6 July 2020

Report out on not cross posting to Facebook

It was three months back that I had floated the idea of not cross posting from my blog to Facebook. Was soundly denounced by all commenters not to do any such thing. Not exactly of sound mind or body, I went ahead and did it anyways. Actually took Parijat’s advice of “try out for some time”.

I thought I will try it out for a month. It has been three months now. That itself says something. Here are some learnings…

What I gained:
a. A lot of time and self control: It was preposterously difficult in the beginning – missing out on all the comments and counter comments and likes and a rewarding engagement model with the readers and commenters. But over time, I realized what a time waste it had become for me. Now I check Facebook for 15 minutes in the morning – usually there is nothing for me – so, I scroll thru updates of others, smile at the furious points and counterpoints on mask versus no mask, virus versus hoax, Democrats versus Republicans, BJP versus Congress and log out of my laptop screen.

b. Focus on the quality of my blog: With that extra time, I have started focusing on my blog. The writing is still as bad as before but I have started working on how the blog looks. That – and some great encouragement from Larry – led me to learn HTML and CSS (and now I am learning PHP) to make all sorts of tweaks to the blog. You remember how the first time a kid learns fonts and colors and soon the whole document is filled with all the colors of rainbow and all font styles and sizes possible? Yes, I am that dangerous now.

c. Learnt to tweak the model: Over time, I learnt how to mix and match for best results. I still post once in a while directly to Facebook (like this one). After requests from folks like Kenneth, I started a email subscription to my blog (initially I was against it). Instead of immediate email notifications, there are weekly digests that go out. And then somebody suggested – why not send the digest to Facebook with links. Which is what I do now. I am also getting good tips – from folks like Milind, as an example, how to make a lot of things in my blog still better.

I would have missed all this if I had not “tried” out this experiment, that I am afraid is here to stay with me.

What I lost:
d. What I miss most is all the random updates of friends. I had to ply thru a lot of political and other opinions to get those posts, but usually I would get one or two interesting updates every week. Spending 15 minutes on Facebook does not get to that.

Net net, I think Facebook had become an addiction. I think I have been able to get myself back to where I wanted – it is a tool and I will use it as I deem fit and not the other way around.

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28 June 2020

Marketing gone awry?

This goes back a few weeks when Sharmila and I had this debate about distilled water. She had bought distilled water to make coffee at home. We get our water from our well and it can sometimes clog up small appliances because of very small debris.

I was arguing the case that we should not be drinking distilled water. Any water we drink needs to have some amount of minerals etc. Which is why all the cities process the water and add certain elements before it is sent out to the house taps. I also have very severe doubts if the water she bought is truly distilled – that would make the water very costly. It is probably super filtered or something.

Yesterday, when picking up water at the Kroger near our hotel, I noticed “Distilled Water” was the only thing left in the shelves (in the big size container I was looking for). What caught my eye was the marketing twist the label had.

It did state that it is produced by steam distillation. I can’t still fathom the costs of all the energy required to boil the water and then cool it back again after capturing the vapors.

But what made me laugh was mentioning that the source was “Deep Wells”. I suspect to give you a sense of pure and cold water?

My question was – How does it matter? You are distilling the water. The source can be from anywhere in this world – the output will be exactly the same. It is DISTILLED water. It will have no other molecule than H2O. You can boil dirt water and distill it and get exactly the same product.

But I guess these are the days of marketing. We have seen Smart Water, Vitamin Water … Why else would we pay exorbitant prices for tap water put in a bottle rather than have it from a tap?

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28 June 2020

Did you know there is a blue circle?

Usually I get to a green circle on the outer ring on the left set of dials every night. That means I got my 7-8 hour of sleep. Once in a while, I get a yellow if I do not get enough sleep. And in some rare cases, I get a red – especially in long flights because of the disturbed sleep.

On Friday, I woke up after a good night’s sleep. But was somehow not totally feeling well. After driving to Hilton Head, I slept off in the hotel bed for another long bout resulting in getting nearly twelve hours of sleep for the day.

