Welcome to T-WoodstockWed, 3rd Nov '21, 2:30 pm::

So we've been in our new house in Woodstock for only a week and turns out we won T-Mobile's free home internet service for a year! While in Florida, I read about T-Mobile selecting Woodstock, IL as the winner of their 'Hometown Techover' challenge, basically they picked a small town among thousands from across the US to upgrade their infrastructure to 5G internet for cellphone and home use. And as part of the winning town, 100 local families were randomly selected to get free internet, TV, and some other goodies. As a new resident of Woodstock, we happen to be one of these 100.

Maybe it's a coincidence but I read about this challenge a few months ago while we were still in Florida because I was trying to find a backup internet provider in addition to the primary Comcast Xfinity service. I saw T-Mobile was going to start offering 5G in Woodstock but they had not rolled it out yet. Since I work remotely and cannot be without internet for long, I definitely want to have a backup in case my primary internet is down.

Hah! And this might sound like I'm making this up for effect but just after I typed the above sentence an hour ago, Comcast went down! If I had T-Mobile 5G at home service as a backup, my router would have switched to it transparently and I may not even have noticed for the most part. I believe it will be a month or so before I receive the new equipment. Santa is going to be nice to me for Christmas this year!

Here's me (in Mammoth Cave t-shirt) holding a giant winner banner. Always wanted to do this! Another check off my bucket list.

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Hello WoodstockSun, 24th Oct '21, 11:35 pm::

Tonight is our first night sleeping in our new home in Woodstock, Illinois. We flew into Chicago from Tampa on Friday and stayed in a local hotel until this morning. Our furniture isn’t here yet so we are sleeping on air mattresses for now. Life’s an adventure!

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Big thingsSun, 10th Oct '21, 12:45 am::

It's been a while since I last wrote about the little things in life and my, what a surprising turn of events these past 3 months have been. Forget about the frivolities of happiness, passion, and creativity that I mused about in June. July brought my whole family face-to-face with jarring life and death decisions.

My brother-in-law Aashish started experiencing severe neurological symptoms and MRI showed he had a 4cm tumor-like mass in his brain. My parents flew to my sister's home in Hyderabad and after a sleepless week of doctors visits and diagnostic plans, we were convinced that the best recourse was immediate brain surgery. And shockingly enough, the surgery showed it was not a tumor but rather a sphenoid fungal ball – basically sinus infection that went haywire and ended up creating a golf-ball sized mass in his brain!

On the night Aashish returned home from a successful surgery, my octogenarian grandma started having seizures that lasted 72 hours! So my parents, who were already away from their home in Kolkata, now spent two weeks in hospital in 12-hour alternating day/night shifts, watching over her. While this was going on, Juliet's MS symptoms started getting drastically worse due to Florida heat. So my parents were in hospital with grandma, my sister was in and out of hospitals with her husband, and I was beside Juliet 24/7 while poring over MRIs and lab reports for the whole family.

August started with good news. Aashish was feeling better post-surgery. My grandma's condition stabilized and my parents managed to fly her home. And Juliet had some good evenings when it got cooler though she was in bed most days. And that's when I decided it was time for change. I resumed my search for a home in a cooler place and on August 10th, I got the whole family in the van and drove up north to the quaint little city of Woodstock, Illinois on the outskirts of Chicago. I knew I had found our dream home but before we bought it, I wanted Juliet to see it for herself. And honestly, we knew it was the right one the moment we pulled into the driveway.

We immediately put an offer on the house and the sellers accepted it. We stayed near Chicago for a week to finalize home inspections etc. and get a feel for the area. Illinois was about 15ºF cooler than Florida and Juliet was full of energy the whole time. On the way down to Florida, I booked a ranger-guided accessible tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We went 280ft down a large elevator, directly into the cave system, where the temperature is always a cool 54ºF. I expected Juliet to freeze but instead she absolutely loved it! MS does weird things. That just reinforced my belief that Illinois is the right move for us, despite the freezing winters.

We got home to Florida, started planning the big move, and after a month of non-stop mortgage, insurance, and legal paperwork, finally bought the house in late September. We are permanently moving to Woodstock in a couple of weeks! Part of the reason we waited to move was Juliet's early-October infusion of MS treatment, Ocrevus. She did great with it this time around and is recovering well.

