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Showing posts from February, 2010

Being A Doll

A couple of weeks ago, I surprised J by taking her out for breakfast early on a Saturday morning. As is her wont, she stood in front of the menu for a good fifteen minutes, trying to figure out which kind of bagel she wanted and if the strawberry smoothie was the drink to go with it.

While we stood there waiting for epiphany to strike J, a cute  toddler waddled up to me with a doll tucked in her arm. "My doll's name is Millie" she said to me and then pointing to J she asked "What's your doll's name ?". Her parents and I burst out laughing and I told the little person "You know, she's not a doll. She actually walks and talks just like us."

Millie's owner considered this piece of information about J somewhat skeptically but did note that J was smiling at her. Her mom said to her "She may not be a doll, but she really is very pretty isn't she". We ordered, got our bagels and drink and left. On the way back J realized that she …

Best Friend Plus

I had an interesting relationship conversation with a gay friend recently. She has been with her partner for over twenty years now and a lesson she learned from the ups and downs of their relationship is useful for anyone. B has come to realize the pitfalls of expecting the significant other to also be one's best friend. The two can and likely should be different people, though some people may find one person who can be both.

While that can be a happy coincidence, it is never good idea to enter a relationship with that being the expectation. Sometimes best friendship can actually undermine the chemistry between two people. A little friction between them can on the contrary, help keep the spark alive. According to be B, when we are drawn into a relationship by the strong bonds of friendship or once in it expect that to blossom magically, things can go really wrong.

This is a mistake I know I have made at least once. In R (my ex), I did have a best friend but he was just not the kin…

Bystander

Reading this heartbreaking account of a boy's abuse by his stepfather with the tacit consent of his mother had me depressed for days. I found myself thinking about the summer weekends when my neighbor L and her two daughters splashed in the pool all day with her boyfriend. I always thought the man was a little too friendly with the girls who were eight and ten years old at the time.

Like their mother, they were both very beautiful, friendly and outgoing.Since L seemed comfortable with the interaction between her boyfriend and her daughters, I did not think it appropriate to voice any concerns - maybe I was just being paranoid and needlessly cynical.The mother was right there with them, it was not like he was alone with the girls. Surely, she would be able to tell right away if anything was amiss.

After reading Joel Johnson's story, I don't know anymore - maybe L, like his mother knew what was going on and chose to turn a blind eye. The need to have a man in her life may have…

Art of Bragging

Found this article on how to brag via Marginal Revolution. The insights are interesting but not necessarily path-breaking. Being blatantly boastful is painfully obvious both to the person who is participating in the conversation and to on-lookers. It definitely makes them unpopular. Subtlety definitely helps but even that becomes evident after a while when there is a pattern to leading questions and remarks that open the opportunity to brag. Bragging just a little on occasion clearly has its uses :

'In situations ranging from a first date to a job interview, people commonly face the dilemma of how to make their listeners aware of their success without being perceived as braggers,' Tal-Or said. 'The present research provides a possible solution to this dilemma.'

There is also the issue of the person chosing not to be boastful being at a distinct disadvantage because they have to stand out in a crowd where everyone else is not making any effort to be humble. This is a lot…

Better Options

This article on a better drop down menu for gender made for interesting reading. It is not a perspective I had - it was good to learn something new. A slight variation on the slider model that the author presents might by something like a heat map. A user so inclined, could find a spot on that best identified who they were or what their position was on a certain issue. 

The idea being that the traditional drop down is good if your goal is to bucket people into clear categories but is not nearly useful as a tool for an individual to express themseleves. Somewhere between writing a thousand word essay on gender (the topic of Sarah Dopp's article) and picking either Male or Female is a myraid of user interface possibilities. It is a wonderful idea with diverse applicability and it would be great to see it implemented on main stream websites in a way that appeals to the non-geek crowd as well.

Walk Score

One of the first things I research about neighborhood before an upcoming move is school district - used to be daycare centers before that. Naturally, this is a very common thing for parents of school age kids to do and there is a rash of websites to help with the process. It is only by chance that I landed in a neighborhood that also has a lot within walking distance - quite a rarity in the suburbs.

Last month when we got snowed in for a week, J and I were able to walk across the street and get some essential groceries - no small blessing in that kind of weather. It was not until my friend D's husband came in an dug my car out of the snow that I was able to drive anywhere. At times like that you realize the importance of having your most basic needs available at walking distance - something WalkScore does.

