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Showing posts from March, 2010

Diabolic Clock and Facebook

Since the day advanced an hour a few weeks ago, both J and I are struggling to be up and about on time. My alarm clock is neither obnoxiously loud  nor persistent so there is not much I get by way of help either. Things could be very different if I owned a Tyrant alarm clock that would dial random numbers from my phone's address book if I refused to heed the alarm in three minutes. That could get almost anyone bolting out of bed. While the idea is still a concept, it would be probably be among the cleverest if not most diabolic ways to wake someone up.

A robo-call to the ex sounds like the lowest anyone can sink in embarassment quoitent but that is probably no worse that having Facebook display private email addresses - particularly when you account is dual use - business and personal. The lesson learned from all of this is that private is only private until some code fix turns it completly public. It is still probably safest not to have any information out there that would embaras…

Empathy Enhancement

Against my better judgment, I emailed T several weeks after our "date" asking him a simple question "What made you fall off the face of the earth ?" More than anything, this was curiosity about human nature. It was all too apparent to me that he and I would not work out for the long haul.Even so, no one wants to believe that they have no judgment of character and in inter-personal relationships are completely unable to read what the other party is signaling. It hurts our self-esteem. T wrote back and this is what he had to say for himself : No, you have not misunderstood things. I was wrong to break off contact with you, and I should have handled it better. Soon after our date (which was wonderful) I realized that because of distance and other things we would not have a long term relationship. I also knew that if we dated even a couple of times, I would not be able to restrain my desire for you. I thought it would be wrong to start dating, then maybe get too involve…

Meeting By The Creek

After a long hibernation in the realm of singleness, I ventured out to meet someone recently. Introduced by a well meaning friend who thought we might be good together, I decided there could be worse ways to spend a Monday evening than answering a phone call from T. He turned out to be a great conversationalist and in a little while, I forgot that we were different in every way possible - color, culture, religion, profession, education, life experience and even politics. Yet, as I talked with T each evening for the rest of the week, there was more and more we found to like about each other. We were amazed that this was even possible and thanked the mutual friend who had got us connected.Then on a Saturday we actually met.

The chemistry was just as great as the mental connection - this was the stuff that made for perfect relationships - in the text book but never in real life. It was exciting to be with T but when we were quiet together it was an incredibly peaceful feeling. Before he l…

Fiverr

Some of the things that $5 can buy are pretty interesting - specially the silly ideas. Notably, people are cashing in on the on-line reputation and following. This is about putting those hundred thousand followers on Twitter to work, gaming the web reputation system or getting a some feedback on a dating profile and more.

For every $5 the seller earns from the buyer, Fiverr keeps $1.Users can make requests for services or order ones that are on offer.The concept of Fiverr is neat enough but the marketplace of ideas that it is helping create, is neater. It takes the notion of being able to purchase everything for $5 a few steps ahead of an on-line  Dollar Store.

Recess Coach

Just when you think you've heard all there was to say about modern childhood, along comes something new - a recess coach. Kids cannot be counted on to either behave well on their own or respect the authority figures in school. Enter the recess coach to enforce compliance. Who ever thought this up first has got to be a genius.

Here is yet another example of adult intervention to solve problems they helped created for kids. When we decide to structure our childrens' time to the point that they have no room left in their lives to be fancy-free and run wild like we did as kids, we stunt their emotional and social development. They may come out the other side of childhood with a lot of extra curricular accomplishments but without have experienced some of the simplest joys of being a child.

If I want J to go out and play in the evenings, I have to make phone calls to parents to see if anyone's child is available to play. Used to in my time, that a bunch of kids would come knocki…

Engineer Barbie

Since J has never been interested in Barbies, I have not worried about the baleful influence of this doll on my daughter's body image. With computer engineer Barbie being the career of the next doll in the series, things may change. In her new incarnation, Barbie will be both impossibly beautiful and smart - pushing the level of unrealism about her to a new high.

