitchen in summertime and say "Do you think any one of them is better, smarter, prettier, more talented or richer than the rest ?" When I thought about it I knew it was impossible to tell them apart let alone judge singular attributes.

"Just remember that's how all of humankind appears to someone who is looking down upon the Earth from very high above. We are only so many ants milling away with nothing so remarkable about anyone that they would stand out in the grand scheme of things. Whenever you lose your humility think about the ants and being one of them" she would say.

It is a lesson that has stood me in good stead to this day though I must admit I have often slipped and imagined myself to be this spectacular ant quite unlike any other and in …

Gas For Food

I was at the farmer's market for vegetables and fruit when J spied the big bin or corn and clamored for me to buy some. There were pathetic looking ears of corn, about one fourth their usual size then there was sticker shock of the price. That much for plain old corn ?

I told J we'll make to with the frozen corn we still have left in the fridge and give the fresh corn a shot some other time. She was a little disappointed but recovered quickly after getting a sample of Camembert cheese to taste. Near the checkout line there were freshly baked chocolate cookie samples which was only more help.

Later in the evening I was reading about the DYI ethanol pump in Wired magazine. A sugar based backyard fuel pump sound like a good idea until the price of sugar goes the way of corn with everyone making their own backyard ethanol. Those sample cookies would be the first to disappear and then dessert would become and unbelievable luxury.

Using garbage as the starting product might be far mo…

Cube Stuff

I don’t care for cubicle decoration though personalization done tastefully and in moderation can be quite nice. Being that both taste and moderation are subjective qualities I keep my space completely anonymous and steer clear of trouble.

The last thing I need is being dissected over my cubicle choices though not making any may be bad thing too. At the end of the day there is no trace of me left. Maybe that’s my unconscious way of not putting down roots anywhere. While sterile workplaces are fine, I do like a nice laptop bag and some interesting supplies.

So it’s nice to discover, computer bags for women that look chic and practical – a welcome departure from having to choose between ugly or ridiculous.

Useful to be able to highlight and underscore passages from favorite books without marring the books themselves with the transparent PostIt - I haven't seen these in around though.

Lego Robot

Using Lego-like roBlocks to build robots sounds much more fun than assembling circuits on breadboards and then writing assembly language programs to make stuff work - that's all we had back in the day. It will be wonderful to have these for sale with open source hardware and software. That could give everyone a fair shot at getting in touch with their inner geek. For those of us who went through engineering school quite cluelessly, this may be what it takes to finally "get" the concepts that we never did in four years there. Clearly, there would be a need for cook books to get folks started on their maiden Lego robot projects and it obviously makes a great educational tool for kids.

Schweikardt said that children who were around 8 years old could start playing with the blocks and make simple robots with them. Older children would start understanding how the blocks worked together to form the entire robot.


The simple logic behind the functions of the robot should help the c…

Wildflower Bouquet

Little things J does remind my why I am grateful for motherhood. Some mornings she feeds me one heart shaped cereal “Because I love you” – just a small token to remind me of her affection. In the evening when I go to pick her up from after-school care, she comes running across the field, her face shining bright. Some days, she has in her hand a clump of wild flowers she has gathered for me. I am not sure where and how I can preserve these treasures from heaven. She puts them in a glass of water and sets it on the window-sill of my room. I can imagine myself in my twilight years thinking back about this time fondly. I would see the gap toothed smile on her face as she hands me the flowers “I gathered specially for Mommy” – I would see her green floral printed skirt with sea green top, tired at day’s end and so relieved to see me. Like a wave through a sea of green she comes rushing headlong into my awaiting arms. I pick her up, she wraps her arms around my neck - that moment is always …

Made For Music

S was no more than ten when I first met her. In our little town she was a musical prodigy. Trained in Hindustani classical music she could hold her own in almost any genre. Our fathers were co-workers and we had been invited to their home for dinner and she had performed for us. I had listened mesmerized. I thought she could give the leading playback singers of Bollywood a run for their money even at that young age.

Then I wondered if I was just being a toad in a pond who had never seen world - I was in the final year of college then. Maybe in the "real" world out there, talent like S's was commonplace. Despite my lack on confidence in my own judgment I sensed S was destined for greatness.

There was something special about her - not every kid with a lovely singing voice had such fierce dedication and sense of purpose. When she sang, it was as if the world around her had dissolved - she was transformed into the music she was creating. It was an unique experience listenin…

Pig In Mud

I have as little knowledge of cricket as I do of pig slaughtering - the themes that two books I am reading now open with. The former is The Match by Romesh Guneskera and the later is The Konkans by Tony D'Souza. Guneskera is overwhelming me with minutiae of locale and theme to the point I am losing sight of his story. The characters are disappearing on me like random people do in crowded bazaars. I am not sure which one I am supposed to keep in sight so I get to the end. He has my poor head spinning already and I'm likley to drop out mid-book.