My street address scored  32 out of a 100 but it is enough to survive. A friend's house scored a mere 5 and the difference is exactly representative of the relative walkabil…

Start Up Demographic

Read Write Web has this great article on the changing demographic of internet savvy users and the need to meet their needs by bringing diversity into the start-up minded entrepreneurs. The story is mainly about the why women are not part of this demographic in proportion to their numbers on-line but it also notes that there are others who need to look at other sources - specially non-technical, non-engineering ones for the most promising ideas :

There are just as many women online as there are men (74% of each gender in the U.S.), and none of us Internet users are getting any younger. In order to address the needs and interests of millions of older and increasingly diverse Internet users who aren't necessarily geeks, it would be wise to look at projects originating from the same source - from ordinary entrepreneurs who now have the Internet savvy to make a significant contribution.

Ahead This Year

Sienna Farris looks at her Magic 8 Ball in this AdWeek column. The first three are already happening so more likely than not it will continue in the new year. The fourth requires having some social media marketing experience under the belt. Farris suggests : You'll see more companies using simulations and augmented reality to provide users branded text overlays and 3-D virtual demos on their phone viewfinder.

I would argue, that may be where companies need to reach but not a lot of them will able to go quite that far yet. Making that gaint leap in a year may not be feasible. I really like the last implication on the list : 

5. Crowd sourcing will turn social media into a direct sales channel.

This could be the place where the interests of sales and marketing organizations can converge instead of being at odds with each other as they traditionally have been.

Kicking Tires

I have blogged before on my view that dating is not a necessary detour to marriage and found something to ponder over this story I read some time ago, about a Japanese man marrying the avatar from a dating game. There are some interesting possibilities that come to mind. A lot of people swear by the efficacy of getting to know their potential partner over time - trying to simulate conditions of their real life after marriage. The idea being that they will be able to uncover "the real" person. When the right circumstances intersect, the stress will be enough to peel away the facade and the truth about who they are will become evident. When that happens, making a decision one way or the other becomes simple. 

More often that not, the "stress test" method fails because it is almost impossible to weight the large number of variables that are at play, exactly right. Sometimes, people will get entrapped in situations that they will regret later and at other times they wil…

Life Line

On what could have been a quiet and even lonely Valentine's Day, Zubin called Sheila early in the morning. There was nothing romantic about it - they were two old friends catching up on a weekend. When she asked him what he had planned for the day, Zubin said "I have already done what I was supposed to today - I called you". Sheila's first instinct was a compelling need to feel guilt - he was another woman's husband and here he was telling her what he was. Her inability to work up contrition, made her feel that much worse. "That's charming and I am flattered. But what about the woman you are married to ?" she found herself asking.  "I'll probably take her out for dinner and buy her a gift" Sheila wondered how it might feel to be that woman. The husband was going through the expected motions of Valentine's Day - he probably did the same on her birthday and their anniversary as well. To the world outside, they would appear a normal, h…

Effeminate Fashion

In the last decade, ethnic wear for desi men has undergone some pretty cataclysmic changes. The dull colors that dominated the kurta and sherwani section of their wardrobes have now given way to a Full Monty of rainbow hues in pastel and rich jewel tones.There is almost no color that a desi man will not wear. When you add the intricate embroidery and other embellishments that go with their ensembles, it is hard to tell a man's attire apart form a woman's.

I have always wondered if men feel differently about themselves when dressed in colors that were for the longest time associated with women and therefore embody femininity. Does it help or hurt their masculinity to go well past the traditional boundaries of their gender.

Each time I see a desi man thus attired, I feel slightly perplexed - maybe I am far too old school to be able to appreciate this particular aesthetic sensibility. I have had other Indian women express their puzzlement over this relatively recent trend as well. …

Shaken By Buzz

The Google Buzz nag screen's come up a few times the last couple of weeks and I was foolish to ignore it and proceed to my mailbox. Reading a very uncomplimentary article on this latest Google offering, prompted me to go check what it was all about. I was shocked to find that I was following some people and others were following me - that my chat status updates would be broadcast to pretty much anyone who had ever mailed me. To say I was outraged would be understating it.

Clearly, you have limited rights when you get a service for free but what Google has done here is beyond egregious. Most likely none of us knew what was happening to us. In a mad rush to get into the social media and buzz business, Google had prodded us against our will into sharing with each other what we may not want to. Apparently, they learned nothing from Facebook's recent experience with hijacking their user's right to privacy.

While a Gmail account is a personal email address, not all contacts are al…

Empowement In Contradiction

When I first started blogging some years ago, I used to frequently visit a certain well known blog (at least at the time it used to be). Besides the content (which was consistently excellent), I found the blogroll particularly interesting - it represented a myriad of interests from science, music, economics, politics, graphic design, technology, gourmet cooking to the lives of high end call girls and everything in between.

