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Showing posts from July, 2009

Atrophied By Fear

Through the pores of idle moments
I breathe thoughts of you.
Some hopelessly fallow,
others ripe with anticipation.
I run for cover
from the shrapnel words of lust
drowning in unguent flood of desire.
You don't own me -
not yet, not now
not ever I want to say.
I want
it all to be true and not,
all of you and none,
give myself up and not,
love and not,
hate and not.
Show me a sign,
this is real,
you will stay,
you won't hurt.
You say
Yes, Yes and Yes
to all that.
When you leave,
blue turns to black
gathering the night in it
cold and dank.
I throb to a pulse
I cannot see or stop.
I want you gone and not.
I want you now and never.
I want to stay and run.
You say this is really love,
that life spark you have desired.
I wonder why I can't
see it quite that way.

Fading Away

In reaction to one blogger's post about the demise of blogging - or more correctly the fading relevance of the medium, one reader speculates that there will be a new discipline of internet archeology. The practitoners of this discipline will presumably trudge through dead and defunct blogs that by then only live in the Wayback Machine and try to reconstruct a sense of the people and the times that the blogs once thrived in. If you are an individual blogger without the clout of the "A Listers", perhaps the only thing that will keep you going is your own desire to write just for the sake of it.

This is almost as thankless and unrewarding as a starving artist toiling away in solitude in a musty basement - sans clientèle, patrons, fame or money. All they have is the compulsive need to create art (in the case of the bloggers, share their thoughts and ideas with the world) and as long as that is strong enough they will continue to produce against all odds. Some will be able to …

Bedroom Voice

I have known S for a little over a year now. While that is enough time to form some impressions it is not nearly enough to know anyone with any degree of clarity. S is an over-achiever, a new mother, a corporate climber and a nagging know-it-all. Her denouncements can be as scathing as her praise can be over-the-top. She has a big voice and a bigger personality. With a combination like that, S is a not too easy to get along with and I have found it best to keep myself at safe distance. This is her public face.

Then there is the one she shows when her husband calls her and that can be upwards of ten times in a day. No matter what her frame of mind, or the external circumstances at the time of the call, she will answer his call in what can only be described as a bedroom voice. The conversation goes on for a few minutes each time and she snaps right back into Virago mode after she is done.

We have always watched this transformation back and forth with complete amazement. The less subtle a…

Freedom From Clock

Many of us have seen women past a certain age make poor (even irrational) choices in as far as selecting a partner to have a child with. The ticking biological clock reaches a crescendo in their lives and they figure it was now or never as far as motherhood. Once that wish is fulfilled and their sanity restored, they are left wondering about who they have partnered for life with and why.

To have a limited set of resources be fully depleted in less than four decades of a her life is possibly the single biggest inequality that a woman has to contend with as she goes through relationships. The men are not similarly constrained and in as such enjoy far higher degrees of freedom. If this study reported in the Washington Post turns out to be for real, that may change that forever.

Scientists have produced strong new evidence challenging one of the most fundamental assumptions in biology: that female mammals, including women, are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

Motherhood without a…

Imagined Reality

After watching the movie 21 recently, I was intrigued by the story and read a little about the real life events on which the movie is based. The first thing I ran into was that in reality, the team of Blackjack players from MIT who made millions in Vegas by devising a system for counting cards, was predominantly Asian. In the movie, there are a couple of Asians in supporting roles on the team and not the big players that they were in truth. The composition of the math classes at MIT was no reflection of reality either with Asian students being pretty hard to spot. The Angry Asian Man has this to say about Hollywood :

As we all know, Hollywood studios seem to have a great of resistance to creating interesting, fully-fleshed, three-dimensional roles for Asian American actors. They seem to think we can't carry a movie, and more often than not, will instead create roles and stories for pretty white people instead.

For similar reasons, American desis ends up being caricatured as a cultur…

The Yes Men Fix The World

The outrageous antics of the Yes Men in HBO's The Yes Men Fix The World can leave the viewer in splits except when they pause to consider the message these two anti-corporate pranksters are trying to get across. There is nothing remotely funny about that. From doing right by the Bhopal tragedy victims, to getting the poorest Katrina victims back to their housing projects all the way to imagining a day where every news story is about having wrong set to right. Their methods are brazen, provocative not to mention incredibly creative. Even as you root for these guys wishing they can actually catalyze change, you are completely shocked at how easy it is for them to pull off their pranks.

