Magnet fishingSun, 16th Jun '24, 4:10 pm::

I woke up this morning to Juliet and the kids wishing me Happy Father's Day. It was gorgeous outside so I told her I'm gonna spend some time in the backyard by the pond. She excitedly asked me if I wanted to see my gift and I said sure! She gave me a box with a gigantic magnet and a long rope. Just last night we were watching a campy B-movie, Under Paris, where some kids were magnet fishing and I mentioned how strong some of those magnets are and that you can catch anything with it. Imagine my surprise to be handed magnet fishing gear not even 12 hours after that! She bought it weeks ago too.

I spent some time throwing the magnet in the backyard pond but didn't catching anything. I walked over to another pond and tried some more and to my horror, the magnet got detached from the rope and sank in the water mere inches from my feet. I tried to look for it with my hands but couldn't find it and felt pretty sad. Suddenly I remembered that Juliet said she got Naveen a magnet stick too! I asked him to bring it over and within a minute, I found my missing magnet!

So while technically, I didn't catch anything with my magnet-on-a-rope, I did catch my magnet-on-a-rope with Naveen's magnet-on-a-stick. I see this as an absolute win!

After we cleaned up, we had a little picnic breakfast at Boone Creek . The Brood XIII cicadas, largest group among all known broods, emerged a few weeks ago, and are loudly chirping all over our county. We have pretty much grown oblivious to their noise but whenever we share a video with anyone, they remark how loud the cicadas are in the background.

We watch Ultraman: Rising in the afternoon and Juliet's calling me right now to get dressed so we can go out to dinner. No idea where we're going but I'm psyched!

Add a Comment

Early wormMon, 29th Jan '24, 5:55 am::

Two weeks ago, I started waking up earlier each morning. I've always been a night owl and I believe I still am. But what I actually care about is not just being able to stay up late, but rather somehow get a few hours of quiet, uninterrupted time for myself. All these years, those were hours past 11pm. Now due to the kids' school routine, those are hours prior to 7am. The odd side-effect of waking up around 4am means that by 9am, I've already been up for 5 hours, ready for "lunch".

I don't eat breakfast or rather anything in the first 3-4 hours after I wake up. But due to a time-shift in my day, now I am ready for a meal when others are. Since I go to bed around 9-10pm now, my dinner is no longer around 8pm but earlier with the kids. Basically, after decades of trying to make the world adhere to my night owl routine, I have accepted that it would be better if I just adjusted a bit and accommodated everyone else instead, like my wife who has forever suggested I wake up early instead of staying up late.

It's barely been two weeks but it has honestly improved my life and routine so much. I still don't want to do it. I would much rather stay up till 3am while coming up with ideas or working on my to do list. But like eating healthy and exercising, I've accepted that this is the way.

Add a Comment

Unforced changesSat, 26th Aug '23, 2:20 pm::

Last night I went to bed around 11pm without much effort. I woke up minutes before my alarm went off around 6am this morning. I changed into my running gear and went for a short 30-min jog at the local park. Once back home, Naveen and I took out the trash and cleaned out our tortoise Rosie's cage. We did a bunch of other smaller chores and then freshened up.

Our neighbors gave us a bag of homegrown tomatillos last week and I wanted to make Salsa Verda with them. Naveen and I peeled and washed them, broiled them in the oven for 10mins, and blended them along with fresh cilantro, onions, and jalapenos. I added some fresh lime and salt and put it in the fridge to cool down. Juliet wanted fajitas for lunch so she prepared some beans, rice, veggies, and scrambled eggs. Once the salsa was cool, we warmed some tortillas and each of us made our own version of fajitas, burritos, and tacos. Even Leela finished her plate!

I don't expect every weekend to be like this but I hope we have more and more days like this where I get to exercise, help with household chores, prepare meals, and spend time with Juliet and the kids. My weekdays are starting to be predictable now with kids going to school and Juliet back in the ceramics course at our local community college. I absolutely love days when nothing exciting happens but alas that is rare.

Last couple of weeks we were busy with a series of medical appointments and Juliet has a bunch more coming up in September. Next weekend I am flying to Boston and week after to Texas. Towards September-end, Leela is undergoing surgery for ear tubes and adenoid removal. And it is in the middle of all of this, that I am trying to sleep better, eat healthier, be more active, and spend more time with family.

I'm not trying to force any of this overnight because I just can't force major lifestyle changes and make them stick. So instead I am slowly and gradually choosing options that align with my long-term life goals. I had never made salsa before in my life but today I did it because it just seemed like the natural thing to do before the tomatillos went bad. There's nothing extraordinary about exercising, cleaning, cooking, or feeding your own kids. But over the last decade, I stopped finding joy in these things. I did what I did because it needed to be done. Now I'm starting to do these things because I want to.

Add a Comment

Good bye FSThu, 10th Aug '23, 10:10 pm::

Twenty one years ago, Eric from Formulated Solutions reached out to me to design a website. First it was just a small Flash-based product brochure, then another with multiple product lines, then his main company site, and then a full e-commerce site with a PayPal shopping cart and customer portal. In 2004, I moved to Florida to work full time at FS, and steadily the company went from just 20-30 employees to 700+ at last count.

With growth, came complexity. At first we made products for tanning salons but soon after we got into personal care products, sunscreens, aerosols, and eventually high-volume brand-name pharmaceutical products. The web apps I built in 2002, running on PHP3, over time got upgraded and extended to run a full ERP system with MRP, planning, inventory, warehousing, quality, and project management modules used by hundreds of employees across multiple sites 24/7.

I made so many friends at Formulated over the years that more than half the contacts in my phone are tagged FS. I am making new friends here in Woodstock now but there's no way anyone can take the place of Eric, Brian, Kelly, Linda, David, Sandra, Jeff... I could keep listing names but you get the idea. When I look back, I can only recall the good memories of my years at FS despite the many, many stressful days I know we slogged through.

While I look back at these years with fondness and pride, due to Juliet's ongoing treatments, I have had a very hard time last few years to continue to take care of the FS systems. So this Monday, I said my last good byes and asked the IT team to turn off my access. It was bittersweet for sure. I will miss the camaraderie but I look forward to spending more time with Juliet now. Instead of doing our groceries online, I want to take her to local farmers markets for fresh produce. Instead of fast food, I want to prepare healthier meals with her.

I know not what the future holds but I know my past is full of trust, support, and love during my tenure at FS. I hope to build on that for the rest of my life. And Eric, thanks for taking a chance on me. It was a hell of a ride!

Add a Comment

GratefulSat, 15th Jul '23, 12:45 pm::

I started running again recently. Today I ran (and partially walked) 5mi at our local park. Twenty years ago when I started training for marathons and ultras, all I needed was my youthful ambition and gumption. Now at 42, I bring multiple herniated discs, varicose veins, and some extra weight with me on each run. And if I want to go far, I need to plan and prep properly. I also need a lot more motivation and discipline. After a few short runs, I started buying new running gear - running shorts, shirts, compression socks, headband, headphones etc. I will likely buy new shoes and water bottle/pack soon. I am excited because all of this modern gear is so much better than what was available in early 2000s. The shirts don't chafe, the shorts have pockets with zippers, the headphones conduct the audio through my bones, keeping my ears open!

The best thing I did was sign up for Nike Run Club App. I setup my running goals in the app and have a weekly plan that works well for me. The first week, Nike's Coach Bennett guided me via the app at every stage of the daily runs. Every run has a purpose, whether to get far, get fast, or just get started, said Coach Bennett's voice in my head. With every guided run, he suggests topics for me to think about as I try to keep moving.

Today it was about being grateful. What am I grateful about as I run today? Who am I grateful for? Who brings a smile to my face and makes me laugh so hard it hurts? The moment he said "grateful", I immediately pictured Juliet in my mind. I am grateful she came into my life. I am grateful she is here with me. I am grateful she is still doing her best to take care of me and our kids. I am grateful she loves me.

Three years ago when she first got diagnosed, our whole life turned upside down. Leela was a newborn, Naveen was not adapting well to school life, and the pandemic shutdown all travel and large events. Not surprisingly, I never got back into long distance running by my 40th birthday. Instead I took her from one healthcare specialist to another. 2020-2022 were tough years.

I am grateful that things are better now in many ways. Both the kids have adjusted well to our life in Illinois. Juliet has made a number of local friends and spends a lot of time doing arts & crafts. Her medical conditions have not drastically improved but we have both learned what works best for her - temperature control, no long drives, lots of breaks, minimal stress. And best of all, we are surrounded by beautiful nature and kind people. I could not ask for more.

I am grateful that I can run again. A lot of pieces had to get fall into place for me to be able to run again. For now, the chaos has died down enough for me to take an hour of my day to go running. I still have a ton of chores, paperwork, and medical stuff to handle, on top of actual IT/programming work, but my head is not on fire 24/7 these days and that is wonderful.

Add a Comment

Sedges have edges, rushes are roundWed, 28th Jun '23, 12:25 pm::

Last year, our focus was on setting up the inside of our house. We spent most of the year under construction with dust and debris covering one room or other. We continued the construction earlier this year and finally had everything done by mid May, just over a month ago. Since then, our focus has been outdoors, especially since the weather has been nice here.

Both Juliet and I were pretty familiar with the natural flora of Florida but we have almost no knowledge of the vegetation here in the mid-west. Last month we were fortunate to have Mr. Ders Anderson, president of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County stop by and educate us on the plants we have around our house. He pointed out a number of invasive species that we should eradicate, lest they snuff out the native plants. He showed me the healthy sedges we have and suggested we should plant more. Sedges look like grass but they're not grass. Rushes also look like grass, but they are neither grass, nor sedges. Here's how to tell them apart:

    Sedges have edges,
        Rushes are round,
    Grasses have nodes
        from the top to the ground.

I am not deeply into gardening or growing my own vegetables but I respect others who are. For my taste, I just want native, non-invasive vegetation around me so that we can help local wildlife, including birds, bees, and all sorts of insects and worms. And above all, I don't want the invasive species take over the native ones. So we're learning as much as we can, so that hopefully over the years, we can become a refuge for countless migratory birds and butterflies as well as a shelter for fireflies, humming birds, and rare plants.

Add a Comment

Call Me MaybeFri, 2nd Jun '23, 11:40 pm::

Juliet doesn't always keep her phone or smartwatch nearby when she is home. Normally it is not a problem since she does not get any urgent calls from the kids' schools or doctors, as those go to me. But I get pretty annoyed if I try to call her when I'm away from home and get her voicemail instead.

Not anymore! Thanks to the wonders of technology, I have figured out the perfect way to annoy her back and have her call me immediately. I hooked up a Sonos to the dozen in-wall speakers we have throughout our house and can use Spotify to blast a song at full volume no matter where I am in the world. Naturally, my song of choice is Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Who needs a landline when you have Sonos?! Surprisingly, just as I was typing this, I realized that we do have a landline! It's the emergency line for the elevator via Ooma. I know landlines are a thing of the past and pretty boring in general but Ooma's tech and pricing is pretty cool. You buy the equipment online and they give you a phone number and service for free, with the only monthly payment being taxes and FCC charges (around $7 for my location). Their equipment is well-designed and cleverly solves the reliability vs. reach problem.

So here's the problem I needed to solve: The elevator's emergency phone line required an old-school landline connection over an RJ-11 phone cord. I cannot easily get a standard landline where I live so my only choice was cellphone or internet-based phone. Cellular phones do not have RJ-11 ports and even if I found one that did, cell service is not dependable indoors, at least not for life-and-death matters. This left internet-based phone service as my only option, but most VOIP (voice-over-internet) services offer phones that connect to standard Ethernet (RJ-45) and there's no cheap "adapter" to go from one to the other, at least not stably for an emergency phone. Additionally, the elevator's control box where the phone line would plug in, is far from my router. Now while I do have good wi-fi all over the house and even the yard, VOIP over wi-fi may work for casual usage but I would not recommend it for emergency phones.

That's why after looking online for months, I was elated to come across Ooma. They offer a base-station ($50 refurbished on Amazon) that plugs into your router with an Ethernet cord and a compatible wireless phone jack with a RJ-11 port (another $50 on Amazon) that can talk to the base-station over RF, without using your home wi-fi. This means I could keep the base-station in my network cabinet, mount the wireless phone jack right next to the elevator's control box, and get reliable phone service without pulling a new RJ-11 cable all across the house. And that's exactly what I did and it works great. It even has a dial-tone with pulse-dialing!

If blasting Carly doesn't work out next time, I might have to call our elevator's emergency line to get Juliet's attention!

Add a Comment

Looking for DocFri, 28th Apr '23, 1:00 pm::

While looking for a local doctor in our new hometown of Woodstock, IL, I came across this story of the "Last Doctor Standing", written by author R. Salvador Reyes, about his father in 2013. While Juliet is getting great care for her chronic conditions at all the local Northwestern Medicine (NM) facilities, she really wanted a personal-touch of a local doc who cares. Alas, that is becoming a rarity and this essay gives a behind-the-scenes look at how we got here as a country.

Growing up in India, we had a family doctor, "Dr. Patel". He treated our entire family at his clinic and sometimes even at our home. When he retired, his son took up the mantle and "Dr. Patel" continued to take care of our family. Knowing that there is someone nearby whom you can trust for any health issues, especially when the time comes to get a referral to a specialist, is so incredibly important. I miss that feeling of comfort.

On the flip side, both Naveen and Leela see the same Pediatrician and Leela absolutely adores her Dr. Pae. Any time she randomly coughs, she instantly gets excited and asks, "Go to Dr. Pae?" If we're lucky, Dr. Pae will stay at the local NM hospital for a long time. I wish she treated adults too!

While Juliet and I can see a general physician at NM anytime, it could be any one of the 4-6 different doctors. So although we get great care, it doesn't feel like seeing "Dr. Patel". Not sure how else I can explain this without sounding like an old man whining about the "good ol' days". I am inadvertently trying to recreate feelings from my childhood in the modern day, across the world. But I'm realizing that, as Sal wrote in his essay, "the small town family practitioner was a vital part of the social fabric," the keyword here might be 'was'. I might look for a Concierge medicine practice but not sure if that will suffice.

Add a Comment

I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe... in LoveThu, 2nd Mar '23, 1:20 pm::

Every morning when I drive Leela to daycare after dropping Naveen off at his school, I start playing songs from my own playlist until Leela stops saying "Not this." Then I add it to her own playlist and we both sing the song twice or thrice until we get to her school. Today we sang along to the remake of an old song "I believe in love" by Lily Collins from the movie Mirror Mirror. So far I've discovered that she loves Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, Best Day of my Life by American Authors, and Pump Up The Jam by Technotronic.

And of course being 3, she loves Baby Shark, Slippery Fish by Amy Liz, and Apples & Bananas by The Wiggles.

Add a Comment

Caring isn't sharing (anxiety)Wed, 18th Jan '23, 2:30 am::

This week I had a number of things stress me out all at once - work projects, home construction, paperwork. I felt pretty overwhelmed trying to manage everything but in the midst of it all, I had a minor epiphany that instantly calmed me down. While discussing with Juliet how stressed I was, I blurted out that "it is not even my own anxiety! It's other people's!"

And that was true. I wasn't the one who was really anxious about a new system going live, a coworker was. I didn't have to figure out the solution to the electrical issue, the contractor did. Sure, when working in a team, the successes and failures are shared. When hiring people for projects, if they mess up, you suffer too. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about not letting others' worries, worry you. It's true that other people will have genuine concerns about new projects or upcoming tasks. But no matter how much you care about the people, their concerns are theirs, not yours. Repeat after me kids — You can care about a person without sharing their anxiety.

Even as I wrote the above carefully selected words, advocating for this "not-my-problem" stance sounds brutally callous to me. So let me explain with a simple example: If my close friend loses their job, it's normal for me to be concerned for them and worry about their well-being. Totally ok to worry here. Next, if they apply for a job and are super stressed about the interview process, I don't need to be worried with them.

It is ridiculous for me to worry about their job interview. Yet I often do. I guess once I start caring about their job loss, I start to care about all of their job-related anxieties too. And that just stresses me out for no reason. So now I've started to ask myself - is this my anxiety or someone else's?