Thus came about my acquaintance with Belle de jour and the blogs by some other high end escorts. They were all well written and apparently belonged to women who were spectacularly beautiful and accomplished and did what they did for the money (not to mention pleasure). Instead of feeling entrapped and exploited they found it empowering to do be able to command the prices they did and on their own terms.

The rationale being that if one is a free agent then this line of work is no longer demeaning At that point it just becomes a job that happens to pay very well. The do…

Spotting Food

Foodspotting is a lot like Foursquare except it is only about food. This is different from a restaurant review or recommendation in that "Foodspotting is a visual local guide that lets you find dishes instead of just restaurants. It's powered by Foodspotters, who can share their food photos and expertise while building a rich collection of foods and where to find them."

My zipcode yielded no results (why am I not surprised) and invited me to be the first Foodspotter in the area. As with any niche social media application, this one has its own vernacular "Noms are for foods you've tried and loved best. But there's a catch: You only get 5 noms to start with and must earn the right to nom more foods after that! The more reputation points you earn, the more noms you're allowed to give out."

As the languages are lost in a globalized world, new dialects such as this are being created.

Facebook Happy

About five years ago, I came to got acquainted with a man (let's call him S1) - a physician by profession. He had been single after a serious relationship that ended a while ago. Given the demands of his job, he had little time to date or try out a relationship to see if it had staying power. To that end, he found desi matrimonial sites very helpful. Both parties come into it knowing there was a specific end game. If there is a click you get hitched, if not you move on. Sounded pretty sensible to me but there were a few red flags. S1 was extremely secretive about his personal details, he acted like we were getting married before the week was out and finally there was all together too much talk of physical intimacy being inevitable in "our situation". 

He did share quite a bit about his ex. They had gone to med-school together and were very much in love but there were far too many obstacles on the way to getting married. She had since married another man. S1 was attractive…

Fun Challenged

My co-worker S was lamenting her inability to come up with cute, creative and fun ideas to entertain her four year old with. Her ineptitude became particularly evident over the last couple of weeks when we were all snowed in. Whereas every other mom she knows did "fun" stuff with their kids and created wonderful childhood memories while they were at it, S struggled to think of something fun do with little Jason.

Being that misery loves company, I told S I was similarly challenged. We both agreed that we were failing to make the grade as mothers and should try and get with the program. Clearly, that is easier said than done. This is about temperament and ability - you either have it or don't. I asked her if she thought our kids were unhappy because of the way we are as compared to the kids of "fun mothers". S was not sure that was the case but there was still the nagging sense of guilt.

The conversation with S lingered on in my mind even after I came home. I ask…

Greatness Today

Reading this article by Anil Dash on the perks and perils of being on Twitter's A-List, brought to mind lines from  Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and of course the irony in having made that connection itself :

"but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em."

In the Twitter situation, Dash has had "greatness thrust upon" him but as a blogger, did "achieve greatness" on his own . In that both are true are true for and about him, one might hazard a guess that he may have also been "born great" as in he had always possessed some innate, natural ability that would turn him into something of a celebrity geek in due season.

In Shakespeare's view greatness could come by in one of three ways to an individual - and presumably they were exclusive. But the modern world, challenges that notion. Greatness and fame are related and Francis Bacon considered some questions about t…

A Child's View

A few weeks ago J and I met with a friend, her kids and her boyfriend for dinner. Like me, the woman is desi but unlike me she has dated and continues to do so hoping that will in time, lead her to the right man. We both came out of arranged marriages that did not work out. Her position (and it is a fairly common one in the circumstances) is that not spending time together ahead of time was the reason that marriage did not work out. This time around, she will not be rushed or rush into things.  The man has been part of her household for the last couple of years, the kids like him but do not want her to marry him. That makes things complicated for her because at some point, they have to take the logical next step with their relationship or end it. I was curious about J's take on what she saw - specially because she can relate to the woman and kids very directly. This is a lot different from seeing an American single mom and her household - there is an expectation that the cultural d…

Slow Parenting

If slow cooking results in something that is better tasting and more nutritious than fast food, chances are slow parenting is better than the hot-housing formula. As the author describes it "Much of Slow Parenting is simply re-learning how things used to be before we starting treating parenting as product development, or as something to be learned via books, videos, magazines or classes."

A parent who eschews the hot-housing method may be called a "free-range parent". Assuming the parent is hands-off and allows the child to be a child sometimes and engage in mindless activity, wouldn't it be the child that was being raised "free range" ? The analogy to poultry or cattle is a little disconcerting but other than that I am on board with the idea.

