Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writers' Eden

My cousin is a published author and a literary critic.He gives lectures, has speaking engagements and gets invited to residency programs around the world. It took him about two decades to get from nothing to where he is now. The road was neither easy nor glamorous and certainly did not pay well. 

Many would have bailed a long time ago and picked up a 9-5 gig that paid the bills in a predictable way. There is still no predictability about his income so a lot of time and energy has to be expended into worrying about finances that could have otherwise been channeled into writing

Reading this article about the life of writers in Norway is like reading about Writers' Eden. A place where artists are nurtured and not starved. Made me think about where writers like my cousin - people with a lot of raw talent but without what it takes to become wildly successful -  could be with a support system like this.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Parental Unit

Reading this story about Indra Nooyi calling parents to thank them for the gift of their child as an employee left me feeling very queasy. When I worked in India right after college, my boss was a lot like Nooyi. He treated us group of rookie engineers like his children. We were invited to his home frequently because we were far away from ours – his wife cooked us wonderful meals. We hung out with the family all weekend. 

Life was generally good but we did not feel like real adults in this whole deal.  Our parents called his office number to talk to us – frequently he spoke to assure them that we were doing well. It took me a couple of years to get out of this warm comfort zone and find another job – put some distance between my life and that of my parents. What my boss back then did and Nooyi is doing now is deeply regressive. 

We don’t want an infantile workforce – infact we want our young people to use  their first job to transition from dependence on parents (financially and emotionally) to become their own people. This is an alarming trend to my mind – bringing the helicopter, snow-plow and tiger parents right into the cubicle. Next time our young and super-energetic social media manager wants a raise, would she call mommy to make her case to the boss ? In that scenario, the boss should expect a full on tantrum if the demands are not met. There is creepy about the employer becoming part of the parental unit.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Filming Life

Wait time in public lobby areas can be interesting and education. Today I found myself around a young couple with a baby under two year old. Everything that a baby does is obviously fascinating for new parents - I have been there too. Having camera and video on phone makes the recording of these priceless moments much easier. Back in my day, it took work to get ready to shoot and the baby had moved on to other things. Being ready to record at the right place and the right time was a matter of chance. So when the stars aligned, the output mattered. I watched in amazement this afternoon, as the doting father recorded this son picking his nose. Mom tried to talk him into stopping but it was clearly not working with the mixed signals coming through. Dad thinks this is cool enough to record then baby should reasonably carry on with the show. I bet he had no idea why mom was not impressed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lab Rats

The comparison of anyone whose life revolves around their smartphones to B.F Skinner's rats is a very poignant one. Friday afternoon I stop being a lab rat and try my hardest to remain human until at least Sunday evening. My work and personal cellphones are separate so it is a little easier to get out of the rat mode or help myself from slipping into it as I try to be human and enjoy the tiny pleasures of the ordinary day - have J tell me what happened at school, enjoy a quick walk in the warm afternoon, listen to the birdsong while I make my first cup of tea. Checking email is not compatible with any of those things.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Coffee and Selfie

I think J is at the tail end of her selfie phase and it is not a moment too soon. Any time I left my phone unattended, I would come back to find a ton of selfies in the photostream. It went from being cute to annoying very quickly. Tweens would appreciate the selfie mirror I am sure but it would take their narcissism to whole another level. 

Pose in front of the mirror and broadcast yourself to the world by way of Twitter - this is huge improvement over their current experience. It would make sense then to perfect the look by airbrushing the image.Such a value add would eliminate awkward selfies entirely. The only redeeming quality of the selfie was its awkwardness.

It would be good to have the camera refuse to take any pictures of our kids until all their chores were done. A mommy override button would make a world of difference to this otherwise frivolous product.

 There are times when removing awkardness can be a good idea - a coffee machine that refuses to brew until two strangers have connected by a touch screen, for example

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Static Happiness

Reading this John Updike quote reminded me why he is one of my favorite authors and that I have not read a book by him in a long time. Self-Consciousness is definitely going on the reading list.

There is no such thing as static happiness. Happiness is a mixed thing, a thing compounded of sacrifices, and losses, and betrayals.

I can relate most to that statement in the context of motherhood. There were shared sacrifices made by J and I, we suffered losses (alone and together) and sometimes felt betrayed by each other. The happiness of being mother to her when she was a baby is nothing like what it is like now or will be in the future. Indeed it is a mixed and changing thing.



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Odd Pairs

Reading this article about the pairing of food and sound made me think about any pairings that were particularly memorable for me. If the music was exceptional, I would likely not notice the food I was eating at the time and vice-versa. Then there is ambience music that makes sense for the cuisine or not. The harmony makes for a better experience overall. The article cites a study

in which scientists gave people a dessert and played different sounds while they were eating. Depending on which sounds were played, a dessert could taste more bitter or more sweet.

I wonder if that has to do with the mood that the music evoked. Happiness related to sweetness and melancholy related to bitter. I noticed the other day while shopping at Target, the unrelenting brightness and amped up cheeriness of the store made me feel worn out and even a little sad. There was (it seemed) an unstated expectation of being certain level of happy and I was not nearly there. 