Add a Comment

Tue, 10th Jan '23, 2:15 am::

Juliet and I watched Avatar - The Way of the Water in Cinemark XD RealD 3D tonight and my mind is still stuck in the magical realm of Pandora. This was my first movie theater visit in 3 years and I am so glad I picked this movie. It was an absolutely breathtaking experience and I cannot wait to see the next one in 2024.

I have been busy as always last few months and I don't foresee my schedule getting any lighter the rest of the year. I hope to travel more this year than last few years, especially since Leela is starting to enjoy attractions more now. Naveen is turning 8 in a few weeks and I have a dream of setting up a full computer workstation for him and installing older versions of different programs for him to play with - 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, Blender etc. He is extremely interested in programming and loved the few short lessons in Python I gave.

Juliet is doing well and keeping my spirits up while I slog through stressful work projects. She is going to take another pottery class at the local community college and it really helps her work on her fine motor skills as well as build a social circle here. Last semester she made a set of really pretty cube-shaped containers that we now keep in our kitchen to store Taco Bell sauce packets.

It's pretty cold outside these days and there's still some snow on the ground. Last year around Jan-Feb, I saw snowdrops growing unexpectedly all over my front-yard and I am really hoping they come back again soon.

Add a Comment

Hello 2023Sun, 1st Jan '23, 5:45 pm::

We ushered in the new year last night with fireworks and champagne (well, sparkling juice for the kids). I couldn't believe it but both Naveen and Leela stayed up and were super excited. Today our au pair Josi took them both on a play date with another local au pair who takes care of two kids, about the same age as Naveen and Leela. Juliet and I had a relaxing New Year's Day and started season 3 of Emily in Paris on Netflix.

Yesterday our new neighbors Blaire and Mike left us a small gift basket for celebrations, along with ingredients for what they said was a Danish celebration tradition — rye bread, boiled eggs, and herring with onions — for Smørrebrød. Apparently it tasted great though I was barely able to stand the smell, still being vegetarian and all. We miss our wonderful neighbors Bevv, Brian, and Mike in Florida and it felt good to be welcomed here in Woodstock.

In just a little over a year, Juliet has made so many friends here and I have reconnected with so many of my family and relatives. The kids are thoroughly loving the school and daycare here. Of course the cold winter weather can't hold a candle to the wonderful sunny days Florida's having right now but this just feels home to me. I love snuggling up in bed with a warm cup of coffee and catching up on the phone with friends, watching cartoons with kids, or just talking with Juliet.

Last year I didn't make any specific resolutions but instead tried to form new habits. I started reading a lot more and I drastically improved my diet. This year I'm hoping to continue those and add routine exercise to the list. We spent 9 out of the 12 months under construction last year and I am hoping this year we will get to enjoy the fruits of our labor of dust and noise.

As I've grown older, I've noticed I have become a lot more accepting of things as they happen instead of doing everything to stick to plans and freaking out when they don't. Of course I'm always going to plan to the best of my abilities but life throws so many curve balls, it's best to just accept when unexpected things happen. Here's to a new year for all of us to learn and grow, love and forgive, live and cherish!

Add a Comment

Pet storyMon, 8th Aug '22, 12:15 pm::

My cats Giga and Tera were born 18 years ago today. Happy Birthday Giga! I miss Tera so much and I know Giga does too because after her passing, he has been so much more affectionate with our Chihuahua Lady Bug. In cat years, Giga's a spry 126 years old, though he is jumping and running less these days. Lady Bug is probably 15-17 years old and more docile too. We adopted her in 2010 from someone who didn't know her age but despite a ton of health issues years ago, she has recovered well.

We left Florida last winter after rehoming most of our pets that we could not bring to Illinois - our goats, chickens, tortoises etc. It has been a lot less stress for me but like Juliet and the kids, I do miss walking into the yard to pet them. And now with only aging Giga and Lady Bug, when at one time we had 4 devious cats and 2 loud dogs on top of the rest of the petting zoo, things are a lot calmer, quieter, maybe even a bit morose.

You read about life in books. You watch movies and shows about characters living their lives. But you never step back and think of your own life as just another story in the encyclopedia of homo-sapiens. While everyone sees themselves as the main character in their own lives and some even talk and write about themselves in depth, we rarely see ourselves as simply another tiny human going about our short lives doing typical human things. But the more I think about our pets, especially the ones no longer with us, the more I realize how much I am fulfilling my role as a standard-issue human-being. I pet the cat, I feed the dog, I throw a ball towards my child, I move heavy things for my wife. I am human adult.

In a world where people are hustling for fame and fortune, struggling to make a name for themselves, and striving to achieve productivity goals, I am patting myself on my back having taken a single celebratory cat photo earlier today. Not because I can't be productive or am done with goals but rather because thinking about my pets connects me to the saga of humanity while inventorying my achievements and failures singles me out and makes me feel isolated, unique.

Thinking of myself as unique and special with the agency to determine my destiny is exhausting. Accepting that I am human #106,839,249,965 going about my silly little life is relaxing and frankly, cute in a metaphysical way. There's no checklist of activities humans need to do to qualify as valid human and getting 100% in some exam or making $X of money would definitely not be on that list. But if there was such a list, getting nuzzled by a fuzzy cat should be on it, along with burning your tongue because you bit into food that was still too hot and staying up way past your bedtime because you enjoy the present company. These are human things, these little incidents, events, and activities weave the narrative of our lives. Pets, friends, family, love, kids, breeze, rain, that little bit of dirt still left over no matter how many times you try to sweep it into the pan with the broom — these tell the tale of our lives.

We love to read stories, play stories, watch stories, hear stories, and make up stories. And every single story is about life. There are no stories of rivers just flowing, molecules just colliding, and numbers just incrementing. Stories are about life. And life, when viewed through the eyes of a master storyteller with a penchant for small wonders, becomes ever so fulfilling. The passage of time, the grief of losing loved ones, the ennui of navigating human institutions — these hurt, stress, and aggravate me on an individual level but they make me feel like I am checking all the items on the being-human to-do list when I take a step back and observe.

Today I took a step back to observe. Tomorrow I have a ton of meetings and chores. C’est la vie.

Add a Comment

Fourteen yearsWed, 27th Jul '22, 9:30 am::

Fourteen years ago on this day Juliet and I said our vows in front of the Undine Falls in Yellowstone Park. Yesterday as I was driving with her, I remarked that had known our future that day and everything that was about to unfold, I would have done exactly the same things and made the same choices. I cannot imagine a better life, a life full of love, teeming with special moments, grounded in trust and mutual respect. On second thought, maybe I would have changed a few things, like saying “I love you” to her more often.

I love you, Juliet. Happy 14th anniversary!

Add a Comment

Making timeSun, 12th Jun '22, 4:50 pm::

This past week I promised myself that I will start making time for myself again. Over two decades ago when I started this blog, I was in the midst of college exams, homework, and projects and barely had time for anything other than studies, chores, and some work. And yet I always had time to write an update here. But last few years have been so exhaustively busy and stressful for me that while I made time to play with the kids and go out with Juliet, I pushed off my personal "me time" aside.

Add to that the long list of paperwork I have had to do and still haven't done, being alone in my office became the most opportune time to check things off the to-do list rather than relax, share my thoughts, or be creative like I used to. I don't even comment online anymore because if I have time to type paragraphs for strangers, I have time to update our Au Pair family profile so that we can find Adele's replacement once she leaves in early September. But thankfully, old tasks are getting done now and new todos aren't piling up like they did a year ago. The Au Pair family profile has been updated. I filled out the claim forms for moving damages from last year. I have the documents I need to register our cars here in Illinois and sign up Leela for day care. And soon my parents room downstairs will be ready.

Maybe then I can write down some of the thoughts that I've been itching to share for quite some time now. So next up will be my treatise on... love.

Add a Comment

Goodbye TeraFri, 10th Jun '22, 8:10 pm::

It was long time coming but I finally laid down my dear little Tera cat to eternal sleep today. I got her and Giga in 2004 and they have been as much a part of my life as any person. She was a shy, quiet cat who used to only come to me for many years. Over time some others charmed her and she started to run away from me because I was the only one to take her to the vet. But last few weeks she started to come up to me for back rubs. I had a feeling it was her time and gave her extra treats and rubs. I am sad she is gone but I am grateful she was there for me on days I needed a warm fuzzy nuzzle.

Add a Comment

SpringtimeThu, 28th Apr '22, 2:05 pm::

My parents just arrived from India last night and finally got to see the kids again after over two years! The last two years changed all of our lives so much and it feels great to be reunited as a family. I've been insanely busy last few months but hopefully now that they're here, I can get some free time to work on my projects, relax, and spend time with family.

Add a Comment

Settled in Fri, 31st Dec '21, 1:15 pm::

We've been in Woodstock, IL for just over a month and I'm glad to share that it feels like home. The main floor of the house is pretty much all setup and the downstairs has a week or two worth of organizing before we can call it done. After we put away the Christmas decorations and clear out the guest rooms, we will be ready for the next phase - construction!

The two big projects we have in the house are (1) installing an elevator between the upstairs kitchen and the gym below and (2) adding a en-suite bathroom to the guest rooms downstairs. Things got way too hectic last few months for us to start these but I'm hoping to have both projects done before my parents visit us in summer 2022. I'm sure there will be a number of smaller projects all year but even without anything major, the house is comfortable, safe, and organized.

I myself have been spending my hobby hours working on automating the house. I didn't want a traditional "smart" home system like Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit so I setup Home Assistant by myself. The nice thing is once it is all set, it will not rely on any external system in the cloud to manage my home. Already the Christmas Tree lights turn on/off on a schedule and my office electric candle starts warming up an hour before I start working. In a few weeks, most of the lights upstairs will be connected to the home automation system.

I have a TON of paperwork to do next week, from Juliet's medical to our drivers license and kids' passports. Naveen starts school this Monday and that's going to be a huge change for us too. All in all, looking forward to 2022 and whatever it brings us.

Add a Comment

Thank you AdeleSat, 11th Dec '21, 8:50 am::

After Juliet was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2020, we were struggling to just take care of her medical treatments, let alone raise an infant and a preschool kid during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a friend's advice, I contacted Cultural Care Au Pair and we came across Adele's profile on their site. We reached out to her with our story and she said she was more than excited to be a part of our lives. It's been over a year since we first talked to Adele and today I'd like to thank her for everything she has done for us and beyond.

It is so easy for us to start listing off the wonderful things about Adele - she is kind, always helpful, trustworthy, reliable, and so much more. But simple adjectives cannot capture the extent to which she has positively impacted our life in these few short months. She brought us wonderful gifts and candies from her home in South Africa and got into our family's routine almost instantly. Naveen absolutely adores her and Leela snuggles up to her all day. She took over the day-to-day childcare responsibilities, giving Juliet and I the opportunity to find a new home in a cooler climate that would help with her recovery. Adele absolutely surprised us by saying she would love to help us relocate and would extend her stay to make sure we're fully settled in!

We knew Adele always went the extra mile to take care of our kids but this went above and beyond our expectations of what anyone would do for us. She could have taken the easy route and looked for a new family since we were leaving sunny Florida but instead she chose to sign up for extended cross-country trips, uncomfortable road-side hotel rooms, living out of carry-on luggage, and unpredictable schedule, all while taking care of the kids as gently and calmly as she did before.

I am not exaggerating when I say without Adele, Juliet would still be struggling daily from MS side-effects due to Florida's high humidity. We could not have found our new house near in Woodstock, IL and moved here without Adele's help and for that, we will be eternally grateful to her.

Adele is definitely the big sister for both our kids. They look up to her for advise, assistance, and activities. It didn't take us long to know that she was such an amazing person. The first week she was here, we went out as a family and before I even got out of the car, she was assisting Juliet with her walking cane. It was not much but it showed us her values, upbringing, and morals. That is exactly the person we want our kids to emulate.

She told us early on that one of her goals was to explore US and make new friends so we have always encouraged her to take time off, travel, and meet new people. In that spirit, we took her to all the places she wanted to visit and then some - Florida's Space Coast to watch SpaceX launch at 4am, kayaking in Weekiwachee Springs, long weekend in Disney, NASA Rocket Center in Huntsville, underground tour in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, and explored a number of parks and museums like Selby Gardens, Georgia Aquarium, and Clearwater Aquarium. She has already been to California, Arizona, and Nevada with friends from Cultural Care and she is going to NYC next week with friends.

Adele has already done so much for us, our goal now is to make sure she has a million great memories of her 18-months in the US.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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!

Add a Comment

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!

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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 :)

Add a Comment

Month after MSTue, 15th Sep '20, 11:40 pm::

After I helped Juliet get into bed tonight, I asked if there was anything else she wanted. She replied "I just want to feel normal." I laughed "It's 2020 honey, there's no such thing as 'normal' anymore for anyone."

It's been a month since she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and her recovery has been slow but steady. She's seen multiple neurologists, taken additional MRIs, got her blood drawn on at least five different occasions, had multiple optical tests at ophthalmologist, gone to physical and occupational therapy twice every week, all while trudging along with a walker and wearing an N95 mask. Immunodeficiency is no joke.

She is scheduled for a Friday morning infusion of Ocrevus, a disease-modifying drug, pending insurance approval. Otherwise next week or so. She will remain on this drug for life but the great thing is, after the initial two doses, it's only twice a year infusion instead of multiple pills every day. In best-case scenario, she will regain almost all of her past strength and abilities over the next few months and not experience severe MS flareups again, at least not for decades. Hopefully by then, there will be even better treatments available.

While we're plodding through the medical quagmires, we're doing our best to not let any of this effect the kids. Naveen is doing well with virtual school, thanks to his wonderful kindergarten teacher, Ms. Lintz. Leela is 10 months already and has been crawling all over the house this week. She is starting to pull herself up to stand and though she has the strength, she's still learning how to balance herself. Watching Leela smile every time Naveen walks into the room makes us appreciate how lucky we are, regardless of how we feel on a day to day basis.

To help ease some of our childcare and housekeeping stress, I've been looking for assistance for the past month. Juliet's bestie Rebecca has been an absolute angel, dropping everything to come assist us the moment we need anything. Our neighbor Brian has taken Juliet to PT/OT when I haven't been able to. Juliet's cousin KD drove over earlier this month from Orlando and stayed with us for a week and she is coming back again for a couple of more weeks. Many of our friends and families from out-of-state have vehemently offered to stay with us and help out but unfortunately due to higher risk of infection inherent to any long-distance travel, I've had to refuse their assistance. Even my parents wish to fly back to Florida but I cannot let them take that risk. So in addition to childcare help from Rebecca and KD, I've signed up with a daily housekeeping service, at least for the next month or two. They wear a mask, clean the busy areas of the house, and help a bit with dishes and laundry as needed. Additionally, I have found a new babysitter who also has experience dealing with medical issues. She will start full-time in October.

This past month has been exhausting for both Juliet and me and I don't think I've ever needed more help in my life. And yet, despite me needing help, literally everyone we know offering to help, and us being open to accepting the help, it still took a whole month of sleep-deprivation to sort it all out. I am optimistic that by October, I will have a much better routine and get plenty of rest nightly. But it's crazy how much worse this whole process was made due to the pandemic.

In the absence of COVID, my parents would have flown in immediately to take over childcare. It would also be easier for them since Naveen would have gone to school and Leela would be in daycare on weekdays. I would have focused my attention 100% on to Juliet's medical care. She still would have worn a mask everywhere due to being immunocompromised but the risk to her health would be much lower. And if my parents needed a break, we could've called any of the babysitters we've worked with in the past. Instead, we're needlessly going through everything I've written in the paragraphs above. While many young and otherwise healthy people can afford to take the risk of contracting Coronavirus, we cannot. I cannot bear to take Juliet to the ER again. I'd say I'm doing a pretty decent job holding everything together right now in spite of everything, but I simply cannot bear to take Juliet to the ER again. I just can't.

