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Showing posts from October, 2009

Dazzled By Stencil

Discovered this delightful website CreativeHunt a few days ago. While the content is definitely worth coming back for, what I loved best was the lovely stencil-style header. It took me a while to even notice it but once I did, I could not stop scrolling text up and down to see how the title rendered as the text shifted. The last time I was this thrilled flipping pages was when I laid my hands on my first pop-up picture book at age four or five. Mother Goose Rhymes if memory serves. Until them the pictures has remained in-situ on the pages. Now suddenly things popped in and out, moved this way and that.

Indecision

Halloween is upon us and so is a time of great indecision for J. In her "baby" days things were a lot easier. It was not too "lame" to dress up like an angel or a princess. The all-pink outfit was at hand complete with dollar store tiara and wand thanks to the thoughtfulness of my friend E who knew exactly what 3-4 year old girls would like to be for Halloween - a knowledge I was sadly lacking in at the time. Unfortunately, she does not have the magic formula for 6-8 year olds by when it is not nearly as straight forward. Needless to say, any idea that I come up with is dead on arrival.

J usually juggles with a half a dozen options for a few weeks, confusing and frustrating herself in the process of selection that has no clear elimination criteria. Each time we sense closure, a new idea will bubble up and trash everything planned thus far. She is back to the drawing board. This has been the routine the last couple of years. I have learned the hard way to hold my p…

By The People

Last year, if you lived here in the US it was impossible not to follow the news of the presidential elections. It did not matter what your political leanings were or if you did not even care about politics. The excitement (in the early days) and tension (toward to the end) around it was simply too palpable to ignore. After having seen and read so much about the subject of HBO's By The People - The Election of Barack Obama, it is a challenging proposition to tell the story in a way that is fresh, engaging and insightful.

The filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams manage to do all of that and much more with this film. The moments that made headline news are interspersed beautifully with candid interviews with volunteers, supporters, key players of the campaign team and family members of the then presidential candidate. News stories and analysis that viewers have seen before become imbued with fresh meaning and significance as the film reveals what went on behind the scenes even as head…

Tweeted Wit

For anyone who has wondered what Twitter is good for, here is a fine example of where it makes perfect sense. One guy just writes down "shit my dad says" and it makes for hilarious reading already and is ony over a couple of dozen tweets as of this writing. If he is able to keep the pace up and his dad continues to deliver, his following should go through the roof. As I read the tweets, I found myself thinking what a perfect vehicle this might be for capturing the wit and wisdom of those who can keep it short, sweet and memorable.

Some kids will say the darndest things all the time - Twitter is for their parents. Bits of overheard conversations tweeted can be fun following if done well. Twitter Novels have already been around - whodunits seem like they might be the best fit for this kind of delivery.

Trade Winds

Read this quote by Mahatma Gandhi in the book The Leader's Way :“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”I cannot think of any better way to communicate to my eight year old daughter J, the importance of appreciation, understanding and empathy for other cultures and value systems while staying true to one's own. I read the lines to her and then had her read them herself. We talked about what it means.Clearly this is a quote that will be revisited more than a few times in our household because application is much more difficult than understanding.

First generation immigrants and other culturally displaced people strive for just the balance that Gandhi talks about and yet it seems the hardest thing to achieve. Not everyone is able to withstand the strong gusts of foreign cultural influences blowing through t…

Watching Movies

Not being a big fan of watching movies with company, it was interesting to read a professional perspective on this.

Any true movie fan can tell you that there’s no experience quite like sitting in a cinema, being engrossed by the narrative, mesmerised by the actors and seduced by the score.

If I could have it my way, I would sit in an empty cinema every time I see a film. Watching movies alone should not just be seen as acceptable, but the ideal way to experience cinema.

I am not brave enough to do the socially awkward thing of going to watch a movie alone but the only way I enjoy it is to watch it alone in my room on my laptop. The genres I enjoy don't benefit a great deal from the big screen or big sound experience. Sometimes J and I will watch movies together too. These tend to be movies that she enjoys and I like being there with her to share in the experience. This works with friends and family as well for movies where immersion is not nearly as important sharing the emotional r…

Upping Intelligence

Had this been the month of April, I would have dismissed this article as a joke. The story is, if the Baby Einstein videos did not up your child's IQ, you could get a refund. Since they don't ask for evidence of IQ before and after in order to determine eligibility for refund, it seems as if it is a foregone conclusion that there will be no uptick. Talk about truth in marketing. My first thought was obviously to check if I had any such videos from J's baby days.

