It's Christmas Day and things are finally alright. Last few months were hectic and I've barely had time to sit and relax. Our kitchen remodel project was completed earlier this month and we rearranged the living room furniture after that. The house is clean, the Christmas Tree is 🔥lit🔥, the family is asleep, and I just got done wrapping presents.
I'm looking forward to welcoming 2017 next weekend. 2016 was a grueling year personally and I hope the efforts I made throughout the year will come to fruition over the next decade. Not just work and house but also new relations and old friends. The year asked a lot out of me and I did my best to deliver. From weddings and galas to funerals and emergency room visits, this year had it all. I don't think there was a single week in the entire year when something awesome or awful didn't happen.
On the bright side, my sister had a health baby boy, Naveen joined a wonderful school, Juliet passed her boards with flying colors, and I mostly met my resolution of spending more time with the family. On the numerous not-so-bright days, I learned the value of pushing forward and doing what I needed to do without letting my emotions get in the way.
Even though there was no particular accomplishment this year that I can proudly list, I'm content with what I can best describe as my gradual increase in stoicism. Rushing both my kid and my wife to the ER on separate occasions while remaining calm and careful were experiences I hope to never go through again but I feel I came out of them stronger and better prepared (thankfully both ER visits ended up OK). Death of pets is never easy and I had to deal with more than my share of that this year. Add to this unexpected issues at work, emergencies of the social kind, and a never-ending list of paperwork, projects, appointments, and doctor's visits and you can see why I'm proud of just making it through the year without becoming an emotional wreck.
No matter what comes my way next year, I think I am better prepared to face it today than I was a year ago. And that's something I'm happy about. Here's to the passage of time!
Congratulations to my sister Roshni and brother-in-law Aashish on the birth of their son Ayaansh! I am officially a "Mama" (Maternal Uncle in Gujarati) and Naveen finally has a cousin :) Not sure when but can't wait until we all meet for a fun family gathering.
This past weekend we attended my college friend Chris' wedding up north and traveled around Philadelphia. We stayed at my wonderful friend Megan's house and she took us to Schuylkill Center’s Wildlife Clinic. We went to museums, ate greasy food, and spent quite some time just walking around downtown Philly. My buddy Arthur came to visit us and we watched classic episodes of South Park. All in all, a fantastic weekend thanks to great friends. And as always, here are the photos.
MotivationTue, 1st Nov '16, 2:20 am::
I find myself at an unexpected place in life. I am used to clawing my way out of problems when things go terribly wrong. I am familiar with waking up stressed every day and striving to stay focused amidst a score of distractions. But I am struggling to motivate myself to accomplish some big but necessary goals because things are already going according to plan.
In mathematical terms, when life's at -1, I know how to push for a +1 to arrive at a comfortable net 0. But now that life's at a chill 0 and I need to push it to +1, I am having a hard time propelling myself. Looking back at how difficult life was at -1, I am thankful that it has been at 0 for such a long stretch. But complacency kills even the mightiest and I am no exception.
We are getting our kitchen remodeled. Juliet and Naveen are healthy and doing well. My sister is days away from delivering her first child. And I have my hands full with work, personal projects, and social events. Literally nothing to complain about. And yet I find it difficult to motivate myself to get to the next level.
I spent some time thinking about the possible root causes but haven't arrived at any eye-opening conclusions yet but I did recall something from my college years that I'm going to try again. When I had to write a long paper but had no motivation to do in-depth research or write detailed arguments, I simply wrote a rough, inexact outline in one quick burst. Seeing an incomplete and potentially erroneous draft frustrated me enough to fix and expand small parts of it, slowly getting me closer to my final goal of a well-researched, comprehensive paper.
When it comes to my work of writing code, I think I'm going to quickly write a basic framework with an unacceptable number of bugs and gradually fix them until the number of bugs is acceptable. It sounds tongue-in-cheek but it's pretty much the motivation behind Exception-Driven Development. Why waste time writing code to avoid bugs that nobody will encounter when instead you can use that time and energy to fix the worst bugs and user issues?
I don't know if I'm going to wake up tomorrow pumped up to hack away at my computer but I do know that picking a better approach could help me concentrate even when my brain says "Eat some snacks and watch another episode on Netflix..." Here's to motivating myself!
