Please find detached

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

This quote has been a favourite since I first read it, and creating that space is something that I not only constantly try to work on, but also write about – the challenges and the learning. However, this post is on a tangent – what if we delay the stimulus itself? Yes, I admit it’s quite impossible to do that with people, but what about consumption in general? Given that we are now debating the direction(s) of the ‘arrow of time’, there’s no better time to discuss that space. After all, in my consumption, I am what is called the ‘observer’, and I’m the one creating the moment of interaction.

That wouldn’t be a problem, except for the increasing dominance of the urgent over the important. Seth Godin had a very interesting post titled “Spectator sports” about how we have taken the discourse around things of significance to the level of spectator sports because we can “vent without remorse.” A longer read in context is Helen Boaden’s commentary on the state of journalism as she retires from BBC Radio. The devices, features and services popping up around me indicate that ephemerality is trending upward. Think about the cycle – watch something live on TV, tweet about it/post on FB/Whatsapp, someone has a comment, a discussion ensues, and somehow inexplicably reaches generic areas of conflict like religion or liberalism before the next cycle starts. Rinse, repeat. Did we have a discussion aimed at understanding each others’ perspective and expanding a worldview? More often than not, not!  More

Framing passion

A lovely Malayalam movie came out earlier this year – Maheshinte Prathikaaram – a simple premise based on actual events. The movie is set in Idukki, which makes for a great backdrop and also provides excellent material in the form of the simplicity of the people and their lifestyles. We saw the movie soon as it released and I loved it. Very few scripts manage to  bring together an enjoyable mix (read balance) of humour and poignancy, and it requires a well chosen and talented cast to execute it well. This movie did both.

While the principal narrative track (the revenge that is suggested in the film’s name) around Mahesh, the protagonist, is entertaining in itself, the idea around his father’s character – Vincent Bhavana – interested me a tad more. Recently, I saw the movie again, and now that I knew how it would play out, I could pay more attention to this track.  More

Last Man in Tower

Aravind Adiga

Vishram Society, and its original version – Tower A – is not a symbol of modernity, nor of comfort. But despite the peeling paint and the patchy water supply, the building and its residents represent an “unimpeachably pucca’ middle class residential cooperative. Inaugurated in the 50s on Nehru’s birthday, the originally Christian residents showed their secular spirit and openness by allowing Hindus, and Muslims later. A monument of times past, that is how one could describe the place whose character is etched out really well by the author.

He sets up the plot really well by showing the tiny chinks in the otherwise abundant neighbourliness that exists in the apartment complex. From the respected Masterji to the security guard Ram Khare, and the Puris and Kidwais and Regos in between, the author quickly starts peeling open the characters, and the veneer.  More

There is no middle path?

Will Durant is a pleasure to read, and it has largely to do with the succinct way in which he expresses complex thoughts, be it in history or philosophy. In The Lessons of History (by him and Ariel Durant) I found this idea particularly thought provoking –


Very intuitively, I have always thought the ideas of freedom and equality as ends which are allied. But a bit more thought, and helped by the Durants’ arguments, and it is quite evident that they aren’t. This reminded me of something I’d written about five years ago on happiness vs peace of mind. (read the very interesting comments by Surekha on it) More

Flying Spaghetti Monster

First published in Bangalore Mirror

In a world where zealots prescribe diets instead of deities, the Flying Spaghetti Monster appears in the skyline as a beacon of hope. For those unfamiliar with the subject, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or “Pastafarianism”, a legally recognised religion in at least three countries, in addition to being an internet phenomenon! 100 feet Road, Indiranagar, (map) has now been blessed by its presence, (rather, a restaurant inspired by it) and if there’s a deity that can reduce the traffic on that road (which happened the day we visited) it must indeed be a powerful one. This was manifested once again during our dinner – we had the place to ourselves when we got in, but by the time we left, the faithful had filled up every seat available. This, on a Friday night, without the influence of alcohol! Glory be to FSM!

The ambiance is in keeping with the soberness that a faith requires – no fancy use of colours, just wood, well placed lighting, and comfortable seating that allows one to reflect on the menu, take a note of the insatiable desires of one’s appetite, and humbly appeal to a higher power to satisfy those cravings. The menu however, revealed the playful nature of the deity – “substitute bacon with bacon. ha!” (Pasta D:33), even as it strengthened one’s faith – “Vegetables are interesting, but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat”. By now, all we wanted to do was partake!

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The evolution of growth

The decreasing life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies is no secret – from about 75 years half a century ago to 15 years now! Martin Reeves’ TED talk “How to build a business that lasts 100 years” becomes all the more interesting in this context.

On the one hand, there is the day to day pressure of meeting business goals (read metrics) while on the other, there’s really no telling what black swan event in the business’ landscape might happen. As the thinking goes, the business would have to monitor changing consumer needs and ‘disrupt’ itself before others do the job for them.

