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Showing posts from January, 2015

Ten Years

Today marks the tenth year since I started this blog. The fact that I have been able to keep it on life support for the last several years and not totally killed it feels good. The fact that it even exists gave me motivation to return and write again. Readers have been kind enough to stay with me through the years that I was mostly absent and had nothing to say. Sometimes I would get an email of support or encouragement. For all of that I am grateful. I don't have a plan anymore and that is very liberating.

On Making

I stopped "making" anything tangible in my job many years ago. Since about the same time, I have experienced emptiness about what I do for a living and been troubled about purpose. As I grow older. the question of legacy comes to mind. There is a need to do something meaningful even if on a very small scale. When I get together with friends my age and older, we find that we have similar concerns and something common in how we cope with our inadequacies. A lot us "make" things outside work. In a token way, it gives us a sense of purpose.  Reading this Atlantic article about being a maker brings interesting insight to the culture of making and the value attributed to it

A quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem says: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, has focused on the first. But its succe…

Eating Virtually

Love the idea of being able to indulge in bad food (or at least imagine that you are) while eating what's good and right for you. Very promising for those who struggle with food - eating to too much or not at all. What would also be nice is the ability to serve memories of food - something you at many years ago while traveling to a place you had not visited before or since. And being able to share another persons's experience of food that they love. Imagine being able to substitute the menu of your favorite restaurant while eating a very boring dinner at home. So many interesting possibilities.

Ugly Mirror

Interesting story about mirrors getting more than a little help from technology and completely ruining the object of our primal fascination. Sad to think that mirrors will get smart to a point where we can no longer see ourselves as we are, learn to live with and love our flaws. Instead, it would show us who we have the "theoretical" potential to become and goad us into improving ourselves. 

That is actually a little worse than amplifying our flaws. We may find a way to work with that over time - but the titillation of what we may have been if we made the right investments is a dangerous dream to chase after.

Clearly the airbrushed imagery we are subject to constantly are not conveying the message clearly enough. Maybe we are not able to personalize and internalize what we see in them. Maybe we separate "us" from "them" and go about the business of our lives. Someone saw the need to remedy that problem by bringing the truth much closer home.

Fifty Times

Reading these lines from Seth's Godin's post produced a rather visceral reaction in me today. 

[I say 'choose' because anyone who has worked with programmers understands that the great ones are worth far more than the average ones. Sometimes 50 times as much. That's because great programmers are able to architect systems that are effective, that scale, and that do things that other programmers can't imagine until after they're done.]

What he says about great programmers I have been saying to the powers that be in my organization for a long time now. Not that anyone disagrees in principle but it is still a huge leap in faith when you decide to replace fifty with one. You almost make this person into a God. They just have too much power and control. They operate at a level that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to most people. 

Maybe those are the reasons why there is irrational resistance to hiring them. The average programmer is a mortal. They are practicin…

Sheep Not Snowflakes

This Wired story makes for very interesting reading. It indirectly explains why it is so hard to shop for clothes. Even with the seemingly endless variety there is overwhelming monotony - season after season, store after store. Once you have stocked up on the wardrobe staples, the rest gets much harder if your goal is to find clothes that express your individuality. 

There is many ways to join the sheep herd but nearly none to be a snowflake. Some of my friends shop for clothes at consignment stores because it easier to come by something unique there. Then there are those like Mrs L, who I knew many years ago, who have their all their clothes tailored in Hong Kong - completely bespoke and very much a snowflake.

Thrift Nostalgia

Browsing through the discards and rejects of other people's lives often leads to serendipitous finds for me. I don't go to yard sales as much I as once used to but there are thrift stores I check out from time to time. Recently we found a book of sheet music for piano for a dollar. These are hits from the 70s with lot of nostalgic value for me some of which has been passed on to J. She has either heard or heard of most of the songs in the book and was excited to try and play them. 