There is something to be said for not messing around with people’s minds. One size never fits all and then there are unexpected consequences of well researched actions. So music designed to make customers crave more ice-cream may repel them from it permanently.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Valuating a Forest

It was very inspiring to read this Wired story about Aforestt. The idea of afforestation is hardly new. However,  the idea of using tools learned in car manufacturing to accelerate the process does have a certain ingenuity about it.  But not everyone who read it was impressed. Part of one comment I found quite compelling :

..the core mission of this company is to turn an entire *forest* into a commodity—not just the wood in a forest—the whole thing. What that essentially does is take a thing that is traditionally viewed to be priceless and now attaches a valuation to it. We would be remiss to view forests as anything other than priceless, and that's what this guy is hoping to achieve.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Eviction Logic

My blog has a Facebook page, I do not. Recently, for the first time, I browsed through the news feed. It was a learning experience. The first day, I read some very interesting stories – enough to occupy me for the entire duration of my workout. Encouraged by the experience, I went back the next day. The quality of the stories had diminished quite a bit this evening. I still got something out of it but was a little disappointed. Day three, was a sharper drop south. The stories were positively boring by now. 

Facebook seemed to have taken the trouble to curate stuff that I would least interest me. It stayed that way for the next few days – boring, stale and not worth spending more than a few minutes over. I am not sure what the strategy was here because it was certainly not helping me come back for more. Unless, I am one of those that Facebook wants to actively disengage, whatever they are doing is not very smart. At the end of the week I was back to Feedly reading my feeds as I usually do. I am with everyone else that the author of this article is writing about. I cannot trust Facebook to power the future.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Wrong Cause

A little conflicted by this story about middle school girls picketing for their right to wear leggings to school. The school's rationale for not allowing it is pretty bizarre and primitive. However, there is the question of the school's right to prescribe and enforce a dress code for students. This is something kids will encounter as adults in the workplace anyway. There is a difference between letting kids be kids and preparing them for life. I am not sure winning the right to wear leggings to school is serving either of those goals. 

Needless to say, the energy being wasted on this could be better used advocating for a right to better education and more extra curricular activities in the school. While the kids (and presumably their parents) have the media attention, these would be worthy issues to draw public attention to. Instead of fighting the dress code, they could seek corporate sponsorship for lab equipment, art supplies and musical instruments. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Meandering Path

This past weekend, J spent a very happy afternoon testing several designs for a bottle rocket connected to a parachute. They are just beginning to learn physics and the ability to test concepts with stuff readily available at home seems to have her excited. They way she likes to learn science and math has been a little confusing to me. She can go in-depth into something that interests her and largely skip topics that do not. Its no different than choosing some books to devour in a day and leave some unread for months. 

I don't see her way of learning map to a traditional STEM career ( if that is what she is wants). Reading this article about women in alternative almost bespoke STEM careers was very useful for me along with the words of caution that conclude it  “Interdisciplinary career paths are easier to create than they are to sustain, because there is not an established career trajectory and evaluation system.”

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Rainy Afternoon

It had been raining for two days in a row as I wrote this. By now the crepe myrtles in my yard would have been in full bloom but the weather has them confused. After waiting for warmth and sun for weeks, the buds opened up briefly only for the flowers to die. The weather had me feeling blue and sometimes the best fix for it is music. Songza with all the technology to pick music that fit the local weather conditions did not do nearly as much for me as this album by Yasmine Hamdan

As it stands now, Songza uses the day, time, device type, your location, and your past behavior to deliver you expertly curated, human-made music playlists to match your mood and activity. Today, for the first time, the app will also pull in weather information to build more context around what you might want to listen to.
For example, just because you're in Miami and near the beach, it doesn't mean you're in a sun-shiny mood. What if it's raining? Maybe the rain makes you more angsty?
Songza got me feeling worse by pushing mom friendly soft rock ( is that even a thing ? ) that sounded like the washed out and defeated version of classic rock. Maybe the next level of refinement will be angst relieving music for suburban moms who don't shop at Sam's or Cosco's. They could call it outlier mom friendly angst relief soft rock for a rainy afternoon.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Tool for Parents

A few days ago, J and I were talking about love, marriage and parenting. By orienting my (and now our) life around her, we have conveyed that parents are expected to live for their children almost to the exclusion of any other reason. All around her are examples of hyper-involved parents trying to give their kids every opportunity they possibly could. 

So J's point of view has probably not been formed just by observing the dynamic of her own family. It is establishing her baseline for what marriage is about - she is learning that the euphoria of dating and new relationship will give way to marriage and kids. Once there are babies in the equation, everything is around and about them. 

It was interesting to reflect on these lines the R.S Thomas poem Album, think about reality of our adult lives and marriages and how it is perceived by our children 

There are pictures
of the two of them, no
need of a third, hand
in hand, hearts willing
to be one but not three.

What does it mean
life? I am here I am
there. Look! Suddenly
the young tool in their hands
for hurting one another.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Selfie Crazy

So sad to read about what happens when a selfie obsession goes out of control. The author's summary is food for thought

For most of us, the selfie phenomenon is tongue-in-cheek, but for some it could become a self-destructive form of narcissism, experts warn, potentially leading to harm. Selfies alone may not cause people to commit suicide, but an unhealthy obsession with them could be a warning sign for some type of mental disorder.

At what point does selfie taking stop being cute and cross over to "unhealthy obsession" territory is the question most parents would have. Every kid is different and their ability to live through a short period of craziness varies too. 


Monday, March 31, 2014

Simplify

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.