As we are planning our move, my parents are also moving from Kolkata, West Bengal to Vadodara, Gujarat. My dad has lived in Kolkata since birth and so this is a pretty big move for him, especially since they will be moving out of my childhood home. But it will be a good move because they will be closer to family, be in a community that caters to seniors, and have a more active lifestyle with gardens, pool, and clubhouse right outside their doorstep. On a complete unrelated note, my sister is also moving to their new home in Bangalore in a few months.

Next few weeks are going to be insane for me, especially since I'm coordinating the packing, loading, moving, and unloading the entire home, along with selling our Florida home, and flying the whole family and many of our pets to Chicago. Among the things we will miss the most about Florida are the pets we cannot take with us. Today I held back my tears and gave our goats Marco and Polo away to a friend of a friend. She also took Naveen's two chickens Day/Night and Pretty. Our friend Megan will take the three Sulcata tortoises. Juliet and I spent the last decade creating a mini-zoo in our backyard and it is heartbreaking to see it slowly disperse. I want to say c’est la vie but since I actively took the decision to give them away, it's hard not to blame myself instead of just life. But I know it is the right decision because right now my focus needs to be on Juliet and the kids. And we're already taking our chihuahua Ladybug, cats Giga & Tera, birds Echo, Mango, and still-unnamed-after-5-years male Gouldian finch, and Rosie the red-foot tortoise. So we will still have a tiny-mini-zoo. Ladybug is over 15-years-old and Giga & Tera are over 17! I don't think I'm prepared for what's most likely coming in the next year or so.

Over the past decade, my family has had a lot of issues with health, work, school, childcare etc. and it has been hard for everyone to relate to each other because my parents don't have much experience with adoption and I don't have much experience with my brother-in-law's graduate studies. But July started us on a path of shared experiences. All of us had to deal with a household member with neurological issues and decipher MRIs. Then August got all of us looking for our next house. Followed by September of planning the big moves. October I'm moving. November probably my parents. And hopefully Q1 2022 my sister. We'll all have new addresses, new neighbors, new doctors, new favorite restaurants, and new experiences.

We know we're not out of the woods just yet. My grandma needs 24/7 nursing care. Aashish is waiting for the next set of MRIs to reassure us that his anti-fungal meds are working. And Juliet has more bad days than good for now. But things are looking up. She's lived in Florida all her life but is excited to explore the mid-west with our kids. So many new parks and museums to check out! So many corn-mazes and hayrides to go on! So many vacations and tours to enjoy!

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Little thingsThu, 24th Jun '21, 12:05 am::

At the midpoint of 2021, I'm feeling a lot more optimistic than I did at the start of the year. Juliet is managing her MS quite well and has been in a great mood lately. She is getting used to moving around with a cane and walker and I've gotten quite adept at setting up her wheelchair when we go outdoors. While initially her limited mobility issues wore her out, she's used to it now and we have gotten better at planning her excursions. I've been taking her to USF Tampa for weekly physical therapy sessions and hopefully her gait and strength will continue to improve.

Over the past 10 months, she has learned as much as possible about her condition and gradually adopted a comfortable daily routine. She found that napping 2-3 hours during the day gives her the most energy and mental clarity to interact with family and friends. She learned that the best time for her to work out is early morning and late at night. We all learned that she absolutely cannot handle sensory overload from too much noise, light, or movement. So as long as we accommodate these things, it feels we're back in the pre-MS days.

Now that Naveen's on summer break, we've been spending our days together. I started playing Scrabble with him and Juliet's been reading to Leela a lot. Adele's been taking care of the kids when Juliet takes rest and I take over when I need a break from coding. Honestly, after a year of uncertainty and sleepless nights, it feels good to be able to enjoy the little things again.

And the little things are indeed wonderful. When I got home today, before I even walked into the living room, I heard Leela gleefully exclaim "DADA!" Later when I asked Naveen to help clean up the toys, he pretended to be asleep. I told him I'll use a flashlight to point to every toy that needs to be picked up and he instantly perked up! I spent the next 10 minutes pointing at various objects on the floor and he happily ran around picking them up and stowing them away.