So until there is an effective vaccine, we're going to have to keep isolating, keep wearing masks in public, keep Naveen enrolled in virtual-school, keep Leela out of daycare, and keep counting our blessings.

Add a Comment

Days after MSWed, 19th Aug '20, 2:55 pm::

Juliet is feeling slightly better, less dizzy, no double-vision, but she is still extremely weak and needs assistance moving around. We're hoping it is the after-effect of the massive amount of steroids they pumped into her and that once those wear off, she will regain some strength. As optimistic as we remain, we are taking this very seriously and realize our lives will never be the same again. Doesn't mean life has to stop though. It will be different from what we planned, not worse.

For me, it's been a busy day. For the first time in months I had a good night's sleep. Maybe knowing that Juliet has finally been diagnosed properly made it easier to relax. The uncertainty of what was ailing her was gnawing at me for a long time. Or maybe I was just tired from a really long day yesterday. Either way, I woke up and got started with the day fresh. Had an infinite amount of chores but I think I got about half the way through, which in mathematical terms means I'm 100% done!

I was going to list all the things I did today because I'm pretty proud of myself for even getting out of bed considering everything but then I realized it would be a boringly long list. From putting away groceries to cleaning the outside freezer, from changing diapers and taking out trash to making doctor and estate lawyer appointments, I kept checking things off our todo list! I'd rather have an empty list than show off a long one.

For now, things are calm. Both Juliet and Leela are resting, Naveen is playing Terraria, I have a few meetings to attend, more than a few emails to reply to, and figure out what a manageable schedule for all of us will be for the next few weeks. Since Juliet is severely immunocompromised, we can neither get a daily babysitter (save for emergencies), nor can we have family or friends come stay with us to help out. But chores need to be done, kids need to be fed and cleaned, Juliet needs to heal, and I need to make sure I do not overexert myself and make a bigger mess of things than they already are.

So my strategy is simple — do one thing at a time. I am not a multitasker. No point in running the washing machine, cooking a meal, taking a conference call, fixing a server, and feeding the baby all at the same time. I can do one thing at a time and do it well, calmly, and without screwing up. I'm not at a place in my life when I can manage to make things worse. I prioritize my list in coordination with Juliet and Naveen and then we go down the list. Anything I can't do today, gets done tomorrow. If I have a bad day tomorrow, then I hope the day after that will be better. No point in panicking non-stop trying to do everything at once. That's been my strategy for years anyway and it has worked out well for me through thick and thin. Let's see how it works over the next few weeks.

Add a Comment

Tue, 18th Aug '20, 11:15 pm::

Juliet was released from the hospital this evening and is finally resting at home. She has a long road ahead and I know she will do her best with every single step. Thank you everyone for your support.

This week she will begin physical therapy and start taking additional steroids. I am going to setup a neurology new-patient appointment for her and fill out paperwork with her job. It's pretty routine stuff, nothing serious. The major events happen once the neurologist lays out a treatment plan for her and she starts the primary MS medications in a few weeks, hopefully sooner. Will keep sharing that here.

For now, we're just glad she's back home. The kids and I missed her so much.

Add a Comment

MSSun, 16th Aug '20, 2:55 pm::

Juliet has been in a local hospital since Friday afternoon, currently awaiting a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to confirm the diagnosis of Multiple sclerosis (MS). I am writing this down not just to share with everyone but also to create a timeline of everything going on right now for our own sake.

Since end of July, she had been feeling dizzy, weak, fatigued, and had back and neck muscle pain. Initially we suspected it was low potassium or electrolyte imbalance so she took some supplements and felt better in a day or so. However the symptoms persisted and she got blood tests. The results showed no issues except for slightly low potassium. When symptoms didn't go away, I took her to our family doctor who prescribed her to get an MRI. Before she could schedule MRI, she started getting new symptoms that closely resemble COVID-19, like runny nose, mild fever, and sore throat. She took a coronavirus test and the infectious disease specialist she saw said it was most likely COVID because the symptoms closely matched most others affected by the virus.

She isolated from us in the master-bedroom side of the house all week and I did my best to keep myself and the kids away from her. Thursday she developed another symptom that didn't make sense - blurry vision. Later that evening she started experiencing double vision and we were definitely on high alert in case we needed to take her to ER. Instead some of her symptoms subsided and she felt a little better so we thought, let's wait for the COVID results. Friday late morning she heard back - COVID negative. That was the big red flag for us. She was experiencing double vision, fatigue, and dizziness without being COVID+. We put both the kids in the car and drove to the ER.

At ER, they immediately scheduled her for a CT scan and the doctor said he suspects MS because of her symptoms. We were hoping it was nothing but started to mentally prepare for something serious. Unfortunately due to coronavirus restrictions, I could not even enter the ER so all of my support was over the phone, as I took care of the kids at home. We got her CT scan results around 5pm on Friday - they found a small mass in her left parietal lobe (deep above the left ear). They scheduled an immediate MRI and gave her some medicine to help her relax because brain MRIs can take 40-50mins.

Around 6pm on Friday Aug 14th, she was done with the MRI and then they admitted her to a private room in the hospital for overnight observation. While we waited nervously for the MRI results, I did my best to not overthink or worry about what a mass in the brain could be. Of course our worst fears were inoperable tumors or clots but thankfully, around 10pm I heard from our family doctor that it was not a critical, urgent situation. However, it was serious with long-term consequences. He went to see her in person as soon as he received the MRI results and told us that it was most likely MS like the ER doctor suspected. He reassured Juliet that we can manage this and there are a ton of resources available for MS and the best thing we can do right now is reduce her stress levels.

Saturday morning, she was seen in the hospital by a neurologist. I had spent a few hours learning about MS the prior night so it was comforting for both of us to hear him confirm our understanding of the disease and treatment plans. He told us that upon reviewing the MRI himself, he noticed signs of prior MS flare-ups. This was troubling for us because it meant this wasn't the first time Juliet experienced neurological issues. We didn't catch it the first time it happened. But it was also validating for her because over the past few years, she has experienced some of her current symptoms with lower severity but could not identify why. We chalked it up to IVF treatments or flu but never had any idea it was a chronic neurological issue. The neurologist then suggested she get additional tests to rule out other non-MS issues and scheduled an MRI, blood test, and a lumbar puncture (LP).

As I write this, she is undergoing the LP. I started reaching out to family and friends over the past 24 hours, trying to lay down the foundations of a soon-to-be-indispensable support system for her. I learned one of her close friends from PA school, Carol, has been specializing in neurology at a major hospital here for 7 years! Coincidentally Carol's husband, Ron, helped me get in touch with the neurosurgeon who performed my spinal surgery two years ago. Many of our friends and family have already offered to baby sit for us for weeks or longer if necessary. That is more than we expected from anyone so thank you everyone!

Just got the word, she's out of the LP and resting now. Phew! Right now my focus is to keep her calm and stress-free while taking care of the kids. Once she is released from the hospital, she will be on strong immuno-suppressants, which means she cannot risk getting infected, not just from coronavirus but also any other infectious diseases. This unfortunately rules out anyone else helping us with the kids for the time being because even a minor infection can result in emergency situation. So most likely for the next few weeks, I will go at it solo as I learn more about the various medicines and treatment options available for MS.

Based on what I've read so far, there is a lot of active research in this field and a ton of new medications in the last decade that help patients. Unlike cancers, there's no "beating MS" because it's an auto-immune disease and doesn't go away. However, we hope to create a life for us where she can remain fully-functional, active in our family and social circles, while not taking on any unnecessary stress. Lifestyle changes are always tough but unavoidable when it comes to chronic illnesses. Maybe we'll finally move to a place with a dark sky so we can stargaze together!

Add a Comment

Happy 12th Anniversary!Mon, 27th Jul '20, 1:45 am::

Today marks twelve years since the day Juliet and I eloped to Yellowstone and got married in front of a waterfall. Last November after we brought Leela home, I was planning on a Costa Rica vacation to celebrate our anniversary but scrapped everything once I noticed the uptick in coronavirus cases around the world earlier this year. So now instead of creating new happy memories, we're just staying home and sticking to our normal family/work routine.

As much as I'd like to lament over how repetitive and mundane our life has become these past few months, honestly I'm just glad I got to spend more time with Juliet this summer. Of course it would have been great going out and celebrating all of our special days with friends and family but given that my chronic dry cough is back with a vengeance, I'm happy to be home with the love of my life without worrying about catching anything outside.

We've been cooking healthy meals, working on puzzles, exercising regularly, playing video games, and watching the kids together. No matter how bad things have gotten for us over the years, I've always been able to rely on Juliet to make me laugh, pull me out of any rut I find myself stuck in, and be open to sharing our thoughts, worries, and dreams. Not that I ever forgot but this summer made me appreciate how amazing she is and how lucky I am.

I love you Juliet!

Add a Comment

Isolated but not isolonelyFri, 8th May '20, 3:55 am::

Leela turns six months old today! She is healthy, smiling, and surprisingly easy to care for. Naveen is doing well, especially now that Juliet bought him a tiny indoors trampoline to jump on all day. We've been at home for 7 weeks now and keeping ourselves busy. Four days a week, we attend an online martial arts class hosted by our friends Maria & Megan at Mt. Song. Naveen's been playing Terraria on his Kindle and I've been catching up on last few years of DC superheroes shows on Netflix.

Not to say that things are all peachy. It is definitely a detriment to both the kids that they have nobody else their age to play with at this time and might not for another few months. Juliet has started getting Naveen to exchange letters with his friends. She is pretty social and outgoing herself and hasn't seen her friends in a while too so I'm sure it's been hard on her. Not much has changed for me since I barely go out to meet people in person; most of my socializing is online or on the phone so I'm the least impacted.

As to my thoughts on how the virus will further spread or die out - no idea. I've been keeping an eye on it since late December when it was just a rumor. We now know so much about it but it is still not enough. We don't know which medicines help and at what stage of the infection. We don't know if lack of Vitamin D has a material impact on severity. We don't know if most people already have it. We don't know if there will be another wave or two. We don't know if there will be a vaccine in a year or two. We don't know which country is doing is right for the long term - Sweden or Singapore.

What I do know is that we know a lot about seasonal flu. We have vaccines, procedures and protocols, and a century of painful experience and medical knowledge. And yet seasonal flu kills tens of thousands of people each year. This variant of coronavirus is new, unlike other common viruses, and as of yet, incurable. So regardless of whether it's ro factor is higher or lower than flu, there are far too many unknowns for anyone to predict months out. We can extrapolate infection case counts for a few days or week but beyond that, nobody knows. We can look at community infection rates and suggest mitigation efforts but we cannot predict how people will adhere to them. Anyone who says anything concrete is just giving their best opinion. Will it go away after everything reopens? Nobody knows. Will it caught a million deaths by end of 2020? Nobody knows.

It is common for there to be world-wide issues that affect everyone that nobody knows how to predict. That's been the standard of our experience for millennia. Nobody knew when the World Wars would end. Nobody knows when the next big earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, or volcanic eruption will be. Nobody knows what price of oil will be in three years. Our entire society is built on not knowing something but working very hard to find out. That's what we humans do. We say "I dunno but..." and then we figure it out a decade later. Our problem isn't that people don't know. Our problem is people who don't know but claim they do. It is totally ok to be cautious at this time because we really don't know. And frankly, since we don't know, it is also ok for others to have different outlook than you, provided they are based on something resembling reality.

My long term outlook of coronavirus is that we will either have a decent enough vaccine or a pretty reliable treatment procedure. Along with the seasonal flu, we will have seasonal COVID cases but they will be fewer in number. Unlike SARS, I don't think coronavirus will be contained and eliminated from general population since it has already spread so much. So it will be closer to swine flu or norovirus. Billions of people with none to mild symptoms, tens of thousands of deaths annually. If my suspicious are correct, then it won't matter if countries chose the Singapore route of "test-everyone and wear masks" or Sweden route of "keep elderly safe but everyone else keep working" except to flatten the hospitalization curve.

Right now most places have indeed flattened the curve but I think that might give people a false sense of safety. People in countries like Vietnam and New Zealand who now have close to zero cases might think their country avoided the COVID pandemic completely. But until there is a vaccine, there is no guarantee that they won't become the next hot spot after reopening their borders to tourists. Contrast that with Florida that is already reopening and most likely will have an uptick in cases over the summer. A year from now almost all Floridians will either be immune from COVID or some unfortunately dead. So in 2021 summer who will have a better tourist season? Vietnam or NZ which could be a coronavirus zone or Florida which already went through the worst?

These are just opinions, like everyone else. Nobody knows and so all I can say is stay safe, stay healthy, and try not to lick handrails!

Add a Comment

Love in the Time of CoronaMon, 23rd Mar '20, 1:45 am::

Last week, we went to court to attend the final adoption hearing for our baby girl Leela. Due to the numerous state-wide cancellations in light of COVID-19, it turned out to be a private, memorable event. We met with our wonderful attorney, walked into the court as a complete family, baby Leela in arms, Naveen rocking a Super-Brother cape, and met the judge who heard our case. It was a brief 5-minute affair and at the end of it, the judge declared that Leela is now recognized by the State of Florida to be a part of our family in every single way that Naveen is. My parents were there with us to share the culmination of what I can only describe as a four-year journey towards becoming the family that Juliet and I dreamed of, so many years ago.

A couple of days after the court date, my parents were on the flight back to India, just in time before India imposed travel restrictions. This past Thursday I found myself alone at home with the two kids, looking up virtual museum tours. Juliet's been home last couple of days and I finally got some time to catch up on my projects.

Originally I had planned on taking the kids to museums, libraries, and nature parks every day after my parents left for India but now, I'm just staying home with the kids until the situation changes. I do worry about Juliet since she works in ENT/surgery and they're running out of protective gear at the hospital. But honestly, I am more proud of her than worried because right now, the world needs people like her to keep going into work and taking care of everyone.

Before kids, I always remarked that while I spend my days making things green and red in Excel, she's out there performing live-saving surgeries. Now I could say that while I spend my days playing lego and cuddling babies, she's out there fighting a global pandemic. 2020 has been an interesting year.

Add a Comment

Sun, 8th Mar '20, 7:35 am::

Leela turns four months old today! She's doing great and babbling a lot more now. She smiles, grasps objects, and sleeps soundly through the night. She's even doing something called bubbling, which Juliet says is a milestone. My parents have been here for two months, helping take care of both the kids. They're planning on going back to India in less than a month. Once they leave, I plan to be with the kids on weekdays and resume our daily museum and library outings.

Unless, of course, everything shuts down due to coronavirus. We're not panicking but we are being cautious. Best Floridian analogy I can think of is a hurricane that's already ravaged the Caribbean is slowly heading north. Maybe it misses us and fizzles out of the gulf or it's hunker down time. Only time will tell but best to keep our eyes and ears open (but not touch them without washing hands).

In preparation of my new home daycare routine, I've setup a computer desk with my dad's help, where I can work and watch the kids safely. A decade ago I had a desk with 5 vertical monitors, with a combined resolution of 5250×1680 pixels. My new system has three 4k monitors at 3840×2160 each which is nearly three times the pixels. The real difference is the computer needed to power it. Back in 2010, I had a beast of a PC with three graphics cards powering the five screens. Now I have a tiny Mac Mini mounted under my desk, completely invisible from the view. Additionally, all the cables are now neatly tucked away and I can adjust the desk's height as needed. I'm still waiting for some more parts but once it is all done, I will share some pictures.

Add a Comment

Fri, 7th Feb '20, 12:25 am::

A couple of hours ago as we were all getting ready for bed, all of our phones started buzzing with a National Weather Service Tornado Warning. We took the kids and rushed into an indoors bathroom and stayed there from 10:40pm until 11:05pm, wondering how far the tornado was. I was able to view our outdoors cameras on my phone and the rain was coming down heavy. We could hear the wind pick up speed around 10:45pm. Thankfully for us, everything quieted down by 10:55pm and a quick backyard inspection showed no trees down. I'll have to do a thorough walk-through tomorrow and make sure no roof tiles were damaged. We're 4 months away from the hurricane season in Florida but the unexpected alert from a winter thunderstorm felt no less severe.

