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Showing posts from April, 2009

Memories Within Reach

YouTube has made indulging in nostalgia a little too easy. Bands and songs I remember from my adolescence can be recalled in as long as it takes to type the words to search them with. I had this large mixed tape collection - several of them were made by me but a lot were gifts too. Then there were tapes bought to celebrate a special day or given to me to remember a person or memory by. I lost almost all of them in my many transits across continents and cities - they had become the unintended jetsam of my nomadic existence.

I mourned their loss for months because I had long wanted J to have it all - it was a wish much older than J is. But YouTube has stepped in to more than fill the void left in the wake of my misplaced mixed tapes. I just need to recall music in my memory and J can listen to it right away. We start with one song and it reminds me of several others. J has no idea what is going to play next so she is often surprised and delighted.

I have stopped missing my collection of m…

Technology Pultizer

I have blogged about my enthusiasm for Politifact's concept and delivery before and was very happy to read that it was awarded the Pulitzer recently. Politifact is unlike the other finalists in the category in that it is more software application and web-design than it is pure writing. So, in a sense this would be a Pulitzer for the technology which enables getting the facts out to the readership in a simple yet compelling manner.

I wonder if they will come up with a category in the future to recognize thought leadership in technology specially where it intersects with those it already does. It could become a highly coveted incentive to excellence (as the prize is described), a way to stand head and shoulders above the crowd. It is one thing to land in the best part of the Magic Quadrant and quite another to have your application or solution bag a Pulitzer. There is a very different ring to "Pulitzer-winning" prefixed to a piece of software. You want to look at it a littl…

Infallible

Each one of us has some unique talents that help us be in control of certain aspects of our lives. Some have more of these talents than the average and therefore live a higher than average quality of life. It is helpful for those who are blessed with more to share their wisdom with the rest of us that we may improve where we lack. But sometimes how this wisdom is shared does more harm than good.

D is a desi mom like myself. She came here as a grad student at a time when very few Indian women did so. A few years later, she went home to get married and brought her husband to America on a dependent visa.They both teach at an university and have a really bright daughter who is now in grad school. I got to know D through my family a few years ago. They thought she could be the big sister abroad that I don't have and I had no problem with that arrangement.

I would call her every once in a while to seek her opinion on matters related to J - pediatrician, day-care, kindergarten, PTA, parent…

The Google Way

A lot has been and continues to be written about Google's unique management style. If you are not living under a rock, chances are that you have heard or read about the free food, the swank childcare facilities, the freedom to pursue a personal project for 20 % of the time, the grueling hiring process and more that Google is about. Even with all being common knowledge, Bernard Girard's book The Google Way is a excellent addition to your library because the author does a lot more than rehash what makes Google so different from any other company.

Girard tackles many facets of Google's unconventional culture and management style beginning with the hiring of Eric Schmidt and the subsequent three-way sharing of power at the top and the use of the Dutch-auction to go public all the way to its somewhat "extreme" hiring process. He analyzes how each of these strategies work out for Google and what if anything another company many learn from that success.

Girard's tone …

Melting Pots

Xenophobia would be far too strong a term to describe the kind of prejudice, lack of warmth and indifference I have experienced as a minority is many parts of America. When I read this article where Ireland is described as a Xenophobic melting point, I realize that it does say something about my immigrant experience in America.

You could throw in a bunch of interesting and independently wonderful ingredients into a stew pot and have the end product come out tasting quite nasty simply because they did not blend and harmonize well together. That is what would come out of a xenophobic melting pot as well.

You will have a myriad of cultures represented by their little strip mall grocery stores and restaurants along with an occasional place of worship. There is some commerce and traffic from the mainstream into all of these places but the process of blending and assimilation either does not happen or is left incomplete. In the stew/soup analogy these would be all the ingredients that don'…

Left For Dead

I have written quite a bit on this blog on the state of education in America from my vantage point as a elementary schooler's mother. While fretting over the lack focus on academics, I have neglected to notice all that I take for granted. The teacher's I have known are unfailingly attentive to a child's physical well-being and will alert the parent promptly should something go even slightly wrong.

Reeti Roy in her first guest post for my blog, writes about two student deaths - one in an Indian school and another in a reputed Engineering institute, resulting from criminally negligent teachers.

