Confidence, to wit

The Book of Life’s post On the Origins of Confidence made me think about the subject in the context of my own life. In the last few years, I have increasingly felt the importance of confidence in my professional life. It’s not so much what you know, but what you project that matters. Perception is reality, as the phrase goes. Hence the interest in the subject. But before that, a detour.

As far back as I can remember, I have been under-confident. Some of my earliest memories are of stage fright, and since I was into things like singing, elocution etc that are particularly susceptible to this, I have many memories! Despite multiple rehearsals, and prizes that I got over the years, I could never be sure that I would remember the lyrics/lines.

I preferred spending my time reading, and was very comfortable being alone. Ironically though, my friends from my last years of school as well those from my grad and post grad days remember me for my sense of humour, specifically because it could help people laugh or at least smile even in the worst of times. But if you met me, you wouldn’t figure this. This persona is archived in my mind, but at a reunion last weekend, my schoolmate, who is now the funniest guy in our Whatsapp group, told the gathering how I was his benchmark for humour. Embarrassed me much, but we were all drunk, so that was fine! 😀 More

Bar Bar

Whitefield scores high on beer, but is relatively less awesome when it comes to cocktails. Shizusan was a welcome relief, and we then found out that Bar Bar had opened right next door. The menu seemed very promising and we landed up there one Saturday evening, braving the Kumbh Mela in front of Phoenix. We weren’t early enough to catch the outside-facing tables, but were comfortably placed at a table near the bar. This portion was rather empty, and we didn’t mind the peace. There was no quiet because the sound system was blaring hits. We didn’t mind that either. The decor echoes the grunge look that Social made familiar, but the decor has more fancy elements and yes, better cutlery! 😉

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The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes

“You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question : what else have I done wrong?” That is the disturbing thought I was left with on the penultimate page of the book. But it wasn’t always that way, you know.
Tony Webster is the narrator of his own life’s story. In the first part, which is about one third of the book, he sets up the context and the characters. There is a deceiving flippancy and brevity about this section of the book, and Tony does seem very capable of being true and objective about his own life. It’s only towards the end of it that one got even a whiff of a suspicion that something different lay ahead.

In the second section, the ‘peacable’ life that Tony desired (or did he?) is his. Even as he celebrates the ordinariness, we do get the other side by his own admission – “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and succeeded – and how pitiful that was” and “We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.” But it is when he gets the bequest from someone he met 40 yeas ago, and exactly once, that the story really unravels into a “what is really happening here?” mode. More

Empathy with AI

I have increasingly felt that our ability to find common ground is rapidly diminishing. This has a cyclical relationship with empathy and therefore our ability to empathise would reduce too. Since a big pillar of our species is cooperation, there is a good chance that the loss of empathy would lead to extinction. This is essentially what I wrote in Empathy & Extinction. “The death of nuance and the rise of binary.”

That’s why I was intrigued by How AI will teach us how to more empathy. While it did make a compelling argument, I was skeptical because to me, the very idea of empathy is because we took the effort to think about the other person. Despite data and information about ourselves and others that will be fed into AI, would it really be able to sense and help us see the other person’s point of view? More

Brewklyn

In the recent past, whenever we look at “newly opened places” on Zomato, Kalyan Nagar is quite the dominant player. While I am yet to ascertain the exact difference in coordinates between that place and Kammanahalli, given that we’re in Bangalore, it’s probably just a difference on what side of the road one is on! Kammanahalli was mostly nothing when we used to stay in Cox Town a decade ago, but soon after we shifted back to Koramangala, the place started sprouting restaurants and that too varied cuisines! We still hold that grudge and that, plus the thought of having to cross Tin Factory, have kept us away from this part of the town. All we did was look at it guardedly on our way to the airport and back. It was the microbrewery that changed the equation.

And thus we headed to Brewklyn fairly early on a Saturday evening to beat the traffic. (map) I really liked the area – seems well planned, and in the context of eateries very well sorted! The same building has a Barbeque Nation, and across the road, we could see Korean, Chettinad and steak cuisines! Brewklyn is on the 4th and 5th floors, and since we found a nice road-facing spot on the former, we didn’t bother going upstairs until after we finished our meal. On a relative note, I found the ambiance downstairs a little more gastropub (despite the graffiti and the pool table) and the upstairs section more like a brewery. Downstairs, you could seat yourselves on some plush seating inside or like us, watch the skyline on bar stools outside. The view was fantastic, especially so since we reached around dusk.