I heard on the news that there were people injured from downed trees a few miles away from us. Coincidentally just earlier today I messaged my lawn guy to trim down some branches that are starting to hunch near our garage. Such is life in evergreen Florida.

Add a Comment

Our daughter LeelaMon, 2nd Dec '19, 3:25 pm::

I waited until we got home to announce this because I still cannot believe it really, actually, finally happened! Early morning on November 8th, we got a call from our adoption attorney saying we needed to fly to Arizona immediately because our daughter was going to be born soon! Within an hour I booked the flights, hotel, and rental car while Juliet and Naveen packed up everything. Just as we were locking up the house, we got the word that our daughter Leela was born! We flew to Arizona a couple of hours later and got to hold her the same night! I don't think there are enough exclamation points in the world to describe how we felt looking at her tiny little face and hands and feet!!!

Leela doesn't know it yet but we had been waiting for her for a long, long time. And she is everything we could have asked for. The adoption process has not been easy but holding her for the first time made the years of trials and tribulations worth it. Naveen has been very helpful throughout the process, repeatedly asking us how he can help with the baby chores.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with lots of food, thanks to Juliet's bestie Rebecca who cooked up a delicious dinner for us while we were on the flight back from Arizona. Juliet is taking some time off from work, my parents are going to come stay with us soon, and the holidays are coming up. Leela is going to be loved and coddled beyond belief :)

Add a Comment

Tue, 29th Oct '19, 12:45 am::

It's been four weeks since I started homeschooling Naveen. While I had very modest expectations to begin with, I can honestly say that even my wildest expectations would not compare to how great the past month has been. We've been to more museums, libraries, art galleries, parks, and family events in four weeks than the four years since he was born! I had a handful of measurable goals before we started and he has made progress on all of them.

First and foremost was his weight. Having had an unexpectedly large growth spurt earlier this year, his weight was too low compared to his height. In just four weeks, he's gained three solid pounds! Another improvement is his physical endurance. He would often get tired and not have enough energy to run around. I've been taking him on long hikes and regular classes for gymnastics and swimming. Yesterday he swam freestyle over 100m on his own! I learned how to swim at age 11-12 I believe, so that's a pretty solid distance for a kid under 5. I didn't have any academic goals for him but he has started reading science books on his own now, so that's a bonus.

All of his progress aside, the most uncertain aspect of homeschooling was not how well he would do but how well I could manage it. Turns out, I can. I absolutely love it and want more. I look forward to going on our little 'adventures' daily, even if we just go to the neighborhood park. I don't think I've lost much weight but I've definitely increased my walking endurance. Since I still have a lot of stressful 'grownup' things to handle besides the kid, it's not like I'm living a life of peaceful retirement in sunny Florida. But for a working chump like me, it is as close as it can be.

Add a Comment

Positive interactionsThu, 10th Oct '19, 12:20 pm::

There is no better feeling than interacting with people who know what they're doing. I often have to contact companies for help with software issues and usually, that involves creating online tickets, filling out detailed forms, going through multiple levels of customer service tiers until I finally reach someone who knows the software well. Sometimes I never even get that far and just give up. But every now and then, I end up working directly with the person who made the software and it can absolutely make my day.

Many years ago I ended up buying a few licenses for Bvckup2 software for work. Backups are a big deal and I cannot afford to have them fail. Ever. But when you have hundreds of users, computers, and tens of millions of files, backups can be a nightmare. There are a thousand different pieces of software that take files from one computer and put them on another. Every use case has a different tool that works the best. For my case, Bvckup2 beats every alternative. I know this sounds like a paid ad but I'm just a happy customer. I've been getting my daily 'Bvckup2 completed successfully' emails for years now and I could not be more satisfied. However, every now and then it fails because of some new issue. Today it was me trying to backup a single file over 2TB to the cloud. No matter what I tried, the backup software kept erroring out.

So I just emailed Alex, the developer of Bvckup2, shared with him some of the log files, and he emailed me the exact changes I need to make to the configuration to fix the issue. This seems like such a simple problem-troubleshoot-solution process but I cannot even begin to describe how rare such an occurrence is for me. I currently have multiple tickets open with a software documentation company, a payroll processing company, a cloud storage provider, a network security firm, and a ton of smaller IT vendors. I swear if each of these companies had an 'Alex' working for them that I could email, I would save so much time each week.

I hope that whenever people interact with me for IT issues, they get the same experience but of course, for complex issues it is not always possible. So whether it is Alex who writes backup software, or Bud who fixed my leaking pool, it is always a wonderful feeling to work with people who know what they're doing.

Add a Comment

Tue, 8th Oct '19, 11:00 pm::

One week into homeschooling Naveen, I'd say things are going better than I expected. Over the last 7 days, we went to multiple public libraries, museums, art galleries, parks, and a local aquarium. We also worked on a number of minor house projects together and he's gained some much needed weight. The only problem with all of this is... me. I love packing picnic food and planning our daily activities but there's still an annoying voice in the back of my head that says "Why are you chasing butterflies at 10am?! You should be programming!!!"

The weird part about this is that I rarely work at 10am anyway. My schedule for many years has been erratic and I do most of my work in the evenings and weekends. Until last week, most days at 10am, I was either sleeping or slowly waking up. But I would console myself that it's ok, since I worked until 3am. Now that I'm not working insane hours and have a better sleep schedule, not working during daytime feels "wrong" for some reason. I'm hoping it is just a temporary feeling and that pretty soon I will ease into the homeschooling-dad lifestyle.

I've had a lot more time to think lately and that's heightened my desire to write more. Someone suggested earlier today that I should maintain a blog about all of our homeschooling activities but I'm apprehensive. While my parents certainly would like to hear more about the grand-kid shenanigans, I'm hoping to get back to this blog's roots and write about whatever piques my interest. Maybe I could merge the two. On Saturday, we went to Tampa Museum of Art where I talked to Naveen about what art means to me and asked him how he felt when he saw an ancient marble statue or a vibrant painting. I loved that hour or two of us just walking around, speaking out loud our feelings after seeing a piece of art. Sure, it wasn't anything poignant but it was still surprising when I saw a dark city painting and sighed "congestion", he yelled out "skyscrapers!"

I've written here for almost two decades and while things slowed down a bit in the last few years, I feel re-energized to write more once again. Even if I don't end up writing often, wanting to write more, makes me happy. And hopefully, I'll be able to share my happy-little-thoughts with you.

Add a Comment

Adventure awaitsTue, 1st Oct '19, 8:15 am::

It's hard to recall the last time I was at ease with myself. I have been stressed for weeks, months, maybe years now; constantly moving from one list of tasks to another string of projects, with a few vacations in between. Due to the nature of my work, vacations just mean I have to work significantly more before I leave and have a barrage of issues to deal with when I return. It just feels easier handling 50 emails a day than 300 after a few days away. I've known for a while that such a hectic life was not sustainable but didn't have a good vision of what my life would be.

Last month, life presented a challenge, which turned out to be a golden opportunity for me to simplify things. Naveen, now four, has not been adjusting well to the Montessori school environment. We explored many different avenues over the last couple of years but nothing felt right. After countless meetings with his teachers, caretakers, and school administration, I've decided to take things into my own hands, at least for the time being. I'm not qualified to be a teacher or or even a part-time tutor but there's one advantage I have over everyone who has ever tried to manage him for more than a few hours — I totally get him. It's like dealing with a raw concentrate of 50% Juliet, 50% me. He's highly inquisitive, incessantly curious, and defiantly independent. While these sounds like requisite traits for a 30-under-30 entrepreneur profile, preschools don't exactly line up to recruit non-compliant four year olds.

So I've decided to take over, for now. I say "for now", because all of this is new to me and I have no idea what is going to work out best for him, when. For now, I've changed my work hours to early mornings and early evenings. Weekdays, after breakfast, I plan to take him to museums, libraries, parks, and playgrounds. In addition to these open-ended excursions, we've enrolled him into typical planned activities. Mondays will be swimming, Tuesdays tumbling/gymnastics, Wednesdays arts & crafts, and Thursdays group activities with kids his age. Still trying to find something good for Fridays. Weekends will be same as always - regular family time, birthday parties, and some local traveling.

When I look at this from the perspective of an unqualified educator who has taken up the role of a child's primary education, the task seems daunting. However, when I think that most of my days will now be spent going to museums and parks, I get super excited! I'm guessing the reality will be somewhere in between and that's ok by me.

Today, we're going to the Largo Public Library!

Add a Comment

15 yearsFri, 21st Jun '19, 12:10 am::

Exactly fifteen years ago, to the day, I started working at a small cosmetics manufacturing company here in Florida. I am so glad that I did. Not a day has gone by since when I haven't learned something new. Having expanded into pharmaceutical manufacturing, the company has grown substantially and so have my responsibilities. I have made many life-long wonderful friends here and learned to become a mature, dependable person.

There is no way I could have predicted in early 2000s that this is where my path would take me but looking back at everything I've experienced, I have no regrets. Best thing I ever did for my career was make an awkward phone call in 2004 right in the middle of RutgersFest to my website client, asking if he maybe, sort of, just in case needed a full-time programmer. I'm glad he did.

Add a Comment

Days are long but the years are shortThu, 7th Feb '19, 5:20 am::

Naveen turns four today! We're going to his school to celebrate his birthday with all of his friends. One of the requests from his teachers is that we share one anecdote per year of his life. Here's what we're going to share:

Birth: Naveen came three weeks early. We had some indications that he was going to be early so we did our best to prepare. We had the car seats ready, the crib was setup, and all the baby clothes and toys were organized. We brought him home and realized something we missed - there was no place for us to put him down except for his crib. We hadn't assembled any of the baby rockers or jumpers! So the first hour that Naveen came home, mom held him in her arms while dad built a rocker for him.

Year 1: As per Indian tradition, Naveen got a full head-shave when he turned one. He did not like it! He went to school all sad the next day and all of his friends noticed he was completely bald. So they kept trying to pet his smooth head and all the attention suddenly perked him up. He came home smiling.

Year 2 (option A): When Naveen was two, we noticed some of his small toys kept disappearing from his play area but then mysteriously appeared at the dining table. To figure out what was happening, instead of leaving him with one or two small toys, we left a large pack of tiny plastic toys in his play area. After about ten minutes, I peeked into the play area and all of the new toys were gone! Naveen was waddling around slowly and kept saying "Pants! Snakes in the pants!" He had stuffed all of the toys inside his pants so he could play with them at the dinner table but this time it was far too many toys for comfort.

Year 2 (option B): For Halloween, Juliet showed Naveen a ton of costumes idea online. She asked him which one he wanted and he pointed to the filter for the costume color: red. She clicked on it and the website showed all the red costumes. He still pointed to the little box for the red color filter and kept saying "Red box. I want to be the red box!" So naturally, instead of buying one of the numerous red-colored costumes, Juliet and Naveen spent an entire evening making him a "red box" costume. As we went trick-or-treating door to door, people kept guessing what he was dressed up as. Naveen proudly said "I am a red box!" to anyone who couldn't guess.

Year 3: Last year we went to Weeki Wachee to see the mermaid show. On the drive home, out of nowhere Naveen announced, "When I grow up, I'm going to marry a mermaid!" Juliet was thrilled at the prospect and said "Tell us everything!" So Naveen described how he was going to feed his mermaid wife fish, hold her hand all day, and teach her about the solar system. When I asked how he was going to breathe underwater, he said "No Daddy, I don't want to marry an underwater mermaid. I want to marry an above-ground one." Frankly, he put more thought into his future life at 3 than I had at 23.

Add a Comment

The Internet and Us - Part 4: Defensive ConsumptionSun, 20th Jan '19, 12:05 am::

The 24-hour news cycle could have unleashed an era of meticulous, nuance-driven news coverage but it gave us an echo chamber of soundbites. Imagine tuning in at 8am for public policy news, 12pm for local project updates, 4pm for geopolitical briefing, 8pm for fiscal analysis, and midnight-to-morning for a summary of global news in the past 24 hours. But instead we ended up with each hour starting with 6min of breaking news, then 12min of expression of shock, followed by 6min of reading of tweets and playback of soundbites, capped with 18min of yelling by disparate panelists. Throw in 18mins of ads and we got an hour of news. Repeat this 18 times a day with a different set of shouting faces and replay 6 of those hours between midnight and 6am and we have the global 24-hour news media format.

No matter the country, language, or channel, the format is essentially the same. You can't fault any specific entity for this because this is the natural order of any attention-seeking broadcast platform. Gravity makes all rocks fall down. 24-hour news cycle makes everyone repeat things 24 times a day. If they deviate from the norm, they lose viewers and shut down, reinforcing the format in the remaining networks.

Social media could have made all of TV news inconsequential. There is no specific air-time and the web doesn't end at 59 minutes. But it didn't fix any of TV's problems, but rather exacerbated them. Whereas TV started with experienced journalists repeating pre-approved talking points, social media gave a loudspeaker to anyone without any barriers. So whereas conflicts of interests sort-of mattered in the TV-era, nobody knows on the internet what biases someone has or which masters they serve. If it is in their interest to create outrage, they will create outrage. And boy have they championed the sport of creating outrage.

How we ended up here is relatively straight-forward. In a winner-take-all voting system, it is guaranteed that voters will end up aligning with one of two major parties. It doesn't matter how educated, rational, or compassionate the people are, if every voter can only select one person on a ballot, and whoever gets the most votes wins, it is absolutely certain that you will end up with two, diametrically opposed parties. And furthermore, over time the parties will continue to get further and further apart. If instead the voters could choose more than one candidate, preferably by ranking their choices in order of preference, then more than two parties can gain support and candidates who unite the people will win, instead of the most polarizing ones.

The same happens on the Internet when image macros, tweets, and 30-second muted video clips reduce the depth of an issue and leave you with only one of two choices - like/retweet/share or ignore. Remember ignoring is treated as dislike by social media algorithms so even if you think you are not making your opinion known, you are. When every bit of content online is judged on how much attention it receives, then only the most attention-grabbing content gets to the top. And there is nothing that gets more attention than something that causes us to fume in outrage and disbelief. How can X happen? I can't believe X said Y! Does nobody care about Z anymore?!

Our natural reaction to all of this is to exclaim that media is biased! Just like everyone has an accent but do not think they have an accent, all news is biased except the news you agree with. But biased isn't bad. Bias is natural. Our biases show where we come from, what values we espouse, what causes we are willing to stand up for. I am extremely biased in favor of legal immigration, interracial marriages, and having pets. Doesn't matter if it is suddenly proven that cats are destroying humanity or computer programmers from India will cause global meltdown in 2038. I'm not giving up my cats and I'm not voluntarily renouncing my US citizenship. I am biased and I stand by it. Biases aren't really a problem. The problem is our inability to recognize the bias in ourselves when we come across rage-inducing headlines and instantly give in to the rage.

I've been online for two decades now and not ONCE have I benefited from being instantly infuriated by something I read online. Not once has my life been better because of a visceral gut-reaction to an image stamped with some words by an anonymous troll. But I can't even count the number of times it has spoiled my mood, which most likely ruined a meal or a day trip. It doesn't matter if I was reading something true or false, important or trivial. All that mattered is that it instantly caused me to change how I felt, regardless of how my life was going normally. I could be having the best day with my family and friends and suddenly breaking news ruins the moment. Two days later it comes out that the original news while true is toothless because of some nuanced stipulation, and all of my rage subsides. The overly simplified news fed my pre-existing biases and caused me monetizable outrage. People made money from me being angry and frankly, I don't want to be a part of it.

So how do I de-bias the news I am consuming? One of the favorite things I learned in a Computer Science class years ago was how to use an unfair coin to simulate a fair coin toss. An unfair coin is any coin where the odds of landing on heads or tails is not exactly 50%, say if the coin is smoothed out on one side, causing it to be lighter and landing slightly more often. Flip a fair coin a trillion times and you would expect close to 500 billion heads and 500 billion tails. But flip an unfair coin i.e. a biased coin a trillion times, and you could get 430 billion heads and 570 billion tails. So how can you use an unfair coin in a fair way?