Felt better after it. Also noticed that the Apple Watch sleep ring had turned bright blue! I had no idea that there was another color for the rings!

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28 June 2020

This is a special blog – my 6,000th!!

Taking a break from blogging from my vacation posts to post this one. This is my 6,000th post. What started as a journey of just wanting to write down my learnings from work life during a year off (second one) then morphed into running adventure logs and then a journal for intersection points and eventually became just a place to write down my reflections of moments of my life. And hopefully not forget how to put English words together to form comprehensible sentences.

I remember my biggest fear when I had started blogging. I had a feeling people start doing these things with a lot of gusto and then the energy peters out rapidly. The question I had for myself was how long would I be able to keep up my energy. I believe I have found an answer to that question.

Fifteen years of blogging. That would mean, I have posted a little over one post a day! Some might suggest that is too much! I think they would be right!!

I hope they are right. Life would be nothing if you did not do a few things here and there that people would be critical about.

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27 June 2020

Is “home” a lie we tell ourselves?

I read this a few days back in one of those Stoicism write ups. (Roger Whitney had introduced my to Stoicism). Worth reading for all of us. Although the message will probably not resonate with youngsters as much.

If you’ve ever made it to the end of Homer’s Odyssey, you might have noticed a rather strange part of the ending. It’s a part that’s talked about a lot less than the rest of the poem, possibly because it makes so little sense. You see, despite spending every waking second for ten years fighting to get home, despite overcoming nearly insurmountable obstacles on his way, despite all the carnage of the final battle to reclaim his kingdom, Odysseus does something almost inconceivable the second he possesses what he longed for…

…he starts planning to leave again! On another mission. Another voyage. Didn’t he learn his lesson? Can’t he be content or happy for even one minute? Apparently not.

Perhaps this is really the message of the epic: We are incapable of being still. Even when we get what we want, we immediately crave something else. We are addicted to the hunt, to the journey, and ‘home’ is just a lie we tell ourselves. Isn’t that sad?

Seneca, an ambitious guy if there ever was one, wrote about the shameful spectacle of the “lawyer whose dying breath passes while at court, at an advanced age, pleading for unknown litigants and still seeking the approval of ignorant spectators.” He was just talking about Odysseus in another form — he was talking about all of us who can’t stop, who have to keep going, who have to keep achieving, who are incapable of knowing what “enough” is.

The key to a great life — and to happiness — is stillness. It’s contentment. It’s enjoying what we have. It’s the ability to say “no”. To reject the temptation to do more even if more is another impressive journey or an occupational honor.

Stop. At least for today. Just stop. Be still.

The author also talks about the book “Stillness is the Key” as a suggested read. As you will see in review of the book I did in April this year, I was fairly unimpressed. I will post if I come across better books (by my judgment).

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20 June 2020

In remembrance of all those people who have meant something to me…

Being on the other side of 50, song choices are often rooted in nostalgia. This evening’s song is dedicated to all those folks that have crossed my path – influenced me in so many ways – some small, some big – and I never got a chance to cross their paths again – to say a simple “Thank You.” My life was enriched by every such friend I have had, their parents who often guided me, my teachers, my family, those strangers who often left a big mark on me, those who became very close to me and then became strangers, my colleagues, those fellow passengers, those random foks that I met at restaurants, bars and streets… in so many ways, life has been nothing but an enriching collage of those meetings…

From the pen of Anand Bakshi..

“Zindagi ke safar mein
Guzaar jate hain jo makaam
Woh phir nahin aate.
Phool khilte hain, log milte hain, magar
Patjhad main jo phool murjha jate hain
Woh baharon ke aane se khilte nahin

Kuchh log ek roz jo bichad jate hain
Wo hazaron ke aane se milte nahin
Umr bhar chahe koi pukara kare unka naam

Woh phir nahin aate”

Roughly translated (improvements welcome)

In this caravan of life, all those places you pass…
They never come back again!

Flowers bloom; people meet; but
That flower that wilted in Fall,
Does not bloom again in Spring

Some people that split paths with you once
Never show up again, despite the milieu that you meet
Try as much as you might call out for them

They never come back again!