I think a big part of achieving happiness is defining what happiness means for yourself. I've spent a lot of time wondering about happiness - does it come from fulfilling a life goal or mission, pursuing your passion, helping others, finding love, winning awards, overcoming adversities, attaining ambitions, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee while reading a good book on a lazy Sunday. I don't think there is a single path to happiness. I think it varies. Varies from person to person, from moment to moment. Tonight it was Juliet trying to prepare dinner for me even after I asked her to rest. Yesterday it was the kids jumping on me when I sat down on the floor. And last week it was reminiscing about building websites back in the day.

I was getting a little worried over the past year that I might have lost the spark within myself that made me want to be creative. Maybe I'm too old now to be as excited about making new things. Maybe I no longer have the energy or ability to work on my own tech ideas like I used to. Last year has been exhausting and I feel pretty burned out so I was afraid maybe this is permanent and this is the new me - the boring, loving dad who's always tired. Well, thankfully, over the past few weeks, I'm starting to feel like my old self again. It's going to take a while before I can get into my 2005-2014 creative headspace again but instead of being afraid that I'll never feel like that again, I'm making that my next life goal. Until then, I shall keep treasuring the wonderful little things in life.

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Video GamesWed, 7th Apr '21, 12:45 am::

I have vague early-childhood memories of my parents and their friends hooking up wired remote controllers to an old black & white TV in the early 80s to play pong. I never got to play it but soon after we got a handheld pinball video game that my sister and I loved, similar to this Nintendo. I was never good at it but it was fun. Few years later we borrowed a ZX Spectrum from a family friend for the summer and played JetPac. This was around the time PCs were becoming common in India and I got to try out the original Prince of Persia. My friends were playing Contra on NES but I never got into it.

Few years later we got our own PC, a brand new Intel 486 DX2 with 8MB RAM and 500MB Hard Disk, and over next few years my sister and I played so many games on it from Gods and Jazz Jackrabbit to Aladdin and Lion King. As I was still pretty bad at games, I discovered the wonders of Game Wizard, a background app that allowed me to freeze the number of lives I had so that even after my character died, I could play over and over again without losing. I made a few simple PC board games around mid 90s but didn't really go down the gamedev path. Then Wolf 3D, Doom, Need for Speed, and Terminal Velocity came out and my cheating apps didn't help.

After I started coding business systems in late 90s, I stopped playing games. In early 2000s, during my college years, I only finished one game, Splinter Cell because a good friend of mine, Chris, loved it and gave me tips. My favorite part of Splinter Cell was that I could save and load any time. So I would save right before I entered a room full of bad guys and keep loading the saved game until I managed to shoot them all without dying. I was terrible at it but I finished it without needed a modern Game Wizard cheat.

In 2005, I came across Falling Sand Game and loved it. It was more of a toy than a game but I'm fairly certain that when I decrypted the Java code and resized the tiny game to be full-screen, it launched the genre. I didn't write the game but I'm pretty sure I pushed the metaphorical "GO!" button and I think I also came up with the name itself. Other than this, I don't think I played any games until after I married Juliet and we tried Portal. It took us a few weeks but we loved solving the puzzles together and finished it after much effort. I listened to the Still Alive song from the game for months after. We tried Portal 2 a few years later but never completed it.

I rarely played games on my phone but Juliet tried a few ones like Candy Crush. Then my parents got me into a few word game apps but it was under 20-30mins per week. When Naveen turned 4, I installed Terraria on his Kindle and he started playing it. Couple of years ago I bought Oculus Quest and tried out Beat Saber and enjoyed it until our living room was once again overtaken by baby toys.

Last year we started playing a few games together on the Apple TV and during the initial lockdowns, Naveen and I got into Oceanhorn 2. We played it all summer and when the game was over, I was crushed because it was such a great experience just sitting in the living room with kids, looking for hidden treasures to collect on-screen. Thankfully for Naveen, he and Juliet started playing Sneaky Sasquatch soon after and I believe they are still exploring that game 9-10 months later today.