Lately, piano has become a bit of a struggle for her. A demanding teacher who expects her to practice an hour each day - time she simply does not have. The fun has started to ebb away as J works on correcting her flaws week after week. The book brought about a sudden change. She loves to play tunes she is familiar with and sing along. She is not so worried about being good enough for Ms T - this is her music to have fun with. It makes the work that is assigned much easier to endure. She often loses t…

Humanized Machines

A fridge door that can serve up hot coffee or soup controlled by wi-fi can look like an excellent idea when you are down with a bad cold, feeling miserable but not really sick enough to get too much attention. You just stay in, rest up and let it pass. In that state,even heating a meal is a pain. 

So ideally, you pick out what kind of soup you want, have the app let you know its ready so you can drag yourself with great difficulty to get it. But connecting this to a robot butler to deliver it bedside would make for a much sweeter deal.

Obviously there are ways to improve and personalize the experience even more. There could come a point where between the fridge, phone and the robot butler your care is better managed than any human in your life who would need to juggle several things to create the time for you.

Change In Likes

This article on how we grow to like foods we once hated is an interesting read. Have seen that happen to me and others I grew up with. The unthinkable reversals have happened. I used to attribute it to something strange that goes on with our taste-buds as we age - makes us like things as older adults that we hated as kids. 

It made sense when J says "I bet you would like it because I hate it. Adults seems to love the very things kids hate and the other way around". It seems to work that way quite often down to specific types of Halloween candy that J will have in her reject pile. Quite often I may find something that works for me. Similarly, J is not interested in the kind of chocolate I like. As she grows older, we seem to find more things in common when it comes to food.

Versatile Women

In a recent conversation with J, I learned some cultural norms of middle school. Girls are either taken seriously or not by their peers (male and female) based on how they present themselves. If she looks like she spends most weekends at the mall shopping cute outfits and an hour in front of the mirror each morning she is not taken seriously. Those are the signs of a bimbo. To that end, when invited to a party a serious girl can't stray too far from her native image. 
I challenged this assumption strongly and asked J why a girl who wants to be taken seriously cannot be versatile. There is a time and place to project a geek image and one in which to demonstrate social adeptness. Being in your comfort zone and around people just like you is easy for anyone - it takes no effort and as such there are no rewards. It is much harder to get comfortable outside that familiar ecosystem. 
When I was growing up in India, I recall "Satarupa" (one having a  hundred beautiful forms) wome…

Data Diet

Love the idea of putting organizations on a "Data Diet". Hoarding all data in sight just in case there is some buried nugget of intelligence waiting to be tapped into is no different than being a pack rat at home and not letting go of useless junk just in case. '

The common rule for de-cluttering our living spaces can easily be transferred to organizations being data pack rats. If no one missed a certain something in the attic, garage or basement for a year or more then it is time to review its need to exist. Most often the item in question will be revealed to be an impulse buy whose time has come and gone or just plain old junk that need to be trashed. Likewise will cold or dead data.

The promise of hidden treasure in a data dumpster is just that - a promise. Very rarely does it get fulfilled. But everyone is out there hoarding everything they can just so they don't miss out if and when technology becomes smart enough to do something fantastic with it.

Job Schedule

I got some good parenting advice from a friend recently. Being that J is thirteen, I am trying to get her ready to live alone when she goes to college. Doing laundry is one of the tasks on the list. The mother in question told me that my strategy was going to fail big and everyone would come out of the experience frustrated. I had worked out with J that she would do her laundry on Friday evening after she came back from school. H told me that was a set up for failure. You cannot give the kid a new job and a schedule to follow along with it. 

They need to be eased into the job first and once they get a hang of it, try to frame a schedule. Cannot jump the gun and expect results. Her son who is high school now, has taken all of three years to learn the job and is yet to get on a schedule. Clearly, it has nothing to do with academic ability. The kid is an all A student in a highly competitive school with near perfect SAT scores. According to H, they are not wired at this age to do chores i…

Compressed Memories

Can so relate to this article on the curse of compressing reality. After a major event passes in life, the details of the hours and the days that were part of it are compressed into smaller packages to be archived. The highs and the lows get adjusted toward the middle so that the big event is just another random thing that happened to you. A few years go by and you are left grasping at washed out images, their sequence (and meaning) long destroyed. 

