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Showing posts from March, 2009

Growing Software

Full disclaimer before I write about Louis Testa's book Growing Software. I rarely read IT management books and am almost always underwhelmed by the management-speak that goes for advise on the subject any time that I do. It seems that the authors who dispense wisdom either do not inhabit the real world or believe they have a magic potion which would automagically right all that ails it.

I like Testa's book for a couple reasons. First, he acknowledges that IT organizations can be fundamentally flawed and dysfunctional. What is more he does not pretend he knows how to cure it. Second, he cites several real-life examples of the said dysfunctionality throughout the book and suggests commonsense ways to work around them.

Whereas a Seth Godin might recommend that you fire that one IT superhero who is the data and information black hole in the company, Testa would take a less extreme measure and suggest ways to wheedle some of the precious knowledge from this person. While we may be …

Death Of News

A lot is being said about the demise of the newspaper of late. In this Guardian article the producer of The Wire argues that corruption in high places will rise without newspapers being around to be the watchdogs and whistleblowers. That idea is worth some pondering. While everyone with a blog or Twitter account can report on what they see happening in their vicinity - be it covering a natural or man-made disaster or inside workplace information - it does not substitute or replace old-fashioned news-reporting. Though lot of what citizen journalists are able to provide is useful, it has its limits.

Without a professional editorial team to ensure quality and credibility of what is being published, the legions of self-styled journalists just cannot command the same cachet as the the writers of op-ed pieces in respected publications. Then there is also the whole business of serious investigative journalism which falls to the wayside.

He scoffs at the notion that amateur "citizen journa…

Absurdistan

Recently, I labored over Absurdistan for a few weeks before throwing in the towel. Note to self - stay away from the -istan genre because nothing but disappointment can come from it. This is speaking from experience borne out by Londonstani to Kite-Runner by way of Absurdistan. Belonging to one place and trying to escape or fit into another is a theme that the ABCD brethren have already flogged to death many times over. I had imagined that in the hands on a non-desi, a different outcome might result. Not so, as it turns out.

Shteyngart just reduces the reader to tears of ennui with his gratingly repetitious references to the the hero's sex organ and his chronic obesity - there is no credible third dimension to his character. The author appears to borrow some ingredients from John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces (a book I absolutely loved for its over the top absurdity and cleverness) and adds to it the standard -istan genre must-haves to create something that makes for pa…

Science In Religion

When there is no respite from discussions on war and the fantastic unraveling of the economy wherever you turn to, it is a relief to come across something different - as in a report on Buddhist monks at Sarnath learning science. The friendship between science and religion is obviously helpful and something one wishes would spread to faiths other than Buddhism. To quote The Dalai Lama :

"It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with such rapid progress in our acquisition of knowledge and power"

Then there is a Carl Sagan's perspective on the same subject :

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot re…

Shoes And Men

Sensibly chic shoes without heels are nearly impossible to come by so it is wonderful to see these beautiful Cinderella shoes. The lack of offerings in this segment never bothered me back in the day all I cared about was appearances. If they looked nice, I was willing to buy and suffer in the name of fashion. My closet over-flowed with cute, impractical, uncomfortable and generally cheap shoes - and I was a very proud owner. I would visit the cobbler with bags full of this stuff to have them repaired and that happened frequently given their poor quality. But who cared about quality when there was so much by way of quantity.

As with relationships, so it was with shoes. Used to be that if a man was witty, intelligent and attractive all other considerations were thrown to the wind. I was interested and would not flinch even if the terms of engagement required that he always lead and I only followed. I would not be deterred by obnoxious behavior and be perpetually ready to make excuses for…

Romance and Science

Romantic love can and has been explained in a myriad of ways and now there is the clinical one :

At a different APA forum, "Sex, Sexuality, and Serotonin," Dr Fisher warned that antidepressants may jeopardize romantic love. As well as high dopamine and norepinephrine, she said, romantic love is characterized by low serotonin. Low serotonin would explain the obsessive thinking attached to romantic love. In her MRI study, her subjects reported that they thought about their loved one 95 percent of the day and couldn’t stop thinking about them. This kind of obsessive thinking is comparable to OCD, she said, also characterized by low serotonin.

Serotonin-enhancing antidepressants, she said, blunt the emotions, including the elation of romance, and suppress obsessive thinking, a critical component of romance.