Just flip twice instead of once. If you get heads followed by tails, that's heads. If you get tails followed by heads, that's tails. If you get two heads or two tails, ignore the results and flip twice again. That's it. This method is proven to give you a fair, unbiased coin toss. Yes, you might have to flip the coin a lot of times in case you keep getting doubles initially - HH, TT, HH, TT, TT. But the first time you get either a HT or TH, you have a fair outcome.

Another trick I learned long ago that involved deciding the fair outcomes between two parties was about splitting a piece of cake into two. While both sides will fight to get the larger piece of the cake, there is a simple way to make it fair - flip a coin to let one party cut the cake into two and the other party gets to take either of the cut pieces. If the cutter tries to cheat and makes one slice much larger than the other, the picker can take the larger piece, leaving little for the cheating cutter. So it is in the best interest of the person cutting the piece of cake to make it as fair as possible.

To save me from outrage, I combine these two methods. First, regardless of how insane a news article seems, I wait 48 hours to decide. In two cycles of 24-hour news, the opposition will either properly refute or the original party will provide additional proof. I am willing to give the benefit of doubt to any side but I am not willing to give in to financially-motivated entities that profit from me to be offended. If something doesn't enrage me two days after I heard about it, then it wasn't worth being enraged two minutes after. Next, I mentally swap all proper-nouns in negative articles to people I like. If the article no longer antagonizes me with the names swapped, then I have proof of my hidden bias and no longer care about the original article.

This is not the proper strategy for journalists or media personalities with influence. They need to do what they believe is right. This strategy is like defensive driving for the Internet. I am not trying to solve the problem with the Internet. I just don't want it to corrupt my mind. Some motorists describe defensive driving as "driving as if everyone else on the road was drunk." I web-surf like everyone else is trying to indoctrinate me into their angry little cult. So far so good.

Add a Comment

The Internet and Us - Part 3: A Joke OnlineTue, 18th Dec '18, 12:30 am::

It started off as an elaborate April Fools' joke in March of 2019. I wanted to prank my friend so I wrote a simple script that used Google's new Duplex AI digital agent to call him at odd hours. The AI voice was "human" enough to fool almost anyone, interjecting pauses with "umm" and "aha", repeating the same thing using different words. Gone were the days of Prof. Hawking's monotone voice. My friend was now being nagged by a believable set of voices who were trying to book a scuba lesson in his non-existent swimming pool, buy his not-for-sale hair, and apply to his world-famous clown college! My script emailed me every hilarious interaction he had to put up with but by the sixth one, he started asking the bots if I was paying them to call him. On April 1st, I called him up and asked him to review some code I was having trouble with and waited until it dawned on him. I heard a series of loud cuss words followed by uproarious laughter.

"You know I totally believed it was real people," he said. "I mean the accents could use some improvement but I honestly believed someone was posting my number on Craigslist or something. I had no idea these were computer voices!"

Over the next few months, I got busy with life and forgot about the script until one evening I had to call my cable company. They had unexpectedly raised my monthly rate without increasing the Internet speed and I figured it was time they heard my true feelings. But I was on hold for so long, I realized that it wasn't worth my time or sanity. "Only a robot could hold patiently for 30 minutes and not get enraged at the poor customer service rep for an unexpected charge," I thought. Maybe it was frustration, maybe it was the prospect of another funny story, but I spent the night rewriting my April Fools' script to bargain with the cable company. The logs showed that it took about 3 tries before an agent at my cable company said "I totally understand you frustration. How about I revert back to your old price but you keep the new speed?" My pre-programmed script sighed "Ok, that will work I guess." I didn't want it to sound too happy lest they might think I was trying to pull a fast one over them.

I shared the story of lowering my cable bill with friends and family and they all wanted to try it out. I just needed them to send me their cable company name and account number. I already knew most of their home addresses. It took a few days but eventually I had a very detailed, realistic script written that could handle most of the top 10 cable companies and it could even change the tone when talking to supervisor. I analyzed the logs and the script worked right off the bat in 60% of the cases and took at most 3 attempts to get 95% success. I eventually created a simple online form for friends of friends to enter their cable company name and account number so I didn't have to manually type things out.

I woke up one morning with a billing alert from Google. Apparently I had used $150 worth of Duplex agent credits in one night! A quick peek at the site analytics told me things had gotten out of hand. Someone had posted my app to their Facebook page. So I did what any broke person who just got his 15 minutes of fame would do - I put a big banner on the page that said "Lower your cable bill by $10/mo" and put a $1 PayPal button under it. No privacy policy, no terms of service. Just gimme a buck and my robots will take care of your problems! It only cost me 10c/call so there was barely any risk. I figured maybe in a few months, the PayPal button will make me enough to offset the $150 I lost.

I woke up next morning with a $540 PayPal balance. Positive balance! Someone popular had mentioned my site on their podcast. By evening, it was $1400 and PayPal shut down my account thinking it was scam. Took all next day to get it unlocked. After a few days, I started getting calls from people saying Company X had started training their employees to ignore my script. So I spent a few hours increasing its vocabulary and fed it a few books on negotiation and customer service. That worked. First month sales were $24,000 and expenses were barely $500!

The next few months leading into January 2020 are a haze. I was receiving feedback and requests from people around the world at an overwhelming rate. I expanded the basic cable-company caller system to handle health insurance claims, Craigslist inquiries, and even added a business-ready module that could reschedule Outlook and Gmail appointments. But the one that went viral was the car purchase negotiator. You simply enter the car make/model and your zip code and my AI bots would look online and call up every dealership in a 100-mile radius. Then it would negotiate the best price, essentially making each dealer bid against the others in near real-time. Once the script reached optimal pricing, you would get an email summary and then could call the dealership to finalize the purchase. Only cost you $25 or if you joined the monthly Gold plan or higher, it was free.

Growth was good and rapid. Soon I had a team of talented coders, a horde of eager investors, and a following of lazy slackers who never wanted to make a phone call again. But replacing phone calls wasn't the end-of-line for us. We had stopped using Google's Duplex once Mozilla released their open-source AI agent framework Firefish, which could do a lot more than talk. It could intelligently fill out forms. So we added a premium "No Snails" service. All of your boring postal mail comes to us and we handle it. Late fees on car rental? We negotiate it down to near $0. Bill for a "free" service that keeps auto-charging you? We cancel it for you! $49/mo is not a lot to live a hassle-free life. The only mail in your mailbox is birthday cards and wedding invites. No more scary IRS bills. Our Platinum plan members got their tax issues resolved automatically.

Maybe it was the public's lack of technical understanding or their faith in our brand, but people stopped thinking of us as an algorithm company. As far as they were concerned we had a call-center full of 100,000 people fighting on their behalf. It was barely 10,000 cloud servers! By the time we needed a million servers, we had acquired ten million paying customers. We were still private, IPOs having lost their charm by the market failures in late 2020s. We wanted to do something special for our ten millionth customer and the folks in travel department came up with an ingenious solution - World Citizen plan.

We already had Full-Life management plans where we took care of almost every issue you could have from picking health insurance to finding the right job. But no matter what we did, everything was location dependent. Even if our system could help a Canadian citizen find a job in US and automatically handle the filling, mailing, and replying to all of the paperwork needed to get passport and work-visa, the person still had to go for an in-person interview for security reasons. What if we could negotiate some sort of deal between both US and Canada where citizens of either countries could bypass the interview as long as they met certain criteria? Well, since most of the politicians in both countries were already Full-Life management customers, it didn't take long for us to convince them to support our World Citizen plan. After all, we already knew our customers in more depth than any interview or background check could reveal.

As far as I was concerned, I had no interest in selling anyone's data or getting hacked. Sure we experienced the odd instance of run-of-the-mill corporate espionage but securing our systems remained our top internal goal. This helped sell the World Citizen plan to more than the North American politicians. Soon Europe, Africa, and India joined in. Beauty of the World Citizen plan was that since we managed the application and approval process on both side of member countries, our customer's didn't even have to proactively apply for a visa. Instead our travel department would suggest places for them to visit as soon as they became eligible for a visa.

It took a few years but we finally worked out the kinks in the visa-free travel process. Terrorism had always been the primary threat to visa-free travel and we found a unique solution, that our customers surprisingly didn't hate - bank with us. Once a customer moves 100% of their banking, investment, and credit accounts to our system, we could easily detect and prevent illicit activities. We weren't as interested in preventing crime as in having non-criminal customers. Shady financial stuff got you banned from our service permanently. And if you wanted to appeal, you would have to fill out the forms manually and make the calls personally. There was little incentive for criminals to join our service.

For the next decade or so, we continued to acquire more customers and around the time the ten billionth baby was born, we added our third billionth customer. Of these three billion paying customers, 400 million were on the World Citizens plan. We were essentially the fifth largest nation in the world albeit without sovereign borders, currency, or elected officials. We did have a flag though and although it wasn't planted on any planet or moon, it was quite popular among new customers.

Things seemed to be going well for us and our customers well into the mid-2040s but then things took a turn for the worse quite quickly. Our non-customers revolted globally and continued to do so with an unyielding frenzy. We all understood why but we didn't know what we could do that didn't further spread violence. They either made too little to afford our service or had history (criminal or objectionable as per our internal standards) that prevented them from signing up for even the Bronze plans. These folks rarely got approved for visas now that most of the UN countries had signed up to the World Citizens registry. They had a hard time beating our AI at finding decent jobs, dates, or even restaurant reservations. Our AI lawyers beat their AI-aided human lawyers in 90% of the cases and our banking system was better insured than most countries' reserve banks. In nutshell, if you were our customer, you did not have to worry about bureaucracy. Sure it cost you a bit more to get your kid enrolled in a prestigious school but you can be sure that once you set a $3500/mo budget, our system found the most optimal school that fit your budget, education goals, and even your morning commute. The school didn't have to update their enrollment process or website. Our system did everything like you as a human would have via phone, snail mail, and web, just at a thousandth of the cost and with nary a care.

As proud as we were of everything we did for our 3/10th of the human population, it wasn't great to be part of the other 7/10th. So after a few tumultuous years, on Jan 1st 2050, we made the entry-level plan free for everyone without a bad history. Bam! Five billion new users in a day! The rest were mostly kids under 13 or ineligible to sign up.

Looking back at my life, I am proud to say that I helped improve the world in my own unique way. No, I didn't cure cancer and didn't eradicate world hunger. I barely donated to charity beyond what my Full-Life Tax AI suggested. But I'd like to think that I made the world a better place because I got rid of stress and misery on a global scale. We are all but human. I never expected us flawed humans to always do the right thing and I could never convince politicians to fix the laws or update their convoluted processes. All I could do was write a few automated scripts to make living less bothersome. Who knew it could end up touching so many lives! And to think it all started as a joke online.

Add a Comment

The Internet and Us - Part 2: UnthinkMon, 12th Nov '18, 12:55 am::

In Part 1, I argued that we humans as a collective are not ready for the exponential growth in technology and the resulting connectedness it has brought us. I ended it by saying that here in Part 2 I will write more about "The Internet" part and how we got to where we are today. It is easy to see where we are today in terms of technology and the social aspects so I will be succinct in my thoughts on both. What I'm more interested in though is the unseen, unpredictable effects of being part of a connected world and will wildly extemporize about things I have not heard being discussed elsewhere online.

The technical history of how the Internet came to be is covered quite well by Johnny Ryan in his 2013 book A History of the Internet and the Digital Future:

    It tells the story of the development of the Internet from the 1950s to the present and examines how the balance of power has shifted between the individual and the state in the areas of censorship, copyright infringement, intellectual freedom, and terrorism and warfare... how the Internet has revolutionized political campaigns... cloud computing, user-driven content, and the new global commons...

The only thing I can add to this is my personal opinion that from a technological standpoint, steady and significant progress is being made all over the world to make the Internet better. Every programmer or engineer has their own theory of what's wrong with how we code, communicate, or cooperate vs. how we should. However, since development is an iterative and generally additive process, i.e. we usually build new tools instead of completely throwing away old tools, if you do not buy into the latest fad, you can continue to use your 42-year-old battle-tested environment.

When I first started writing this series, I kept thinking about the effect that the Internet has had on all of us socially. From keeping in touch with family and friends to finding someone to marry, the Internet has drastically changed how we live. I was hoping to write a lot more on this but realized that it is unnecessary. If you're reading this, you know exactly the effect the Internet has had on us. You've heard about the thousand ways it is effecting our social interactions, sleeping-habits, family relations etc. But if you haven't, here are a few million academic papers on it. So let's move on to the fun thoughts that keep me up at night.

Fun thoughts like — what really is a thought? It can be an idea that can change our world. Or a concern that erodes our resolve. Or the noise in our brain that we filter out to achieve inner-peace. A thought is a force. It is the impetus for us to do something, anything — routine or extraordinary, good or evil, trivial or significant. We think about a lot of things, all of us. We even think about how we think. Thoughts shape our opinions, which form our beliefs, which fortify our ideologies, which direct our actions. In the long run, a thought has might.

But is the thought original or a replica? Why does it matter? It matters because the Internet has now become a decades-long experiment in planetary thought-replication. Our thoughts, which used to be our creations and possessions, are now being influenced and hijacked by others. Don't believe me? Ask yourself when was the last time you had an original thought. I don't mean things like "I should buy shampoo" or "I think it's going to rain tonight." I also don't mean novel inventions, new sandwich recipes, or odd-ball ideas like taping bread to cats. I mean simple, original thoughts, with little influence from anyone else.

Here's an example: "There are too many superhero movies." Maybe you had this thought after watching Justice League in 2017. Or after the second Spiderman reboot in 2012, or the third Superman movie in 1983. It is entirely possible for you to have had this thought without talking to anyone else and without reading a single film review. Even if you had this thought all on your own, you were most certainly not the only one thinking this. Original thought isn't the same as being the first person to have the thought. Original just means nobody told you how you should form your opinion.

Who cares if you had this thought originally? Because if you had it, then that means the conditions were ripe for others to have it too. A hundred others. A million others. That would give someone 17 billion reasons to prevent you from ever having that thought. Before the Internet, it took some serious amount of work to shape thoughts on a global scale. Today all you need is a photo with a phrase. So now if you think "I can't wait until the next superhero movie", is it an original thought?

Let me be clear, I am not against Internet's ability to influence thoughts and opinions. Without it we wouldn't have support for countless humanitarian causes, donations to an array of foundations and charities, and patronage of thousands of self-motivated creators. The Internet is awesome. But it has altered our thought process.

Ok, so the Internet influences us to buy things. Just like TV, radio, and newspapers have done for over a century. At least we can block online ads. What's the big deal? The big deal isn't about marketing or influence. The big deal is that now we have been trained to not form opinions without consulting the web first. On the surface, that's great. Everyone should form opinions after researching something in depth, not before. But this has had the side-effect of also training us to form opinions immediately after seeing anything online.

Before the Internet, we formed opinions based on our life experiences, years of knowledge, and gut feelings. That's how humanity evolved over a million years. We learned not to eat certain berries, drink standing water, or kill our own tribe members. We learned to form instincts and trust them because we knew what happens if we didn't. But now we instantly Google when a famous person says something to find out why they said it and whether we should support their stance or not. That means, although we didn't have an opinion of them ten minutes ago, we used the Internet to influence our thoughts to form an instantaneous opinion. Again, so what? Well, next time you come across a 15-second video or a 140-character sentence that sort of relates to this topic, your beliefs will strengthen instantly. You didn't ask your parent's neighbor's cousin to share that video with you, but now that they did, it reinforces some of your past instantly-formed beliefs, either in agreement or disagreement with the content being shared. Remember, these are not opinions and beliefs that you have formed after years of study and personal experience. These are prefabricated thoughts that were replicated from the mind of a single individual who shared content with someone else who shared content with someone else and so on until the idea got lodged in your mind.