As long as little girls treat her as no different than any other toy they have, there is no harm done in amping up her perfection. But Barbie has unfortunately long held the reputation of being a bad influence on young girls. So giving geeks a turn under the spotlight by way of Barbie is probably not going to help their case much - it may actually have the opposite result. Their smarts will now need to come packaged like this doll for them to be considered sexy, attractive geeks. Since style wins over substance when it comes to Barbie, the chances of  the comp sci Barbie propelling  pretty girls with no interest in math and…

Wordia

A word can sometimes be imbued with so much personal context that it could well mean different things to different people - that may be the idea behind Wordia. The creators describe their mission thusly :

Over the years we’ve tried many ways to improve our grasp of the English language. We’ve listened, jotted and scribbled down words that have excited, confused and challenged us. wordia.com is our way of improving our own vocabulary and in the process, discovering what words mean to other people. Like most people, we’re interested in what other think and feel.

Some pretty bland words have come to acquire deep significance in my life

Likewise - When P expressed his feelings for me after a few years of trying, I felt both touched and tongue tied and all I was able to come up with was "likewise" to suggest the feelings were mutual. Since then using this word is has been a little difficult - like P owned it and it were consecrated to that moment from long ago.

Precious - I have a…

Curiosity

This interesting post by Scott Adams on the nature and purpose of curiosity made me think about how I have experienced it - both in being curious about someone or having them be curious about me. Adams says :

If someone asks personal questions about your past, your plans, your likes and dislikes, that is an unambiguous sign of attraction. If someone tries to steer you into the bedroom without some conspicuous data gathering, that is a sign of simple horniness.

That is definitely true in my experience. Sometimes, curiosity has grown over time or at least remained unabated. It was like they wanted to be there with me, experience everything I was going through - from the mundane to the exceptional. 

Then there has been curiosity borne out of a jealousy or a sense of competitiveness - something Adams does not discuss in his post. This is the kind of curiosity most people would find repelling but the same need to know the many insignificant details of your life when coming from a lover, could…

Data Wrangling

Until a few months ago, a big part of my day job involved data acquisition for analytics and statistical modeling. The math nerds got to have all the fun, while folks like myself toiled for weeks and months to gather the virtually un-gatherable and implement "repeatable" processes that could introduce some method to the madness. After a six months of trying to stabilize the process by which data would be sourced, cleaned and prepared for use, we had to give up on attaining the nirvana state of data availability near real time, all the time with guaranteed quality.

I can see why there may be viable a marketplace for buying and selling data. Data accquisition when done in-house can become an all consuming job. When you cannot trust the interim repositories where data is aggregated, you need to return to source for each of them. What starts of looking like a reasonable amount of work soon blossoms into this hydra headed monster that simply cannot be reined in. I would gladly tra…

Trying Green

To use this amazingly cool CD spindle bagel holder, I am nearly tempted to empty out the one I have at home and buy some bagels while. The only problem is the plastic - food grade or not, I try very hard for J and I not to eat food I cook out of plastic containers.Not nearly as utilitarian but, Offbeat Earth has some very artistic ideas on reusing books. A CD spindle idea turns something headed for trash into something you can carry your lunch in. The book reuse ideas as pretty as they are are a pitiful way to get rid of a book.

While I reuse and recycle things around the house as a matter of course - it was the way we were raised in India. I could not waste wantonly even if I wanted to. Then there is the over-zealous J unplugging everything in sight because she has learned in school that it saves electricity to do so.With the weather bouncing between warm and chilly, I am tempted to keep the thermostat set slightly higher but J will point out that I can stay warm if  I "dressed i…

Publish And Perish

A married couple, an incontinent cat and a mistress don't normally make for a riveting story but in Publish and Perish by James Hynes, they most certainly do. This is the cast of characters in the first story - Queen of the Jungle. It involves marital power struggle, tenure track politics in academia, infidelity and the supernatural. Yes, and there is the cat with a bladder problem that holds the plot elements in balance. Hynes is able to take this somewhat improbable mix of ingredients and whip up something that reads really fast and well. I had to finish reading the story before I could do anything else and it's been a while since that has happened to me. The two other novellas are based on the theme of "tenure and terror" as well.

I found it interesting that Haynes was able to take a cast of characters who are not immediately recognizable to readers such as myself who are not in academia, throw some witchcraft into their already unaccessible lives and still be able…

Foxes And Hedgehogs

I have blogged about the dearth of enthralling works of fiction or non-fiction despite the mind boggling number of publications these days. A lot of people have things to say and they are all clamoring to be heard. Only a couple of problems - no one is really saying anything astonishingly new and too many are not even saying what they have to say exceptionally well.

