Saturday, January 31, 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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On Making

KI 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 success means that it further devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving, by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable.

I don't associate the idea of making with the male domain. Making is about creating something that brings happiness or fulfills need for purpose. That is a gender neutral instinct.




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

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.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

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 practicing a trade and may be skilled at best. They are not savants. I have worked with a few 10x programmers in the course of my career. Have not been in places where it would be possible to run into the 50x ones but I do believe they exist. In the meanwhile we struggle with a team fifty times the size it needs to be and still not see light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

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 track of time as she plays - something I have waited a long time to see happen.

This would be the best dollar I have ever spent.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

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. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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) women were held in high esteem. I have been lucky to know a few. Mrs S was in her fifties when I was in middle school. She had degrees from Princeton and Yale. Had traveled the wold, taught in universities, been in senior executive roles outside academia and was the mother of three grown up kids. She was invited to our school to talk to girls about career, work life balance and being a woman in a man's world. 

There was no minimizing or glossing over the challenges she had faced but she was positive about her experiences. You could tell she did not hate men in any way. She talked about forging partnerships with them and not being adversarial - learning to stand your ground but not losing your femininity in the process. She showed up in a sari like any other woman her age that we knew. 

Being girls we noticed her excellent taste and the light touch with the make-up and jewelry. She looked wonderful for her age and radiated confidence. She delivered a speech that rivals anything I have heard to this day. She shared her passion for baking and how she took lessons from pastry chefs in different countries where she had lived and worked. The importance of family rituals, celebrating festivals came up. She talked about how they did things in her home - there was nothing there we could not relate to. Our stay at home mothers did exactly what she did. 

Then there were some pictures of her over the years, as a student, newly wed, young mother, milestones in her career and so on that she shared. Old grainy images we saw through a projector that transformed our thinking about what it means to be a woman. Mrs S was indeed "Satarupa" and if her life thus far was any indication it had served her exceptionally well. It is a meeting I valued then and treasure to this day. There was no girl in that auditorium that did not want to be like Mrs S - in essence even if we could not replicate her life.

Monday, January 19, 2015

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.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

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 in an organized way. We need to let these things slide as long as they do what they are really required to do. Her son being case in point. 

As of this weekend, J has washed and dried her clothes with minimal supervision. We have accomplished step one - teaching her the chore. Following H's advice, I will be reminding her to repeat this activity once a week and learning not to get impatient when I am ignored.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

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 the Didactics of Captain Ahab. A whole another book that comes out of the belly of Moby Dick.