For instance, you were not intentionally thinking about real-estate market in China but now that I told you that 70% of all new houses in China are bought as investment properties by people who already own a house, you are going to connect this dot to Vancouver's complicated relationship with Chinese money. Next time you cross a street and see a young, Asian male in an expensive car, you might end up thinking about his parents expatriating funds out of China, regardless of the actual truth. But thanks to me, you now have a crappy stereotype embedded in your head. What happens when the next person who fits this stereotype applies for a job under you? Or wants your vote? Or your help after an accident? Too bad, you will immediately have flashbacks of the terrible stereotype I infected you with.

Your only option is to fight it. Not fight the stereotype. That's just forming a contrarian opinion. You have to fight the innate human urge to think your thoughts through to a satisfying conclusion. You need to unnaturally force yourself not to form an opinion just because you read something online.

I know it's taken me a thousand more words than necessary to arrive at the lesson here but it's worth thinking about. And that lesson is to not think. I don't mean ignoring everything online as if it's all fake or shutting yourself off completely. I mean allowing yourself to learn new things but not forming an opinion on them.

Well that sounds completely impossible! How can you read about government corruption or medical fraud but not form an opinion on it? I don't know. If I did, I'd write a book about it. But I do know that we are letting everything we read or see online, influence us completely without questioning the medium or the messenger. And the more we do, the more we are cocksure that we are in fact the select few who are well-read, well-informed, and consistently rational.

Add a Comment

The Internet and Us - Part 1: UsTue, 30th Oct '18, 3:45 pm::

This will be a series of long blog entries because it is my attempt to put into words an idea that has been percolating in my head for more than a few years now. Ever since I figured out what newspapers were as a kid, I have attempted to soak up every bit of information I come across, in an attempt to build my grand unified theory of the human experience. Two decades ago I logged on to high-speed Internet for the first time, a whopping 64Kb/s fast track to the information superhighway, and got hooked. The Internet is amazing. But let's back up.

It took humanity one million years to learn how to control fire. It took another hundred thousand years for us to talk right. Then ten thousand years to grow food. Followed by a thousand years to figure out machines. Only took a hundred years to master human flight. Now we are ten years into the great experiment of connecting all of humanity via social networks. And we're barely a year into every tech company walking into our homes. My hypothesis is that we humans as a collective are not ready for this. As individuals we can fly space ships and prove conjectures but as a group, we are no more capable of accepting society-wide changes than our fire-phobic ancestors would have been a million years ago.

What led me to finally write my disjointed thoughts on this topic was a remark by Dr. Milewski in his first lecture on Category Theory. He posits that humans only know how to (1) break down complex problems into simpler problems and (2) solve simple problems. Every bridge every built, every CPU ever designed, every heart ever surgically replaced relied on our ability to break down complex problems into simpler problems and then solve these simple problems. But this is not the only possible way to solve problems. Some alien civilization could solve simple problems as a byproduct of solving multiple complex problems. They could solve complex problems directly without breaking them down into simpler problems. Or they could combine a bunch of simple and complex problems and have one large complex solution to them. But Dr. Milewski argues that we humans only know how to solve simple problems. You don't have to take this as gospel or even agree with it but this is the spark that got my brain-fire burning.

I've been programming professionally for well over two decades now. No matter how complicated the problem, coders like (and better than) me all over the world break it down into the smallest parts possible and then attack each unit independently. How do you get a computer to recognize your face? First level — break it down to image acquisition, image processing, and image recognition. Second level — break down each of these into sub-problems e.g. image recognition into detection, classification, and identification. Third level — image detection can be further divided into features like edge detection, corner detection, Hough transforms etc. Fourth level — edge detection can use first-order approaches like Canny and Sobel or second-order like differential or phase congruency. No matter what field of study we pick, from art and sociology to political science and medicine, beyond third or fourth level, things sound like gobbledygook to anyone outside of the field.

But Chirag, you say, the examples you gave just made things more complex at each level, not simpler! Alas, that's the problem with how our language evolved. The simpler terms are often assigned to the most complex things. Face detection is not simpler than phase congruency. Art is not simpler than avant-garde geometric abstraction. The more general a topic is, the more complex it is, because it is composed of a thousand nested sub-topics, like a tapestry made of textile, made of multi-colored threads, woven warp and weft with picks and piles. But unlike a beautiful piece of tapestry, which we can step back ten feet and marvel at in awe, there's no way for our brains to see the big picture of billions of cellphones feeding our deepest thoughts and emotions.

As a species, we have become quite adept at solving problems. Early on we realized that we had a problem with passing knowledge from one person to next. So we made up numbers and words. Then we realized we had a problem with passing knowledge from one generation to next. So we made up lore and epics, passed down orally. Then we realized we needed something permanent, so we started writing on stones, scribes, and parchment. A few thousand years of that and we realized that a room full of manuscripts isn't enough to pass down the ever increasing volume of information humanity was generating so we came up with fields of study, education system, libraries, and professional teachers. Your college may have just built a new student activity center with virtual reality games but at its core, education today is not much different from Taxila or Plato's Academy.

So great, we figured out a solid way to education the masses. What's the problem with that? There isn't. The way we break down the universe of knowledge into fields, and sub-fields, with different degrees each taking years, broken up into gradually advancing courses is fantastic! This is how we managed to cure diseases, build dams, and send rockets into space. Good job, humanity! The problem is that this only equips us to deal with the problems we had ten thousand years ago - health, economics, and politics. Any new problem we come across, we try to shoehorn it into one of our existing models of study. Sure, we come up with new fields like operations research and management science as we broaden our knowledge-base but all of these rely on the same education system we built thousands of years ago.

Again, what's the problem with that? The problem is that we are now left to solve collective problems using tools meant for individuals. The foundation of our economic, political, and health-care systems is that each individual human is independent in their decision-making and will make the rational choice for themselves. Money is a tool meant for individuals. Voting is a tool meant for individuals. Proper diet and exercise is a tool meant for individuals. It's not my business if you go broke shorting stocks, vote for a guy who wears a boot as a hat, or eat cheesecake for breakfast, you are a free human with the liberty to do as you damn well please. Better yet, we even have laws that protect me if your actions or in-actions have a negative side-effect on me. We have built our society to incentivize human independence in every imaginable way and speaking as an independent human, that's a beautiful thing.

But speaking as someone who has read the news at least once in the last few years, we have some issues. We have some major, unsolvable issues. I don't mean the staples of hunger, poverty, and war. We are actually tackling these at an unprecedented rate. And we're using the tools of individuals (education, money, technology, voting) to chip away at these problems. Go humans! I mean major issues that we barely recognize, let alone know how to solve. Take for instance tourism, or rather over-tourism. Policymakers around the world are trying to curb the ill-effects of over-tourism by restricting length of stays, limiting the number of people admitted to pristine sites, raising taxes, and creating new regulations to best manage the local tourism industry. At a glance, this doesn't seem any different than lawmakers trying to stop any other unwanted human activity like drugs, smoking, or loitering. Lawmakers gonna law-make! But let's flip things around and look at the demand for tourism instead.

Why are so many people going to Easter Island all of a sudden? It is certainly not the steady increase in world population. Analysts at Skift, a travel website, say it's because of bucket lists and perfect Instagram snaps. When Bucket List, the 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman first came out, nobody could have predicted that it would lead to over-tourism in the Easter Islands. Sure, things like this have happened in the past for hundreds of years e.g. Dutch Tulip mania, but this is different. It's different because of the scale and the speed. Every well-off person on Instagram from India to West Indies wants to take that perfect shot under the big Jesus statue in Rio or push up against the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A hundred years ago, relatively few people knew about these places. Now they are must-see globe-trotter destinations, shared and retweeted a million times daily.

What's the big deal, you ask. Policies will be made, locals will adjust, and a sustainable level of tourism will be achieved over time. That's how our civilized world works and it's been doing so for a few thousand years. My problem isn't with the specific act of tourism. Tourism is great. More people should travel the world etc. etc. My problem is that a small photo with a caption can change our mind. My problem is that anyone can make that photo. My problem is that the photo can spread through a vast majority of humanity in mere moments. More people have seen Psy's Gangnam Style video in a few years than the entire population of Earth in 1950!

We have built our entire society on individualism. We now have methods to influence an ever-increasing number of individuals on a global scale. We can change a hundred million minds with a single photo in an instant! And we are all addicted to this steady stream of novelty that we call the Internet. We're on it. Our parents are on it. Our kids are on a slightly different flavor of it because what we use isn't exactly cool. But we're all consuming wholesome memes, outrage-fueled news, corporate astroturfing, rage-inducing CCTV footage, political propaganda, and outright nonsense all day. And most of the time, we have no idea who came up with it and why.

Our brains are addicted to new and we will accept anything that's new. Refresh, close, re-open, refresh. Sort-by-latest. Top-in-last-hour. Show me most viewed. I want to feel the pulse of the world. I want to be connected to my community, my town, my state, my country, my world. It's 2018 and I must form an opinion on every breaking news story. So let me drink from the fire-hose already!

This is the Internet now. The Internet and us. All of us. Yes, even you who deleted your Facebook or don't post on Twitter. You are with us now. Just because you get your fix from a different source doesn't mean you are not one of us. This is us.

In Part 2, I hope to write more about "The Internet" part and how we got here.

Add a Comment

OptimismSat, 29th Sep '18, 12:30 am::

Having had a pretty crappy year, I noticed an unexpected change in my personality. I have become more optimistic about everything. Initially I thought it was merely a side-effect of some strong medications but time has proven it otherwise. It took some months to narrow down but I finally realized the cause of my optimism is willful observation. I read this quote by Mr. Rogers years ago but didn't absorb the meaning until recently:

    "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." - Mister Rogers

When things are going wrong, it is trivial to list everything that's going wrong. It takes effort to notice what's not going wrong and even more effort to identify what new things are going right. When more things are going wrong than right, it is painful to seek just the right but I've learned that it is the most reliable way to fill up a glass-half-empty mind with a dollop of hopes, dreams, and optimism.

The universe doesn't revolve around me and doesn't care if I'm happy or sad. But my family and friends do. And I am a better husband, father, son, and friend when I am cautiously optimistic instead of morose. I've never been doom-and-gloom pessimistic but I have been cynical every now and then. And I can say with 100% confidence that cautious optimism beats indifferent cynicism every day.

Add a Comment

-1 HouseThu, 6th Sep '18, 8:00 am::

I wrote about the cancellation on the sale of my old house last month and just one day later, got an unexpected cash offer for the full price. The buyer was willing to complete the purchase in two weeks, didn't want me to make any amends on the house (as-is sale), and was willing to perform home inspection right away. This one seemed too good to be true and so while I accepted the offer, I didn't tell anyone about it. No point in disappointing more people.

Well, disappointment no more. The house sale was completed successfully yesterday and now I am no longer a landlord! It felt great checking this long-standing item off my Chaos List.

Add a Comment

Chaos ListTue, 21st Aug '18, 12:30 am::

One late night a few years ago, overcome with stress and anxiety from all facets of life, I decided to blog about everything that was bothering me, hoping for some sort of catharsis. But a funny thing happened when I wrote them all out, even before I posted anything online. I felt better. Just writing down a list of things that were causing chaos in my life made me feel better. So instead of posting it for the world to see, I just copied them to my todos under the heading: Chaos List.

The Chaos List isn't a list of chores I hate doing or bills I'd rather not pay. It is for the big problems in life, things that utterly bring me down, sometimes literally like the neurosurgery I needed on my C6-7 discs. I can control a lot of things in my life, from work schedule to eating healthy. But for the things I cannot control, there's the Chaos List.

I recently added "C5-6 discs" to the list because my neurosurgeon said it looks like I will need another surgery, right above the previous one. My pain level was down to 1/10 by mid-July but it is back to 6/10 now. I'm getting headaches, neck pain, and back pain because even though my doctor wanted to operate on both my C5-6 and C6-7 in March, the insurance company would not cover the cost of C5-6, only C6-7. So now I have to go under the knife again, the doctor has to re-operate on a recovering patient, and the insurance company has to pay 100% of the cost instead of just 15% additional. If this isn't chaos beyond my control, I don't know what is.

Another item on the list is "Old house sale." Today the buyer for my old house canceled the sale after being under contract for 90 days! The sale was supposed to complete tomorrow but the buyer got fired from his job on Friday. And since the lender denied the loan due to buyer's unemployment, I don't even get to keep the escrow. Now we start the whole process again and the earliest we can find a buyer and complete the sale is October or most likely November. This means 3-4 months of mortgage, electricity, water, and lawn mowing bills for an empty house. Argh!

There are a few more items on the list, most of them too personal and honestly too boring to share. Nobody cares about these issues other than me or my family but they definitely ruin my mood every time I let my mind wander. So I put them on the Chaos List. If it is on the list, I do not allow myself to think about it. No point in wallowing in self-pity over things already on the list. That's why they are on the list. I have already admitted that they are self-pity worthy! I don't need to keep wasting my time thinking about them.

Of course I cannot always consciously stop my anxious mind from running wild. So when I am absolutely past my ability to function or think straight due to the stress of everything, I stare at this list. Not just one item in the list but the whole list, because it is never a single issue that weighs me down, but the burden of the entire pile! And so I stare at this list.

I think of all the qualities that define me, that constitute my personality, my being. Nothing on this list has anything to do with my true nature. I am who I am, good and bad. But I am definitely not an unsold house. I am not a denied insurance claim. I am not a rejected application. Things that happen to me are not things that are me.

I don't stare at the list hoping all of these will be fixed or go away. They may not. They might get worse. The list could double in size overnight. But I will still be me. Even when I change, from experience, wisdom, or life just knocking me around, I am still never going to be a list of out-of-control events and situations. I am always going to be a real person, experiencing life, sometimes in control, sometimes out of.

Earlier today after I signed the cancellation agreement, I felt a cloud of uneasiness slowly coming over me. So I did what I've been doing for the past few years and stared at my Chaos List. It takes a bit of effort to detach myself from the events in my own life but it helps me focus on what matters without losing myself.

Add a Comment

Thu, 26th Jul '18, 7:25 am::

Tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary. We officially got married on 23rd but we celebrate our Yellowstone Wedding on 27th each year because that's when we shared our vows and had a little ceremony in front of Undine Falls. My parents celebrate June 2nd because that's when we had our traditional Indian wedding.

Re-reading my vows to Juliet after ten years, I don't think I would change anything. I don't think I would change anything about our life together over the past decade. There is a lot, lot more I want to write but right now I have to get ready for a long weekend full of fun family activities. Couldn't be more excited!

Add a Comment

PrideSat, 2nd Jun '18, 2:15 pm::

I used to take a lot of pride in my work when I was younger. I prided myself on producing the best quality work I could and rarely gave in to laziness or cut-corners at the expense of quality. I was unabashedly proud of it. Unfortunately for a long time, I equated pride in my work with pride in the product of my work.

When you take pride in your work, you do your best. When you take pride in the product of your work, you reject all criticism. Constructive criticism is how you improve and rejecting that means stagnation. It took some time for me to learn this but once I did, I noticed how little pride in anything mattered.

Now I rarely care about anything I've made, written, or designed. I don't care if it is endearing or embarrassing. I care that I did it, for the reasons I did it, and with the effort that I did it with. But I don't care that *I* did it. This mindset has led to continuous improvement in everything I do. So criticize away. If I have the time and resources, I will incorporate your suggestions with an open mind.

Add a Comment

True storyMon, 14th May '18, 10:40 pm::

This happened earlier today with Naveen when I was trying to convince him to take a nap.

Me: Napping is great. Bears love napping so much, they go into hibernation and sleep through all of winter.

Naveen: But I want to be a frog, not a bear.

Me: Being a bear is great! If you were a bear, you would be big and tall. You could eat honey and berries all day. And you could even eat salmon fresh from the river.

Naveen: What's salmon?

Me: It's a type of fish.

Naveen: Mommy eats fish... (15 seconds of contemplation later). Is mommy a bear?

Add a Comment

Opting for a surgeryWed, 4th Apr '18, 11:30 pm::

I've been recovering from my ACDF surgery gradually and feeling better by the week. I am glad I went under the knife even though I was quite apprehensive initially. What helped me come to terms with my decision was a conversation with a neurosurgeon who told me the three reasons people usually opt for surgeries:

1) Get the surgery if you are in severe pain or extremely debilitated and cannot tolerate the physical trauma.

