Trivial Jibber-jabberSat, 28th Jan '12, 7:49 am::

I can't wait to see my family again. It's been over a year and a half since I last saw them. Since then we've all personally gone through many major life changes - from my grandpa passing away and my dad's significant health improvements to my sister moving to Mumbai and Juliet becoming a Surgical PA. We talk on the phone and Skype almost daily so I don't think we missed any major events but it's the small things that I look forward to hearing about in person.

On a day-to-day basis, I feel time passes really, really slowly. We're still getting work done in the new house and so many things remain for us to fix and deal with. But in aggregate, it flies and stops for nobody. I feel like I just moved to the US, just graduated, just moved to Florida, just started working at my first real job, just got married, just adopted a zoo-full of pets, just bought two houses, and just started working on KType.

Funny how summarizing a decade-worth of life lived into a single sentence makes me realize how often I deal with things that will never make it into the summary for the next decade. Does it really matter if I spend an extra $50 for low-sone, high CFM exhaust fans for the new house or should I just get the run-of-the-mill model? In the long term, who cares! But when I see my family, that is exactly the kind of conversations I hope to have with them. I'm tired of discussing life-changing events with them on the phone. It's time for trivial jibber-jabber.

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Email is homeworkMon, 16th Jan '12, 11:38 pm::

People who know me well, know that I am not a big fan of email. Email is people from all over the world assigning me homework. I rarely get emails saying "Hey Chirag... Nice Abs!" Most of the emails that I receive, add tasks to my never-ending todo list, even if it's something as simple as me having to respond with "No, thanks." I think email is great for automated messages (shipping notifications, e-bills, invoices etc.) and business communication (gotta have timestamped proof!). But for personal messages longer than 10 words, I prefer a phone call because it is so much more direct, thoughtful, near-impossible to misinterpret, and best of all, conclusive. I'm a big fan of instant messaging too because of the immediate two-way communication.

Lots of people these days avoid phone calls as they consider them to be imposing - after all, someone from across the world is causing you to pause the movie, get up from the sofa, and pick up the phone to say "I'll call you later." Instead, they prefer to send an email or text/sms because then you can respond at your convenience. Problem is, the backlog of email and text/sms puts the onus on to you to respond back. Unread emails continuously accumulate and stare at you every single day until you hit reply. Missed phone calls simply mean the caller has to try calling you again, at a later time.

I know most everyone will defend emails saying "You just have to follow Getting-Things-Done management" or "Only check emails twice a day." But just think about it. How many times have you said "Man, I have so many emails to deal with!" vs. "Man, I have so many missed phone calls that others might call me about in the future!" I guess if you are running away from bill collectors, the latter is a real problem but otherwise, most everyone I know laments about the hundreds to even thousands of unread and un-responded emails. Nobody complains about the phone calls they didn't pick up and were not obliged to call back (unless the caller left an important voicemail).

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I'm an osmotic learnerWed, 4th Jan '12, 1:31 am::

I often encounter people who say "I am a visual person" and hence need to see things (like user interface, photographs, videos) in order to understand what I'm trying to explain. They usually say this when I ask them to "imagine the left 25% of the screen has a list of people and the right 75% contains the list of email subjects."

I'm not asking them to imagine something unfamiliar like riding into equatorial sunset of Mars on a goliath slug-whale wearing a sombrero. I'm not asking them to visualize something complex like a 4D hypercube intersecting a torus. Everyone I talk to has seen what a list of people looks like and a list of email subjects looks like. I'm simply asking them to imagine what they would look like when displayed side-by-side on a screen.

And it's not just visualizing computer interfaces. I receive similar responses when I ask people to visualize furniture being rearranged, building dimensions being altered, colors being changed, and even instructions being followed in a different order. The fact that people have a hard time imagining is unimaginable to me!

I don't know why others can't visualize. But I can try to explain why I've never had difficulty in visualizing almost anything, including a Martian sunset.

  1. I read lots of books as a kid, mostly about things that I could not possible see in person - fictional lands, foreign countries, distant galaxies, superhuman beings, impenetrable forests, and tons of magic. While I love watching sci-fi and fantasy movies, they do not help you imagine or expand your mind. Reading a book does.
  2. Nobody told me I was a visual learner, aural learner, textual learner, active learner, passive learner, or anything but a typical human adolescent. I read text, deciphered diagrams, and listened to lectures. There was no 3D animation of the solar system on a computer to help me visualize how the planets revolved around the Sun while still rotating on their axes. If I didn't understand something, I was not given academic labels as crutches to hold on to for the rest of my life. I was told to try again. Moreover, research shows that catering to "learning styles" is not helpful i.e. dividing students into visual-learners and aural-learners and showing presentations and visual demonstrations to the former and giving audio lectures to the latter does not improve learning.
  3. I always thought that being able to quickly understand what people were trying to explain was a very positive trait and something I should actively try to do in all situations. If someone says they got into a car accident because as they pulled out of a parking lot, a vehicle coming up the road changed lanes and side-swiped their car, it is best not to ask them to draw a diagram for visual clarification.

I think the biggest reason why even grown-ups I encounter continue to have a hard time visualizing concepts, models, and strategies is because nobody has told them that everyone should be able to do that. If you're in a meeting and the boss says "I can't add 3 to 7 because I am a numeric person", everyone will gasp. But if they say "I can't picture 3 more icons to the right of the seven icons already in the toolbar because I am a visual person", nobody will flinch. In fact, the helpful ones among us will offer to do a mockup immediately after the meeting, thus reinforcing the belief that it is ok to not have the ability to imagine. Let's stop doing that.

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