I do recall having borrowed some Baby Einstein classical music CDs from the library - I figured, a little bit of Bach or Mozart can only be a good thing for anyone babies included. As it turns out, I don't own any Einstein media and so there will be no refunds for me. That was a little disappointing. Here I was counting my unhatched chickens at $16 a pop. Naturally the article prompted a flurry of reader comments. One which I really liked was :

Any parent who believes that plopping her infant in front of a TV to…

Staying In Touch

That the billionaire SAS co-founder is still writing code should be inspiration for so many managers and executives who unlike him are no billionaires and yet have no tangible skills. When comes time of organizations to trim fat and become the bare bones versions of their former selves, there folks are the worst hit. Their skills don't always travel well and they are so far and long removed from any core discipline that it becomes hard for them to actually "do" any real work.

This is particularly true in the information technology business where technical obsolescence renders management and executive skills irrelevant as well. Consider someone whose last hands on job experience involved programming in Cobol for mainframes, chances are they would find nothing to borrow from that learning that is relevant to their present day job. They would not be the most qualified to make technology purchase or implementation decisions let alone be a good mentor to the team. Then there …

Dreamer

A dreamer is a stubborn
weed, impossible
to uproot or kill.
Many disappointments
later, she will sprout
tiny tendrils of hope,
latch on to anything
that resembles love
to be her espalier.
In her nature there
are two states -
dream and death.

Ploys In Love

Product placements are often often as intrusive and annoying as a buzzing fly in the kitchen. You cannot ignore it, often cannot get rid of it until it leaves of its own accord. Annoyance and intrusion reach new heights when love is used as a ploy to place a product - a valedictorian professes her secret passion for a classmate which turns out to be plug for a product. Used to be that certain aspects of our lives and social interactions were completely off-limits to the outside world.

The reality show business changed that premise quite fundamentally and now the cow is clearly out of the barn and now there is no limit to how far she can stray. For cash strapped teens, having a corporate sponsor for an important date would seem like a good idea. Everyone wins - boy gets to impress girl, they both have a great time and the marketing whizzes get a bang for their buck as well. There is no reason why this cannot become the logical next step from the valedictorian event.

In Costume

Recently I was chatting with a friend who is the parent of a pre-schooler. His child attends an expensive Montessori that his employer happens to pay for. My friend and his wife despite their affluence are middle-class at heart and don't feel comfortable flaunting their prosperity. Quite often they find themselves in their daughter's school surrounded by rich, well-dressed parents who view them somewhat superciliously. They are treated like outsiders in the clique of rich, fashion forward parents.

I am able to relate to their experience based on my own at J's school. The women wear and carry only designer labels and look like they spent a bomb on their perfect hairstyles and manicures. I am brand label averse and definitely not a slave to fashion. I get the sense that I am being socially rejected. It may be completely unrelated, it has also taken me a while to gain the attention of the teachers.

My friend thought we should just save ourselves the trouble and get a "cost…

Flying Geese

There is a lake near our home and we often see geese flying in formation over the woods across from the balcony. Every once in a while, J has pondered why they fly the way they do. Each time, I have said I don't know why but we can look it up. Inevitably, the business of the day gets in the way and the birds are forgotten once they are out of sight.

In the absence of a good scientific explanation, J has used her imagination to fill the gap - the leader bird knows the way and so they have the central position in the pattern. If everyone lines up behind the leader then they can't see the path they are supposed to take very well - the V helps by giving everyone a clear line of sight. That is J's theory but she is not fully satisfied with it. I finally found the time to look it up like I have always promised to.

She got some of it right apparently - there is indeed a leader and communication between the birds is enabled by the V formation. As a parent, I am always trying to fin…

Two Books

Maybe this is a factor of age and experience but I find it increasingly difficult to find an author whose writing I enjoy book after book. It didn't used to be this way before - maybe I expected less then or perhaps I am already done reading the pool of books I will love for life. When I read Patrick Suskind's Perfume I thought I had at the long last found an author who would thrill me time after time. Then I read Mr Summer's Story. Had I read the books in reverse order chances are I would have not even tried Perfume - and the loss would be entirely mine. Sometimes, the author's purpose in writing what they write is so inaccessible to the reader that they end up missing the point of it entirely. Such may be the case with Suskind's Mr. Summer. As much as I tried and wanted to, I just did not end up getting it.