Then there are those who publish online - applying the rule of a million monkeys at as many keyboards, it is easy enough to find essays, opinion and commentary that is very well crafted. It may be the only one piece of writing in someone's voluminous output, but it is good enough to hold it's own among the best. If one knows where to look and what to seek, it is not too hard to find a lot of writing that is of high quality and being produced by non-writers. This article by Ben McIntrye considers how the information torrent that the internet is, impacts our way of thinking. He writes :

In 1953, when the internet was n…

Open Government

Having spent the majority of my life in India, I am no stranger to the slow, lumbering and mostly ineffective machinery of government bureaucracy. With computers making their way into the system, there was some improvement but not nearly enough to make the experience of interacting with a government agency less painful than having root canal work done.

When I came to America, one of the first things I had to do was to get a SSN card followed shortly by a visit to the DMV for a drivers license. My experience as a customer, at both these agencies was not unlike what I might have expected in India. I realized that the challenges faced by the largest democracy in the world and those faced by the most evolved one were not so different after all - at least from the vantage point of a customer.

In his book Imagining India, Nandan Nilekani devotes a couple of chapters to changes electronification has brought to the hulking government machinery in urban and rural India. He sees the future of t…

Chance Remark

I met a group of former co-workers for lunch a few days ago. The group was diverse in many ways besides ethnicity and cultural background. We had among us those who were  young and still single, older and suddenly single, married for two decades and those who were in relationships that Facebook would categorize as "It's Complicated"

While we were waiting for our lunch, conversation turned to L's long time girlfriend who is yet to come into an engagement ring and has been prodding him to challenge the status quo. M made a comment mainly directed to L that stayed stuck in my head. "You should always choose your spouse with the greatest care. Any amount of time you need to make a decision is fair. After all, that is the only relationship in your life where you even have the ability to choose. You get the parents, family and siblings without your input or consent and its the same with your children. Your spouse is the only person you have the power to choose." M…

Micromanufacturing

Got caught up with Clive Thompson's blog recently and particularly enjoyed reading his thoughts on what he calls the Micromanufacturing Revolution. I have been reading Ellen Ruppel Shell's book Cheap The High Cost of Discount Culture where the author makes an impassioned case against the death spiral created when retailers out-discount each other to everyone's detriment - including that of the penny-pinching consumers'. 
Along with everything else that is nice about the burgeoning micromanfacturing trend, it is also relatively immune to the forces of discounting undress duress. If everything a seller makes is bespoke and the buyer has the both the discernment and the budget to chose it over the deeply discounted, mass-produced offerings of big box stores, chances are that the seller can ask and get what they believe their creation is worth. 
If more and more people become sellers, it might even be possible to trade using a barter system.Micro-financiers could step in to …

Book Nirvana

B is in the digital printing business and when we met recently, he was talking about how marketing budgets for print ads have shrunk with the bulk of the action moving to social media outlets these days. I asked him about the the idea of printing books on demand that gets tossed around - if he thought there was a future for print shops like his in that line of work. He was not sure how popular that model of book buying would get and how soon.

With conversation turning to books and the many ways to read them today, I wondered if it were possible in a print on demand scenario to excerpt out portions of several books and make it the book the buyer would actually read in its entirety - an idea not unlike buying one song at a time from the iTunes store rather than a full album. This is specially relevant for non-fiction books.

More often than not, I find myself skimming through many chapters that are of little interest to me, until I find one that I like enough to read in full. In a 300 pl…

Two Birds

When we had a big snow storm some weeks ago, a pair of birds found shelter in our balcony. There is an old grape vine and pine cone wreathe that has seen better days and a small "bird feeder" I had made many months ago by of nailing an empty coconut shell to the railing. The sunflower seeds in the feeder have been around for a while with no takers. My friends tell me that not every bird eats sunflower seeds and maybe the ones that live in the woods nearby don't.

At any rate, that day these two birds found shelter in the wreathe and food in the feeder making me and J very happy. We had given up on ever having birds feed out of our improvised bird feeder. As depressing as it is to be snowed in all weekend, the birds made it much less so. For those two days, they became our connection to the world outside as they went back and forth between the woods and the balcony.