D'Souza starts with this fantastic account about two men, the narrators uncles who arrive in Chicago from Konkan in India and decide they need to slaughter a pig to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier the family's patron saint. The characters are sketched in bold colors as the story unfolds at a bracing pace. The smell of dukrajemas (a Konkani pork curry) and all too frequent flash backs to Chikmaglur do not distract or paro…

Hear And Now

Hear and Now is the kind of movie to be blown away by and also remember wistfully. It can be about and mean different things to different people. I saw in it a story of a couple deeply in love -a marriage based on a profound level of communication that needs no words. Paul and Sally Taylor have been deaf all their lives and are married to each other. At sixty five, they get the gift of hearing by a cochlear implant.

The movie documents the anticipation before the operation, the event itself and life with sound in it. Irene Taylor Brodsky portrays the myriad of complex emotions that her parents Paul and Sally experience with great sensitivity and like any well made movie, makes it look effortless.

For the first time in their long marriage, Sally falls behind Paul when she is not able to match his pace with being able to hear well with the cochlear implant. It makes her anxious and even depressed at times. The world that they had shared together seems to have fallen apart. Paul is leavi…

Self Help

This column by Oliver Burkeman at Guardian is a succinct summary of what ails the bulk of self-help books. The few times I've picked up one, I've felt more distressed than helped or as Burkeman notes felt "kicked" rather than "nudged" to fix what's broken in my life. The one thing about advice of any kind is that it is credible and inspiring only when the advisor has done in their life exactly as they preach and has found it effective.

This is not unlike a parent teaching their child right and wrong. You can make the best speech and the most convincing argument for your case but if you haven't walked the talk, chances are the child will tune you out. The problem with the self-help genre is two-fold. The nudges outweigh the kicks so vast swathes of the population cannot relate . They drown the reader in platitudes as they prescribe their one size fits all cure-all. An article in Salon describes the self-help industry as follows :

...the self-help indus…

Eco-Therapy

The local newspaper has a flyer in the mailbox every other week. Most of the space is devoted to grocery coupons and celebrity gossip but the part that I always check out is the weird news section. That's where I learned about ecopsychology and by extension ecotherapy. This is for and about people whose passion for being green and eco-friendly is making them sick from worry about doing harm to the planet. Fascinating and scary when you think about what happens when a well intentioned message is repeated so many times that it causes in hysteria.

This reminds me of my friend Shree who went into depression in her early teens over the income inequality and poverty in India. Just like it is impossible to remain unaware of climate crisis and global warming in this day and age, there is no way a middle class kid could grow up in India and not see how the underprivileged live their lives.

The adults thought it was just one of those adolescent hormone things that would run its course and a…

Getting IT Wrong

I must have dealt with way too many IT Scoundrels because there is not one scenario in this article that is unfamiliar. The picture from the other side of the fence is no rosier.

You have no idea if the project will even be funded but you embark on a vendor and product discovery process. If you are big fish these guys will be vying for your business. They will bend over backwards to demo the product, answer questions, demo again, answer yet more questions, estimate the scope of work and so forth. The process has no end because the project in concept state. But you don't level with these guys you bring in to do their little dog and pony shows. You pretend like you have a solid plan and are rearing to go.

You want answers to two questions "How much ?" and "How long ?". Fair enough – it is your time and money after all. Could you perhaps describe what you are undertaking to build ? But that is where the cookie crumbles. You can't quite articulate it but do seek…

Exuberant Affirmation

This must be my lucky time of year for getting parenting wisdom from those who were raised in the Eastern world but are now raising their children in the West. This time it comes from a Korean mother of twin kindergarteners. She grew up in Seoul and came to the States as an undergrad and went on to complete that, a related masters and finally an MBA. She's been in the workforce for about six years now and has this interesting observation.

In her culture it is normal for parents not to praise their children for a job well done. So if she scored a 90%, her father merely acknowledged it. For a 95% or a 100% he might he less perfunctory in doing so. Her parents would never tell her that she had done a great job and they were very proud of her. This is completely in line with what I have experienced growing up in India. As a student you are expected to deliver excellent grades as a matter of course. That is business as usual. It's only when you fail that parents get involved and giv…

Purple Crayon

I have known my neighbor Lindsay for over a year now and have known her to being prone to mood swings. She can go from being kind, polite and thoughtful to abrasive and outright rude. Since the only reason we know each other is that our kids are in the same grade and play together, I've always ignored her behavior - that way the kids don't have to be caught in the friction between two adults that has nothing to do with them. I am sure I have my bad days too - I must have looked through her, been cold and aloof because I had things on my mind. There is always a great excuse for less than perfect behavior. But what happened today was interesting enough to provoke this post.

My level of retardation when it comes to cars is quite unparalleled and I am deeply ashamed of myself. I had a very dumb question about mine that I thought Lindsay's boyfriend Jared could easily answer and set my mind to rest. He has this really beat up car that he loves tinkering with. Since I don't k…