Generalist

@ #WIN14

BlogAdda and I go a long way back, practically to around the time they were born, and when I was asked to be a speaker at #WIN14, there really was no question of not going. The icing on the cake was being a part of this excellent list of speakers!

My favourite talk of the day was delivered by one Kavi Arasu, who, first virtually and then really, has become a very good friend. As I tweeted

Meanwhile, I was part of a session whose subject was ‘Influence of Blogging’ and my fellow speakers were Lakshmipathy Bhat and Anaggh! The areas I tried to cover in 15 minutes were the changing nature of influence, its effect on brands, how blogs can help in that context and how bloggers can create a market for themselves.  (does that explain the breathlessness? :D ) Do take a look and let me know your feedback.

Shekhar Kapur made his presence felt in the second half by being his usual articulate self. His analogy of crests and troughs, and tsunamis, to explain media cycles, time, and social was just fantastic. He had the audience spellbound, and deservedly so.

It was wonderful to meet people,  some of whom I knew online, but had never met – Anaggh, Maneesh, Kalyan, Ankita, Rakesh, and others whom I got acquainted with at the event   – Ravi Subramaniam, Ashwin Mushran, (what a fantastic compering role he played!) Anuradha Goyal, Amit Agarwal, Sampath Iyengar and Anil P.

A big thanks to BlogAdda for putting together a great event (photos) and having me over, and to Courtyard by Marriott, who were great hosts!

Emotion as a Service

More than a year back, I had written about institutional realignment and had briefly mentioned the institutions of marriage and parenting. ‘The currency of relationships‘ made me think of this, and family – immediate and extended – as a societal construct/contract/ institution, and probably even as a tradition. Where we are born, and whom we are born to, are apparently out of control, but we do have an illusion of control courtesy the choices we make as we go along. Thanks to these choices, our lifestyle and our perspectives may follow a trajectory that is totally different from the circumstances and people we grew up with/in. This is not just about the people from our childhood/youth, but is a continuous process through life. Each of us find our own ways to deal with the constant flow of people through our lives. These are again choices, and like most choices involves some amount of sacrifice and bring with them their own set of consequences.

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I loved that Goethe paraphrase, because I think it sums up our relationships very well. At the risk of sounding cynical, (or receiving a ‘speak for yourself’ comment) I’d say that we’re increasingly becoming selfish as a species. I have always had the notion that most relationships are contextual, and it would be difficult to scale our emotions/feelings for others for an indefinite time frame. Yes, I do acknowledge there are exceptions, but that’s what they are – exceptions. Do a quick test and find out how many people across your life you’re still in touch with – bouts of nostalgia not included?

It is with all this as the backdrop that I read Scott Adams’ “The Future of Marriage“. It articulates very well a thought that had crossed my mind earlier. (Of course, he obviously explores it way better than I could have) He deconstructs the institution of marriage and argues that marriage made sense “when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met.” Now, he says, the internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships. In other words, a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. He tempers everything by saying that in the future, marriage may be one of the many options available. By sheer coincidence, and in a different context, I came across this quote attributed to Steve Macone “A tradition is a habit whose logic has faded“.

I thought about this in the context of the expectations I had mentioned in the ‘currency of relationships’ post. If the institution of marriage can have a barter economy, why not other relationships? After all, isn’t every relationship a barter at its core? It’s just that we are rarely comfortable with voicing our expectations in the case of an emotional ‘transaction’, quantitatively or qualitatively. (generalising) Parents expect their children to look after them when they are old, in return for bringing you up; relatives expect you to return the favours they once did for you, and so on.

So who knows, maybe our pace of life and our need to be (seen as) fair in all our relationships will conspire to form a barter ecosystem that offers emotion as a service. It is possible that an alternate path to prosperity might take us in a different direction, but in the era of the quantified self and the augmented human, when we slowly transition our selves into the cloud, maybe ‘Emotion as a Service’ (like)  is not an impossibility. What do you think?

until next time, a qualified self

Future Tensed

Thanks to Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion, (Vol 2 of The Baroque Cycle) I’ve had to do something that I haven’t done since I started reading – read two books in parallel. Every 200 pages of The Confusion, I take a break and read a volume of The Hunger Games. Neal Stephenson, to me, is genius, and I’ve been a fan since I first read Snowcrash. I could speed read The Confusion, but I really want to pay attention and understand the nuances, the humour, the larger thought and so on. I cannot do that for 800 odd pages, hence this shift.

I only understood the ‘connection’ after I started reading The Hunger Games. The Baroque Cycle is set in late 17th-early 18th centuries, and uses an excellent mix of historical and fictional characters to cover a whole variety of themes. In some ways, it uses the past to understand the present. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is set in a dystopian future, and shows a potential fate of humanity. It uses cues from the present to predict the future. The connection ends there, almost. Though at massively different levels, both require imagination, the former at a much more larger scale.