Watching them had me thinking about "shelters" I have sought in times of distress and what in norm…

Eko

Techcrunch has this wonderful article about Eko - an Indian startup that does one thing, does it with elegant simplicity ; most importantly uses technology and entrepreneurship to help rural Indians - the people who for the most part get left out on the darkest fringes of the digital divide. The author Sarah Lucy explains the concept behind Eko :

There are a few SMS-based bank applications in India, but Eko differs because the phone isn’t just another channel for the account—it is the account. You make payments and transfer money simply by dialing numbers. It’s so simple, you don’t even need to understand SMS to use it.

It’s an ingenious offering that doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. It aims squarely at the unbanked—some 60% of India’s huge population. For now, Eko is focusing on the 1,000 kilometer corridor between Delhi and Bihar.

Disambiguation

When it comes to infidelity there can sometimes be shades of gray. To that extent, can unresolved ambiguity be better than the starkly black and white is the question that comes to mind reading this article about text messages being the new lipstick on the collar. All relationships are not build equal so neither to do they have equal resilience and ability to recover from a breach of trust.

But when infidelity is completely disambiguated and reduced to a time-stamped message (voice or text), it has got to be challenging even for the most rock solid of relationships. There is no room to invent an excuse for the erring partner, pretend that is it all unsubstantiated rumor, reduce the degree of omission - maybe one's own jealousy playing tricks. There is no room for imagination, readjustment and in the process rapprochement.

The finality of the digital evidence may be simply too strong to fight against.

Past Fifty

In an IT shop full of young people fresh out of college and management in their mid to late thirties, someone in their fifties does not fit in very comfortably. I tend to observe what works and what does not for this demographic for very selfish reasons. Unless, I am able to retire before I am that old, I will at some point need to be part of a workforce whose average age is twenty years less than mine. The pace of social and cultural change driven by ever newer technology will make for a generation gulf rather than a gap by that time. The little that a fifty five year old has in common with a twenty five year old today, may entirely disappear by then. If anything, the challenges will be far greater.

I have learned a few things from the fifty plus set in the workplace. If they happen to be consultants with a wide variety of experience, their acceptability tends to be a lot better. They are able to remain relevant instead of becoming obsolete - they are respected for the perspectives an…

Ennui

If there was one thing MJ was the the absolute master of, it was the art of surprise. After a hiatus of over three months since their meeting in Manhattan, he sent Sheila a text message one evening that said "I can't stop thinking about you". She had to ascribe some truth to that, because scarcely a day passed without her thinking about him. Relationships were nothing if they were not reciprocal.

While chatting with her friend Zubin one afternoon, she mentioned MJ to him. Zubin wondered why anyone would persist as long as MJ had and yet not want to progress in the relationship. "He likes keeping it fresh, new and exciting for one thing - it's always fun talking to him no matter how long we've not been in touch. We'll connect where we left off - effortlessly. Then there is the matter of relationship ennui". Sheila explained.

"What do you mean - relationship ennui ?" Zubin asked.

"Well, MJ has been with more women than he can remember. In …

Quick Fixes

Any ideas on fixing pothole problems always grabs my attention. Anyone who has spent time in the 80s and 90s in Kolkata when the metro project was gestating knows a few things about potholes. Tyler Cowen cites the example of a German municipality short on funds, selling the rights to fixing pot-holes to the public in return for the ability to put a text of their choice on the pothole they fixed.

At first that seems like a good idea - except for the visual pollution of unco-ordinated text all over the road. A small price to pay if the alternative was for someone to break a limb or two stumbling into a pothole in the dark not to mention the wear and tear on vehicles and the bone rattling experience of being a aboard one of them. To me, just about anything that fixes a pothole seems like a wonderful idea.
Then I read the comments on the article. By when I was done, I wasn't sure if unfixed potholes were quite as terrible a thing as I had thought. The creative thinking in some of the …

Past Perfect

Sheila had finished cleaning up her cubicle and her computer. The mailbox was done except for personal folder which was always the last thing she looked at when moving from one gig to the next. A professional nomad, Sheila had mastered the fine art of leaving one job and arriving at another to the point it was nearly stress-free.

There was this mail from a couple of years ago when she had started working here with no subject line. The flash flood of memories stormed in the moment she opened it and she regretted it right away. This was possibly the worst time to revisit the past - specially one that has seemed so perfect and attainable.