Without trying to understand any of the technical detail, it seems that in order to fully experience romantic love you would need to be a little depressed (cloudy skies, incessa…

Making Connections

At first glance Aka-Aki seems to just another social network application that untethers from your computer. You can network while you are out and about. While that is nice, it is not particularly clever at least at first glance. I checked out the FAQ to see what was different. The answer seems to be in logging your encounters with other Aka-Aki users that you did not know existed in your vicinity and therefore did not try to meet with.

The idea of using technology to bring back an element of serendipity back to our complicated lives is a really welcome one. This is the good old Craigslist Missed Connections ads on steroids. I used to wonder about the chances of connections actually happening by way of those posts. Lovely idea like a message in a bottle but not much practical use. With Aka-Aki, you have a much better shot at connecting with those you missed by a bit. Even more interesting is the idea of becoming aware of connections that you did not seek out but do exist all the same. Y…

Giving Back

Giving back to community is always a wonderful thought specially when you get back a little more from it than good karma. This story about Chinese senior citizens exercising to generate power for the poor to use is an interesting idea.

Variations of the idea have been used elsewhere - the human-powered car, generator and other fun applications but the Chinese have taken it a step further. They have combined innovation with community development which is something every over-populated developing country can learn from.

This news story about a human-powered future cites some criticism of the commercial viability of such power :
"It's a very good marketing tool for businesses, but in terms of economics it does not make sense at all." The main reason it was being used was because companies wanted to "look green, taste green and smell green", he said.

The Kite Runner

Reading The Kite Runner has been on my to-do list for a few years now. Needless to say, after all that I have heard about the book from those who have read it, my expectations were high. This is a pitfall of waiting too long to read a much raved about book - there is the danger of asking too much from it and being disappointed as a result.

When I started reading The Kite Runner, I was convinced this was going to be one of the best books I had read in a long while. Hosseni explores the relationship between Amir, the protagonist and Hassan his servant with tremendous sensitivity. Their's is an unequal friendship with Hassan giving much more than he receives in return - atleast that is what it would appear to be on the surface.

Yet there is the brooding sense of guilt in Amir for having failed Hassan as a friend that almost redeems him. You are tempted to forgive him his lack of courage, for the imperfections of his character seeing how much he suffers as a consequence. Amir makes you…

Making Opportunity

In his interview with Jon Stewart, Nandan Nilekani gave a desi something to pause and think about when he said that population was once considered a liability for India but it is increasingly being viewed as an asset. That is quite the shift in perception and one that will take a while to resonate with the masses. For most of our lives we have heard how India's problems had no solution because there were far too many people.

We were condemned to being hamsters spinning endlessly in our wheels, never making any movement forward. Any gains we achieved would be negated promptly by the forever burgeoning population. In summary we had been conditioned to believe that it was a no-win situation until the "root cause" of all problems was corrected which is of course is no walk in the park to do.

Nilekani is possibly making a case for light at the end of this tunnel by turning conventional wisdom on its head - by seeing opportunity where no one saw it before. Coming from someone w…

Praising Kids

Read this great article on praising your child and the associated pitfalls. In explaining the results of an experiment where a number of kids were praised for either being smart or working hard, the author quotes the researcher :

“When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

Awareness of innate ability can be counterproductive even without the child being praised for it :

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

The observations I found the most thought-provoking were:

Since…

Biohacking

I am more bio-challenged than bio-curious but this article on DYI biology for hobbyists makes for fascinating reading. The hobby in specific is described as : splicing DNA and reprogramming bacteria to create genetically engineered machinery. You could be working in a lab remotely from the comfort of your couch, collaborating on an experiment or doing grunt work for some scientist - Some of the people we're collaborating with are installing little wireless data loggers into pipettes that keep track of how many times you press the pipette button.

If such opportunities had existed back in my day, I might have actually understood biology instead of being terrified of it. The idea is to lower the barrier to enter the field of genetic engineering. A couple of PhDs is no longer required if you have abundant passion for biology.It would clearly provide students great learning opportunities but as with everything else, in the wrong hands and driven by the bad intent the results would not …

Wanting More

It is helpful if a parent has a sense of satisfaction with their life's circumstances and where they find themselves in it. They have the much-needed breadcrumb trail that they can traverse back through to help their children learn from their own experiences. Most importantly, they can speak with a strong sense of conviction because they have lived the life they are setting forth as an example.

When you are a parent and do not think of your life as good enough for your children to emulate, parenting as a job becomes much far more challenging. You find yourself treading the delicate line between establishing the boundaries for your kids and keeping them from becoming another you - something you fear will disappoint them eventually.