J has activities she participates in after-school and outside school. I figure that keeps her and I plenty busy and whatever downtime we get over the weekends should be strictly that - downtime. Many parents I k…

Case Against Adolescence

The idea of ending adolescence is not entirely without merit. Specially like the practical implications (if this can ever become reality) because it would be such a blessing both for the jaded high-schooler who is ready for bigger challenges and for the all of often cash-strapped parents.

The fact is, most young people want to be challenged and given real responsibility. They want to be treated like young men and women, not old children. So consider this simple proposal: High school students who can graduate a year early get the 12th year's cost of schooling as an automatic scholarship to any college or technical school they want to attend. If they graduate two years early, they get two years of scholarships. At no added cost to taxpayers, we would give students an incentive to study as hard as they can and maximize the speed at which they learn.

While the devil may well be in the details, the utter simplicty of the solution is definitely attractive.

Human Nature

Tyler Cowen's post on the economics of snowstorm shopping  and the comments to it make for very interesting reading. All commentors do not agree with Cowen's reasoning of why Eggo waffles would fly off the shelves, much faster than less known brands in the event of a snowstorm. One argument is the vendors stock the stores independently and it may just be a logistics issue that prevents them from replenishing supplies in a severe weather situation. Another one is that people stuck indoors might be missing on eating out and to compensate may spend on higher end groceries than they might otherwise have. 

The same outcome but so many different hypothesis and each is a good, reasonable one. Such are the challenges of trying to fathom human nature and use such understanding to turn in a profit.  That might explain why Macy's continues to send me brochures, discount cards and such when in fact I shop no more than a couple of times in year (if at all) at that store. By some analyst…

Growing Too Soon

Children often grow up sooner than would want them to. As a parent the best I can do is to offer the support  J needs, instead of allowing her to stumble along with ill-formed ideas she gathers from her surrounding unprepared to accept and process them. I have written about J's fan-ship of the President from back in the pre-election days. So when a kid in her class, said that to J that President thought it was okay to kill babies - she came home sad and bewildered. She asked me anxiously "Mommy, is that really true ?"

I was not ready for this and had no idea where to begin. Talking about birds and bees is one thing but to explain the arguments for and against abortion to a young third grader is quite another. I asked J to give me some time to explain the background around what her friend had told her, so she could arrive at an independent conclusion. Help came to me in the form of a book - 33 things every girl should know about women's history. I had J read the chapte…

Conscientious Wealth Creation

Read an inspiring article about combining one's education and passion successfully.  This entrepreneur has been identified as one of  "35 women globally under the age of 35 who had "something special to offer the planet: wealth creation that’s not at others' expense."

Winnie So is in the luxury travel business and by her definition luxury does not always have to equal expensive.“Most people think ‘luxury’ equals expensive, but in my mind, luxury is just having freedom and being able to do what you want to do, what you want to see and experience what you want to experience.”

She is able to combine her love for travel along with her ability to listen to what the client is saying to come up with a travel plan that is luxurious because it is so unique.

Specially liked the part about wealth creation that’s not at others' expense. What a rarity that has become in today's world !

Chat Roulette

Another take on Chat Roulette in this article titled Human Shuffle. The author describes his expectation as : an ecstatic surrender to the miraculous variety and abundance of humankind. He found out that there was some distance between expectation and reality : I hadn’t felt this socially trampled since I was an overweight 12-year-old struggling to get through recess without having my shoes mocked. It was total e-visceration. If this was the future of the Internet, then the future of the Internet obviously didn’t include me.

Anderson describes his whole scale rejection by random strangers of all stripes, a slightly better experience when he and a male friend went on Chat Roulette together and even more friendly reception when he went there with his wife. He gets to the heart of what is wrong with this mode of social interaction : The default interaction on ChatRoulette is roughly three seconds long: assessment, micro-interaction, "next." This might seem like yet another outra…

Fresh Thought

A lot has and will be said by both pro-life and pro-choice activists in defense of their respective positions. You figure you have heard both sides and the argument and neither has anything new to add. Richard Dawkins says something that I had not read before :

If you follow the 'pro-life' logic to its conclusion, a fertile woman is guilty of something equivalent to murder every time she refuses an offer of copulation.

Such may be intended consequences of taking things to their logical conclusion. His argument might be "logical", but it  ends up diluting the case of pro-choice advocates. It should not be necessary to go quite this far to make a point. In that it does, exposes a weakness or lack of convinction the other side could exploit. You have to wonder if Dawkins had taken his line of reasoning to it's logical conclusion as well.

