Showing posts from March, 2014


It is fun to have my blog posts reviewed by the Hemingway App. It appears that I write at the 6th to 8th grade level and the prose is pretty simple. I may actually try this with my work emails and presentations to make sure I am at the 3rd to 5th grade level like I am supposed to be. Though I am not sure if the auto-generated review of style and simplicity can be taken too seriously. 

When I entered an excerpt from James Joyce's Ulysses, it flagged only a couple of sentences as hard or very hard to read. The overall readability was calculated to be at 7th grade level. I don't think anyone who has tried to read this book (several times) and failed will agree with that assessment. Maybe what appears "structurally" simple does not always translate to real simplicity - in the case of a book, the ability for the average reader to connect with and follow along the plot line. I was not able to do that with Ulysses twenty years ago on my first attempt or any time since then.

No Estrangement

In Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller wrote “What need have I for money? I am a writing machine. the last screw has been added. The thing flows. Between me and the machine there is no estrangement. I am the machine……”

In a completely different context, those of us who work on computers for a living can appreciate this too. There may not be any estrangement between the machine and us either. Take away the machine from us for a few days and we might start to miss a phantom limb. In that sense we are the machine too. 

Maybe that lack of estrangement is also why there is such a nervous almost delirious energy about this book. It would make sense that the machine and he are interchangeable and producing chaotic prose. I wonder if that is what happens when we cannot separate ourselves for our machines - we produce at a frenetic pace and not all of it is truly us.

Integrating and Segmenting

I started at a new job within a start-up a few months ago. While still joined in the hip to the mother-ship we have a high degree of freedom to operate as we need to. It is in a sense a best of both worlds until it is not. Being part of a global company, we work with clients across time zones. It is always 9:00 am somewhere and someone always needs something from me yesterday. It is all but impossible to get out of the work cycle - the weekends are cut short by at least eight hours. My peers are  talented, driven and ambitious people. Working sixty hour weeks is the norm for this group. While there is no implied expectation in that regard, the force field is too strong for any one person to overcome. 

It is interesting to read this study about work-life balance that groups people into Segmentors and Integrators. The people who have lived this life a lot longer than me have coping mechanisms that I am still learning. It seems that being able to go effortlessly between integrating and se…

Thinking Food

Some days I have a food craving I cannot quite define. Nothing that I can think of would satisfy it and yet I know there is a fix for yet. As a child I if I told my mother of such a craving she would suggest a series of options until one felt just right. She would then make it for me. Usually the dish in question was a pretty simple one and would not take her more than fifteen minutes to fix. 

DB's solution is to have a well stocked pantry and plenty of snack options but that does not seem to work for me. I must have had food on my mind as I wrote this - I discover these beautiful food maps, a sushi bazooka and donut vortex. The bazooka looks promising - the family would love sushi anytime and its a good fix for random, undefined cravings.


I make it a point to say "Yes" to any movie J and her best friend want to watch that's based on a best-selling Young Adult novel. It is a quick and lazy way for me to understand the kids a little bit better. Most recently we watched Divergent. Dystopia seems to draw this crowd. Brave New World meets 1984 meets The Handmaid's Tale minus adult content and plot and character complexity - that is Divergent. The caste system is our friend as always - its a great way to find the trouble makers who will then introduce chaos into thus sterile world. 

I noted that the girl in the lead role is able to fight the strongest men but still fits the delicate, feminine ideal and does need a lot of rescuing. A little bit of a mixed message to our girls - they can be tough and fight like boys but the ideal of feminine beauty remains constant. One would imagine, a girl in a non-traditional role, that of a fierce and fearless fighter may actually look the part. And that she would be able …

Parenting Lite

Reading  this article about parental involvement in a child's school and schoolwork was somewhat comforting for me. I have never had the time to be a PTA parent and don't meet J's teachers more than once a year. I am not sure about the lack of involvement with homework though. There is a need to build good habits in kids and it takes some time before it gets ingrained. While they may not need help doing the work, they do need to know they are held accountable. 

When they slip up, there needs to be some consequence to help them do better the next time.With J, the expectation has always been that she will need to fend for herself and this is her job to do. Help is available only on an as needed basis. Just like I don't require the family to be on my case to cook dinner, no one needs to be on hers for her to do her homework.