Seventeen year old Aakriti Bhatia’s parents are devastated. The ClassXII Student of Modern School, Vasant Vihar, Delhi died of an asthmaattack on the 22nd of April, 2009. Even though the parents, friendsand relatives of Aakriti say that Aakriti could have been saved had itnot been for the school’s negligence, the school stands its groundsaying that it did all it could. At around ten A.M…

Sisterhood

Read three articles all centered around exploitation of women but had little in common other than that. The first one was about the custom of force-feeding girls in order to make them ready for the marriage market - not much unlike the preparation of foiegras or veal. This gives the meaning of treating women like cattle or commodity a whole new layer of meaning.

The next story was about corrective rape to "cure" the sexual orientation of lesbians. This one is probably about male anger at what they might view is female subversion against their traditional domination. The last one is about "rape-lite" (a term I was not familiar with). The author describes it thusly :

It's when rape isn't proper rape, but rather sex a woman (probably a drunk, out-of-control woman) allowed to happen, but then feels she must "whine" about, when really she should "put up or shut up", chalk it down to experience (or so she is made to feel).

The victims in the las…

Falling Behind

Given my experience with J's kindergarten, I have frequently toyed with the idea of pulling her out of school (at least partially) by the fifth grade if not sooner. It seems the gains by way of social interaction and team-work (and play) are more than outweighed by the mediocre quality of instruction coupled with meaningless distractions and the lack of any real academic rigor.

The fun and games approach to education is great up to a point - specially with young children, as long as the kids are prepared to work harder later on. Somehow, that spirit is not fostered. The emphasis on fun proves too strong to wear off when it must to make way for a the more serious business of getting an education.

Reading Tom Friedman's article in NYT confirms what I have believed to be true about the average American public schools - based on my very limited exposure to and experience with the system. He cites a report by McKinsey :
Actually, our fourth-graders compare well on such global tests wi…

Coping Devices

Trying to find a mate at thirty plus can be difficult business but Emily Bracken has ten innovative strategies to deal with the problem. Desperate situations (if being single at over thirty can be thus described) probably warrants such desperate measures.

What I enjoyed about several of her ideas is how she combines the off-the-wall with the almost plausible. Posting a fictive missed connection on Craigslist is not something that would require severe mental derangement to consider doing and yet it does not count among the most "normal" things in the world to do.

In the early days of me turning suddenly single, I felt a certain depth of despair and urgency to correct my situation. I had to meet someone I could spend the rest of my life with - and this had to happen in short order. Since I was already a mother, the biological clock was not a factor - but time ticked uncomfortably loud all the same. Sometimes that state of mind led me into situations that I would not be able to e…

Misplaced Identity

On the commute back from work, I heard this infomercial spot on a local radio station that made me wonder if J's pediatrician might really be a dog trainer. The woman on the radio introduced herself as a celebrity dog trainer.

As far as I understand, this describes an individual who has made a career out of training dogs owned by celebrities. I am not aware that there are professional "child trainers" - celebrity or otherwise. So anyway, this woman is on the air giving listeners a quick tip on housebreaking toy-dogs or other dogs that weigh less than 15 pounds.

She advises dog-owners to put food in the bowl for the dog and let it sit there for no more than twenty minutes. If the dog eats great otherwise its tough luck for him. The food will be taken away and the next window of opportunity will come around only at the next meal time. The idea is to reinforce to the dog that meal time occurs at a certain frequency and lasts no more than 20 minutes each time. She goes on to a…

Life Beyond Pie

People in the information technology business often encounter Excel experts who revel in showing off their superior charting and graphing skills to those lacking comparable facility with the application. While I am very impressed that they are able to get as much as they are able to with it, I can safely say I have seen one pie-chart too many that conveyed zero information.

This article talks about better visualization and notes that a chart (pie or otherwise) is sometimes not nirvana.

Above all, we should remember that throwing data into a chart is not always the route to greater understanding. Says Spence: “There is a place for tables in the world.”

I could not agree more. Mashable's post on some cool data visualization tools is worth checking out for anyone who is curious about life beyond the pie and other graphing cliches.