When free marketeers run amok and greed gets to a point where otherwise rational people are no longer able to parse truth from farce, reality from pantomime the world becomes a dangerously unpredictable place to live in. In such a world, The Onion can become the most credible source of news, Stephen …

Mapping The Sins

It's hard to tell from these maps exactly what is going on in terms of the seven deadly sins in your neck of the woods in America (assuming that you agree with the operational definitions and the method of measuring each) but it is an interesting study all the same. Apparently, where I live there is a bit of lust and pride going on but everything else is just about average.

I guess that must be a good thing. It would be interesting to see what if any correlation existed between sins the big issues facing folks these days - unemployment, foreclosures, out of control health care costs and the like . A material disincentive to sin may work as a much better deterrent than simple censure or even punishment.

Hand Me Up

Learned a new phrase today - hand me up. Along with the learning came the realization that some of us are in an age group that does not get a hand me down or a hand me up. Instead of a seamless phase transition from one state to the other, we must pass through a waiting period. By when we start receiving hand me ups, we have officially stopped evolving with the times. The stream hand me downs on the contrary ends when those who were discarding their stuff stop outgrowing them.

When it comes to new technology, some things just cannot be handed up or down. Those that are not keeping with the times will not be able to adapt or find use for it but those who are still young and learning may not find it worth their while. The same is true of some potential hand me downs - some styles of clothing for instance will have no takers outside your generation.

Traffic Snafus

Those who have to endure long commutes are often familiar with traffic jams. Given their levels of stress when they find themseleves stuck in one, they would not likely be pondering the physics of traffic jams. They might find little consolation in learning that in scientific terms "A traffic jam is simply a solid made up of idling cars" or that if they could drive like ants they may have respite from traffic.

The triggers for traffic snarls can apparently range from plain old rubbernecking to ghost sightings. The physics of gridlocks is a much written about topic - in this old Atlantic article, the author suggests that the surest remedy would require some 1984-esque measures.

Preventing flow breakdowns in a nonlinear, chaotic world could ultimately require realizing an Orwellian idea that has been suggested from time to time: directly controlling the speed and spacing of individual cars along a highway with central computers and sensors that communicate with each car's en…

Joy And Inspiration

It might be hard to figure the Vaastu or Feng-shui of the disappearing dining room or bathroom but it sure is both clever and beautiful. With a mural painted on the the surface it would be impossible to tell what lies behind the facade - making the surprise element in the design even stronger. I love design and/or craft related blogs and Curbly is a delightful find - if you don't mind an hour (or more) disappearing on you as you check out page after page of great DIY project ideas.

I find artistic talent and creativity very reassuring to so see - it tells me that there are people who see the world with really different eyes, find things of beauty where most would have said none existed. Most importantly, because of their special perspective, I am able to see what I would have never seen otherwise - for that I feel grateful. Then there is the bit about inspiration too - like this one about converting the maze of wires into decorative vines - sounds like a perfect weekend project for…

Cultural Obscurity

Cultural obscurity is something I am all too familiar with not having the interest to keep up with "best-sellers" of any kind. Not having a television only exacerbates the situation. At least, I read the entire Harry Potter series on time unlike the author of this article in Paste Magazine. While I may be spared one kind of malaise thanks to committing my limited reading hours to Potter, per the author's definition, I am definitely going to be hit by midlife crisis.

I have tried to read Remembrance of Things Past without much luck. I have watched a Swann's Way and thought it came somewhere between Anna Karenina, Gigi , The Great Gatsby and Lolita - though there are no direct similarities. Even if none of that counts as reading Proust, hopefully it would make for a less than a full-blown crisis at midlife

Two Exiles

Books and movies based on first person accounts of war or revolution are almost always extremely visceral. Recently, I read Kien Nyugen's The Unwanted and watched Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis - two very different countries, cultures and wars but similar in atleast in their denouement - the protagonists get a lease of life outside their own country.

Reading Nyugen's book is like going over a raw wound with a bunch of salt - the horrors of war as well that his personal ordeals given a highly dysfunctional family are gut-wrenching to say the least. As a reader you long to see the rainbow at the end of the tunnel - for redemption, for all wrongs to be made right. Even if it takes exile to do so, it is the far better than any other alternative.

And so is the case with Persepolis. The movie takes a monochromatic, two-dimensional view of a life of a family in Iran by presenting the story as an animation. The reduction of individual choice and civil liberties to a set of black an…

Prom Night In Mississippi

HBO's Prom Night In Mississippi tackles the sensitive subject of racism in present day America. While this is familiar territory, director Paul Saltzman's take is refreshingly different in that he proves is possible to be honest on this uncomfortable subject without being undignified. The film is about Morgan Freeman's offer to pay for the prom at Charleston High's if there is an integrated event. He first made this offer in 1997 and was turned down.