Naturally there is a strong element of disappointment - specially when a previous book was entirely enjoyable and its premise fully appreciable. It feels like …

Schmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags

It would be hard to come away from watching HBO'sSchmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags without worrying about the future of your own job in America. The statistics are as compelling as the personal stories that make up this documentary. "In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here." Those numbers may not be that different for every manufacturing industry in this country where jobs have gone overseas never to return. The American garment industry was competitive as long as the working conditions were inhumane and owners could run sweatshops with impunity.

Post unionization, the life of the workers improved a great deal but at some point, the lure of cheaper manufacturing costs proved too compelling for share holders to keep the jobs local. The sweatshops they could no longer run the New York City could be run on their behalf by their suppliers in third world countries. In the meanwhile the unpretentious garment business meta…

Failing To Connect

Read this great post on why corporations are largely failing at social media. While the author's five point summary of the reasons is excellent, she really hits the nail on the head in a response to one comment :

In all, I think the larger point is not even that companies don't get social media - it's that they don't know how to be human, be helpful and get out of their own way. Social media exposes that.

Just that says it all. Companies are not inherently social animals - having the human touch is therefore nearly impossible. They look awkward and contrived when they try to promote a "culture of fun" in the organization. Even if they are halfway successful at it, being social does not equal buffoonery. It is the smaller shops with small, close-knit crews that have a better chance of getting social media right - it would an expression of their natural state on-line.

Emotions Jacket

Getting under someone's skin becomes more than a figure of speech with the Philips Emotions Jacket.

The result is that, when wearing the Emotions Jacket, viewers feel that they are truly part of the on-screen action, sensing for themselves the emotions experienced by the main character or others prominent in a particular scene.

While that could be make for an immersive experience, there is something creepy (if not gross) about the notion of feeling another person's physical sensations by proxy. Some of the non-entertainment applications of the technology are easier to appreciate.

As an example, it may be possible to sense when a baby is restless and then stimulate the right emotions to help it settle, without the need for parental intervention. Another possible application would be to de-stress patients in hospital or doctors’ waiting rooms. Other areas such as sleep and increased productivity are also being considered.

Art And Trash

The difference between art and trash is sometimes recognition, controversy and an award. Both J and I love to work on little art and craft projects and our materials are not bought at a store. We are more browsers less buyers at craft stores. As a child, my mother encouraged me to consider the possibilities hidden in something that was discarded or was soon going to be. In her mind, that would foster an artistic and aesthetic sensibility in me - something she held in the highest esteem. According to her, you are able to live your life more gracefully when you have the ability to see beauty in where none is immediately evident.

At first it was hard to do what she was asking me to - I would grow frustrated about the limitations of the supplies with which to create something, but over time I did start to see trash in a different light. This is a learning I value a great deal in my life and have passed to to J with good results thus far. There is little that J cannot think of a way to re-p…

Morning Joe

Saturday mornings are Sheila's favorite time of the week. The weekend has kicked in and yet its full potential remains unexplored. Checking her email in bed curled up in her comforter, she wishes for a cup of coffee to materialize by her side magically - that would make the moment perfect.

The phone rings and the instant messenger chimes in near unison breaking the silence. The call is from Katie - early bird as always she is calling to see if Sheila is up for a run in the park. The ping is from Vasundhara, an old friend who has been out of circulation for several months now. V is notoriously late responding to email, never checks voice-mail but will insist on meeting for lunch with a couple of hours notice.

V: Shell, hey !

S : Hey yourself. Up so bright and early ?

V: Have you ever wanted to kick yourself in the butt real hard so you’d stop dreaming about some guy who does not give a shit about you and move on with your life ?

S: Uh-uh. That sounds familiar.

V: And then regretted…

Wait Time

While everyone may not have much use for a Starbucks iApp, the same idea extended in other ways can be very useful. Waiting at the doctor's office has got to be among the most aggravating things on earth. If one could sign in using an iApp, take care of the co-pay business, fill in the drive time and be notified to make it there and have to wait no more than five minutes would be great. Being able to cut wait time is almost always a good idea. Be it picking up dinner at a Chinese takeout or being told fifteen minutes ahead of one's turn at the DMV counter.