This Newsweek article almost reads like an April 1 joke. But there such a thing as Cloak the anti-social app. They in the business of helping you "Avoid exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat— anyone you'd rather not run into"

A worthy effort in the time of Facebook and the like working relentlessly to pull people out of their anonymous comfort zones and forcing them to share what they may not want to. The creator of Cloak sees this as a part of a growing trend.
“You’ve seen that with recent apps like Secret or Snapchat where anonymity is big,” he said. “There’s definitely this area right now—not the anti-social network per se, but control over your network and privacy as well.”


Some time last year, I encouraged J to start checking out make-up videos on YouTube so she learned from those who did it well. I never had the patience for it myself but I do want J to be proficient so I outsourced the job to YouTube. I wanted her to see enough options so she was identify a style that she likes best. J got into this project with great enthusiasm and has learned a few things. 

Reading this WSJ article about the trend of cocktailing was interesting. If the lessons in make-up are being crowd-scourced, it would make sense that the products will be a mixed bag with no particular brand affiliation. When a regimen is not passed down from mother to daughter, there is no tradition to uphold - the situation is ripe for chaos and disruption. Those of us who have a super basic routine are getting squeezed out in the fray. We don't wants things changed and innovated on us but that's like asking Ford to continue rolling out the Model T while the world is moving on to Tesla.

One App Too Many

Interesting article on connected devices and apps to solve problems that never existed before. The example the author uses is one of a smart toothbrush connected to an app that is analyzing and gamifying your tooth brushing experience. It does quite a bit though I am not sure why anyone would care about weather updates while cleaning their teeth.helping users to know if they are brushing too hard or if it’s time to brush another area of their mouth. If that’s not enough, the new Oral-B connected toothbrush experience also suggests nearby dentists for you, gamifies teeth cleaning, and even provides weather updates. Maybe we can produce data to demonstrate our good dental hygiene habits and have dentists provide us a discount on routine cleaning services. One of many examples of being able to create new product and solutions that may or may not lead to a customer base. 

A Cynic Defined

Reading about incredible and improbable success is always inspiring but in this article, what hit closest home for me were these lines
The thing about cynical people is that they don’t want to be inspired. Their biggest fear is not that they will never have the same luck as someone who seems to get everything they want. Their biggest fear is that they will hear the true story. They’re terrified to find out that every success story comes with getting your hands dirty and actually doing things to change your lot in life.As soon as I read that, I found myself making a mental list of people I know that fit the profile. And Hayden is exactly on point in his observation. The only thing I would add is that when you are not feeling your best, cynical people can drag you down. Like them, you do not want to be inspired or work to achieve success.

Stay Longer

Removing the drooping stems of baby's breath from the vase in my living room, reminded me of lines from a Jane Hirsfield poem
Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.These were the last survivors from a bouquet Y received a few weeks ago and I did want the moment of joy and celebration to stay. The flowers did the best they could, held strong for longer than I thought they would. But that morning it was finally time to go. Throwing away cut flowers be more than a mundane act of housekeeping sometimes.

Knowing Teens

Interesting what this article about teenagers and social media cites as completely novel about present day teens .Teens are now cloaking  the meaning of their content in social media to guard against surveillance. 

It is what teens have always done -they have told inside jokes that no one outside their clique would get forget about outsiders and adults. When chat became popular teens found a slew of acronyms to code their messages. The fact that the picture of a donut on Instagram may not be just what it appears is not any different. This should pose a challenge to marketeers perhaps.

While the chat related acronyms were a more universal lexicon, something that is shared with a limited group via social media would have vocabulary that only makes sense to a few So it would be harder to decipher the meaning and target the kid with relevant ads and promotions. If understanding the language is key to understanding the customer, giving some privacy back to the kids may help more than trying …

Art and Science

I was watching Veronica a few days ago, in which the protagonist soliloquizes about what a kiss is and means. She is a doctor and her description is fairly clinical. Her attempts to transition from physiology to poetry could use help from poet Tony Hoagland who has written about this.
My kisses make her happy and I need that.
And sometimes, bending over her,
I have the unmistakable impression
                              that I am watering a plant.
gripping myself softly              by the handle,
tilting my spout                             forward
pouring what I need to give
                        into the changing shape of her thirst.
I keep leaning forward                 to pour out
what continues to rise up
from the fountain                       of the kisses
which I, also,                         am drinking from.The movie was interesting to me in how it portrayed depression but left it to the viewer to interpret how the protagonist overcame it. There was the undercurrent of missing lo…