Schizoid Indentity

The racial stereotyping in children's literature Mitali Perkins refers to is possibly less evident in books at J's reading level but it is useful for me to learn this is something I should watch out for as she matures. I do like the questions Perkins challenges readers to think about as they read works of fiction set in multi-racial, multi-ethnic milieus. Who better qualified than a second generation immigrant to call attention for the need of a candid discussion about race.

She begins her article citing the oft-repeated manifestations of the schizoid identities that children of new immigrants have to live and deal with. Each time I read something that is at least in part provoked by this whole dichotomous existence business, I have to wonder why root cause is so seldom addressed. The problem is not with the kids growing up having to grapple with two disparate identities. Instead, it is about parents who have not been able or willing to reconcile two worlds and cultures for the…

Home Advertising

The trend of the future is apparently home-advertising as in allowing ads to be posted in your living space in return for free rent or WiFi. It does not seem like such a terrible idea at first blush - we already have cable television and on-line ads in our personal space.

I like to believe that I am pretty resistant to any and all manner of inducement to buy something. Unless I want it, I simply don't buy it. Period. That said, I have not had a Cola-Cola ad beamed in my kitchen on a hot summer afternoon to really test my resolve. But it is the more futuristic ambitions of this form of ad-encroachment that is worrisome. The author writes :

Three sleepless nights would lead to ads for insomnia remedies flashing through the hallway. Persistent raids on the fridge would drive promos for snacks or weight-loss centers.

While I like millions of others, have traded my "privacy" for the preferred customer cards that most grocery stores require to avail their specials, I guess I woul…

Toffee Hunt

It must have been at least a couple of years ago, when a vendor who was service provider to the client I consulted for at the time gave me a box of toffees as a holiday gift. I loved the treat but misplaced the empty box before I had a chance to check out the label - for future reference. Ever since, I have been craving that taste. The taste of toffee have triggered a torrent of nostalgia because it took me back to my childhood - the taste reminiscent of both the Lacto Bonbons that used to be available in India at the time and also of my favorite desi sweets Sohan Halwa.

How something called the English toffee could resemble two of these two very unlike things was beyond me but it was a taste that set off an sharp bout of food craving. Ever since, I have been on the lookout for toffee - or that specific toffee. In the candy isles of grocery stores, gift-shops and sometimes even on-line. I did not want to experiment in the toffee family but sought the exact thing that I had tasted befo…

Living Now

When you consider this post about the emerging power of real-time web alongside your everyday experience of people fiddling with their cellphones without respite like they had an obsessive compulsive disorder, you wonder if empowering the real-time web any further would end the last vestige of normalcy in our networked, over-clocked, connected and always-on lives.

The traditional wisdom has been to live in the moment and to savor it fully. Being connected to a real-time feed of news, information, gossip and commentary could be one interpretation of "living in the present moment" but it is probably not what The Buddha had in mind when he said "As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life" or "Life can take place only in the present moment.If we lose the present moment, we lose life" (quotes from Chapter 3 Romancing the Present from the book Timeless Wisdom compiled by Gary W. Fenchuck)

When I read those words…

Solitude

In his article The End of Solitude, William Deresiewicz writes :

Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn't say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can.

I could not agree more. There are some holdouts who are continue to stay away from whole-scale immersion in media that provides constant connectivity. They still use their phones and computers as utility and not entertainment devices, they are able to get from the Internet what adds value to their lives without allowing the virtual to take over the real.

But this is increasingly a rare species and often older in age. Sooner than later, they will become extinct. Most young people of today as Deresiewicz correctly points out have never known solitude and as such have use or little appreciation for it. His quote from Emerson explains why solitude is so important for youth :

Solitude, Emerson said,…

Wages And Popularity

I enjoyed reading Freakonomics a few years ago and have since checked in on the eponymous blog occasionally. Reading this post about the correlation between popularity in high school and wage earnings in the future prompted me to validate the finding against my own experience.

Some of the most popular kids when I went to high school were the captain of the school's cricket team, the popular female lead in the annual theatrical production and so on. While academic excellence did make waves - the well-rounded kid was the one who was the most admired. I am not sure how our talented leading lady has fared in life but most of the other popular kids are doing fairly well.