DiscoveryTue, 4th Oct '16, 11:45 pm::
As I celebrated my birthday with my family today, I tried to think of something profound about life, growth, and age but couldn't. I was living in the moment and there was nothing deep or touching I could confer with anyone. I can share my political views or opinions on economic policies instantly but I can't dredge up my own feelings and emotions without a lot of contemplation.
It's been like this for a few years now. For a while I thought it was just because I was living on autopilot doing all the routine things like work, chores, and child-care but lately I've realized it is something else - I am no longer a big mystery to myself. A large part of growing up is finding out who we really are. At age 18, I didn't know if I was the kind of person who puts family first or career first. At age 24, I didn't know if I wanted to stay in one place or travel around the world. At age 30, I didn't know if I would give up on my dreams and goals for an easy life or continue to work hard. Today I know the answers to those questions, as boring as they may sound: family-first, stay-in-one-place, and continue-to-work-hard.
I don't think these are choices that one can make; I believe these are innate traits one has to discover for themselves. You can't choose what makes you happy, you can only choose to accept it and be happy or reject it and be miserable. For years, I rejected the fact that I am a homebody and forced myself to travel a lot but it didn't make me as happy as I hoped it would. Only when I accepted that I am someone who likes being at home most of the time and occasionally likes to travel, did I start enjoying both being at home and traveling.
There is still a lot about myself I don't know but most of it is about how I would deal with adversities that I have not yet faced. From dealing with my kid's future teenage angst to health issues I could have later in life, there is much I will have to discover about myself as I age. Until then, I prefer to ponder over the joyous unknowns - how I will react when Naveen writes his first computer program, what will I tell Juliet after she cooks the first meal in our soon-to-be-remodeled kitchen later this year, what will I do when I get the news of my sister's first baby in the next few weeks?
Naveen's first day at schoolWed, 7th Sep '16, 9:00 pm::
Yesterday Naveen had his first day at Saint Paul's in their brand new Early Learning Center. While we were very happy with his old daycare, we loved the infant to middle school education track at Saint Paul's. He is already running around his new classroom making friends and reorganizing the baskets of toys.
We spent the Labor Day weekend in Orlando and Naveen got to visit Disney World for the first time. He's too young to remember it but Juliet and I had fun taking him all over the park. And after all, isn't that what it's all about?
BeliefsMon, 22nd Aug '16, 1:35 am::
I fully expect everything that follows to be a long meandering brain dump of multiple subjects connected by nothing but my mental model of how the world works. Usually when I write about something other than my day-to-day routine, I treat it like a school essay and try to making a point with logical arguments. But what I've noticed is that behind my persuasive arguments is a set of core beliefs that rarely changes. And I'm not the only one. Behind almost everything I've read, heard, or seen are someone's core beliefs making a point. Listing and comparing our beliefs divides us. But discussing how our beliefs work, can help us communicate better.
Before we get to heart of our belief system, let's start with a simple opinion: The world is better/worse today than it was 20* years ago. You can rely on facts, anecdotes, or personal experiences to form an opinion on this statement. Maybe two decades ago you had a great job and cost of living was low. Or maybe you were in a bad relationship and felt stuck in life while today things are great. Your opinion is yours to have, share, defend, and sometimes change. But beneath the facts that bolster opinions or heartwarming experiences that sway them, are beliefs that seldom rely on numbers but predispose which facts and stories we listen to.
Do you believe the average person is good? If I randomly picked just ONE person out of the 7+ billion people on the planet, without seeing their face, would you trust them to return your lost wallet? Don't overthink this. Just ask yourself if you believe that to be true or false in the average case. Now ask yourself what you would do.
Do you believe the average person is lazy and unmotivated? In other words, if they could get just enough money to eat, live in a modest apartment, and afford the bare necessities of modern life, would they accept that life and quit their job or instead continue to work hard to get even further ahead in life? What would you do?
If you believe the average person is honest and hardworking, and feel the same way about yourself, realize that you are living in a world with other people who believe that while the average person (that includes you) is dishonest, lazy, and unmotivated, they themselves are good, industrious, and quite motivated. This isn't a comparison of who is right vs. who is wrong. This isn't about people having different beliefs. This is about people having contradictory beliefs about each other.