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16 June 2020

What I learnt from a few second generation immigrants about BLM

The backdrop to this is rather unfortunate. If I have my facts right, a young adult from our Bengali community (Rupkatha) posted about BLM in a Bengali forum and a grown up adult Bengali used the vilest of languages to attack her (and some other women in the forum). That had triggered in my mind a thought about how does the second generation immigrant Bengali community view the first generation immigrant Bengali community’s reaction to issues like BLM that is pretty much on everybody’s mind in this country.

Did a video interview with four young Bengali girls from our community Rupkatha, Dyuti, Diya and Puspita – all born in the US. Here is what I learnt:

First, I am simply amazed by the articulation power of young kids these days. Their ability to construct points of views and express them coherently and cogently far supersedes what I remember of my generation’s ability in those days. The sheer oratory skills – let alone the intellectual constructs used in debating a point of view – is impressive. This is why I always feel we are going to leave this world in smarter hands than ours. As it should be.

For folks my age – their message below might be hard hitting (I have tried to soften it without losing the essence). It is important not to get defensive and just listen to their points of views and respect them for that. Perhaps, some amount of reflection, if you so choose.

The key messages I heard from them for us first generation immigrants are:

(*) We should educate ourselves with the history of black Americans. We miss a deeper understanding of black Americans and the struggle the country has gone thru that shaped the platform for immigrants like us to succeed. It is not BLM’s responsibility to educate us. There is enough information out there. Lack of this education can only lead to lesser than deserved empathy.

(*) We need to realize that not saying anything or not taking a position is giving a message of not caring and thus makes us complicit. Especially, when we organize ourselves as a community, we need to realize that we represent a demography – whether we like it or not. Not speaking up when the rest of the country has – only speaks for supporting status quo. This is one of those few cases where not taking a position IS taking a position.

(*) We need to realize that situation is more complicated than just black Americans. On the other side of this equation is police brutality. Police (like military) is something our whole sense of right and justice is indexed on. It is important not to throw the baby with the bath water. Therefore, it is important that we listen to the other side. Regardless of whether we agree or not.

*ALERT* This gets really hard hitting for my community
(*) Speaking up is a function of how much privilege one enjoys. For most of our community, we came here due to our skills (technology, research etc) and we associate ourselves more with the affluent. That tends to be more white than black due to the history of the country. We therefore tend to have a dismissive attitude towards black Americans’ plight.

(*) We have inborn bias for fairer skin color (and against dark skin). [Rajib notes: as a background, in India, at least when I was growing up, a darker girl had far less chance of getting married than her fairer sister – I have a true story from my own family; there was a whole cosmetic industry peddling stuff to make your look fairer. I am not sure how it is now but I suspect biases do not go away in a couple of decades.]

(*) We instill hard work, good grades and staying out of trouble as virtues in our younger generation. Because, as immigrants, that is what made us survive and flourish. But does that teach the next generation how to integrate into a society and community that their parents might have only a cursory and a privileged point of view?

Like I said before – I learnt a lot from these young adults. I hope this is not the last discussion we have had.

Thanks are due to Amitesh for scribing while I was engaged in this video discussion.

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14 June 2020

A different kind of musical evening

I sat down last evening in my music room (which still has the makeshift bed in it – since that was my quarantine room) and was sifting thru some qawwalis to decide which one to settle in for the evening… when suddenly Parijat and Dipanjan walked in! With their dog Benji!! So, my dog-audience doubled last evening!!

We had a different kind of musical evening. Lot of Western and Spanish music. The cajon accompaniment was with one such Spanish number. I am totally ignorant of Spanish or any Western music but this was Flamenco style, I believe.

One guitar ensemble Dipanjan played from his collection was mesmerizing. I believe the artists were Al di Meola, Paco de Lucia, and John McLaughlin. Again, I am no expert but that was incredibly fast playing.

11 June 2020

Back to my future?

Don’t laugh now!

My love for programming has an origin in boredom rather than any computational skills. Certainly, studying computer science introduced me to the art of converting a mathematical formula into all caps FORTRAN. Somehow, though, punching cards and putting it in a queue for the card reader to read overnight was vaguely pointless to me.