Empty Nest

Early as it is, I find myself preparing for the empty nest that I will have in time. J was rather busy last weekend - to the movies and dinner with a friend and her family one day and a play date on the next. This is not very typical for J but I love the energy she gets from having been out and socialized independently. She comes back feeling like she's a little more grown up than she was when she left home. Each time she's gone a while, the house feels like lifeless shell. I would much rather go out myself than stay in an wait for her to come back. J is hitting a growth spurt lately. Anyone who sees her after a few weeks tells me she's grown taller. As much as I would love for her to be my baby, she is a girl now and before long her wings will be strong enough to fly. This is the stage of parenthood, I find myself unprepared for - babying her was easy but this is far more difficult. When to let go, when to pull back and how much - so much to balance in a flux of ever chan…

Being Good

I received a couple of bars of fair trade dark chocolate for Christmas from a friend. Since I find it impossible to toss out anything that has writing on it without first reading it, I spent some time reading up the inside of the wrapper. It went on at length about all the good things the buyer of this bar of chocolate was doing for the environment, the farmers and for themselves. The feel-good factor of the copy abnormally high or maybe it felt that way because of the mood enhancing properties of the chocolate itself.

I take pride (very foolishly I am sure) in that I cannot be manipulated my marketeers and sales people to buy things I did not want to buy in the first place. The imperviousness clearly has its limits. If I had to choose between a bar of generic, mass-produced chocolate and something like this pristine fair-trade number, I would most likely settle for the later - all other things being equal. I think the word used to describe this buyer behavior is eco-consumerism. I wou…

Fifteen Minutes

Anyone who is able to create a well-lit watering hole on-line these days can have a kinds of wannabes beg to give their content away for free. The gathering place can be resultant of the creator's celebrity, notoriety, quirkiness - just about any adjective can work as long as the amplitude is high enough. The content offerings will come pouring like like an algal swarm.

There are a few reasons for this phenomenon. Everyone believes they have a shot at fame and even deserve it. If they are not able to gain a direct entry into the hall of fame, the gathering places may be their second best shot - maybe they will get the recipe right and even go viral. This was simply not how people perceived themselves or their place in the world back in the day. Celebrity was a rare thing and the rest were happy to stand by and clap for the select few.

I am hardly the social network hub and despite that I know no less than ten published authors - they run the gamut from fiction, non-fiction, music …

The New How

Anyone who has seen a top down strategy implementation gone awry will know after reading the first chapter of The New How, that Nilofer Merchant gets it.Instead of the traditional approach to strategy creation and execution, she suggests a collaborative, inclusive style. She recounts with extreme candor her own missteps so the reader may learn from her mistakes instead of making their own.

Of the gap between strategy and tactic, a primary driver for failure. Merchant says : One person's strategy is another's tactics. The unnecessary and fruitless war of what is tactics or strategy or execution must end. That hits the nail on the head.She also lists the many telltale signs of trouble in teams, who don't have direction fully translated to a realizable execution plan. The bulk of the book is devoted to the alternative approach - one of being co-creators of collaborative strategy.

It is easy to agree enough to with Merchant's recommendations, but this is the kind of organi…

Aiming Simplicity

Webdesigner Wall lists what to expect in UX/UI design this year with everything pointing toward simplicity. The wish list items are nice too. Early in the list, is mentioned the single page website : Each time a visitor clicks deeper into your site, a fraction of their interest dies. With the evolution of users, you can get to the point quickly. As a corollary to that, the website should likely not have too much to say either. If you can't get it all to fit on a page, you are likely saying more than you need to or are off topic.

Maybe the same page can render in entirely different ways based on who the visitor (and their intent) is. I would love to see personalization done much better than it is now - its a lot more than saying Hi, Firstname Lastname ! and showing me what I did the last time I was there. If done right, the content could actually fit into a page engage the customer in ways that are uniquely contextual to them. Pursuing the goal of reducing everything to have to one…

Dave Aur Jenny

Some weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog by two non-desi New Yorkers living in Delhi,  writing about their Indian experience. What struck me most was the thoughtful yet upbeat tone of the posts. Here were a couple of foreigners, who had made Delhi their home and were ready to embrace that experience for all that it implied. From what a reader can tell, they are having a wonderful time.

It was very refreshing to read about India as viewed by western eyes without the gratuitous exotification that often goes with the territory. It is not every day that a desi gets to hear about India from "goras" who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the Indian experience. It is far more typical is to hear from observers who remain outsiders even if they live in India, providing a commentary that remains woefully two dimensional because they have not really "lived" the life they are writing about.

Dave and Jenny were kind enough to answer some questions I had for them.

Me : Are you …