Earlier this year, I bought the new Xbox Series X and we all started playing games together again. We absolutely loved Call of the Sea and What Remains of Edith Finch. I finished Gears 5 on my own, with Naveen occasionally telling me to "go there" or "pick that up" from the sidelines, but the experience was nothing like when we played Oceanhorn because Gears is not really a kid-friendly game.

I haven't started a new game with Juliet yet but after trying out a LOT of different games, Naveen and I finally have a new game we love to explore together, Outer Worlds. It is a surprisingly feature-packed game with so much to explore, ton of player customization and upgrades, and great story-line and interactivity. Naveen uses his experience from Terraria and suggests how I should modify my gear, barter items, or select newly unlocked perks. We haven't finished it but we've explored a lot of the game already and can't wait to see where it goes.

Three decades after getting my hands on a video game, I am still terrible at them. I can barely fight an enemy boss without half a dozen attempts to save and reload. I often get lost and have to go into the same rooms and hallways repeatedly just to find my bearings. And despite all of it, I thoroughly enjoy playing video games, especially with family. I miss the days my sister and I would stay up all night just to get past one tricky level. Now I get to relive those exciting moments and nerve-racking emotions again with Naveen in every new game we try, and someday maybe with Leela.

Books, films, TV shows, and music each have their own place in my heart when I want to engage in passive entertainment. Board games and outdoors adventures are wonderful for active entertainment. But video games for me hit the perfect spot as a blend of both active and passive activity and best of all, since I am so bad at them, last for weeks and even months! And I think it is this prolonged participation in each particular game that leaves such deep, wonderful memories in my mind. Because when we're playing a new game, I am living in that world for a long time, unlike a 2-3 hour movie or a few evenings worth of reading a good book.

I have watched every Marvel and DC movie made in the last 20 years, most of them multiple times. Last summer we spent over 120 hours playing Oceanhorn. That's twice as long as all of these movies combined and then some. And best of all, I spent every single one of those hours engaging with Naveen, asking him why he wants to go there or pick that up, letting him come up with the winning strategy, working with him on his decision-making process. Sure, at the end of the day it's all just games but we needed the escape from reality when Juliet was alone in the hospital after her diagnosis of MS. And now while we await the results of her secondary, possible diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis, I'm just glad that Juliet seems interested in playing Fallout 4 next.

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Tue, 9th Mar '21, 10:50 pm::

Just over three months ago, before Christmas, I had a long list - list of life things that I was working hard to make happen. I was in the process of admitting Naveen to a school that might work out better for him next year. I was getting paperwork done for Juliet's extended medical leave from her job. I was trying to get an au pair to come stay with us to help us take care of the kids. I was trying to setup physical therapy equipment at home so Juliet could improve her balance and coördination. I was amending our taxes since Leela finally got a social security number after months of paperwork.

With each and every one of these tasks, I hit one snag after another. A form didn't arrive on time, an email I sent was stuck in someone's junk folder, the person I was working with got transferred, and so on. Every day I kept going over the list, kept pushing, and kept waiting for things to go my way. And one by one, they started to. Naveen got into the school we applied to. Juliet's paperwork is in process. I bought and painfully assembled a gym-grade Recumbent Stepper for Juliet. I finalized all the tax paperwork and sent it to my accountant. And against all odds and honestly, as a welcome surprise to us, our au pair Adéle finally arrived from South Africa!

This weekend I took everyone out on a long car ride. We stopped by the beach, drove to the local park, and got some delicious take out food. Today, I took Naveen and Adéle to the recently renovated Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin from Dolphin Tale. Things are not fully back to normal yet but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once Juliet, Adéle, and I come to a good routine for childcare and housework, I can finally sleep again!

In less than two weeks, Juliet gets her next 6-month infusion of Ocrevus. She is already feeling quite fatigued lately and will continue to feel worse until about a week after the infusion. Once she feels better, I'm hoping we can go on a mini-vacation towards the end of March or early April. Until then I'm just going over my list daily. Find a lightweight electric wheelchair so we can go to theme parks again. Fix the pavements on both sides of the house because the tree roots have made the concrete slabs a bit wobbly. Clean out my van before the replacement arrives this weekend. Put in the car seat for Leela and a new booster seat for Naveen once the new van is here. Help Adéle setup a bank account. Fill out forms for Juliet's next doctor's appointments. Fix Juliet's car battery so Adéle can start driving. And so on.