It was one of the summer vacations that I got bored at home in the second week and went to Kolkata to find a summer job with a computer company (Artintel). That is when I realized I loved programming. The act of writing voluminous pages of code in a garrulous language called COBOL was not the point. Watching the computer spit out something that people were actually using (these were simple programs to control inventories, payroll etc) was somehow very rewarding though. Plus we had the only air-conditioned room in the whole company. This was in the middle of the heat of summer in sultry Kolkata, mind you!

As my computer science degree progressed, I realized my brainpower was not cut out for research or all the sophisticated computer stuff that my classmates like Madhav Marathe would do in their sleep. Did I mention that there were a lot of Greek alphabets in those courses?

Not wanting to do research meant I had no interest in the USA. (Irony, huh?). But I liked the MBA courses. There was something about Organization Behavior and Managerial Oral Communication that left a deep impression on me. Yet, coding is what I really liked. I remember being part of a team (with Raj Subramaniam, Rupa Batra, G Ramesh et. al.) which did a fairly impressive project in building a computer system to manage railway traffic. Admittedly, my team mates did most of the hard work. But I got to use my color pencils to draw project charts!! (I still have a picture of that project plan on my dorm room wall).

When most of the folks from MBA progressed to Finance and Marketing jobs – where they could actually use all the lessons learnt in MBA, I went back to coding. My first project – CPC – was a life changing experience. Met two of my best bosses – Nitin Chandekar and Raj Sundaramurthy – and an incredible set of team members. My coding was probably not what I was remembered for – but that color pencil pie chart showing how much time we were wasting waiting for the compiler to finish is still something that my two first bosses talk about.

While I came to the USA to code, somewhere, somebody finally realized that I was not that good at coding after all, and put me in a management track. To fulfill my own Peter’s principle and rise to my level of incompetency.

I have not coded for over 20 years now.

Lately, after stopping my posts being cross posted to Facebook, I have focused some attention to my blog site. I started bugging my friend Larry Mason often to ask how to change parts of my site that I did not like the appearance of. Color pencils, sadly, did not work.

Eventually, I realized that maybe I should learn another new skill at the age of 54. Actually re-learn. I figured I am going to learn PHP and CSS to do simple tricks with my website. Larry was kind enough to point me to the source (w3schools).

Sat down to learn it and I realized that I have to start from “deep defense”, as it were. So, had to learn HTML first (about 20 years after the rest of the world picked it up!!).

So, here I am, totally excited after finishing the HTML course and sitting down to figure out how to do CSS coding. I am almost at a point where I can do what I could do with color pencils anyways.

You may laugh now!

30 May 2020

Friday evening came a day late

Sat for my music evening a day late today. The song of choice for this evening was a poem written by Obaidullah Aleem. Born in Bhopal, India, the poet emigrated to Pakistan early in his life when his family moved and eventually died in Karachi, Pakistan. The rendition for this evening was by Ghulam Ali.

“Kuch din to baso meri aankhon mein
Phir khwab agar ho jao to kya

Koi rang to do mere chehere ko
Phir zakhm agar mehkao to kya

Aik aina tha so toot gaya
Ab khud se agar sharmao to kya

Main tanha tha main tanha hoon
Tum aao to kya na aao to kya

Jab hum hi na mehke phir sahib
Tum baad-e-saba kehlao to kya

Jab dekhne wala koi nai
Bujh jao to kya jal jao to kya”

Roughly translated…

“Stay in my eyes for a few more precious moments,
Then if you turn out to be a dream, who really cares?

Give me some (red) color in my cheeks with your presence
Then if it turns to be blood from your hurt, who really cares?

There was a mirror we had (of love), now it is all broken
Now if you blush at your own self, who really cares?

I was lonely then and I am lonely now
You may come. You may not. Who really cares?

When I am myself not there in the garden to enjoy it,
You can blow like the fresh morning breeze, who really cares?

When there is nobody around to see it,
You can glow in love or be dark, who really cares?”

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