In countries where such or similar technology has been around for years, this might seem like a silly wish list but when you have wasted the best part of your Saturday, two weeks in a row trying getting something really simple done at the local DMV, you begin to appreciate the brutality of wait time. Add to that a doctor's appointment in the middle of a workday where five minutes of face time with the doctor to discuss no…

Tarantula

A tarantula spinning his web
or a wizard his golden orb.
The gossamer of dreams dims
the light of day, nudges all
that is real a little further
away - out of reach.
You ask that I believe in what little
we have now - offer platters
full of imaginary food -"Taste"
you say. I share our Barmecidal
feasts with you each night
sleep tired, bewildered and
sometimes even happy. I wait
again for the wandwaver, the
teller of tales, the imaginer
of futures that can be. "Dream"
you say. I weave in and out of
our two step waltz, with an
invisible partner who drifts
between near and far.
"I miss you" and "I love you"
are two interwoven strands of
spun silk - glimmering, tender
and fragile. I fear it may snap
when the orb slows down,
when the web is woven,
when the light of day
to see dreams turn real
breaks through the mist.
I cannot live on hope alone I say,
give me something real -
you have words of comfort
but no warm touch,
whispered promises
but no covenants.
I am a junkie for hu…

Vernian Imagination

A friend has been pushing me to read the book Daemon for a while now, more recently I became aware of Feed. Not being a sci-fi fan, I have yet to read either book though I have them on my to-read list. In this article about the what the future holds beyond data and technology, the author writes in reference to a Jule's Verne book Paris In the 20th Century, which happened to be remarkably prescient about the world in 1960, a hundred years ago :

Returning to the present day, it is this type of Vernian imagination that will carry us into the future. And the first step is to move beyond the 'data city', move beyond the delights of the digital and start scratching our heads about what is to come next. That's how we will become New Millennium People.

From what I have gathered, both Daemon and Feed are about "delights" and the potential of the digital. It is not about the stuff that might come next - the kinds of things that cannot as the author says be "project…

Public Disservice

It is not often that I read an article that irritates me quite as much as this piece of sophomoric inanity on WSJ by MeetiShroff Shah did. She makes mockery of the legions of highly educated and qualified H4 wives who are pushed to the far end of despair and desperation by their visa status. It can be argued they all come to the country fully aware that they will not be able to work so there is nothing to complain about. They just need to stop feeling entitled to employment, shut up,suck it up and learn salsa if time hangs much too heavy on their hands.

Imagining life in a foreign country as a wife and the reality of living that life are absolutely different things – and I speak from experience when I say this. Several years ago, in a very different kind of economy, I was an H4 wife by choice for a little over six months. It was as Shroff Shah points out, a time for self-discovery and rejuvenation. I had worked without a break since the time I graduated from engineering school and fel…

Overheard At Lunch

Recently while out at lunch with a friend, overhead an interesting conversation between two men at the table next to us. One appeared to be in his late fifties and the other in his mid thirties. The younger guy was seeking the other man's opinion on whether to hold or sell the stock of a certain company. The older guy was of the opinion that the stock price had gone as high as it probably could and now with health care reform in the offing, the company could be negatively impacted.

A large chunk of the business this company did was made possible due to inherent deficiencies of the health care system not to mention the prohibitive costs. If the government stepped in and did something to improve matters, then any business who viability depended on such inefficiencies would be hurt. The younger man agreed with this analysis. It is interesting that they did not think that government intervention would mess things up even more and create a cornfield of business opportunities.

I found the…

Under Influence

A while ago, I read about the genesis of birth control pill which in turn prompted this blog post. Today, read about the pill again and how it influences a woman's selection of a mate - in a negative way. If there are certain male traits that a woman on a pill finds attractive or not, chances are that it will be among the driving factors in who she selects as a mate. This would be true for those who are on it most if not all the time. However, things can get confusing if she goes on and off it. Who and what she found appealing while on it may not be quite match her preferences once she is off it.

When it comes to relationships, the exercise of free will is a challenging proposition even in the best of circumstances. Apparently, a bunch of chemicals have the ability to consume what little is left of it. This is a lot like picking up someone at a bar in a state of inebriation and finding out they were all wrong the morning after. Except, after the hangover has worn off, the woman ha…

Quick Summary

If two minutes is all you got and you are not sure what to make of this Google Wave thing, this excellent video may be a great 101 on the subject. Then there is a review from someone who actually has an invite to this coveted thing. He says : "Google’s Wave will crash hard onto the beach of overhype." For email or chat, this may be too many strands of conversations to follow but it could be really helpful in other ways.

Putting together requirements for application development, or have multiple people edit the a document concurrently are examples that come to mind. What takes several people, several days to accomplish and becomes a version control nightmare can be done a lot faster and with much lesser confusion. With some workflow options, this could even become a digital asset management tool. All of the parties that create, edit and approve content could be working in concert and make changes based on real time feedback.