In 2008 Freeman tried again and this time he was successful though some white parents did organize a "whites-only" prom to protest their dissatisfaction. Interestingly enough, they never identify themselves or face the camera to talk about their position on an issue that are obviously very passionate about. Clearly, there is an universally acknowledged good and a bad side to the racism debate and people do not want to proclaim their bigotry to the world.

In many parts of America, people would find it impossible t…

Training To Fit

Paul Graham's essay on nerds is good reading for almost anyone though middle and high school nerds might benefit most from it. The essay is all about them written by someone who has experienced the all to familiar pattern of ostracization that is their shared fate. Having seen several nerds in my own life, I believe parents can be a real help in filling the coolness gap that exists between the nerds and the hip crowd at school.

Consider for instance a thirteen year-old math geek who is pretty but has no time or interest in looking attractive. A mother could step in be her style guide, take matters into her own hands to make sure her daughter never looked anything but her best at all times. So the little geek could be number and pattern crunching to her heart's content all day long but she'd have her hair styled and face made-up perfectly thanks to her mother.

She'd have the best of both worlds specially because she is not making any effort to look attractive and yet she …

Chance Answer

While comparing notes on elementary schools with another mom, I might have stumbled on a possible answer to a question that has bothered me for a while now. I had always thought the the approach that American schools take to early education was wonderfully liberating and creative as compared to what I had experienced in India as a child. In large part it the reason I decided to raise J in America even if it meant I had to do so alone. That said, it is deeply frustrating for me when reality does not even come close to what my expectations. Maybe I held too romantic a notion about the whole thing and so disappointment was inevitable.

The method and style of instruction in the American elementary school requires a very low student to teacher ratio to be successful. The focus is on individuality and the ability to use learning in creative and untutored ways. All the things that I think are very important to a well-rounded education and were completely missing in my own. No amount of rote l…

Mortality

When you connect with an old friend after a couple of years and ask the question "How have you been ?", there are several kinds of responses you are prepared to hear and there is one that you are never quite ready for "Lots. Let's see now, where do I begin. I was diagnosed with cancer and have been busy taking care of that situation for the most part". This is exactly what happened with me recently.

I had to excuse myself from the phone, go away where I could be alone so I could process what I had heard. A few hours later, I emailed and asked if we could meet for lunch one day. We ended up talking a little about her illness but we mostly pretended that it was not there. I am always quick to go into denial when faced with situations like this. There is no other way I know to process sorrow or pain. As long as I can do it, I will go on like nothing has changed.

We will get back to our old pattern of meeting for lunch somewhere between our workplaces, chat about he…

Ideal Job

For anyone who loves Venn diagrams and has pondered over the question what exactly does it take to be happy at work, Bud Cadell over at What Consumes Me has an answer. The analysis is amazing for its sheer simplicity - the clean presentation only makes it better. It got me thinking about how this graphic can come in handy while describing one's ideal position to a prospective employer or even to ourselves.

What We Do Well : This would obviously be the skills, competencies and experience we bring to the organization and the job.

What We Want To Do : This would describe the role in which we believe we can be most successful.

What We Can Be Paid To Do : While we may have a lot of interesting ideas, the organization may not be able to support the incubation (and eventual fruition) of most. This would therefore describe what we will be paid to do and how much.

Learn To Monetize It : This might include venturing on our own with those ideas that we can't get an employer to pay us to impl…

Book Glutton

I checked out Book Glutton after hearing about this website on NPR. The idea of scribbling collaboratively on the margins of a book we are reading is interesting - and the website is designed beautifully to do this. Once the novelty has worn off, I wonder if this may not prove to a distraction from reading itself. Forming your impressions, arriving at conclusions independently and even imagining the atomsphere can become incredibly hard with a running commentary to contend with.

Where this may become really useful might be in understanding works that are not easily accessible. With collective commentary to help the less sophisticated readers, even one such as myself may be able to take a stab at James Joyce's Ulysesses. The same idea is transferrable to the reading of epics be it that of Gilgamesh or Ram - where understanding and appreciation is completely dependent on awareness of history and culture.

Short Cut To Reading

My first attempt to introduce J to Harriet The Spy fell flat on its face. She skimmed through a few pages and pronounced that she did not care for the book. This is an all too familiar theme in our household. I am the book scavenger and J is the "rejecter" of them. I read the book myself and really enjoyed it. My sense was, if J could be persuaded to stick with it for a bit she would like it too. I have had similar luck with Enid Blyton books that I have tried to get her interested in. I can't for the life of me understand how a curious kid like J may not enjoy stories of mystery, sleuthing and adventure. But again, I am yet to get a handle on the genres and authors that will click with her consistently.