You go with your aspirations and unfulfilled dreams to create a road map for them to follow - you believe this will serve them best. A lot of what you expect is not borne out by your own experience - you merely imagine it is possible or can be done, a lot …

Waiting

Often for me, the days bleed from one to the next lending them all a common hue - one of sameness and boredom. Freedom from the clockwork of routine comes sometimes in unexpected even if somewhat unpleasant ways. Like it came yesterday when I watched the movement of the minute hand of the clock, waiting for the mailman to come.

The last time I waited with such manic intensity, bordering on desperation was when I was fourteen and infatuated beyond belief. I could spend a whole summer afternoon sitting by the window of my room hoping to catch a glimpse of him walking toward my home. Somehow watching him walk up the road was far more thrilling and gratifying than answering the knock on the door. I imagined in longing and dreaming of him all day, there was a magic energy generated that sparked a connection between us - a connection that would make him come to see me. I believed if I longed to see him intensely enough, he would just show up. Often he did though a lot of times he did not but…

Spices, Baking and Dreams

Was browsing through a really nice baking blog when I spotted this quote by Erma Bombeck

"Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go."

I have spices from ten years ago still sitting in my kitchen waiting to be used. Every once in a while I will rearrange the order of the spice jars in my cabinets so I can reach the ones I have not used in a while more easily. As it turns out this strategy does not work - I will gravitate toward the familiar despite the obstacles placed along the way. I had always thought not having the heart to throw my decade old spices away is one among my many other oddities. I am relieved to learn that this is common affliction that many women suffer.

As for the baking lovely baking blog itself, I am in complete awe of the baking prowess of the blogger, DeebaRajpal. I guess it takes some special kind of wiring in the brai…

Death On A Farm Factory

HBO's Death On A Factory Farm is not a easy film to watch but tells an important story that often gets pushed to the back-burner. The rationale is who has the time and resources to devote to the well-being of livestock on a farm when millions of human beings around the world are suffering incredible hardships - dying from poverty, famine, disease and war.

The film traces the work on an undercover animal rights investigator working on behalf of the animal rights group The Humane Farming Association (HFA). The investigator signs up to work at the Wiles Hog Farm in Ohio with the objective of gathering evidence of cruel, inhumane treatment of pigs on the farm. The mission is successful in as far as being able to file a petition and get a court case against the farm.

However, justice ends up being no more than a token acknowledgement of the wrong done to the helpless animals. The questions are deeper than merely reviewing the evidence presented to judge right and wrong. They inv…

Uncool Words

Thanks to hanging out with some of the cooler second graders, J has taken to prefacing her almost all her sentences with a dramatic "Well...." and I have had to stopping her in her tracks by the time she commits the third offense. Needless to say, it cramps her style and renders her somewhat uncool but I could not care less. I am pretty sure she resents Mommy for language policing her.
I would add the leading Well in sentences to the list of the top-ten mist irritating phrases. The word "basically" is also a frequent offender but is yet to make to J's repertoire. The comments to the article contain many more irritants - it sure looks like a top hundred list is required to capture all of the offending words and phrases - clearly folks feel passionately about the office jargon and politically correct language.

Waiting To Die

My grandmother is old and dying - she has been this way for a few years now and lurches from one medical emergency to another. The grand kids who are in India are probably suffering from compassion and sympathy fatigue - not that they had a lot to begin with. So late last year while she lay in the hospital holding on to life by the slenderest thread, her youngest grandson was out at a dance club across town with his girlfriend celebrating Durga Puja.

I haven't seen my grandmother in a long time and don't find myself thinking about her until I hear of a crisis. I have some pleasant childhood memories of her but not nearly as many since coming of age. Until it blows over, she remains in my thoughts and fades away once again. the last event was a fairly serious one and we had braced ourselves for the worst.

As she drifted between wakefulness and unconsciousness, I found myself thinking about the life she has lead so far and how it came to be that she does not matter very much to a…

Inspiration

Read a nice quote today :

"People often say to me, 'Zig, motivation is great but it doesn't last.' I just tell them, Bathing doesn't last either, that's why I recommend it daily" - Zig Ziglar

You think you know the few simple rules to live by : Be grateful for what you have, know that you cannot wish your wishes and that change is inevitable however long or endless the cycle seems. Yet to put to practice these few things is really very hard for me.

I forget to be grateful and pine for what I don't have, never had or once had and then lost. I wish ardently for something and when the wish does comes true, I wonder if it was worth the waiting or the trouble. The last thing about change is possibly the hardest of all. Nature's cycle of change never coincides even slightly with mine - we are in perpetual asynchronous motion.