The same rules however have not applied to popularity in engineering school (at least in my experience). Many of my peers who are doing very well in their careers today were virtually unknown names on campus. The stars of the day seem to have faded now. I had to wonder why the same rules don't apply for popularity in…

Convenient Arrangements

NYT's recent article on sugar-daddy situations arranged on-line, makes for very interesting reading. A woman who has had multiple sugar-daddies has the following to say about the choice she has made :

“I could go out and work three jobs and still go to school and probably make decent grades, but is that really what I want to do? I make more money this way, and I have a lot more fun because I get to go out to concerts, go shopping, see movies and make money off of it. If instead of this I was just dating a rich guy, it’d be almost the same thing, and society wouldn’t look down on that. You know with a sugar daddy that they’re spending a lot of money on you and they clearly want something in return, but is that really any different than how it is with a boyfriend?”

It is actually hard to argue with that line of reasoning. The modern day romantic relationship is not as much about courtship or romance as it is about physical intimacy which serves as a proxy for the more durable (and the…

Indian Bovines

I have no comment or input of value on the scientific accuracy of the article but am definitely impressed that the 283 million burping and belching cows of India have merited an article in Time magazine. So what if they did not make the cover page, though one hopes that would be the logical next step for our nation's ubiquitous bovine - the strength in numbers cannot be underestimated.

Now that these hapless creatures have been identified as a big contributor to the global warming problem, you wonder what lifestyle adjustments might be required of them to minimize their deleterious effects on the environment - if it may be mandated they ingest chemicals that would turn the methane they are currently emitting into something less noxious. Obviously dealing with a bunch of cows is a lot easier than getting millions of human beings to reduce their carbon footprints.

I can't imagine any of this is good news for the Indian cows or for the consumers of their milk the yield of which is …

Two Poems

Read two poems on marriage and parting by death in the Spoon River Anthology that could not be more unlike each other despite having identical themes. Nothing could be truer of marriage - it can be one person's heaven and the other's hell. It is hell for Ollie McGee

But what think you gnaws at my husband's heart?
The face of what I was, the face of what he made me!
These are driving him to the place where I lie.
In death, therefore, I am avenged.

and heaven for Sarah Brown

Wrought out my destiny — that through the flesh I won spirit, and through spirit, peace. There is no marriage in heaven, But there is love.

A Thousand Words

Saw this graphic on Flickr with a title that made me stop to consider what it might be saying. It has always taken me concerted effort to remain in the present though the days whirl by at dizzying pace. I must exist in the moment but live in either the past or the future. This light-cone representation of time past, present and future clearly spoke to my own relationship with the passage of time and life itself.

The present is intensely focused, a point where the actions from the past converge to an outcome.However, what happens at that point is very similar day after day and leads to a sense of stagnation. The past in comparison, is like the horizon line - you can chase after it forever and never quite reach there. Events morph and change with each recollection, take up more room than they had originally occupied, become imbued with meaning and significance that they had never possessed. Likewise, the future extends into a wide cone of possibilities - formed out of present actions, ho…

Odd Lapse

I had a strange and somewhat disturbing experience last week. Every week, I login to my bank account to make sure there is enough in my checking account to pay the checks I have signed recently. I have had this account for over five years and have followed this routine for about the same period of time. I thought my account number was by now imprinted in my brain because I have typed it so many times. Just like you don't forget your name, phone number or address you don't forget a number you see and use so frequently.

So this past Friday, when I was at the website trying to login, my mind suddenly blanked out the account number. I was able to remember some digits but not the whole number. It was as if parts of it has been erased from my memory. After ten failed attempts to log in, I gave up in disturbed state of mind. Was this a problem with memory going spread to other areas of my life and come about just as unexpectedly ? Would I fail to remember things that I take for grante…

Immigrant Death Spiral

I have been seeing a lot of job requirements coming to my Inbox lately that have in their subject-line "US citizens only" in capital letters. Just in case you missed it there, that statement is repeated in screaming big, bold, underlined font in the first line of the message. These come from recruiters who have me in their database often from many years ago. The skills they are seeking are relatively new technologies so the age group that is most likely to have them would be in the early to mid-twenties. For a really esoteric mix of skills a recruiter will add "Green Cards and Citizens Only. Absolutely no visas (H-1 or EAD)" figuring that compromise will widen the net and result in making a hire more quickly.