Recently, I got the audio book version of Harriet The Spy and J is now in love with it - I don't easily give up on books that I believe have potential and will open doors to other worlds of reading. I have no talent for reading aloud and knowing that have never tried …

Putting Twitter To Work

For any brick and mortar business wondering how Twitter can do for them, Naked Pizza may have the answer. Wonder how long it will take before a Twitter handle becomes a standard part of a billboard, appearing before web-site and phone information. After a while their combined promotional tweets will become tweet-spam and it will create a market for anti-spam tools for Twitter. Also, there are only so many companies anyone would care to follow. When the tweet-noise decibel is high enough, folks will probably find another quieter place to hang out.

I dream about a time when marketing departments in corporations will try to come up will better ideas than trying to grab their prospects and leads by the eyeball. Maybe they could become the mystery benefactors to the communities where they are located and thereby pique everyone's curiosity. Towns, cities and villages almost everywhere in the world could use a helping hand. Instead of emblazoning every inch of open space with their market…

Desis And Denial

Sometime ago, I had blogged about coaching centers in India and the reports of them having inside access to questions for the entrance exams to the top-ranking engineering schools in India. As expected, several Indian readers commented that I was making sweeping generalizations based on this one reported incident that I had linked to in my post. There have been other reports since besides reports of the inevitable brand dilution. The flaw is as systemic as it is old even if we don't want to believe it and look the other way.
At the risk of being accused of making yet another generalization, I will say that Desis are prone to being in the state of denial about far too much when it comes to India. Most recently this has been the economic meltdown and the notion that it will somehow leave India unscathed.This attitude is probably a proxy for patriotism that is not expressed in any other tangible way. In their minds, denial somehow equals non-existence and defending India against criti…

Truth And Hypothesis

A July 2008 Wired cover story titled The End of Science, resonates with my own experience with data and analytics - specially in light of the battles that one has to wage with those who are convinced that there a priori needs to be a statistical model to proceed with analytics. Apparently, analysis means nothing without a hypothesis. I believe with the right tools, the data should speak for itself - the models are not necessary.

This is however a hard case to make for someone (like myself) who is approaching the problem from a common-sense and industry experience standpoint without a string of accreditations and doctorates appended to their name to lend gravitas to their perspective. Folks like us don't earn the respect of the pure math nerds very easily. They tend to view us as slackers who want to bypass the rigors of the scientific method. So we soldier on, hobbled by models and hypothesis that are not even directionally consistent with what the data says about itself.

It was hea…

Needless Science

Got to love it when shrink and science come together to restate the obvious. This study seems to suggest the higher up you are socio-economically, the less likely you are to engage with your fellow humans. The simple one-word equivalent for the bunch scientific gobbledygook in the article is probably snobbish.

Then there is this other one that has scientific proof that women are attracted to manly men. It does not qualify the term "manly" so one assumes that definitions could be subjective. At any rate, the value of a scientific study to prove such a thing is just as hard to fathom as needing to establish that wealth and arrogance often go together.

Surely, nature has not run of mysteries to be solved that can keep the scientific community gainfully engaged and also do the rest of us some good. Maybe that is asking for too much.

Usability Lesson

Love this Swiss Army Knife style makeover of the kitchen knife. People often have kitchen drawers full of equipment to chop, cut, peel, pare and more and yet there is one knife that becomes the trusted favorite which gets used all the time - put to uses it was not even intended for. With a knife that is actually made to be multi-functional, we have design imitating and enabling the actual behavior of it's users. If this is not great usability, I don't know what is.That is concept and then there is reality-check. All of the commentators to this story say they would not like to use this knife because they fear it would injure them.

I find this idea and the reception to it most instructive because it translates to web usability as well. Copious amounts of time, effort and money is spent on usability by companies who want to do right by the users of their websites. Yet, when the site is made "right" to align with the perceived needs and preferences of the users, often th…

Information Ocean

J often gets homework assignments that involves researching for information to write a report or complete a project. The topics are fairly straight forward being that the "researchers" are only 6-8 years old. I usually help her find the information from credible sources on the Internet and will check out some books from the local library if time permits.

Watching this video about the role of a school librarian in the 21st century gave me much food for thought. Specially when the librarian featured in it talks about growing up in an information desert whereas kids today are in an information ocean and drowning in it. Information fluency is as she points out is a crucial survival skill in the world that J and her peers are growing up in. It is just as if not more important than learning to read for these kids.