The question When? is apparently the most difficult to answer and that one hinge on which your life's entire misery can easily …

Old Connections

Found this blog while looking for a website for India's interior decor magazine Inside Outside - one of my favorite things to browse through growing up. I was in my teens then and dreamed about having a home of my own, decorated just how I wanted. In my mind, I would do and re-do the imaginary living room of the future hundreds of times, inspired by the high glossy images of interiors from Inside Outside magazine. I knew then that I had the homemaking gene which would dominate any other inclinations I had.

When I did get a chance to home-make, I plunged in with gusto only to meet an obstacle course on the way. I persisted nevertheless, knowing it to be my true calling - homemaking and motherhood was all that I sought and desired. I figure I do a little of both but making a living has become the over-arching theme of my life - something I had not really counted upon.

So every once in a while, I look for ways to nurture my homemaker cravings. Being able to browse through Inside Outsi…

Severed Roots

Increasingly culture shock is what strikes when you go east from west and not the other way around as it used to be. The desi from Bhatinda or Kakinada lands in JFK and feels like they have been hit by a ton of bricks - this is the well-worn culture shock cliche that has been played out in cinema and literature for a long time now. It seems that this dated script needs to be replaced by something more relevant to current reality.

I have been out of India for a bit now and have not had many opportunities to go back and spend quality time there during this period. When I watch a movie like Amra - A 90-minute film by New York-based Mainak Bhaumikabout several confused people in pre and extra marital relationships, and read reports on the increasing prevalence and acceptance of pre-marital sex in urban India, I have to admit I am the one that is left behind having lived abroad.

Even after allowing for Bhaumik's expat sensibilities in his choice of theme, the premise has to be somewhat …

Eating Out

I used to enjoy eating out every once in a while when I first came to America. The sheer number of cuisine choices was quite amazing and I wanted try everything at least once. Eating out in India was not quite as commonplace even a few years ago as it is today so this was a new experience for me. Once the newness wore off, I found myself growing jaded not with the endless options but with what happened once I am inside the establishment.

I realized quickly that there was a correlation between how much the meal cost me and the treatment I received from the wait-staff. If I was going to waste their time leisurely sampling a little bit of this and that to savor a new kind of food, chances are I was occupying the table which could have been given to a better spending customer. I felt rushed, slighted and generally unwelcome. Even at a twenty percent, my tip did not amount to much because the bill was too small.

If I was in a rush and wanted to grab something on the go, I had to deal with su…

Justice Done

It was most gratifying to see that justice was finally done in the case of the serial killer from Noida - a horrific story that made headlines in India a couple of years ago. The way this story dropped off the news cycles within a few weeks of it making headlines, it had you wonder if a collective main stream media amnesia had taken over it. This has happened in India one too many times and the average desi tends to be cynical about the guilty in any crime being punished adequately (if at all). Such apparently has not been the case in this instance.

Maybe we owe it to the power of citizen journalism which had played a crucial role in getting the details of this crime out in the first place. Merinews, India's First Citizen Journalism News Portal captures the value and importance of this form of reportage in a country like India in its About Us section :

Burgeoning population, while on one hand champions India as the world's largest democracy, it sets forth newer challenges for …

Paperless Mail

For a little bit, I was not able to understand the point of a digital mailbox that mapped to you physical address. I had my epiphany when I started to read the About Section of the Zumbox web-site. It makes perfect sense and is a really clever idea if you consider the obviousness and simplicity.

The neatest thing about the way it is designed is that everyone's potential customer's address is already mapped and mail can be waiting for them to read long before they even sign-up. All kinds of interesting collaborations between service providers become possible with this model.

If it catches on, this could fundamentally transform the way direct mail marketing campaigns are done by businesses. On a cautionary note, your physical mailbox is now just as vulnerable as the electronic one to spamming and scamming.

Toy Crazy

A few days ago, my co-worker B showed us the new iPod Touch she had bought as a birthday present for her boyfriend. Super-sleek device that it is, everyone around was most eager to take a look. The guys were visibly salivating over it though I'd be lying if I claimed us girls did not drool as well. We just had the grace to await our turn to check out the cool new toy and not grab at it right away. Everyone agreed that B's significant other was a really lucky man.