There is a famous exercise in Game Theory called the Prisoner's Dilemma (if you don't want to read about it, watch this video). In my mind, our beliefs about the goodness of an average human pits us against each other in a world-wide Prisoner's Dilemma where we all try to guess if everyone else is an honest, productive person and act accordingly. And that I think is what leads us to have differing opinions on whether the world is better or worse off today.
Our beliefs guide us to seek evidence, which helps us form our opinions. From a cold scientific, rational perspective, there is a very strict requirement for what constitutes evidence and so if you take that route, you will arrive at the currently accepted scientific consensus. But what if you believe that the scientists who came up with the conclusion that you find hard to stomach, were funded by organizations that benefit from the very conclusion? Certainly you wouldn't be wrong to believe this because there are countless examples of that. Well, then you find yourself questioning not just scientific research but news media, social media, education systems, governments, corporations, and pretty much every institution with power and means. And you would be in your right to be skeptical! Because if you believe there is corruption and greed at almost every level, you will find ample evidence to support it if you dig deep enough.
The difficulty in trying to comprehend the world today is that it is so big yet feels so small. With so many people, all things good and bad that could happen, happen daily. And with the world being so connected, we can find evidence of almost anything to match our beliefs - logical or not. The world as a whole did not know about the Nanking Massacre or Armenian Genocide for decades. Yet news of a single hero giving up his life to save others spread around the world within hours last year.
There are just too many nuanced and seemingly conflicting facts in every single aspect of our life for us to weed through. So regardless of what scientific, political, and economic theories we study, we tend to believe in some core things that cannot be easily quantified, justified, or articulated. Beliefs about race, gender, and religion are strengthened by events that we experience, which motivates us to seek additional examples to reinforce our beliefs. If you believe that women with same experience and skills are paid less than men for the same jobs, then you can find ample evidence to defend it. You may even support laws to curb the injustice. Or you might believe the wage gap is a myth with evidence to the contrary.
I have friends and family on both sides of almost every issue and what's interesting to me is how rarely does evidence change anyone's opinions. Evidence contrary to our beliefs is either an immaterial exception or further proof that the opposition is grasping at straws to maintain their lie. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Whether you support Clinton, Trump, any of the 3rd party candidates, or none of them, your beliefs are what their campaigns are piggybacking on.
On the economic front, Trump is fueled by the opinions that illegal immigration and Obamacare are the primary cause of hardship for most Americans today. Many in the media mock these openly without trying to understand why people feel this way. Beneath these opinions are the beliefs that people who break the law do not deserve amnesty and that we are better off when we can make the financial and healthcare decisions for ourselves and our families without the Government's mandate. The former is about Government not presently doing its job to stop illegal immigration and the latter is about the Government overstepping its authority. In other words, Government is doing more bad than good. While we can come up with arguments for and against these beliefs, realize that these are not purely academic ideologies we are arguing about but rather what they believe is necessary for the good of their community, country, and world.
Similarly, on the economic front, Bernie was fueled by the opinion that decades of rigged economic policies by the richest of the rich are the primary cause of Americans' hardships. Beneath this opinion is the belief that sound Government policies can curb corporate greed, or in other words, a belief that Government can do good. Clinton is fueled by the opinion that political obstruction preventing Obama from enacting the necessary policies is the primary cause and she is the one who can fix it. This is a mix of both the beliefs - people who believe that Government that can do good being impeded by others who believe that Government cannot do good.
I'd imagine that your belief in Government being capable of doing good or not is partially derived from whether you believe that people are good or not. I say partially because even if you believe the average person is honest, you might believe they don't work in the public sector for long, thereby making Government corrupt by attrition. The reason I keep bringing these types of beliefs up repeatedly is because there is no way to prove them either way - they really are something you have to accept on faith alone. With millions of people working for the Government, you can easily find evidence to prove any stance. So what you rely on is your belief that there are or aren't enough good people in public sector to help steer the country in what you believe is the right direction.
I have avoided listing my own beliefs and opinions because my point wasn't to convince you to see things my way. My point was to show that the world is so noisy, there is no point in blaring more noise at people who disagree with us. But instead, listen to the muted melody lost in the cacophony. Even the person you most vehemently disagree with has core beliefs you can rightly respect if you only cut through the mountain of opinionated drivel.