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BlinkTue, 2nd Feb '21, 12:55 pm::

I blinked and it was suddenly February. 2021. I was just about done with putting away Christmas decorations. Moments after our Thanksgiving dinner. I blinked and suddenly there were multiple successful vaccines for COVID-19. I had just shot a funny video with Naveen about six feet of social distancing before the lock downs started. I blinked and Leela is walking across the room already. I was just holding her for the first time in the hospital in Arizona. I blinked and I was forty. I was just getting started with college, just moved to Florida, just met Juliet.

I don't really have any insights or revelations to share here. Just sitting here, in awe of the passage of time. Life is so surprising that I cannot even imagine the future a few years from now. The next blink and I could be 60, 75, on my last breath. Everyday I fulfill my role as a husband, parent, son, friend, programmer. I walk around thinking I am *this* or I am *that*. But as I write this, only thing I can honestly say is that I am moving through time, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly; always in control of my actions, mostly in control of my emotions, though rarely in control of my destiny. I like to pretend I am an active participant in this life but every time I blink, I wonder how did I get here. It's like that feeling you get when you are driving home from work for the 1874th time and are on auto-pilot right until you pull into the garage.

On a day to day basis, I make decisions with my full attention. I always try to be present in the moment. And yet when I look at the date, the 'year' figure seems wrong. It can't really be 2021, right? I mean I just had my 5th wedding anniversary in 2013. Just 2005 when I bought my first house. Just 1999 before the Y2K bug. This is not a matter of regret, unmet expectations, or what-if scenarios. This is me wondering how I made it through all of that already. I'm halfway through the ride. And it's accelerating with every blink.

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Tech Things I was wrong aboutSun, 29th Nov '20, 11:25 pm::

For centuries, people have made predictions on what the world will be like decades and centuries into the future. I am a lot more interested in 5-10 year predictions than 20-50-100 year ones because the former are more actionable. Like many others, I could easily see that streaming services were going to take over the world and that nearly everyone was going to have a smart phone. Nothing worth bragging about as it was pretty obvious since 2005 unless something went terribly wrong.

What fascinates me are the things that I was wrong about 5-10 years ago, not because I lost money or respect over it (trust me, I care for neither of those) but because it means I was imagining a different world than the one we live in now. It means that today when I see 5-10 years into the future, I could be similarly wrong and it is best that I take some time to look back and alter my underlying assumptions that turned out to be wrong.

1. Bandwidth: I grew up with 28kbps and 56kbps dial-up connection and personally experienced the jumps to DSL, then cable modem, and right into the 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE speeds. And now I manage fiber and cloud networks at 5-10gbps daily. So you would think that someone in my place would be optimistic about there always being enough bandwidth in the future. But turns out I am not. At each of these stages, I could not foresee things getting any faster and instead spent my time optimizing and building for the current speed. While this sounds like a bad thing, it actually works in my favor in day-to-day work situations because it makes me build things that work fast now, not after everyone upgrades to 5G. However, if I was more "futuristic" in my thinking, I would build things for the future. So when 7G comes, my bandwidth-hog 3D video-streaming game-simulation app will be just what people try out first.

2. Video Streaming: Tagging along with my bandwidth shortsightedness, has been my ever pessimistic view on how much video streaming will really be possible. I always thought Netflix wouldn't be able to support streaming a hundred million streams simultaneously so they will come up with alternatives like P2P streaming, DVR-style recording/downloading, custom devices with terabytes of storage etc. But instead they did something that just blew my mind because of how plainly logical it was - they worked with major ISPs and put Netflix servers right on the ISPs internal network and wrote code that cached the most commonly viewed streams. This means that when I click 'Play' on my TV to watch a popular Netflix show, the file is coming to me straight from my ISP's building in my city a few miles away, not across the Internet from New York or California.