Some days I am just grateful for the minutes that I remember in full color detail. What the weather was like that day, the smell of the air, the feeling of well being  and then the event itself. Not all of it but the moments that stood out and stayed etched in memory

Into The Woods

J was all excited when I picked her up at the movie theater after the show last weekend. She and a few of her friends had just watched Into The Woods. As I usually do, I asked her to tell me about the movie in the car and she launched into a plot summary with great enthusiasm. Now, it takes us about fifteen minutes to drive from said theater to home. I was parking in the driveway before the summary was done. 

Several times during the narrative I had to struggle to stay awake. Fractured fairy-tale cocktail turned into a movie sounded like a terrible idea. It would ,make for a boring ramble and contrived connections. But the kids really loved it and I was not sure what the draw was. Just the length of the plot summary was enough to keep me from watching this thing.

Tweeting Characters

My hairdresser was complaining about how there is too much electronics in the toys for her six month old. She has to look harder for old fashioned things that don't have any. She hates things that have an app for it. It was an interesting perspective from someone who is only twenty three. But again she was home-schooled and is probably not representative of the general population. Anyway, people like her may not appreciate the ability to tweet and text with characters of a book. It takes even more away from the real book experience, the ability to shut out the world and escape into a fictional land.

This is a whole new genre of literature waiting to be created crowdsource style. We can hook up Captain Ahab with a twitter handle and let him air his views of the world to the readership and respond to their questions along the way. He could be running direct communications with readers via text as well. In so doing, we have created content that can (with some editing) be shipped as th…

Poetic Business

Loved the poetic language HBR uses to describe the betrayal perpetrated by Yahoo on its Flickr users. The travesty of customer trust is described thusly :

What Yahoo is doing just isn’t what we had in mind when we put our photos under the CC-BY license. We were trying to contribute to our culture in some small way. We were participating in the gift economy. We were sharing.

Now Yahoo has inserted itself into our enchanted triangle. The connections among the vertices of that triangle had been characterized by sharing and goodwill. But Yahoo has turned our photos − our gifts − into commodities and reduced them to their cash value.

Was trying to imagine using language such as the above in work communication. Here is one way I can think of using it in my local context "Now Org X has inserted itself into our enchanted triangle. The connection among the vertices of that triangle had been characterized by collaboration and agility. But Org X has turned our creative energy - our ideas - int…

Used Bookstore

E took me to an used bookstore  knowing its one of my favorite places to visit. It is something we have in common. Our tastes are very different so we rarely recommend books to each other. I do like to check out her bookshelves when I am visiting. A lot of interesting material even if their appeal to me is limited. This time I found a 1928 edition on eastern religions that was a good read. 

E likes that Netflix understands who she is and would never recommend that she watch The Wolf of Wall Street. She is almost afraid to try something that does not come with their stamp of approval for her. What they don't recommend is a great sign of their understanding of her preferences and E is very impressed to say the least. Anything I had to say about letting a corporation control and manage her media intake fell on deaf years. She just loves the convenience too much. At the end of a busy day Netflix is the concierge service telling her what may be good movies for her to watch and she follo…

Striking Balance

Only J can tell if she considers me a "pushy parent" but she recently told me that her best friend knows that I don't sugar coat my feedback. It can be direct and "mean". As an example J cited the following difference in parental approach : For homework the kids had been assigned an essay on a very boring topic. When J showed me her first draft I said this is D quality material at best and needs a complete makeover to be remotely acceptable. I asked her to be efficient with her time and wrap it up quick - not let work expand to fill all the time there was. I did point out to the areas of improvement but only in the end. The best friend's dad on the other had her delete a very badly written paragraph saying that was more suitable for a creative writing assignment. He went on to add that she was off to a good start and with some work could get a lot better. 