2) Get the surgery if you cannot afford to miss your home/work/academic obligations.

3) Get the surgery if your quality-of-life has deteriorated to the point where you can't imagine living like this forever.

In my case, honestly all the three reasons applied. It hasn't even been three weeks since the operations and reason #2 is already resolved for me. I am still in a lot of pain and cannot be physically active like I was prior to January but that is just a matter of time. Hopefully in a few months, I will be back to normal as if nothing happened, well, except having a few pieces of metal embedded in my neck.

Add a Comment

Sat, 17th Mar '18, 6:50 am::

My surgery went well and I am resting in the hospital right now. Hopefully I will be discharged later today. I am experiencing some pain but my left hand already feels amazingly better!

Add a Comment

Thu, 15th Mar '18, 7:30 pm::

I am scheduled for a cervical disk fusion surgery tomorrow morning. My parents arrived yesterday from India to help take care of Naveen while I recover. Going to bed now so I can wake up early and get to the hospital with Juliet.

Add a Comment

WordsWed, 28th Feb '18, 1:05 am::

When it comes to language and word usage, I am what is often called, a descriptivist instead of a prescriptivist. Words and their meanings evolve over time and arguing that a word or phrase should mean today exactly what it meant years or centuries ago is futile. When it comes to grammar though, I am more of a prescriptivist, though not strictly. The point of writing is to communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly to the reader. As long as the words or phrases used by a writer convey the indented meaning clearly to the reader, there is no point in being pedantic about the etymological origin. However, using non-standard grammar, especially in written form, could confuse the reader so it is best to use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Let me explain with examples. It used to be that the word 'literally' meant 'in the strictest sense or manner'. However, overuse of the word in the past decade has now rendered it to mean 'figuratively'. Nobody literally dies when they run into a celebrity and then post about it on social media. They mean 'figuratively'. I am ok with this, prescriptivists aren't. The word 'computer' used to refer to women who performed mathematical operations manually on paper; now it means the device you are reading this text on.

But why should we care about this? Because there are many more words whose meanings are changing before our eyes and people are fighting all over the world to keep or revert these changes. Political and social disagreements very often boil down to arguing over the intended meaning of words. New words and phrases pop up every day and people get used to them. What was called yellow journalism in the 19th century is now called 'fake news' and 'click-bait'. The word 'organic' has been around for centuries but only recently has it been used to refer to foods cultivated without the use of chemical additives or artificial pesticides.

There is disagreement in word usage in almost every hot-button political issue. The disagreement about the word 'marriage' is pretty commonplace. Should 'marriage' mean a socially and/or legally recognized union between a man and a woman or should it mean between any two adults, regardless of gender? Some argue that 'marriage' should only refer to the union between a man and a woman and if two men or two women want the same union, it should be called 'civil union' instead, since the traditional definition of marriage didn't include same-gendered couples. If a 'civil union' works in the exact same way as 'marriage' and offers the same rights and legal claims, then why not just use or refine the word 'marriage'? The word 'dinner' used to mean lunch and was eaten around 1pm but now we're perfectly ok with making dinner and movie plans that start at 8pm.

Another phrase in the news now is 'assault rifles'. In the strictest terms, an 'assault rifle' must be "capable of selective fire, have an intermediate-power cartridge, have ammunition that is supplied from a detachable box magazine, and have an effective range of at least 300 meters." The AR-15 gun used in the recent Parkland school shooting as well as the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando Nightclub, Sandy Hook, and Sutherland Springs Texas church, is technically not an assault rifle. So passing laws that specifically prohibit the sale or ban the possession of 'assault rifles' would not affect this specific gun or its variants. In this instance, people are trying to generalize the meaning of 'assault rifles' to include guns like AR-15. Generalization has happened many times in many disciplines and industries. Brand names become generic terms (e.g. Chapstick, Jacuzzi, Jet Ski), trademarks become verbs (Google this, Xerox that), and technical definitions get commercialized (e.g. real-time, cloud).

In the end, people will redefine, expand, and refine the meaning of words like they always have as long as others can understand them. Long ago, 'nice' used to mean silly, 'awful' meant awesome, and 'meat' meant any solid food including vegetables and fruits. If the definition and usage of these core words can change, then the redefinition of words like 'woke', 'salty', 'thirsty', 'lit', and 'basic' is just natural progression. Some of these will stick and become part of the vernacular, some will return to their original meaning, and some will continue to change.

I choose to accept these changes because they tell the story of our time.

Add a Comment

Deriving wisdomFri, 23rd Feb '18, 10:35 pm::

Researcher Carolyn Aldwin, co-author of a recent study of 50 senior citizens published in the Journals of Gerontology concluded that "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." In short, the study confirms that we derive wisdom from how we relate to life events and how much we question our beliefs and our values for growth. Importantly, though, the type and quality of the social contact that we experience during hard times also play a role in determining whether we stagnate or become wiser.

Let's just say that for some time now, Juliet and I have been unexpectedly defining ourselves and unwittingly deriving wisdom. Leaving aside a long list of stressors that has stirred our life over the past year, from my wrist surgery and hurricane evacuation to Naveen's rustication from preschool, this last week has shaken things up a bit more than usual. I was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc impinging the nerves going to my left shoulder and arm causing intense pain, burning sensation, numbing, and electric-shock like symptoms constantly for the past month. I've spent the past few days setting up appointments for second opinion, painfully filling out medical forms, and learning as much as I can about my condition before I pick a method of treatment. However, based on everything I've learned so far, people with my specific conditions generally undergo neurosurgery soon after diagnosis.

Since I haven't had any accidents or impact injuries, the cause for the disc herniation remains uncertain. The primary suspect is my years and years of severe dry cough which causes intense pain in my neck and head for months on end. A few months ago my pulmonologist suggested that I try taking Sucralfate every time I start to experience dry cough to see if it helps. Fortunately for me, even though sucralfate is not a cough medicine, it is helping tremendously in suppressing bouts of coughing. Unfortunately for me, the damage to my cervical discs is already done. The good news is that if I get a neurosurgical disc implant properly, it will alleviate my pain and give me back my mobility, strength, and energy. The scary part is of course undergoing neurosurgery at age 37.

Usually when not-so-happy things happen to me, I keep the exhausting details to myself and only share the highlights with close friends and family. But I've started to open up a bit more about this because I'm finding out that almost everyone has or knows someone who has spine or neck problems and each person deals with it differently. The more common I find my condition to be, the less alone I feel going into it. Even though I'd rather learn more about neural networks than neurosurgery, if you know anything about C6-7 herniated discs, I am all ears and ready to take notes!

Add a Comment

SerenityThu, 16th Nov '17, 12:20 am::

I woke up this morning to find Naveen had opened multiple bags of dried fruits, chips, and candy and was arranging them on his little plastic table. I asked him why he was emptying entire bags on to the table instead of just eating a few pieces from a bag and he said because he wanted to put them on the table. He knows I won't buy his circular reasoning but he still leads with it. After a few minutes of prodding, he reasoned that once all the food was on his table, it was his and he could eat as much or as little of it as he wants. I assured him that he could do the same even if it was in the bags and he seemed to accept that at face value. I will find out tomorrow if he believed me or not.

I've noticed he is doing more and more things to assert some form of control over his surroundings. Whether it is the arrangement of pillows before bedtime or which books he wants us to read in which order, he is constantly trying to govern his world. Initially I thought it was just random choices or him being fussy but now I can definitely spot a pattern in his requests. He wants a big pillow on the edge to prevent him from falling off the bed and he wants picture stories first and books with songs later on because the latter make him sleepy.

It was during one of his bedtime routines a few nights ago that I realized how important it was for him to feel like he was in control. The more he was in charge the more he behaved well and took responsibility for his actions. Frankly, that's pretty much all we want as adults too. Being in control of your own life and fate is one of the key ingredients to happiness.

My dry cough is back once again and disrupting my home and work life as always. Involuntary coughing is literally the opposite of control and barely an hour goes by without me hacking my lungs out at full volume. Obviously I am going to get the proper treatment but it is a painful, protracted process. Add to this some expensive medical issues, unexpected travel, and arbitrary work hours and you arrive at my complete lack of jurisdiction over my own life.

Just like my son, I grew up learning how to take charge of my life, from asserting control over my routines to fighting for command in school and work environments. And now I find myself at an unexpected juncture - reciting the Serenity Prayer to myself 5x a day because accepting that there are things I cannot control is surprisingly more difficult for me than chanting the try-try-till-you-succeed mantra that has fueled me all my life.

    "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

I don't know how long things will be tough and seemingly out of control but it helps to have a loving family and tons of cuddly pets. I may not be able to direct this season of life but I can sure teach Naveen the words to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and for the moment, that's good enough.

Add a Comment

Then I saw her faceFri, 27th Oct '17, 10:45 pm::

Exactly ten years ago on this day I first laid my eyes on the woman who would become my wife. I wrote about that day long ago when I was but a young man. Today was the first time in years that I re-read that entry and it feels like I wrote it yesterday. So much has happened in the past decade since this beautiful woman walked into my life and all I can think of is how much more life Juliet and I still have to experience together. As we raise our son Naveen, we hope that someday he can have a couple of siblings to play with. We want to go to Galapagos to see the giant tortoises and see wild lemurs in Madagascar. We hope to have a real homestead someday where we'll raise a dozen dwarf goats with the help of our kids. And maybe one summer I will drive around the country with the whole family in a big RV.

Looking back, almost all of our wishes and dreams have already come true. She graduated at the top of her MS class, I became a work-from-home software consultant, we bought a nice house in a good neighborhood, climbed up a glacier in Alaska, found a great school for Naveen, and most of all, have supported each other through our toughest days. Now that I think about it, the only pending item on my wish-list is getting a high-pressure rain-shower in master bath. Pretty sure I'll check it off some time in the next ten years.

It was quite a coincidence that I even remembered today was the exact day. We were watching the new season of Stranger Things and during a scene shot in a cabin I turned to her to bring up our past trip to the Smoky Mountains. Maybe it was the lighting or how her hair just slightly covered her face but my mind suddenly flashed back to the very moment I first saw her a decade ago. If someone had told me that day that exactly ten years later I would be watching a scary show with her after we put our son to bed, I would have laughed at how ridiculous that sounded while secretly hoping for all of it to come true.

And then I saw her face. All of it had indeed come true.

Add a Comment

Safe, sound, and offlineTue, 12th Sep '17, 1:15 pm::

We are ok, our friends are ok, and our house is ok, just some minor yard/fence damage. My biggest fears did not pan out but Irma got really close and did a significant amount of damage in surrounding areas. We heard that a number of huge oak trees fell in our neighborhood but thankfully away from the houses. Most of our county is without electricity and Internet. We are waiting to drive back to Florida once we get power and clean water. Until then we have friends watching our house. I'm fairly certain I will write more once we return.

Add a Comment

Safe but not soundSat, 9th Sep '17, 3:05 am::

We left our house at 1am Thursday and drove 16 hours non-stop through back-country roads to a rental log-cabin in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. We are safe and have enough gas and supplies to last us weeks. Naveen was great during the drive and we all have been spending some much needed family-time together.

We're trying our best to act normal but I can't stop thinking about all of our friends back home. Almost everyone we know stayed back. And now there is Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, headed straight for the west-coast of Florida. This feels unreal. A week ago Juliet took Naveen to Disney while I finished up some work and now the entire state of Florida is under a Hurricane warning, unsure of what is going to remain standing next week. This feels unreal. Four days ago Miami was supposed to be the epicenter of devastation and now it's going to be my county across the state. This feels unreal.

I am not worried for us. I am worried for literally everyone we know. It is one thing to hear about an acquaintance who got into an accident. It is entirely something else to watch weather announcements get morbid by the hour, as everyone who told me "Oh it's nothing" slowly admit "Maybe I should evacuate" to now saying "I am scared and don't know what to do."

People are telling me to be positive and hope for the best but all I see is a time bomb counting down. Unless Irma drastically changes direction or loses strength, catastrophe is imminent. I've been hoping I'm wrong for a week now but the storm continues to reinforce my worst fears. All my life I've hated being wrong but right now I am wishing harder than ever that I am wrong. It's only September but all I want for Christmas is running water, electricity, and functional roadways for all of Florida.

I'm safe but I'm pretty far from ok.

Add a Comment

EvacuatingWed, 6th Sep '17, 11:35 pm::

We are leaving in a few minutes, driving up straight to a cabin in North Carolina. We have someone taking care of the house and some pets that cannot travel safely on such a long drive. Right now there are three active hurricanes around Florida: Irma and Jose in the Atlantic and Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. While Tampa Bay is not directly in Irma's path, we live very close to the Gulf and our house and yard is barely 6-8 feet above sea level. If Irma somehow ends up on the west coast of Florida, staying would be catastrophic.

All we can hope is that Irma misses Florida and does not do much damage elsewhere. Here's hoping we are just being unnecessarily cautious and get an unplanned 7-day vacation in a log cabin instead of well, literally anything else.

Add a Comment

IrmaMon, 4th Sep '17, 11:30 pm::

Hurricane Irma is currently a Category 4 Hurricane with wind speeds of 140mph (225kmh) in the Atlantic Ocean. According to most of the spaghetti models, it will make landfall in South Florida on Sunday, September 10th. I've been in Florida for 13 years now. This is the most concerned I have ever been about a hurricane and I was seriously scared the first season of hurricanes I experienced when I moved here in 2004. I hope I am wrong about this one but I don't plan on finding out in a flooded house. We're planning to evacuate unless the storm suddenly loses steam or changes direction. I will post updates here as we find out more.

Add a Comment

Nine years just flew byThu, 27th Jul '17, 7:10 pm::

Can't believe how quickly time passed. I feel like Juliet and I just got married but that was nine years ago! We went on our 5th anniversary Alaskan cruise four years ago.

To celebrate our 9th anniversary this year, we did something completely different. We decided to thoroughly clean our porch together. It took five hours of cooperation, understanding, and hard work. While that sounds like a pretty boring way to celebrate an anniversary, I thought it was kind of cool. Had we tried this even 4 years ago, we'd have had 3 arguments, 2 hours of delay, and one big mess at the end. But I'm proud to report that our porch is clean without a single disagreement. Maybe that's what maturity and growing together is all about :)

Love you Juliet!

Add a Comment

Happy 60th Dad!Sun, 16th Jul '17, 2:00 am::

We had an amazing time in Kolkata, India last week celebrating my dad's 60th birthday. It was a very short but fun-filled trip and the memories we made will last a lifetime. Earlier this year my dad said that he wanted to come visit us in Florida for the summer but I wasn't too keen on that because that would mean he would be away from all of his friends and family on his 60th birthday. So instead I suggested that we have a party in India and invite everyone.

It took about 6 months of intense planning and organization (his favorite activities) and last week about 60 of his closest friends and family arrived at Sun City Resort in Mandarmoni for a weekend of fantastic food and fun activities. From private water-park hours to foot massages on the beach, he planned countless activities to entertain everyone from kids and young adults to my 85-year old grandmother. The only thing I didn't let him plan is the game show that my sister Roshni, my wife Juliet, and I put together for all the guests last Saturday evening.

Over the past 3-4 months, I developed a customizable game-show app that runs in any modern web browser, does not need internet access, and displays videos, gifs, and team score on a separate monitor that can be hooked up to a projector. During the main event, Juliet was controlling the app from a laptop while my sister and I were walking around the room with wireless mics, coordinating the games. The games could have easily been played without the app but having a big-screen that showed funny videos, played background music, and displayed team member names and scores enhanced the audience's experience. Kind of like how well-made PowerPoint presentation can improve a product demo.

We pitted our dad against our mom in a "Race to the Big 60" and played 7 rounds of games (6 of them made by Juliet, remainder by yours truly). During each round, 3-5 guests would randomly be selected to join my dad's team and similar number to my mom's. Then we would explain the rules, Juliet would start the timer, and the conference room would erupt into a pandemonium. I am so happy that every single guest excitedly got up to play and many were trying to influence the game play from the audience. While I would love to take credit for the extraordinary audience participation, looking back it is clear that the simple reason everyone was so excited to join in was because they love my dad and this was a celebration of his lifelong friendship, generosity, and genuine affection for everyone he has ever met.