Chetan - Got your message. Glad to know you made it back safe despite the stormy weather. Thank you so much for coming to see me, for the memorable weekend and delightful company. I'd love to see you again.
Take care, Sheila.

Hey Sheila,

I enjoyed the time we spent together very much as well. Let me summarize,

1. The meeting and brief walk through the ma…

Odd Placements

Here I was reading this article about how one day we getting broadband would be as easy as flipping a light switch. My physics is a little rusty so the implementation details of this technology did not fully register with me. But before I could get too carried away by this vision of a wonderful future where broadband beam wherever a light bulb did, a rude awakening came in the form of a Google Ad which said:

Comcast Internet - $19.99/Mo For 6Mo. Free Wireless Modem. No Contract ; $25 Back!

It would be hard to imagine a more ill-conceived spot for the Comcast offering. Talk about a rude jolt back into the here and now. Just out of curiosity, I browsed around the website to see if ads were more meaningfully placed on the other articles.

There was this plug for the local pest control service on an article devoted to studying the habits of insects and patterns in their movements using DNA bar-coding. On a deep-sea robot article was an ad for Chevy Vehicles.

This reminded me of the dot-com bo…

Alien Habitat

One afternoon she was in the office, the next day she was gone - or had been let go rather. In the few weeks that we had worked together, her disengagement from the team had become all too evident - she continued to reinforce her status of an outsider by making constant references to past projects and places of employment. This is probably just as damaging in the workplace situation as talking about past relationships is on the first date.

Over the years, I have found teams to resemble ecosystems - there is a lot of variety in terms of personality types, talent, work style and more. Yet together they define a certain type of culture - open, friendly, withdrawn, competitive, deliberate, spontaneous etc. When a new person comes on board, it works best if they have a neutral energy level almost - they are able to find the flow in their surroundings and go with it quite effortlessly. Then there are those who have the ability to tease the best out of the ecosystem. Both types are make this …

Silence

There are words in your silence
that travels like geese in formation
There is a pattern I recognize
and one that is new.
There are so many moods and
colors to silence. We have shared
those much more than we have
laughter or words.
I know now the signature stillness,
the anticipatory hiatus when you
wait for me to call. Then there is
the slow swirl of deliberate quiet
ever so edgy and dangerous as
things hang in balance ready to
snap.
I sense a taut, eagerness to let
the words flow unbridled held
back by silent yowls of restraint.
Our connection flatlines.

Libra Earrings

The signs of impending decay in marriage can sometimes come within months of having exchanged vows - it had in mine. R (my ex) was a very attentive man. He would  notice what I wore, how I did my hair and remember the smell of my perfume. In the early days, I found this rather charming. Then one day as I was combing my hair to tie it back he asked "Is that your favorite earring ? You seem to wear it a lot". I said it was. "Was it a gift from someone ?" I said it it was not. I had bought it years ago. "Isn't it the sign of Libra ?" I said it was. "Why do you wear the sign of Libra ?" It was neither his sun sign nor mine.

That was also the first time I withheld the whole truth from him. I told him I liked the design which just happened to be the sign for Libra - it was cheap costume jewelry anyway. R could tell there was more to those earrings and that I was not willing to share.That incident as trivial as it was, made for the first fracture o…

Forgiveness In Dream

Last night, I had a dream about P again. Months and sometimes years go by between dreams and each time I think this will be the last time. I see him sitting in a crowded public place - perhaps an airport departure lounge. He is talking to someone (I seem to know this person) and when I look at P, his face lights up with a big smile - a smile I would recognize anywhere, it is what had the power to brighten the saddest day - it is still just as radiant.

P is a shadow of his former self. He looks worn out. As he walks over to me, I notice he  limping a little. I ask him about it and he mentions a recent injury. I ask him why his face looks like he is in pain and he says it is a tooth and the medication is starting to wear off. I notice he is wearing a ring with a bright green stone - P was never the kind of guy who would wear any kind of jewelry except perhaps a wedding band. I don't ask him about it.

He takes me somewhere that looks like a residential area in a big city. There are tal…

Humanoid Barbies

There was a colorful brochure from a popular cosmetics store in my mailbox the other day. I often save these for J's art and craft projects - the colorful images on glossy paper are just perfect for collage.