Self Esteem

Long and very interesting article on the man who challenged the American notion of what high self-esteem can do for a person. It talks about how schools have used grade inflation and elimination of academic awards to help shore up kids with low self esteem. Towards the middle of the article is a quote that I really liked
A drug such as cocaine may create a euphoric feeling without one’s having to actually experience events that normally bring pleasure, fooling the nervous system into responding as if circumstances were good. In the same way, cognitively inflating one’s self-image is a way of fooling the natural sociometer mechanism into thinking one is a valued relational partner.

Questions for Writers

Like many, I am a Nate Silver fan. Some of the tedious, rambling or plain silly questions made reading this interview not as interesting as I had expected. But at the end of what had been a super long day for me, I found myself laughing as I read this  What's been the strangest experience you've had due to your sudden fame?When I was in Mexico last week, I got recognized at the top of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, which I'm pretty sure really is a sign of the Apocalypse.While I was there, thought I would check out an interview with John Greene being that J is a fan. I learned a few things. On one of this major influences and on his excessive use of the word awesome
I guess J. D. Salinger's CitR is probably the most influential book in my life, because in many way it invented the market for the kind of books I write, and also because everyone who writes about intelligent adolescents does so in Salinger's shadow.Could you please use the word awesome less?
Legit critic…

Meaningless Speed

Readingthis funny articleabout the meaningless increase of internet speed reminded me of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi - There is more to life than increasing its speed.  My favorite part is the answer to the question What is the Internet of Things 
In the future, your watch will take your blood pressure and then tell your fridge to preventatively buy in vegetables and probiotic yoghurt, because the things you own know you better than you know yourself. That's the Internet of Things.

Along those lines, your Facebook (or similar) will watch your wall, posts and pictures and be able to predict that your significant other is about to break up. It will act preventatively on your behalf ahd initiate an ad-sponsored intervention strategy. It could involve a well orchestratedRomantimatic campaign along with things more material based on how the significant other has been profiled by retailers. They start to have surprises at their door step dropped off by delivery drones, have music played to …

Sampling Platter

I learned a little something about how a tween might like their entertainment served in a recent conversation with J. There is a ballet performance running in town and I wanted to know if she would like to check it out. The answer was No almost right away. I am not interested in sitting there three hours to see the variations of the same moves she said. According to J, she appreciates all the talent and the hard-work that goes into such a production but to attract her age group, they need to be "hard-hitting" and show what they are capable of  in ten minutes. She would be willing to pay a premium for a show of that length. 

So we worked the math on the price of the tickets. J came up with a 3x premium being fair for a shorter duration performance. Maybe these folks could get a second job that was not nearly as intense and paid a lot better if they did not have to practice forever for a three hour show, she added. It works out for everyone to shorten the performance by a lot. …

Scam Artistry

At a few conferences I attended last year, the biggest buzz was how data science was going to take over the world and if we knew what was good for us, we would prod our kids to become data scientists. There was obscene amounts of money to be made in this line of work. Since no one was sure exactly what a data scientist was and supposed to do. So there was an opportunity with someone with related experience to re-brand themselves. Several people I know did just that - they hopped on the Big Data bandwagon, got a smattering of Machine Learning and were calling themselves Data Scientists on their Linked In profiles. 

They continued to do the jobs they had been doing for a while but had a new name for it. The idea being that the name would translate to lucrative job offers and a bigger paycheck. Sounds like the race to the bottom has begun now. A drop from $300/hr to $30/hr is pretty steep. Ironically, no one is still clear on what this job all about and what is a reasonable price to pay f…

Kitchen Arithmetic

I was paying a fine at the library recently and I watched in horror as the girl collecting it struggled with basic subtraction. She was just not able to make the right change. I was close to letting her keep the 30 cents she owed me if that put her out of her misery. I had to wonder how such a severe arithmetic impairment impacted the rest of her life. At twenty something it is probably too late to mend the problem. 

When people start to need devices like Drop to adjust their recipe for the ingredient they are short on, you know commonsense has left the building a while back. It would be a lot more useful to make mental math mandatory in school and get rid of calculators until the end of high school. The fine folks that came up with the idea of Drop could put their skills to better use and create something that served a real need. Making people more arithmetic challenged than they already are is not the best line of work to be in.