Watching our collective reaction to the iPod reminded me of children on a playdate. One of them opens their bag to reveal a cool new video game, doll or some greatly sought after toy and all at once the center of gravity shifts towards them. Everyone else wants to take a look, the younger kids who are still unaware of the social etiquette of sharing toys turn petulant and want to play with it. At any rate, the cool toy has everyone's attention as the owner grows increasingly anxious that someone may do it harm. Th…

Staying Cool

I am the kind of parent that struggles to find the right answers even in the best of circumstances. My omissions are too numerous to be counted - lessons learned in childhood are long forgotten or worse misremembered, I am not particularly patient and incapable of remaining dispassionate when it is most required. Just that list in itself should make mothering a formidable challenge except that I am blessed with an easy-going, even-keeled, low-maintenance child.

But there are challenges even with one such as J. I have come to realize that I have a significant credibility gap with her when it comes to social and cultural challenges resulting from being desi in a predominantly white, small-town (and closed-mind if I may add) community. Where I live, racism is a part of everyday life but expressed in ever so subtle ways - you get used to it after a while but it never completely ceases to bother you. J does not view me as a viable role-model because I have not walked in her shoes being a FO…

Leeching And Gouging

A big layoff resembles a combination of gouging and leeching aimed at restoring the health of the organization. Management gouges out chunks of it that it believes is festering so bad that there is no hope left of improvement. Then there is blood-letting to the parts that remain ungouged. Teams are decimated and row upon row of empty cubicles remain silent reminders of what they once were.

I have witnessed more than a couple of layoffs and each time have seen a co-worker whose talents I respected let go to be replaced by someone much greener and hence cheaper. I have seen these people process the news with a sense of disbelief, their self-worth take a beating - atleast temporarily and then watched them pick up the remains of their dignity to prepare for life beyond this job.

As with leeching and the human body, the crew that is left behind to get the work done lacks the vitality of the pre-layoff organization. There is a pervasive sense of enervation all around which makes it challengin…

Polite Criticism

Nicecritic is a lot like the self-destructing message I had blogged about a a while back. Several other services have appeared on the scene since. A message from Nicecritic is not always bad news - one category in the list is also Anonymous Praise

While the idea is a good one, it has the potential of being abused. Imagine, the school bully spamming a hapless kid with unkind messages and doing so anonymously. The site does have some safeguards to prevent that from happening.

The more connected we get and easier our communications tools become, the more we want seem to want to hide behind annonymizing services.

Snowed In

We had a huge snow-storm yesterday giving both J and I an unexpected Monday holiday. She has been waiting for a big pile of snow for years now - in my neck of the woods it is a big deal to get even half an inch of it. The kids in the neighborhood get all excited and try to go sledding on it. It is cute and sad sight to watch- sad because this place used to get a lot of snow even a few years ago but that was before most of these kids were born. They have no memories of snow in winter.

I don't know about the sceptics but this does look like climate change to me and one that is happening very rapidly. But today they had their longing for real snow answered. J's face lit up with joy when she looked outside her window in the morning and saw the thick pelt of white over everything - this was more snow than she has seen in a long while. It is like the stuff they have on Christmas cards and in movies. Now it was right outside her door-step to feel, touch and enjoy.

While she was out in …

Old Favorite

After close to twenty years, I am returning to a volume of short stories by Somerset Maugham and it is amazing how little I have forgotten. I am even able to recall up to the words used in a sentence and anticipate the next one before having read it. The introduction to The Cosmopolitans by Micheal Wodd captures perfectly the essence of Maugham's writing and its enduring appeal

Maugham is not a difficult or complicated writer, and we can miss all the undercurrents in his prose and still enjoy him a great deal. But the undercurrents are likely to keep Maugham's writing alive when the simpler enjoyment has faded, and in any case I wonder whether anyone misses it entirely. They are like a nameless taste caught up in a taste we know well, a touch of bitterness in a sweet dish - or to be more precise, a touch of genuine bitterness in a bitter-seeming dish, a flavour of real, unnerving acrimony in the midst of calm and worldly cynicism.

I am back to Maugham for a second time to savor…

New Indian Rope Trick

Every desi and their grand-uncle has an opinion about the Slumdog Oscar sweep. Desi- blogosphere is in over-drive mode with all the analysis and commentary. There is much hand-wringing over whether we should care about the Oscar or not, if we sold out as a people by allowing our country to be portrayed in such negative light by the West and then to add insult to injury have that depiction be so richly rewarded.

Then there are those who are simply happy about the formidable talent of A.R Rahman being acknowledged by Hollywood. To balance that out, there are just as many who say "Who cares ?" because they don't think he needs any Western validation. No matter what your position, if you are a desi you are almost required to have one on the subject of Slumdog (which by the way is not a box-office success in India)

If you happen to be a desi living in the backwaters of the Western world, you need to brace yourself for questions along the lines of "Do all Indians live in s…