There is just too much information out there and not knowing to navigate successfully can determine whether they will sink or swim in this "ocean". A big take aw…

Teen Relationships

Some years ago, after the book Rainbow Party was published, it fell to disgrace because the material was a little too sensationalist to have credibility - at least in the opinion of its critics. Once again the issue of oral sex becoming commonplace for pre-teens and teens in America, is making news and a documentary. Until parents start to become ostriches with heads buried in the sands of denial, this story will likely do its rounds, get discussed and commented on.

Film-maker Sharlene Azam hits the nail on its head when she traces back the behavior of these pretty girls from affluent backgrounds who by their own admission have had wonderful childhoods. In short, there is no reason for them to engage in casual prostitution. She believes that many of them have been hurt and in love and do what they do to protect themselves from bing hurt again.
Azam said she thinks the "no strings attached" romances could be a defense mechanism against a greater disappointment. "A lot of…

Playing To Win

G is like my kid brother and is given to checking on me every once in a while. I wish he lived closer, so J could have a sense of extended family. His child is less than a year old and would fulfill J's strong desire to be someone's big sister.

He and his wife have tried to socialize with desis in their city (they have lived in several up to now) and have faced challenges not very unlike my own. I used to imagine that desis are very accepting of two parent families as they view this to be the normal family configuration. Apparently not.

G has lived in America since he came for grad school, worked almost every kind of odd job there is to help pay his bills as a student. He is not the lowest common denominator desi IT worker in that he has a wide variety of interests outside his day job and can carry on an intelligent conversation that has nothing to do with technology or immigration. He happens to be a Bengali who like me never lived in Kolkata. He would love to be part of someth…

Saying Cheese

The intensity of smile, school yearbooks photos and successful marriages are correlated according to a study. I specially like that yearbook pictures could be a good predictor of a person's marriage.
Overall, the results indicate that people who frown in photos are five times more likely to get a divorce than people who smile. While the connection is striking, the researchers stress that they can't conclude anything about the cause of the correlation.
Being a single-parent without so much as a father-figure in J's life, I do worry about what perspectives she might form about the institution of marriage. She has no memory of a two-parent household - it has always been the two of us. If I do a half-way competent job of parenting and housekeeping, would J come to think of marriage as optional or nice to have when it is time for her to find a partner ? Yet, failing to do my job is not even an option.

My sense is she realizes that I have a lot of responsibilities to juggle, confl…

Hand Movements

According to this article in Scientific American hand gestures are correlated to our ability to understand and learn new concepts. The comments on the article make for interesting reading as well. In my culture, gesturing has never been a big part of communication. It would generally be viewed as distracting rather than helpful. I have noticed though that when giving discourses holy men and women do use hand gestures - they are few but highly eloquent. Likewise with artists, performers, musicians and dancers - gestures are part of their language.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is common to see socio-economically depressed people given to elaborate gestures involving hand and body to get their point across - and I say this in the context of Indian society. I would imagine some of the negative connotation associated with gesturing too much while talking stems from here. Folks probably don't want to come across as uncultured, uneducated or impoverished. If the findings reported…

Telling Too Much

The phrase confessional journalism maybe relatively new but the genre is definitely familiar. Hadley Freeman describes its characteristics with remarkable accuracy :

Here's how it goes: a female journalist describes her obsession with her weight/breasts/ageing face/food or alcohol problems/inability to have a happy relationship. The article is illustrated by the journalist looking as miserable as possible. There are tales of daily woe. It concludes with the writer still sufficiently unhappy to be commissionable for another very similar piece.

While online and print media are replete with example of such outpourings - kvetching is certainly not the exclusive realm of women. Men will chronicle just as faithfully their many problems with women, alcohol, career (or the lack of one) among a host of other topics. That Freeman considers confessional journalism a serious setback to "feminism" is a testament to the fragility (if not irrelevance) of the movement itself.

Aside from e…

Friends With Benefits

Friends with benefits is a relatively new concept in the annals of relationships and is getting to be fairly commonplace. In the on-line world, things are possibly much worse - there is no friendship involved in this type of short-term contact for sexual gratification. I find these ideas curious for several reasons and wonder what there might be in it for the woman.

Based on the sheer volume of literature and advice on the subject of how to find a man of your dreams, reel him in and get him to walk down the aisle, it seems like she is not getting a lot besides the "benefits" in the average relationship. When a man plays the field he is a player or a stud but a woman in similar circumstances is usually a slut. This is not to say any one characterization is better or worse that the other - but they are distinctly different.

If a woman is angling to catch a man and get married to him (and God forbid have his babies), she is way too needy and clingy but when a man turns his though…