3. Compression: I was wrong about how limited the video quality would be too, as I watch nearly everything in 1080p and some 4K today. Compression has continued to blow my mind at how great things look and how small lossy video/audio files are. Sure, nothing beats 70mm film in theory but I can barely see any blurriness or distortion when watching a YouTube video on my phone. Even now I scoff at 8K videos, who needs that! But based on how wrong I have been in the past, within a few years I will surely be annoyed when the 8K stream I'm watching on my virtual glasses hiccups a bit. All of this is made possible due to the insane level of compression thanks to literal geniuses in math, signal processing, and computer science.

4. Battery vs. Phone Weight: I have absolutely been wrong about this and I still don't know why the world doesn't see it my way. My phone is thin and light enough. Even when it's brand new, the battery barely lasts 8 hours. Just make the damn phone thicker and give me a 3-7 day battery! Stop making the screen bigger. But turns out I was wrong. People want thin, light phones that they have to charge 3x a day. Literally every person I know connects their phone to charge the moment they sit down for an hour. I'm not saying I thought batteries would be better by now. I thought people would realize that long battery life was worth the excess weight. But turns out I'm wrong.

5. A.I.: I'm still every pessimistic about strong or general AI i.e. computers with human-level intelligence or beyond (super AI). I don't think that's happening any time soon. I was also always optimistic about weak or narrow AI that has a very specific task like image recognition or text to speech. What I could never imagine was that throwing a data-center's worth of computing resources into a narrow AI can actually make it perform close to a general AI for most purposes. In simpler words, while we don't have a magical smart AI genie, we have really good software that can translate between languages, and if we make that software learn the entirety of everything ever posted on the Internet, the resulting AI will not only be great at translating between languages but it will also be capable of translating between languages it has never seen before. It will also be capable of writing new text in any language, like news reports, based on a few key inputs. This isn't necessary strong AI but for all intents and purposes, it is good enough. If you've read a stock market summary of the day in the last 5 years, it's AI.

6. Bluetooth: I was more optimistic on this than reality turned out to be. I thought we would have better alternatives to crappy Bluetooth by now. Turns out we don't. I don't even want to get into why because it is just 500 pages of depressing.

7. Social Media: I easily saw where Twitter and Facebook were going to end up and the reality is not too far off from my expectations. I am not surprised with walled gardens and information bubbles etc. That was only natural. What I am surprised about is how easily you can still live without them. I don't use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or any number of cool social media apps. I still read and infrequently post on reddit and watch some of my favorite science/tech channels on YouTube regularly. However, I've easily gone weeks without so much as looking at reddit and I signed up to watch my YouTube creators on Nebula for $5/mo. Literally nothing in my life is going to change if any or all of these social media sites went away instantly today. I might have some more time to kill and maybe will read more. I am utterly shocked that something hasn't compelled me to start using them like kids school programs or neighborhood or medical community chat. As relieved as I am to say all this today, I am also still pretty pessimistic for the future. I'm fairly certain there will be a time when I absolutely will have to sign up for some social media site just to go about my life. Note that I don't hate them or anything. I just don't have the time or energy to maintain an online presence beyond this blog.

8. Remote Desktops: I was more optimistic on this too than what really transpired. I thought by now, we would all have an individual "computer" in the cloud that we'd pay $5-10/mo for and it would have all of our files and software that we could access from any computer, phone, TV etc. I thought may be a small token or app on our phone would make any computer/monitor into a full-blown desktop with all of our data. Technically this is absolutely possible today and it was possible 10-15 years ago too. I just thought it would be common. So if a friend came over, they would just connect to their remote desktop on our living room TV and show vacation photos. Instead, people text each other entire movies (hello #1-3 above) or "cast" their phone to a Android/iOS device connected to the TV. The latter technically mirrors my original vision but the phone is the source of the data, not a gateway to the cloud server, so it's not the same. I think if you are in the Apple ecosystem, there are some signs of going this way with AppleTV playing your iCloud photos/videos, sharing your purchased apps/games with family members etc. However, it's all connecting to computers that Apple controls and manages, not you.