* I picked 20 years because there is more variability of viewpoints in that. Would be boring to compare today to 2 years ago (not enough time) or 200 years (only for history buffs).
Random news appearanceMon, 18th Jul '16, 9:55 pm::
We were on an impromptu local TV news segment this weekend, mainly Juliet. We didn't get anything at the auction but it was fun to bid items up real high and not have to pay. Check out the video here. This was both Naveen and my first TV appearance. Juliet was in a medical news segment last year through her work.
Now and thisTue, 12th Jul '16, 1:30 am::
I don't usually miss the past and rarely do I compare my present to the days bygone as if things are somehow worse now. Growing up, I always wanted to just grow up. Now that I'm done growing up, I think I made the right call. As wonderful as my childhood summer vacations were, I don't pine to go back to simpler days. I like now and this.
I like the present not because of what I possess or have done. I like the present because I no longer have the harrowing urge to prove myself. My entire childhood and youth was driven by the excruciating compulsion to prove my skills and abilities. Whether it be classroom, computers, or even the odd running trail, I felt an obligation to better myself and beat my past performance.
For years, I believed that the only reason I kept improving is because I kept pushing myself constantly. But the last couple of years have led me to believe otherwise. Self-improvement by persistence is not the same thing as self-improvement by pressure. All my life I conflated the two, causing me to accept the negativity of stress, neurosis, and disappointment in myself as natural companion of development. Thankfully, that was only in my mind.
I don't know what freed me from the obsession to prove myself but it couldn't have happened at a better point in my life. I am now learning more about the fields I am interested in than ever before. I am spending more time with my wife and son than I imagined I would before he was born. I am thoroughly enjoying my work and hopefully writing better code than I did in the decades past. And I am not doing this by forcing myself. I am merely doing it by casual repetition without any expectations. I like now and this.
Eye of the stormFri, 24th Jun '16, 12:00 am::
You know that feeling when you've been driving in the rain for what seems like hours and you suddenly pass under a bridge or an overpass and for a brief moment in time, everything seems peaceful? That's how I feel right now with zero emails in my inbox. For the first time in many months, I have no emails that I need to respond to or take action against. This ephemeral feeling of calmness is why I even remembered to share my thoughts here.
This year has been busier than most. In addition to email-replying and toddler-chasing, my waking moments have been consumed by family-tending, friends-attending, and money-extending. During the few hours I have to myself each week, I swim, pet our animals, and watch space videos on YouTube. A hundred years ago we thought our Milky Way Galaxy was all there is. And now we are "listening" to black-holes colliding a billion light-years away in a universe that might as well be infinite.
When my inbox has 27 emails nagging me to code this or submit that, documentaries about our ever-expanding universe help me realize my tiny, trifling place in the universe. Knowing that I am forever caught in this tug-of-war between family, friends, and coworkers who need me to do things and a universe that doesn't care if our sun goes red giant, surprisingly helps me calm down. News about politics and economy ruin my sleep if I start to care too much. So now Britain voted to leave the EU. It will slightly and indirectly affect me, along with the rest of the world. But you know what else could impact me and everyone else even more? Solar flares that can fry all of our satellites and shutdown our electric grid! Suddenly a few unanswered emails don't seem so bad, do they?
I don't think Hubble, Einstein, or Feynman unraveled the mysteries of the universe just so I could lower my stress but it sure works wonders. Maybe I should write a book on how to maintain a good work-life balance: Work hard, play with your kids, and watch videos about the 10 billion trillion trillion carat space diamond and 10 billion billion billion liters of space alcohol.
Today I went paddleboarding for the first time when we went to the local beach for one of Juliet's friend's husband's birthday party. The Gulf is finally warm enough to swim in and Naveen had a blast playing on the sand as waves came ashore. Before we went to the beach, I played table-tennis with my dad for an hour and then jumped in the pool for a couple of hours. Six hours of Florida fun in a single day!
Tomorrow my mom's brother, Ruskin Mama, and his family are flying down to Tampa. We'll hopefully go to some touristy places and get some pre-summer shopping done. It was cold for far too long. I'm glad summer is almost here.