Full Remediation

We live in interesting times. It is possible to read about cosmetic surgery and up-sell in the same sentence. Client comes in for a liposuction and the doctor asks them if they would like the fat re-cycled. If the answer is yes, they could get a rounder butt along with the flatter tummy. 
As ironic as it probably sounds, the interest may have everything to do with natural beauty.That is no more ironic than taking a few hours to achieve the no-makeup look. Once we get into the up-sell business with a person's self-image, there is really no end to finding opportunities to do remedial work. If the customer is unable to find "problem" that recycling could solve. a beauty consultant could step in to find a few. So from being in need of a flatter stomach one could go on to needing almost everything fixed - the natural way. While this is clearly good business for the service provider, you have to wonder how it makes the client feel.

Niche of One

In this article about A&F struggling to keep their customers engaged the author talks about a shift - young people no longer want to run with the herd they want to be indie and unique. The comments make for interesting reading. Labels and logos taking up too much real estate on clothes is a common peeve for people. This is specially gratifying because I have been trying to get J to this line of thinking for a while.

I tell her celebrities get paid lavishly to endorse labels, regular people don't. By wearing prominent brand labels, we are allowing ourselves to be used as a free, mobile ad space. What is more these brands are making us pay them for our trouble. Not sure if kids see it the same way, but its good to know that they are breaking free. They have better options and could be a niche on one.

Life of Flies

Interesting article on the correlation between lifelong monogamy and intelligence - in vinegar flies. But the author also discusses what this means for humans. It got me thinking about the people I know that I find interesting. Almost none of them fit the monogamous for life profile. Those that do are actually pretty boring. Their mental growth appears to have stopped at the point they first got together to become a family unit. In my limited experience, I don't see a lot of social mingling between these two types - maybe they have too little in common. Whether being interesting has a lot to do with intelligence I don't know but boring and smart don't often belong together. 

Boring does not however preclude being highly proficient or skilled in certain areas. To that end, there could be professional and financial success, being able to raise good kids and generally live a productive life. Boring, predictable, safe and stable. Not the kind of people that inspire writers to c…

Stir Crazy

I think I am going to have to shoot light up my ear canals to beat out the winter blues. J has been out of school for close to three weeks now (off and on – not continuously) thanks to the crazy winter storms that have been coming our way the last couple of months.  I enjoy her at home but it does mess my schedule up completely. I suspect we get lazy together without the early morning madness that is a school day.
Activities are canceled in the evenings because of the weather so the kid is stuck home all day – and we don’t always have a plan for her. After the novelty of snowday wore off, it started to get to us. It may have been why there has been a sharp spike in both frequency and amplitude of conflict between J and I. 
Ofcourse, we argue about everything  these days – it’s that magical age. But with three weeks of snowdays, things got just a little out of hand here.  I knew that I might be in need of help when I left a bunch of nasty notes all over her room reminding her to clean up…

Buying Privacy

Reading  this NYT article about how data privacy has become a luxury good reminded me of a client I worked for some years ago. A technical architect, F was a freakishly smart – able to out-produce a dozen seasoned developers all by himself. And he made it look quite effortless. He was able to communicate well with business and operations folk too – a very rare combination in my experience. 

He  told me once that he made it a point never to use a loyalty or rewards program, usually paid cash for his groceries and if that was not enough randomized his shopping  “habits”  to confuse any algorithm that was trying to learn about him. Each trip he bought a couple of things that totally did not “fit the pattern”.  

As part of his day job he had build a very clever search and recommendation engine that was making the company a lot of money. So there was some irony in his determination to not give his own data away.  He considered his efforts a form of citizen service too – he was adding noise i…

Story Telling

Within my group in my workplace, I am probably the closest they have to an English major this article talks about. We have a ton of smart technology people and an equally talented sales team but often the client wants to hear a story that no one can tell very well. I am able to bridge that gap somewhat and have seen it make a difference. 

I used to work with a woman who studied industrial engineering, English and psychology. She was a consummate story teller. Our team supplied her with the data points on which to base her narrative but in the end it was the story she told that truly resonated with the customer. A good story has detail and is often well researched but the art of telling it well is about using those details effectively without diminishing the emotional impact of the story itself. This is where she excelled. She made technology and analysis come to life - she helped us make the human connection to the client.