9. Self-driving automobiles: I still can't believe we have these and that they work in most environmental conditions. I also can't believe that they are not already the standard in every new car. I thought it would take forever to have cars that drive on their own. Or rather, the whole world would need to install magnets or sensors underneath every road and highway so trucks and cars would detect them and stay in the proper lane. Instead Narrow A.I. (#5 above) got so good at image recognition and depth perception that it can drive cars and identify road markers in real-time. Totally blows my mind. I also thought that the moment one car company came out with self-driving cars, it would be just a few years before every new car would self-drive because that's the best way to ensure safety and remain competitive. But instead every company is selling a few self-driving features like lane-keep and adaptive cruise control in their higher-end models while completely skipping on these for their economy class. I get why they do this because of costs but I thought consumer demand would necessitate these safety features. Nope, I'm wrong for now.

10. Video Conferencing: COVID-19 did more for video conferencing in 2 months than tech advocates did in 20 years. There is literally no way I could have predicted every person with a laptop or phone totally being ok with multi-hour Zoom sessions. Sure, there is still a lot of room for improvement but my 5 year old spends 4 hours each weekday on MS Teams video conferencing with his classmates and teacher in virtual school. That is amazing!

I'm sure I have many other current assumptions about the future that will be proven wrong eventually but for now I am just happy that many of my pessimistic predictions turned out wrong. I am glad Netflix can do 4K on a thin, light cellphone that can also educate my kid during a pandemic. I think I'm going to spend some time on what I believe the upcoming 5-10 years in technology will be like and maybe come up with ideas on how I can create tools for that future instead of just making things for immediate use today.

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Risk ToleranceThu, 26th Nov '20, 4:45 am::

Many of my friends are aghast at the absolute lack of precautions millions of people are taking with respect to Coronavirus. At the same time, I know many people who are going about their lives with or without masks convinced that the pandemic fears are overblown. It is hard for people to reconcile with the actions of their polar opposites because everyone is judging everyone else based on their personal level of risk tolerance.

People who have health issues cannot comprehend how others can be so callous about hanging out in large groups. People in good health, especially those under 35-40, do not feel the need to put their life on hold for another 6-9 months, when they don't have much to lose if they get infected. If you think wearing mask is a binary choice - either you wear it properly or you don't, then it is impossible to tolerate people who do the opposite from you.

However, if you rate your adherence to wearing mask on a scale of 1 to 10, then you might find you are at a 7, not 10. Which means you are close to a 5 mask wearer than a 10. Add 1 point for each criteria below to see how strictly you stick to wearing masks properly. The list gets harder to adhere to with each criteria (think earthquake Richter scale):

Chirag's Mask Adherence Checklist:

  1. I wear a mask whenever I leave my house
  2. I make sure my mask is tightly sealed around my face, over my nose/mouth, and does not fog my glasses
  3. I will not eat inside a restaurant
  4. I will not enter a business if more than 5 people are in a 10'x10' area
  5. I do not order drive-thru fast-food or eat outdoors at a restuarant
  6. I wear a mask even if I am alone in my office or anyone comes to my house
  7. I use masks with filters and change them as per guidelines
  8. I sanitize my hands after adjusting or touching my mask every single time
  9. I don't use cloth masks, only professional ones like N95
  10. I double-mask using two different types of material (N95 + surgical, or surgical + cloth with filter)

The problem with wearing masks is that nobody is going to be 100% on each of these conditions at all times. If you absolutely do 100% of the above at all times, congrats on winning 2020. But I'm going to be honest here. I rate about 4-6 on this, depending on how my day is going. I could try to do more but realistically I just can't. Things are hard enough as it is. Juliet's probably 9-10 on this, Naveen 2-3, Leela 0. So we have four people in our house with four different mask adherence scores. And this is just mask, let alone all other things like washing hands, not touching your face, maintaining social distancing etc.

This year has been tough. We're all trying to do our best as per our personal level of risk tolerance and abilities. I am closer to Naveen's level of adherence of most days than Juliet's. Does that mean I don't care about my wife's health? Absolutely not. It simply means I am different from her and as long as I do the top 4-5 things on this list, my risk is greatly reduced. Juliet cannot afford to get infected so she does nearly all of this. I can absolutely understand why some of my friends who are a 6 on this scale get frustrated at people who are a 3. But by the same token, Juliet at 9 should go ballistic on me at 5 but in truth, the risks are not proportional to the effort necessary.