Per this Scientific American article, me being pushy (if that were indeed the case ) could hurt J in th…

Alternate Gospel

I have a budding atheist in my home. J is on the fence about God at this time but likes what little she knows about Buddhism. She would much rather there were a scientific way to explain God away. That would just make things easier for her and life would be all in good order. I prefer not to bias her one way or the other but encourage her to learn about all religions and see what makes sense for her. I tell her maybe there is a way to create something personalized that meets her needs and the content could come from various sources. No one religion may be right for her but ideas from several could be.

In a time where information comes packaged, small and easy to consume TED Talk style, getting her interested in any serious reading of religious texts is an uphill battle. I choose mine wisely - there are many more urgent ones I need to fight and win with her. The metaphysical development of J has sadly got to go on the back-burner for now. That said,  The Gospel According to Terry is a f…

Quantified Self

This Wired story on Quantified Self and how it will help us all is blithely positive to the point of being amusing. The self is fully quantified only when disparate subject areas of data come together to tell a cohesive story about the person. The fact that someone checks their personal email fifty times a day may have something to do with what is going on in their personal life which in turn may be related to their health or that of a loved one (as an example). 

From an employer's perspective that is wasted hours of productivity but without tracing the issue from start to end any decision made is likely to be incorrect. So does it help the individual to  allow access to all data about themselves irrespective of the context in which it will be used ? Just to ensure that decisions about them are taking all relevant parameters into account. And would that not be an egregious invasion of their privacy ? 

If indeed we allow our selves to be fully quantified, there will be a myriad of op…

Pipa In The Afternoon

J was volunteering at the art museum this weekend and I had the chance to listen to a Pipa performance that was part of the event.  All afternoon, there were music and dance performances representing different genres and regions from China. The variation was pretty amazing - to my ears it ranged from the sounds of Begum Akhtar to Kirtan to Sufi music and Kraftwerk. They may have added Yo-Yo Ma in the mix to broaden the appeal but that fit into the continuum quite well. 

Some years back, I had read about wall panels being able to soak up music and turn it into ambient light. Could not help thinking about how all this music may permeate the walls of the museum and change a visitor's experience of the place. When we visit here we usually hear classical music or jazz playing in the background. There is a certain energy that goes with it and it is different from the music of Pipa for instance as described by the poet Bui Jayi

The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain,
The fin…

Over Giving

In a very different context, someone once told me that I would make a lot better progress if I listened more and talked less. At the time, I did not know that I was actually talking too much or that is how it was being perceived. In my mind, I was drowned in the sea of noise and not being heard for the most part. Maybe being tuned out in certain parts of my life was making me overcompensate in others. Whatever the case, I took the feedback seriously because I respected the person it came from. Since then,  anytime I hear myself more than others in a room, I consciously take pause until there is better balance. 

While visiting with E, I had chance to meet many new people and listen to conversations between several strangers. I don't often meet so many new people socially in such a short period of time. Each time I tried to talk less (or not at all)  so I could understand and absorb what was being said. There was so much food for thought. I felt like I had been given an unique opport…

Recovering from Moldau

This piece by Smetana had some particularly happy associations from me. Recovery from loss of meaning sometimes happens in phases. From where the music could tear me up, with memories so vivid like they were yesterday, to where I can listen and the mind goes completely blank. Once cleansed of memories and associations, it is just music I liked before and still do. The feeling is a lot like taking a shower after a long hike in summer.

Lately for my job, I am having to read quite a bit about data privacy laws and the philosophy of privacy by design. The concept of pseudo-anonymization comes up often. Moldau is pseudo-anonymized music for me now. Despite the pain triggers associated with it, I would still hate for it to turn anonymized making it too disembodied to care about anymore; strip it of memories going further back even before it became rather special. 

Listening to it yesterday made me think about choices we make to allow pain to permeate us so the natural beauty of things can be …

Making The Book

Reading The Remains of The Day back in my college days was a deeply moving experience. I still recall the feeling of great emptiness after I was done. The girl who recommended this book to me (and gave me her copy to read) was to become one of my good friends. A classy and somewhat distant young lady, she made her boundaries politely but firmly known. She chose you for a friend and not the other way around. I was fine with that and and greatly enjoyed our conversations. She was a voracious reader from very literary family and introduced me to writers I love to this day. We did not stay in touch after college but I am sure she is still the class act she was then with book shelves I would love to browse.