The Four Horsemen seem to have an ability to balance these two forces quite well. Microsoft is now reviving itself. That would explain why they are now pretty much platform monopolies who increasingly have only each other as competition. Most other businesses focus predominantly chase growth, with efficiency as a key driver and corresponding metrics as score keepers.  More

Red Bull to Buddha

David Passiak

I came across this book thanks to an article on the web that quoted a paragraph from this book. The paragraph comes pretty late in the book and deals with the ‘cycles of birth and death’ tenet in Hinduism. It is indeed one of the several bright sparks in the book.

Let’s start from the beginning. It’s pretty much the typical ‘story’ of a Westerner feeling disgusted with the levels of greed and materialism rampant in the US suddenly deciding to drop everything and come to the East for ‘the answer’. To his credit, the author himself acknowledges it, and calls out the fact that everyone is in search of the elusive ‘answer’. I actually saw the title in that context but it actually is about Red Bull being considered a legit offering made to the Buddha by his devotees in parts of Thailand. I found some of the events narrated a tad difficult to believe – specially the encounters with the sadhus in India – but hey, as the author states, ‘our beliefs create the world we live in’. Also, the experiences indeed make for good stories at the very least. More


A few unrelated incidents in the last month or so made me think about privacy, or rather, the lack of it. The first was news coverage on Bangalore Mirror where they skipped the standard blurring of the face of the accused/victim. I tweeted about it then.

A couple of weeks later, I read the agonising story of the woman whose picture was all over social media during the Brussels bombing. It wasn’t just her harrowing experience that bothered me, but the fact that this was an exposure she didn’t want. She had no say in the matter from the time the first photo was clicked.  More

The Open Box

It’s not often that we venture so far away from our native country – Whitefield – but the visuals of The Open Box, and its fusion menu, were enticing enough to drag us all the way to St.Marks Road. On reaching there, we realised that it was the same place that Spiga used to occupy. We were big fans of Spiga when it used to be in a house on Vittal Mallya Road, but the second version really didn’t live up.

We walked in close to 1 on a Sunday afternoon, and easily found a place. But if we had been late by half an hour, I think we’d have had some trouble getting a table. The space is separated into about 3-4 sections. The lower floor has some seating near the entrance itself, and the bar separates the remaining area into two.There’s also some seating upstairs, but it didn’t seem open. The furniture is functional-cool – I particularly liked the swivel chair I was seated on. There are some fun decor elements, and that extends to the plating devices too. Not to mention the goofy ‘Nintendo joystick’ posters in the loo! A pool table and a gigantic world map (made with artificial turf) add to the character. We found quite a mixed crowd there – at least two sets of older people having a get together of some sort, and many groups of much younger folk as well!

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Micro Singularity & Ethics

The Guardian long read on “How algorithms rule our working lives” was a fantastic though distressing read, about employers using algorithms to filter out candidates based on reasons ranging from mental health to race to neighbourhoods to income. This in itself has massive implications on creating and expanding class divides and closing access to folks based on biases that are arguably unfair and lacking nuance.

If we zoom out beyond work and jobs, it’s fairly easy to see that algorithms are having an increasing impact on our consumption and life in general. The biggest services in play – Facebook, (M, newsfeed items) Google, (search results, Google Now) Amazon, (Echo, recommended products) Apple (Siri) – all heavily have algorithms in play. And that brings us to biases in algorithms. Factor Daily had a couple of posts on teaching bots ‘good values‘. Slate had a great read on the subject too – on how Amazon’s computerized decision-making can also deliver a strong dose of discrimination. Both offer perspectives on how biases, both intentional and unintentional, creep into the algorithms, and the Slate article also brings out some excellent nuances on the expectation from algorithms, and how offline retail chains (selection of store locations, for instance) and human decisions compare to algorithms.  More


Greg Egan

I have always been amazed at Neal Stephenson for being able to write Snowcrash and The Diamond Age in 1992 and 1995 respectively. I am now equally amazed that Greg Egan wrote this in 1995. In fact, even more, because while the first two books were novels and dealt with a smaller number of concepts, this book is a collection of short stories, and except for a (connected/repeat) couple, are unique concepts. Imagine, 18 stories with ideas that would still be regarded as science fiction!

In addition to this, there are at least two factors that made me a fan. The first is that while the ideas themselves are wonderfully imaginative, the focus really is on the effect on humans and humanity. Nuanced explorations of how the human psyche functions and reacts when faced with profound moral choices. The technology, though advanced, is taken as a backdrop against which societal, psychological and philosophical questions are raised and consequences revealed. ‘The Hundred Light Year Diary’, for instance, where everyone knows their fate, or ‘Eugene’, in which a couple try to design a perfect child. Both stories featuring the ‘Jewel’ are a wonderful study on the idea of consciousness. ‘The Walk’ is a fantastic thought on ‘identity’. ‘The Moat’ I found particularly relevant in this era when we are facing a widening economic divide. More