Wearing a mask properly whenever you are in public is good enough for most people. Double-masking N95 + surgical is probably only 1-5% better than wearing a properly fitted cloth mask with filter. But it is a lot more work to wear two masks. So sticking to the top few items is usually good enough. The real problem here is that everyone who is a 0 (i.e. completely avoids wearing a mask) thinks anyone who wears a mask is expected to do all of the 10 requirements. And most people who wear a mask think anyone a point or two below them is a total 0. People who are 0 could be more easily persuaded to get to 2 if they weren't expected to get to even 3. Similarly people who are at 6 could temporarily relax to 4-5 as needed, without seriously increasing their risk, e.g. going to see a doctor or dentist. Too many people are avoiding routine healthcare this year but in many cases that is much riskier, especially if they have issues like high sugar, high blood pressure etc.

There's not much I can say to the people who think they are 10 and everyone else is 0 or vice-versa. There is already a ton of political chicanery on this topic and emotions are running hot. However, I can say to the people between 1-9 that you are not as perfect or imperfect as you might assume and neither are people who are different from you. We all have a different set of life factors affecting our personal level of risk tolerance. If you're worried about getting the disease, raise your level temporarily and see if you can adjust. If you're having a complete breakdown due to isolation, temporarily lower your level a bit and see if it that improves how you feel. There is no "correct" level of adherence except what you decide for yourself.

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Leela's First Birthday Party on ZoomTue, 10th Nov '20, 12:30 am::

Leela turned one this Sunday and to celebrate, we invited all of our friends and family to a virtual party on Zoom. We would have loved to throw a party in-person but since Juliet is immunocompromised, we cannot risk her getting infected with Coronavirus. On the flip side, many more people from across the country and world were able to join.

Juliet and I had been planning the party for many months now and it took a surprising amount of work to prepare everything. We knew we didn't want to have just a standard 'everyone fawn over our baby while yelling across each other' event so we spent a lot of time coming up with fun ideas to engage the guests. We came up with the following itinerary for a packed one-hour session:

  1. Intro slideshow with two dozen latest photos of Leela with/without us, on loop while everyone slowly joined.
  2. Quick welcome by me with technical suggestions like please mute when not talking and turn phone to wide-screen.
  3. Pre-recorded Official Party Welcome by a special guest: NOT Tom Cruise.
  4. Leela's first year of adventures slideshow of about 50 pics/collages with both Juliet and I sharing a line or two about each slide.
  5. Leela's Playroom: A Scavenger/Treasure Hunt game for all guests with hints provided by special guests in the form of nursery rhymes. I managed to get personalized videos wishing Happy Birthday to Leela from Lisa Loeb, LeVar Burton, Gilbert Gottfried, Carole Baskin, and Danny Trejo! And to keep things cute, I had Naveen sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
  6. Slideshow of 12 Months of Leela in pretty costumes
  7. Pre-recorded Happy Birthday song with karaoke-style subtitles sung by Lisa Loeb and Gilbert Gottfried.
  8. Finale: Cake Smash by Leela.

Since I was going to handle the slides and videos, I asked my friend Arthur to manage the guests and host the technical aspect of the party. He admitted people into the waiting room, muted guests after they were done speaking, pinned my stream when I was presenting, kept the score for the game, and recorded the whole session so we can remember it forever! This was no small task and so a big thank you to Art!

Juliet's cousin Alex stayed with us for 3 weeks last month and came back again for Leela's birthday. Without her helping around the house, I would not have time to do any photo or video editing, nor would Juliet have been able to put up the wonderful decorations as pictured below. So thank you Alex!

I used OBS Studio to present the stream and that included playing videos, flipping through images, showing our webcam feed live, overlaid with various transparent images like the frames below. The images look pixelated because they are screenshots of the live session, not photos.

Overall, even though this was just an hour-long online party, it was honestly no less exhausting and exhilarating than any of our other parties like Naveen's birthdays or Juliet's Baby Shower. While this had a unique set of challenges, fortunately for us, there were no technical issues. Best of all, both Leela and Naveen loved it!

Happy Birthday to Leela, my lovely little baby girl :)

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