That’s what led me to think about imagination in the present. We’re in the midst of probably the biggest upheavals in the history of humanity – new technologies emerging at a rapid pace, institutional realignment, socio-cultural changes, behaviour alteration and so on. All of this means, that collectively, we’re having to run really fast just to cope. Where does that leave time for imagination? In fact, such is the assault on senses that I wonder if anything really disruptive is being written in the science fiction genre these days (I hope to be proven wrong and pointed in the right direction) because except for things like teleportation and time travel, pretty much everything that was science fiction is getting played out now, and so busy are we – trying to keep abreast – that science fiction is merely extrapolating the present (read) or giving alternate versions.

There is a term in psychology called Functional Fixedness, wiki-defined as “a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used.” With my limited knowledge, I wonder if that’s the dystopian future of the human imagination.

until next time, the end of collective imagination

Plan C

This post has been pending for a while, the date of publishing of the article that inspired the post is evidence enough. It is about people who leave their jobs to follow their passion, but instead of the success stories we are used to, it focuses on the difficulties on that path. Even if you’ve not taken that path already, it’s quite possible that you have contemplated it. It’s romantic – the freedom, being your own boss and doing the thing you like – Plan B. But it’s not easy, and it begins as early as even identifying one’s passion. (must read)

Interestingly, NYT themselves had an article almost a year later that asked “What Work is Really For” and answered that with an Aristotle quote “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” Though I didn’t know about this quote until recently, this is a perspective that I have often used to debate with people who say those who do not like their jobs should quit. There are many reasons why people don’t, and one of them is consciously making a choice to work (possibly on things they don’t enjoy) for the 2 days (and vacations) when they are able to spend their resources – money, effort and time – on things they enjoy.

The reasons people don’t scale up those 2 days could be many, including the difficulties involved in the early stages of setting up, and then maintaining a positive balance – of money and life. Money is after all an essential resource. It buys things, it opens doors. But when your passion becomes your work and your principal source of money, does it feel the same? Or does it become a job?

I liked the second NYT article also for its last 3 paragraphs. It addresses the money conundrum. It talks about how right from when we are born, we are taught to be consumers, thanks to capitalism, which though calls itself an open market where we have the freedom to buy is actually a system unto itself.  The choices are not really independent. It points out that education should be meant to make us self determining agents. True freedom requires that we take part in the market as fully formed agents, with life goals determined not by advertising campaigns but by our own experience of and reflection on the various possibilities of human fulfillment. But that’s not an easy path either. It calls for independent thinking and a subjective view of fulfillment and happiness. And that brings us to the familiar “to each his own”

until next time, work it out :)

Bonus Read: Six Rules to guide your career

Travel Gems

Paul Theroux’s “The Tao of Travel” was a goldmine of perspectives on the subject. While I did write a review on GoodReads, I really didn’t stuff it with quotes as I would have liked. :) But since this is more of a chronicle, I can afford the liberty here.

“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” Paul Theroux

“Travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts.” Paul Theroux

“I think I spend more time thinking about what I don’t want to take with me: assumptions, iPods, cameras, plans, friends, (in most cases) laptops…… expectations.” Pico Iyer

“Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually coms up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die.” Jon Krakauer

“My own feeling is that city dwellers invent the cities they dwell in. The great cities are just too big to be comprehended as a whole, so they are invisible, or imaginary, existing mainly in the mind.” Paul Theroux

“Travel is one of the saddest pleasures of life.” Madame de Staël

“I tend to think that happiness is a particular time in a particular place..” Paul Theroux

“It sometimes seems to me that if there is a fundamental quest in travel, it is the search for the unexpected.” Paul Theroux

until next time, wanderlust

Rise!

It is difficult to make the last part of a trilogy when the first two have set sky-high expectations and one managed to create a larger than life character that would probably have to be one of the best in films, ever, if not THE best. But it had to me made, and 99% would like it. And there would be a 1% hating it – either because they hate crowds, or because their stance would stand out amidst the idol worship. This also includes the .01% for whom this film – objectively and for genuine reasons known to them – didn’t work. I haven’t seen any reviews in this category yet.

So this is just a thank you note to Nolan and his team, for scripting a trilogy that took Batman out of the “Holy atomic pile, Batman!” and the more recent caricature versions to a status deserving of years of comics. For making an intelligent movie with neat hat tips to earlier villains. For wonderful visuals that let me ignore the small doses of incredulousness in the plot. For providing an awesome closure even while throwing a line of hope.