It was interesting to read Kazuo Ishiguro's account of how the book was written - particularly how the denouement came about. Stevens the butler showed his human and romantic side in the end even if many years too late. It was exactly this turn of events that creates that unbearably…

Art of Losing

I had a strange dream last night. I was talking to someone and could not hear myself saying the words I thought I was saying. It seemed like it was important to me that they heard and understood but they were staring at me in blank incomprehension. I struggled harder and harder to "say" and not just "think" the words but to no avail. The room was silent. The listener and I were silent too.  It was such a vivid dream that when I woke up I thought I had actually lost my voice. I called out to J to make sure I could still speak. 

In One Art, Elizabeth Bishop talks of  the Art of Losing and how it is not hard to master. I don't know what draws me to this poem - maybe it is the gallows humor that in some moods I can relate to particularly well

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn…

Creative Frenzy

This New Yorker article on what motivates us to cook was a great and timely read for me. 

"Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go—about who we want to be, how we choose to live. Food has always been expressive of identity, but today those identities are more flexible and fluid; they change over time, and respond to different pressures. "

In the few days that I was at E's I cooked more than I have done in months past. Her eagerness to help and her delight in what I made gave me energy I have missed in my own kitchen for a while. There is also the matter of being able to take time off and shut the mind down - which has proven very hard to do this past year. The change of scenery at E's helped me with both. We went to the local farmers market for produce and meats, tried to use up all that she had left in the fridge to make room for new things in the new year. Beyond that there was no plan - I had a large…

Life Stories

On our way back from Yosemite to Merced, we overheard a very interesting conversation between the bus driver and an old lady seated right behind him. We were the last few passengers in the bus and it created an odd sense of intimacy. It was cold and dark outside and we could have been by a figurative fireplace inside having a conversation with friends except that we were all strangers to each other. The bus driver in a past life had been an industrial engineer, His job involved getting more hours out of the workers and identifying the least productive ones for potential downsizing. He made good money while his friends in the factory suffered more and more each year. This was before their jobs were outsourced to China and the factories themselves closed. You could tell he had many conflicted feelings about that time and not everything had been sorted out yet. Had he helped save the factory workers their jobs for a few more years ? Was he helping the greater good by letting go a few so …

Letter Sorting

Sorting through my mail last night, I found some addressed to the previous owner of my house. Whoever it was from had long lost track of her because they used her maiden name. I have seen similar cards arrive for her each year during the holidays. Her boys were three and five  when she sold the house four years ago. So these senders of holiday greetings may have been current with her over ten years ago. The lack of context and relevance made me think of growing distance between two people who were once close. 

Communication breaks down in such subtle ways at first that you almost don't notice. The mistimed comment, inability to see what is evident, the odd sentence in an email that fills you with sadness - you had come to expect more sensitivity, failing to pick up non-verbal cues. Small things that don't mean much on their own but are like symptoms of the disease that is to set in.

I have been guilty of neglecting symptoms of a flu telling myself it will pass and is no big deal…

Chaotic Travel

My friend E will turn sixty this year. I have known her about ten years now making me a sixth of her life. We were invited to spend time at her home in California during J's winter break. I am living chaos for the last few months trying to keep what balance I can so J can have a protective bubble that nothing can touch. So much like giving birth to her. The physical womb protected her (or so I hope) from the upheaval that was my life then. I am trying to give her a figurative womb now - and some days the task is too daunting for me. There is only so much I can harbor in my arms, in my heart and hope to save her. 

We both love to people watch so airport layovers are not always the purest form of torture - specially when we are traveling together. So much to see, observe and learn. And we compare notes after. J and I take away completely different things that we observed together. I have to ask J about her impressions because mine were cloudy from lack of focus.Thoughts run in the ba…