Flipping through the pages, I was struck by how extreme the photoshopping job on the faces of the models was. With every last trace of imperfection removed, the faces did not look human anymore and there was something oddly unsettling - even repelling about that look. A woman may want to look beautiful, perfect her flawed skin, discover the elixir of youth and more but I am not sure she wants to resemble one of those humanoid Barbies.

It seems like the line that separates flawless from unnatural is frequently crossed these days because there is technology to enable it. From the cover pages of glossies and brochureware of all kinds, stare out women (more frequently than men) who resemble lifeless mannequins with big smiles plastered on their mouths. If anything it is hard to re…

Eco Friendly Programming

I received a note from J's school a few weeks ago with instructions to go on a certain website where kids can practice taking a computerized test - a skill they will need to have learned before the upcoming assessment tests. When I went there and realized that I would need to download a 50 MB application that would then launch the sample tests, I completely forgot to gripe about the school's insistence on communicating everything in printed paper instead of  email -even the face of steep budget cuts this year, that has not changed.

Surely, it is possible to write a lighter weight application or better still deliver the material on the web directly.Each time, I download something for work or personal use I can't but help wonder about the huge footprints of the executable files. When and how did things get so out of hand ? And these are fairly simple applications - I am just the average PC user with fairly limited needs.

Just because processing power and memory is cheap, fol…

Effortless Grace

Reading Seth Godin's post Sprezzatura brought memories of a former manager M. A room full of people with different ideas, agendas and roles would be talk at each other not even noticing that M had come and gone from the room. Twenty minutes later, she would have the distillation of everything that she had heard including ideas of her own in a neat one page visual. Her ability to grasp any given problem no matter how far removed from her domain and expertize was nothing short of spectacular but what was even more impressive was her the ability to translate.

From the ill-formed and half-baked to the cohesive and brilliant - it did not matter what kind of idea it was, in M's hands they would come out shining like smooth, polished pebbles. Then there was the little business of putting it all together visually so that the team and her management was able to see things the same way and come way with identical understanding. She made it look completely effortless and never aimed to da…

The Blue Notebook

I am not sure why I decided to read The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine given the subject matter. It is the story of a child prostitute named Batuk who escapes from the here and now of her life by writing in a blue notebook. She is a story-teller and dreamer at heart and no matter how sordid and horrifying the reality of her life, she dreams on steadfastly and is able to find oblivion at least for a while in her notebook.

That was possibly the idea that made me gravitate toward the book. Levine's graphic descriptions of the brutal sexual abuse the child is subjected to made it impossible for me to read the story. Time after time, I had to skip several pages before I was able to find something I could actually bear to read. It is a book I will not be able to forget - not because of  it had exceptional literary merit but for my visceral reaction to it.

It seemed to me that the author in the process of feeling empathy for his character, was not longer able to maintain the aesthetic …

Connecting

A variation Kevin Bacon game is frequently used in team building, ice breaking exercises. Each person has to find something in common with two others so that the whole group is connected to each other through a set of links. Having played it a few times in the past and once recently, I thought about how it helped me. Where it was a struggle to come up with a thing each in common with two team members, it signaled to me that I would need to make an extra effort to reach out and gain trust or credibility and generally come across as personable.

It would require quite a bit of work to get to the point where we could be having casual banter, non-work conversation around the water-cooler and better still appreciate each other's sense of humor. Where the connections came about quickly and with a number of people, the inter-personal relationships were probably at a better level. Sometimes it has also revealed which connections were not worth the investment of time and effort because the r…

Google Coder

In another life, I was a programmer and a pretty mediocre one. However, having learned from people who really knew what they were doing, I have appreciation for and do recognize good code when I see it. It is a lot like not having the talent to be a become a musician but enough training to be an aficionado.

This article on how to hire good programmers (and weed out the fakes, liars and duds) attracted an assortment of interesting comments. One of them is by a self-professed "Google" coder and I am completely able to relate to his perspective.Often, I find myself in a position where I need something quick and dirty built as a proof of concept for something I am trying to pitch to a client. There is no one in the IT shop that is willing or able to help out. The red tape is enough to strangulate.

Under the circumstances, I have sought out open source software that met my needs and cobbled together something which a lot of help from Google advance search. On an unrelated note - I…