But most importantly, for putting together a perspective on morality and the idea of justice, pursuing these themes consistently across the three movies, using characters with different worldviews, backgrounds and thinking as well as modern issues such as economic crisis and terrorism to add layers to it – the affluent Wayne/Batman can afford a moral compass and changes his path from revenge to justice, Selena/Catwoman doesn’t have that luxury but also seeks a more just balance, Bane is radical and seeks an entire wipe out, the Joker was unpredictable with seemingly no plans except chaos and showing the moral decline of society – even the white knight Harvey Dent, Ra’s-Al-Ghul abhors any sort of weakness in the delivery of justice. All have their own notions of justice, fairness and the institutions of society, institutions we have chosen but whose tools have been subverted, whose rules we try to live by have slowly become unfair and shackles those who desire justice. And thus, for the idea of the Batman as a symbol for those good people who restore our faith in humanity with their actions – “Anyone can be a hero. Even a man who put a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended”, and as an ideal.

until next time, thus spake a fanboy :)

Bonus read: Nolan’s goodbye letter to Batman

‘Algebra’ & Twitter

My favourite story in Paul Theroux’ ‘The Collected Stories’ is Algebra, a simplistic tale of a clerk easing his way into London’s literary crowd through one chance meeting and several arranged ones thence.

Friendship is like algebra, but there are operations most people are too impatient or selfish to perform. Any number is possible!…. But one can be unselfish…. in giving everything and expecting nothing but agreeable company. ‘Giving everything’, I say, but so little is actually required – a good-natured remark, a little flattery, a drink.

Last week, I completed 5 years on Twitter, and while I haven’t broken into literary circles nor started drinking, I have made friends. In the self conscious, real time and usually selfish world of twitter, where snap judgments are the order of the day, it is not easy to give at all, let alone expect much in return. And yet, many a time, I have been at the receiving end of acts of kindness. On most of these occasions, they are unaware of what they’ve done and the difference they have made. I’d like to think that I have passed it on. But meanwhile, they reside in my favourite list on twitter.

until next time, follow through :)

Restaurant Guide 2012 – Zomato gets real!

Since Zomato has made a smart strategic decision in Bangalore – moved to the food bowl of the city – Koramangala, I only had to walk a bit to get this one. :)

A bit of an intro before we talk about the guide. My affection for Zomato – from the time I tried their app – has been documented in early 2011 on my other blog. They’ve come a long way since then – on design, scale across domains, and funding. The first 2 have been shared with the crowd, the last, unfortunately not. ;) At a very rough level, there are two things that I feel are the pillars for a venture like this – content and ‘technology’ (user experience, database, back-end infrastructure etc) – for it to truly become a great community, and I know at least one person in each of these areas at Zomato who are extremely good at their job. Karthik on food, and Pankaj on the rest. (Disclosure: I have to be nice to them because I’d really like to get my hands on the 2013 food guide early too! ;)) Ok, enough about them, let’s talk about the guide.

Regular users of Zomato would automatically notice the consistency of symbols used. But the really interesting part is the navigation. The guide not only has quick reckoners based on cuisine type, but also provides a mood/occasion based quick reference where it covers  (for example) girls night out, romantic dinner etc. The other part where it scores is the utility angle – so it has notables, (how many times has a visiting friend asked you which is the must-visit place in Bangalore) Sunday brunch, (I consider this a personal favour based on the queries I have received on this one!) late nighters (thankfully I don’t get these, but I have no doubts on its usefulness) and so on.

After this, the guide moves on to an alphabet based listing, with more details like timings, typical cost etc. This is also where Zomato’s inherent strength shines through – user review snippets and community rating. (with a ‘from x user votes’) The other really useful feature here is the Don’t Miss. There are also Citibank offers in some places. (also indexed at the end of the guide for easier reference) But the most kick-butt feature of all is the QR code for each restaurant, which in addition to helping you view menus, photos etc, also lets you know something as basic as whether the place still exists! All of this at Rs.199/- I’d say, worth the investment.

A few things I’d like to have seen – one way to appreciate the community would have been to mention the user in the review snippets. Quite a job, but it would mean a lot for the user.  (probably make it a contest, and use one with maximum votes) It would be great to also provide an area based navigation. There is an index at the end which is again alphabetic, this could probably be converted for the purpose. Lastly, since Zomato is also active in other cities, a quick ‘notables’ for other cities would help, especially since their audience would also be the traveling kind.

The general feeling I got though, was one of exhaustion. I have covered almost 150 restaurants on this blog, and this book made me realise that I’ve not even scratched the surface!