Finding the Hook

I like the idea of being able to resume in place when I fall asleep while watching a movie. If enough people use it, Netflix can learn quite a bit about what where the plot line in a movie starts to sag enough that folks generally fall asleep. They maybe able to find the secret sauce for keeping story interesting and provoke binge watching like House of Cards does. 

There is obviously a certain Scheherazade effect that is at work in a series like Cards.The  Scheherazade effect refers to the possible tactics used by ancestral women to appeal to a man's conversational skills in order to keep them around.The medium is applying the same tactic on the viewer to keep them around. 

What works well for a season's worth of episodes does not readily translate to a two hour movie but there may be things to learn from movies that make people fall asleep and those that do not.

Period of Bliss

Reading these lines by Alice Walker oddly enough reminded me of becoming pregnant with J.
Creation is really a sustained period of bliss — even though the subject can still be very sad. Because there’s the triumph of coming through and understanding that you have, and that you did it the way only you could do it — you didn’t do it the way somebody told you to do it, you did it just the way you had to do it. And that is what makes us us.I was transitioning from a state of imagined happiness to a reality which was a sadder one. Coming to terms with big decisions that would follow her birth - in a sense the end of the creative cycle. My need for motherhood was stronger than anything else I have experienced before or since that time. It was to be (and has been) the life force that would sustain me no matter what happened. The conventional wisdom would have been to not embark on such a journey when the fabric of my marriage was fraying so rapidly but as Walker says - I did it just the way I…

Leading by Art

We were at the local fine arts museum recently to see an exhibit of award winning work by local middle and high schoolers. While there were some absolute stand outs, the quality was incredibly high across the board. The age of the artists ranged from twelve to eighteen. Not all of these young people will end up pursuing a career in art or even study it past high school. Whatever their eventual line of work, this talent will only serve them well. 

Browsing through the gallery, I was thinking about J's art program in school. Each year budgets are pared just some more and the teachers are begging for any help they can get so kids have supplies to work with. There is a certain cramping of freedom and expression that comes with such hardship. So an expensive project is substituted by a cheaper one. Oil paints are postponed for now and the kids make do with watercolors and charcoal. The thwarting of creativity in the art studio may well be impacting other areas of study. The desire to de…

Blending In

I am all for women looking their feminine best in the workplace but have to say the blinding blue of Ms Mayer's outfit made it impossible for me to focus on the content on this article. I get that she is trying to prove that being a geek is not unattractive at all. Its cool that she is color coordinated with the company logo. But that dazzling dress gets in the way of what she has to say. Instead of this being an article on business and technology it became about her dress - a dozen more pictures could have anchored a fun fashion article and I would have gladly read it. But this thing has me visually and otherwise confused. Would it be okay if a man in her place wore a something that was just as distracting ? Would that be considered being fun and relaxed for him to do instead of being oddly out of place ?

Curated Content

The entire Wikipedia printed into a thousand books sounds like a good cultural exhibit with some ways to make it interesting for buyers. For example, giving a movie buff, a curated volume using Wikipedia content about their favorites would make for very unique and personalized gift. This is an idea that can be extended in any number of ways. Converting content directly to a book seems less interesting. 

The curation can certainly be enabled and enhanced by software. You enter the broad themes and ideas someone is interested in, create a basic framework for the book, add personal notes on things that have common associations and memories for you and the one receiving the gift, and you get a personal Wikipedia book created. It would be fun to include content from books available in the public domain as well - blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction as you combine it all. It would be an art form creating these books and those that do it really well could sell their professional…


Reading this post about cruel words said to or about adopted children made me think of my friend D who is adopted too. She has shared a lot of heartbreaking stories about her childhood - similarly insensitive. These come from regular people who in other circumstances may not be devoid of sensitivity - certainly nothing like these heartless remarks would indicate. Makes you wonder what about an adopted child specially from a different culture or disabilities could trigger such behavior. Maybe the generosity of spirit it takes for a person to adopt such a child is well beyond the ability of the average person to comprehend. 

So they may recourse to one of two ways to deal with the information - accept that the other person is a superior human being deserving their respect and leave it at that. The other way may be deny superiority and therefore question why they would do what they did - there is a presumption of naivete if not outright stupidity. One of my former clients and his wife had…