Education And Options

I have been reading The New Global Student and am a little overwhelmed by sheer volume of choices to the traditional on-campus university education. The idea of the book as the subtitle states is to allow parents and students to get comfortable with skipping the SAT, saving their money and getting an international education. This Mashable article takes matters to the logical next step - an education that is completely free and available to everyone who is interested in it.

Between the two readings, I feel optimistic about the time when J is ready to go to college - she may have a great deal more choice on how to spend time and money in return for an education that is meaningful to her. It is heartening to know that beyond the narrow confines of a typical American public school education, there are wide open vistas where a young person may run free, go as far as they want to without needing to hock an arm and leg to pursue their dreams.

Passing On

Recently, a former co-worker succumbed to cancer. She had been battling the disease for over two years with a great deal of courage and good humor. I remember the strong medicinal smell around her cubicle and sometimes (maybe in my imagination) that of death and decay. Yet there was nothing about her manner that would suggest that she expected to see the end soon. We all admired her spirit but truth be told she often exasperated us with her know-it-all attitude - she was by no stretch of imagination easy to work with.

In doing an outstanding job of ignoring her condition, she made us forget how much she was suffering, the emotional and physical toll it was taking on her. B leaves behind a husband and four young children. We might have been far more accommodating had we always been aware of her condition - but she made sure she was not treated any different from anyone else.

When the news of her passing came, we all recalled her best qualities and if my own example is any indication, w…

The Manga Guide Series

I grew interested in the idea of using animation characters to teach after reading The Manga Guide to Statistics (a book I have reviewed before). Recently, I have been reading two other books from the same series. One on Databases (a subject I am very familiar with given my line of work) and the other on Molecular Biology (something I know absolutely nothing about).

I was curious to see if degree of familiarity with the subject contributed to how much one could get out of these really well thought out books. In both volumes, the introduction to the key concepts is done very gently. The storyline seemed to get in the way with the database book maybe because I already knew the concept being explained. Several times, I skipped over directly to the end of the chapter which reads like a traditional text book.

With the molecular biology book, given my total lack of awareness, I did find following the adventures of Rin and Ami's with Dr. Moro's virtual reality machine that allows them…

Story Time

Their "story date" as Umang referred to it, was at a park close to Sheila's house. It turned out that he enjoyed long walks just as much as she did and the weather was perfect. They had picked up a couple of Cuban panninis for lunch. Umang insisted on paying for that and "a drink of her choice". She had gone with a bottle of lychee juice, he got a beer. She told him about the first time she had met MJ.

When she was done, he asked "I can't wait to find out what happens next. Do I have to wait till the next time ?

"Typically, I would end here. But you have only a few more days and we may never meet again - so I'll make an exception." Sheila smiled as she brushed off the leaves from the empty bench. Then she told him about the next time MJ came back to her life.

"Did you guys meet that time ?" Umang asked as he handed her a sandwich.

"No, we did not. Instead, I let him weave in and out of my life several more times over a peri…

Sudden Ends

Found this sad and comic link to an YouTube video via Kottke in which JD goes backpacking around Europe for two weeks leaves his phone behind and does not check his email. He thinks he has told his girlfriend that he will be out of pocket but apparently she did not pay attention to what he was saying.

Then she starts emailing him - which is what t he video is about. He ends his story with two observations - one to be careful about falling in love with passionate people because they can be just as extreme in hate as they can be in love the second to keep the phone on while on vacation.

While those are good lessons learned, there is possibly a third - you find out a lot about yourself and your partner when the relationship it put into an unfamiliar, unexpected pattern. In this case, the woman was quick to infer infidelity which suggests that the relationship was not on a very strong footing. She might have been worried sick about the man if his loyalty was completely assured in her min…

Bengali Scrooge

I would be the Bengali Scrooge when it comes to enthusiasm over the festival de jour of our community - Durga Puja. I never got the point of pandal hopping and weeklong rabble rousing in the name of religion though as an extended carnival it is quite alright - specially if carnivals are your thing. It seemed to me that with each passing year, the religious and spiritual elements of Puja were harder and harder to discern in these over-crowded community events. My distaste for the festivities grew in proportion.

This year, thanks to an over enthusiastic acquaintance, J and I made a trip to a city some hours away from where I live to participate in the Durga Puja celebrations at the temple there. It involved us getting up at the crack of dawn, driving to their house, car-pooling to our destination with a few missed turns and wrong directions thrown in for good measure. Three hours later we arrived. The Puja started one hour later than schedule, J got extremely hungry and looked at me li…