Book values

Sometime back, a colleague excitedly pointed me to Bookshelf P0rn, and I remembered bookmarking it a year back. The room with massive bookshelves has been one of the key attractions of the ‘when we buy our final home’ thoughts. (‘buying homes for life stages’ is another post :) )

Yes, I’m still one of those who religiously visit Blossoms on Church Street, and get a high when I walk around shelves that house a musty smell of old books, when I run my hand through ridges and pages and discover stories within stories, when I read words that reach out to me from across time and space. And yet, with the reader and tablet explosion, I wonder how long these books will be around. Even if I stubbornly resisted e-books, would there be a market to support it? The economics just might not work out. These thoughts crossed my mind when I read this wonderful article on the process of book publishing – its past, present and future.

On Brain Pickings, one of my favourite sites, I caught these words from Carl Sagan that completely resonate with me

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

I’m just getting familiar with the idea of a book community thanks to Goodreads. The idea of reading books and seeing annotations left by those who have read it before me, ‘browsing their thoughts’, including, probably the author’s, and thus ‘traveling’ across time and space does seem fascinating, something that is provided by the current form of reading only to some measure.

In the interim, I wish someone would build a white label e-book, that looks and feels just like a real book, one which I can really bookmark, flip pages etc, but one in which I can download a book and it would automatically change the cover, re-paginate and bring in all the benefits of technology. Best of both worlds to help me evolve! Maybe it already exists. :)

until next time, booking the future

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” (Bill Gates)

Kochi chronicles – Part 1

It looks as though the cosmos reads my posts, well almost. The 2 hour bus ride to Cochin was spent near the window seat, close enough to see the night lights. Especially at the stadium where the Kerala Strikers were trouncing their Bollywood opponents in the CCL, and the collective star power was only eclipsed by the floodlights, which dominated the sky. Dinner was the must-have dish on every Cochin trip, from a restaurant which I used to frequent, but whose special dish I discovered much later thanks to a distant relative. The restaurant has shifted since, but thankfully, the dish survived the trip. :)

A trip to a hospital which has been witness to many childhood exploits was the first agenda of the next day. The backbone apparently had its own growth agenda, the tangential perks of a daily face to monitor relationship with the computer. Reminders of mortality too, but a trip I was looking forward to was scheduled for later in the day, and that dispelled the morbid thoughts.

Despite living in Cochin for more than two decades, Fort Kochi and Mattancheri had always been faraway places for me. My connection to them, for a long time, had been that they used to be the final destinations of the buses I used to travel in. Whenever I saw someone take a ticket to these places, I used to look at them curiously. A “where do you live, what happens there, what is it like – living there” look. Later, I had quite a few school friends who used to live there, and I knew the names of the localities they lived in and talked about – Cherlai, Kappalandimukku… :) I had a friend in college too, my regular travel companion, who lived in Pandikudy.

But it was only much later, when I started working in Cochin, that I actually visited these places. Despite frequent biriyani trips, I could never master the lane mazes there. An era before Google Maps. And despite the familiarity these trips created, these places, especially Fort Kochi, never lost the little bit of magic it held for me. The last time I visited the place was around 4 years back – part of an official trip, and as a ‘tourist’. :)

This time, the other M, my sister, a regular visitor, kept teasing D in front of shops with “Madam, you want Kerala sari?” We went by the synagogue, the Police History Museum, visited Jew Town, and watched the backwaters from a cafe + curios outlet which charged tourists for window shopping. At Fort Kochi, a walk along the Chinese fishing nets was mandatory, and on the wall nearby, someone had painted his expression of the Mullaperiyar controversy. A refreshing iced tea + chocolate cake at the Kashi Gallery+Cafe later, we were on our way back.

   

   

  

But there was one stop left before we got back home. One of my favourite areas in all of Cochin – Willingdon Island. Island, which has always remained the same. From Cochin’s old airport, which was returned to the Navy a long time ago, to the shipping container yards, the KV School grounds, the shipping offices, warehouses past their glory days and now in disrepair, and buildings which seem to tell us stories of another time.  The world has changed, and yet they remain, like a living snapshot of another era. These are the places where I learned to drive a car, where numerous hours were spent convincing people to buy broadband internet, where endless cups of tea were consumed dreaming about the future. Time on Island has always stood still for me. We stood by the sea, watching the Vallarpadam container terminal come up, the Rainbow Bridge, Bolgatty and so on, as ferries carried people home.

Cochin might be a big city in the making, but it sleeps early, for now. Even as we got out for dinner, at just after 8, most shops were closed/beginning to close, and traffic was minimal. We had dinner at 14 Avenue, which served some excellent pasta and cannelloni. The best way to end the day is with good chocolate cake, and that’s exactly what we did.

 
The thing with hometowns is that there are many streets and places which activate memories. It is as though they are always waiting for me, to share a common story, to ask me if I remember, to tell me what has happened since, and if I will pass by to see them the next time I visit. Though our paths have separated since, each road has shared a journey with me, and every time I step on them, I step out of myself and think of the younger me who walked these roads.

until next time, walk on