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When Breath becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi
If we go by Montaigne, Cicero had written that “to study philosophy is to learn to die.” If I go by Paul Kalanithi’s work, it is when you confront mortality that you discover your own philosophy. I have never read death this close, and I am finding it difficult to get words that would accurately describe my reaction to it, so I will restrict myself to the streams of narratives I followed in this book.
The first has less to do with Paul, and more to do with his trade. In his case, it isn’t a trade, it is a calling. However, this book has also given me perspectives which ensure that I would not judge those doctors who consider it a profession, and nothing more. Just to be clear, I am not referring to the monsters which the modern hospital corporations are, but the individual doctors who might appear callous or unfeeling in their interactions with us. Through his description of what the typical doctor goes through when he chooses the profession, Paul shows that doctors are humans too. Maybe we forget that, when we expect empathy and understanding. I can only barely begin to understand now what it means to have the responsibility of a life in your hands. A mistake is not about targets not being achieved or losing a job, a mistake is a life lost, or even worse. How can a person deal with that on a regular basis? And yes, some people can’t!

AI: Learns, Rules

The potential applications of blockchain are fascinating, and Melanie Swan’s book provides an excellent view of these. The part that I found particularly interesting is ‘buried’ on page 26 – the blockchain as a path to artificial intelligence. This happens through the increasing advancement of smart contracts on automation, autonomy and complexity parameters through an emergent form of AI that develops. Either by the introduction of non AI, non blockchain rule- based systems or by the implementation of programmatic ideas from AI research fields.

It led me to think of the development of AI in a Conway’s Game of Life manner – a zero player game that starts with an initial state and evolves based on the rules, and interactions with other entities within the system. In the recent past, I have come across several phenomena that are interesting especially when seen in this frame. More

Shizusan Shophouse & Bar

The plan originally was to go Irish House or Social, but as we entered Phoenix Market City, we noticed a new signage. A quick Zomato search showed me a menu that was very, very appealing! So, after business as usual at the mall, we headed over to Shizusan on the food court floor. At 7 PM, we had no problem finding a table. We contemplated sitting outside, but the one seat that offered a good view of the mall was already taken, so we decided the well lit, very pretty indoors was the better place to be. The seating is largely functional, though the chairs do exhibit a sense of aesthetics. The greenery on the ceiling is unfortunately unreal, but thankfully doesn’t really take away from the effect.  There’s some very elegant art at one corner that brings out the cuisine theme, and the only sore thumb in this entire set up are the table tops, which reminded me of very old restaurants. I refuse to believe there is anything related to the theme at work here!

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The Lessons of History

Will Durant, Ariel Durant

A delightful read. Surprisingly small in terms of number of pages, for a book that’s titled “The Lessons of History”. A total of 13 chapters, of which 10 are devoted to history’s relationship with other sciences- from biology to economics and philosophies – from politics to morals.
The book covers a lot of ground and vast swathes of history are reduced to a paragraph with learning that is applicable even now. The text is succinct and it would seem like each word has been weighed carefully before being used in a particular context. In uncovering the thesis, antithesis and synthesis in different domains, there are some superb profundities. e.g. “for freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails, the other dies.” or “Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down, the other goes up.”

Hoot

It absolutely was, and it had nothing to do with the food, service or anything that you’d normally judge a restaurant/pub on. Normally, nothing would get me to visit Sarjapur Road, but hey, microbrewery. That, and its photos on Zomato making it look like the sets of MTV Grind! (who remembers?)

Truth be told, the ambiance was quite good. Poolside would have been perfect, but we were told that the section wasn’t open because there was a rain forecast. We’ll get back to this. We got ourselves a table near the bar. The crowd was extremely mixed – fresh-out-of-engineering-college gawking kids, middle aged families, Sarjapur’s Page 3 equivalent, living ads of  Malabar Gold, probably businessmen, and so on. Hoot 1 – crowd. Not enough children though, so I didn’t have anyone to make faces at.

As we waited for our friends, we decided to get ourselves some beer. Out of the five craft brews, only two were available. D ordered a Saint Martin Abbey Triple, which was described as “liquid gold served to perfection”. After we tasted it, the only thing I was left wondering was whose liquid gold? Ugh! I had asked for the other available beer – Saint Martin Abbey Dark, which was described as “an uplifting experience”. This one delivered on the promise, only because it is easy to uplift anyone who has tasted that Morarji Desai prescription known as Abbey Triple! Our friends arrived by then, and after tasting both, decided to order wine an cocktails. No Rose wines were available, and no Bira, so the poor souls settled on Tuborg and a Blood Orange & Mint cocktail. My friend described the latter as Rasna with a hint of Vodka. The rest of us missed the hint.  More