I can't help feeling bemused at these emails specially in light of today's tough job market. The immigrants in the technology business who are required to go through what is sometimes a decade long obstacle course to get a Green Card have very limited a…

Changing With Tide

Reading these lines from an Economist article on the prospects of India and China made me think what a feckless thing political ideology is :

It used to be a platitude of Western—and Marxist—analysis of China that wrenching economic change would demand political reform. Yet China’s economy boomed with little sign of any serious political liberalisation to match the economic free-for-all. The cliché fell into disuse. Indeed, many, even in democratic bastions such as India, began to fall for the Chinese Communist Party’s argument that dictatorship was good for growth, whereas Indian democracy was a luxury paid for by the poor, in the indefinite extension of their poverty.

This other article tackles the question of correlation between political and economic freedom with some data going back to 1991 - which seems like a very short window to consider in making any conclusions.

The chart tells a striking story: the countries that are economically and politically free are underper­forming the c…

First Love

This article advocating that people should forget their first love so all relationships following it are not ruined has commentators from across the spectrum from experience weighing in. Those who married their first love and are still married and in love with them, those who have not been so lucky but have never been able to forget and finally those who have reconnected after many long years only to discover it is just as magical as they remembered it.

There are some contrary voices of those who would love to forget their first love, those who have not felt quite the same after meeting again after many years but they are in the minority. The topic is bound to stir up some strong emotions and mostly from those who have has an intense first relationship. They would be the ones struggling with memories that are impossible to forget even after much trying.

The only way to "forget" is for the relationship to have translated to marriage and allow reality to take over. If not, the m…

Purest Pain

Read these lines from a Ted Hughes poem that were quoted in a news story about suicide of his and Sylvia Plath's son Nicholas Hughes

Your son's eyes.... would become
So perfectly your eyes,
Became wet jewels
The hardest substance of the purest pain

While I do not have the words to so perfectly describe that kind of pain in a child's eyes, I have seen and known such eyes. The image lives with you long after the child has gotten over their sorrow and found things in their life to be happy about, rejoice over. You want to wipe away the last vestige of their sadness if only to erase that imprint from your consciousness and often you don't have what it takes to do so.

Cool Factor

Having grown up in India, I am used to seeing the the academically gifted students being treated like super-stars in schools. All eyes are on them when the annual achievement awards are given out. Being a geek never used to be uncool though it did help a lot to be well-rounded specially by when you were in high-school. A nerd without personality was well-respected but did not enjoy the same kind of popularity as someone who had both brains and social skills.

The notion of treating smart kids like they were fringe people is something I am finding out about as I get familiar with the American public school system. J's elementary school runs a variety of sports camps all year long and provides information on where you can sign up your daughter for cheer-leading or baton-twirling training. Come spring there is an ice-cream social followed by a carnival and yet more entertainment. Every once in a while they raise money for a good cause but there is no real community service involved. So…

Voice Mail Challenged

Reading this NYT article on voice mail becoming passe helped me feel a little better about the 20 odd unheard voice mail messages in my work phone at any given time. I will login and purge the messages every once in a while but VM is possibly the worst way to get my attention. I can do email or chat in a heartbeat and have a great turnaround time with both.

I have thought about my reluctance to check VM messages and come up with the same conclusions as many folks referenced in the article. There is too much time lag, it takes far too many steps to get to the message, some messages are way too long winded and become irrelevant by the time you get to them. Even on my cellphone, when I see a voicemail my first instinct is to call back to see what that person needed. It takes an effort to not do that and check their message instead.

What is more heartening is that VM usage reluctance puts me in the majority :

Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types …

Magic Connection

It was a crazy day at work but that did not stop Sheila from noticing several women had received bouquets of flowers at work. It was Valentine's Day. Her last meaningful relationship had ended over a year ago and it seemed to have depleted her of the energy to forge a new one.

Sometimes she wondered what Jayant was up to - she missed his once familiar presence in her life like one might miss a well-known sweater when it has been misplaced. Had he found a woman who would not expect emotional closeness in the relationship because he was terrified of it. Was there a woman out there, who never needed to be held close or told that she was loved and cherished, a woman who never felt vulnerable, or cried or needed to be comforted. A woman who did not have her act completely together and sometimes wanted a man to figure stuff out for her. All the things that Sheila had done when she had felt close enough to him to drop her guard, all the things that killed their relationship. Yet Jayant wa…