Juliet and I spent a lot of time making each game and thinking about what we could add or remove to make it more exciting, not just for the players but also the audience. For instance, in the "Auditions for Indian Idol" game where 4 members of a team sing 20 songs out loud and their 5th team member standing 10 feet away has to identify the song, we gave all the members of the audience birthday noisemakers (whistles, horns etc.). What transpired during that game can only be described as raucous cacophony.

In the end, my mom's team won narrowly by 2 points. After the game, many of his friends took the mic and shared memories and stories about him. The most wonderful gift he received was from a friend's daughter-in-law Purvi - a beautiful album of family photos with handwritten notes by all of us. Juliet and I gave him a set of custom-etched Jenga blocks and asked the guests to write a few words on each block to remind them of their friendship and love when they play the game.

Beside the games and fun activities, this was a huge experience for us because it was Naveen's first trip to India and the first time I got to hold my sister's son Aayansh in my hands. And naturally, this was the first time Naveen and Aayansh met. There were lots of cute/funny incidents but my favorite is when Naveen woke up in the middle of the night and started to pat Aayansh's back just like I do when I try to put Naveen to sleep.

So much happened during the short time we were in India that it is impossible for me to write down everything. But the most important thing that happened is that my dad spent an exciting and memorable weekend with the people closest to him and I got to see him insanely happy.

Add a Comment

Choosing to be meTue, 6th Jun '17, 3:05 am::

As a kid, the most confusing thing for me was how adults behaved with other adults. Grown-ups were usually pretty nice to kids but it was clear that there were a lot of behind-the-scenes tallies running during their interactions with each other. From deciding which family members or friends should get an invite to determining the appropriate gift for someone, there sure were a lot of rules and regulations for being a proper adult. Naturally, I absorbed every bit of social etiquette and norm I was exposed to, so that I could easily navigate the adult world of adulthood like a proper adult. And turns out, it works out pretty alright.

Except when it doesn't. It turns out, not every situation I encounter as a grownup has an established handling procedure. Dinner-table seating arrangements? No problem! Trusted coworker shockingly spreading false gossip? No standard operating procedure that I could just follow. It took me a while to realize that how we handle situations that deviate from the typical social routine, is what really defines our true personality. We are defined by how we navigate uncharted waters. Until I realized this, I kept trying to apply skills I had previously learned to new situations, hoping for favorable outcomes. It worked out for me as well as a random coin toss - 50/50. I was not happy with this but it's the best I could do.

Then one day, during some heated discussion on what the proper course of action should be, I just said to myself "I will give more than I take because that is who I am and want to be." Suddenly, all of my dilemmas were resolved! I didn't have to worry about what the appropriate gift card amount would be for someone who may or may not have ever sent me a gift. I didn't have to worry if I should spend more effort helping someone who rarely helps me. I didn't need to keep running tallies of everything everyone ever did! I could just do what I can, when I can, based on how much I care about someone. Most importantly, I would rather do more than less because that's the kind of person I have chosen to be.

I realized that I could choose to be someone who does not do tit-for-tat. I could just decide to be someone who always gives more (money, time, love, attention) and does not care much about exact reciprocation. Of course relationship is a two way street but if I expect it to be equal all the time, then it's not a human connection, it is a business transaction. There are definitely some negatives to taking the give-more-take-less approach. The additional effort usually goes unnoticed and comes at a cost of time, money, and sleep. But it still works out better for me because it makes life so much simpler.

This is a failure of the Golden rule (treating others as one would wish to be treated) and happens because we underestimate what we get and overestimate what we give. Always giving more than I get resolves this nicely and saves me from headaches. Maybe I am foolish for not trying to maximize my net gain in every relationship but that's ok. I choose to be like this and will continue to do so until I decide otherwise. That's the best part about being an adult - you can choose the kind of person you want to be.

Add a Comment

This too shall passMon, 1st May '17, 1:15 pm::

I am having a hard time coming to terms with the passage of time. It's been 17 years since I moved to America, 13 since I moved to Florida, 9 since I got married, 5 since we moved to our current house, and 2 since our son was born. I feel like in the blink of an eye, those numbers will go up by a decade and I will be left wondering where all the time went and if I made the days count.

Things have been a bit rough last few months. My dry-cough returned in March and persisted until April, when I broke my left wrist (5th metacarpal fracture). I got surgery about 2 weeks ago and have had gnarly metal spikes poking out of my hand. Being a lefty, it has made things a bit difficult. Earlier this year we lost our cat Pearl and last night we lost our ever-so-loving Chihuahua Jack to old age.

Jack came into my life when Juliet moved in with me 9 years ago. He was Juliet's baby and she took him everywhere with her. Even though I was never a huge dog person, Jack became a part of my life and I grew to love him like my own child. I spent countless hours securing our fence so he wouldn't get lost in the neighborhood, installed cameras all around my house to find him when he inadvertently managed to do it anyway, setup a raised-loft in his cage for comfort and hygiene, and installed a heater on a separate electric circuit in the porch to keep him warm in the winter. Last night, with the help of my friend Carlos, we laid down Jack to rest. All of us, including his best friend Ladybug will miss him dearly.

I often tell myself "This too shall pass" when things are tough and remind myself the same exact thing to ground myself when life is great. But the one thing I never realized is that the more I say it, the more time passes and I never prepared myself for decades flying by.

Add a Comment

Today happenedMon, 27th Feb '17, 1:45 am::

Someday in the future when life feels unfair and unbearable, be it stress, sickness, or sorrow, I hope I read the words I am writing today. I wish to remind my distressed, distant self of not the most momentous days of my life but rather ones like today that were uneventful but warm, fleeting but nurturing. We spent the whole day at home, had nice home-cooked meals, took Naveen out to play in the backyard, cuddled our pets, briefly chatted with the neighbors, played a simple board game as a family of three, saw my buddy Arthur's new puppy on video-chat, watched a series of short comedy clips with Juliet, talked to my parents back in India, paid some bills, and finished up some work projects.

Nothing amazing or devastating happened today and that's the beauty of it. Days like today are the adult-equivalent of adolescent summer months that instantly fill us with fond nostalgia. As kids, boredom was the norm and so summer adventures were exciting. As a grownup, I expect to be perturbed every day and so days when nothing extraordinary, good or bad, happens are welcome. It doesn't matter if I am going to get a surprise refund or an unexpected bill, both mean I now have to deal with additional paperwork.

Dear Future Me: Our favorite days are like today when we simply exist and experience. You and I often forget what truly makes us happy and sometimes think that material success, fame, or even recognition matters to us. I want to remind you that the only thing that you and I really care about is spending time with people and creatures we love, preferably in nature. Maybe that is not always possible but remember, that is always the goal. No matter how you feel now, just remember that today happened. And even if seems impossible, it will happen again.

Add a Comment

Naveen - Year TwoSun, 5th Feb '17, 6:20 pm::

Can't believe Naveen is turning two this week! We took some family photos earlier this week and had a birthday party for him today. It was a blast. We're all just relaxing now. Back to normal routine tomorrow.

Add a Comment

Sun, 25th Dec '16, 1:55 am::

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!

Add a Comment

Mama!Wed, 9th Nov '16, 11:45 pm::

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.

Add a Comment

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!

Add a Comment

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?

Add a Comment

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?

Add a Comment

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).

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

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.

Add a Comment

Sat, 14th May '16, 2:20 am::

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.

Add a Comment

Tue, 3rd May '16, 4:50 pm::

We just watched The Jungle Book. Even before Naveen was born, we nicknamed him Mowgli. When Juliet was pregnant, I'd often ask her how she and Mowgli were doing. Watching the younger Mowgli in the movie interact with Bagheera the panther for the first time reminded me of Naveen when he first started petting our cats. We loved the movie and I'm sure we'll buy it so Naveen can watch it a hundred times once he's old enough to enjoy movies. Oh yeah, he was at daycare when we watched the movie. Toddlers shouldn't be watching movies.

Add a Comment

Thu, 28th Apr '16, 12:20 am::

We just got back from a week-long vacation in Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Here are the photos.

Add a Comment

Mon, 22nd Feb '16, 11:20 pm::

The weather has been gorgeous here in Florida for the past few days and we're making the most of it. Naveen is just over a year old now and has become relatively adept at walking so we can finally do more outdoors activities. Juliet takes him to the local park regularly and today I joined them. We didn't go out much last week because she was sick with a seasonal bug so we were all happy to be out today.

Naveen is learning to talk and babbles a lot whenever he is excited. He has started to point at things and looks at his big colorful beach ball whenever I yell "Ball!" It's amazing to see him learn new things by the day. Last week he was scared of slides and today he was pushing himself down them repeatedly.

My parents are coming back to stay with us next month and I know they are counting down the days. We can't wait for them to see Naveen walking and talking. And Juliet and I could probably use another romantic weekend by the beach.

Add a Comment

Happy TwosdayTue, 2nd Feb '16, 1:20 pm::

Today is 2/2, which is two twos. It's a Tuesday, and the year (2,16) consists of only powers of two. It's also threesday: 33rd day of the year with 333 days left in this leap year, so 33/333.

It's a beautiful day outside here in sunny Florida and my bird Echo has been singing non-stop all morning. After a whole month of cold weather with heavy rainfall during which our roof started leaking, our porch got smelly, and my son, wife, and I got sick multiple times with different annoying seasonal bugs, things appear to be going back to normal. The roofing guy just left after making the necessary fixes, the porch smell has all but disappeared, and I haven't coughed once in 24 hours.

It may seem trifling but annoyances like these add to my stress and my mind keeps dwelling on them until I do something about them. But since most of these take time to resolve, there's not much I can to do except wait. That is until I found out a way to trick my mind. I came up with two simple lists: Chaos and Fun. I spent a few minutes and added a bunch of things to my fun list - solving puzzles, playing Wii U, visiting nature parks etc. Then I added everything that was bothering me to the Chaos list - Roof leak, porch smell, my cough, unfinished paperwork that I keep pushing off etc.

Now, whenever something repeatedly bugs me and causes me stress, I immediately add it to the Chaos list and then, pick something from the Fun list to do next. The last thing that stressed me out was the mess of electric cables in our living room, compounded by my frayed laptop charger cord. I'm trying to work and the cords keep getting in the way and my laptop keeps losing charge. So I added "living room electric cords" to my Chaos list and instantly felt happy that I realized it was just an annoyance, not some life-altering trauma. Then I thumbed down the Fun list and picked something I'd like to do next: "Write a blog entry". And here I am, not stressing about electric cords but instead sharing this one trick I found that can make your life just as glorious as mine.

If you are like me and live by a Todo list or detailed calendar, the Chaos and Fun lists easily merge into the daily routine. When I notice something is causing tiny amount of chaos in my life and add it to the Chaos list, I also immediately make a note in my Todo list to fix it at some point in the near future. This way, come Thursday, when I might not be in the middle of being stressed out by electric cords, I can actually solve that problem with an open mind i.e. buy new cords or move furniture around to organize the cables etc.

I call this a mind trick because I am definitely trying to trick my mind into feeling happy and less stressed even though sometimes it feels there is chaos all around me. It works for me for multiple reasons. The moment I note it down, I feel like I did something positive right away, especially if I add the fix-it-task to my Todo list. Then doing something from the Fun list immediately distracts me from whatever it was that bothered me. And I can freely allow myself to be distracted because the thing that was bothering me is not lost in the fog of my mind but rather in an organized list that I can review later. And the best part is reviewing the Chaos list later. I've been jotting things down into my Chaos list for about a year now and despite things feeling completely chaotic all year with our newborn, family, social events, pets, and house issues, the list has never had more than 7 items simultaneously. Compared to my Fun list with double the items, the chaos seems minor. And that's the entire point of this - clear my mind of the repeated annoyances and make handling them seem almost trivial.

Add a Comment

Hurts every timeMon, 25th Jan '16, 11:20 pm::

This isn't the first time I am uncomfortably waiting for one of our aging pets to slowly drift off into everlasting sleep and if I have learned anything, it is that it hurts every single time. Milly, my favorite prairie dog, is breathing her last breaths tonight. She's been my favorite since we got her and she always replied to my calls. Every time I would pass her, I would shout "eeeek!" and she would immediately reply back "eeeek!" To her, I was one of her people and to me, she was family.

Here she is in the front, happily digging and burrowing, just the way I want to remember forever. Good night sweet Milly.

Add a Comment

Baby's Day OutThu, 31st Dec '15, 11:30 pm::

Today was a fantastic end to 2015. I spent the entire day outdoors with Naveen. We went to a local nature preserve and saw a variety of birds, fish, crabs, and even a few water snakes. We took a nice long walk on the boardwalk and then played in the children's playground. Afterwards, we had some ice cream to cool off, followed by a lazy, hour-long lunch at a local Cuban deli. Post-lunch, we met up with my friends Kelly and Chris at the beach for some sun and sand. Their son Cameron is slightly older than Naveen and the kids played in the sand while us parents kept them from eating it. Once Naveen had his fill of the beach, we drove home, cleaned up, and got ready for a nap. Just then Juliet came home from work and as soon as Naveen heard his mommy, he forgot all about the nap.

Last week I took a few days off from coding so we could have a relaxing Christmas with family. We put up our Christmas tree earlier this month and spent quite a few evenings reading to the baby by its soft light. We recently bought a Nintendo Wii U and Juliet and I have been playing lots of mini-games after we put the baby to sleep each night. We're coming up with a new routine that works for all three of us and while it's taking some effort to get used to, it's definitely much better than the crazy, no-sleep life we had for most of this year.

I don't have any major resolutions for 2016 but I do want to keep up the progress I've made this year with my health, leisure, and social life. So instead of a specific goal like "go to gym 5 times a week", I just want to keep being active, attend more parties/events, take more vacations, and overall get better at planning how to spend the little free time I have.

Add a Comment

Secret WeddingsTue, 22nd Dec '15, 11:55 am::

Congrats to all three different friends of ours who got secretly married to their long-term boyfriends/girlfriends in the past few days! Two of the happily married couples are still not making their marriages public for family reasons so I can't even mention them here. That leaves my college buddy Tony to capture the limelight. He married his long-term girlfriend Olya on Saturday and shared the news with everyone after the ceremony. Congrats!!! We were so happy to meet Olya earlier this year at our baby shower and wish you guys a happy, loving life ahead.

Another close friend of mine told me recently that he is going to have a court-marriage next month, while the public wedding ceremony might not be until a year later. Last year two other couples we know did the same thing. Having eloped ourselves in 2008 after an impromptu hush-hush wedding, I'm surprised that we are not alone anymore. In the last five years, more of our friends eloped or quietly got married than had a typical wedding with guests, invitations, and receptions.

It is possible that our circle of friends is an odd exception and there has been no change in wedding behavior. But looking at the societal and financial aspects of life in the 2010s, the trend seems very clear. People in committed relationships still want to get married. No change in that. There are a lot of tax and legal benefits. And the titles "Husband/Wife" carry more social prestige than "boyfriend/girlfriend." But more and more people no longer want to make a big deal out of it, regardless of their age, financial situation, or social circles. For centuries people have had weddings befitting their wealth - the rich have grandiose weddings, the poor keep it simple, and everyone else somewhere in between. But now I see even relatively well-off couples from wealthy families opting for a quick 2-minute court wedding with no reception.

The good thing to come out of all this is that no longer must everyone be required to have the exact same things in every wedding. Let's see the variations I have encountered from happily married couples:

  • Sign the marriage certificate locally without fanfare, elope to a pretty place for pictures/honeymoon (our method)
  • Get secretly married before December-end for tax purposes, have a big wedding and/or reception with family and friends later
  • Get secretly married before December-end for tax purposes, announce on Facebook after professional photos are ready, no wedding/reception
  • Sign the marriage certificate and don't tell anyone except your closest friends because if your family finds out, there will be a lot of drama and heartbreak
  • Have a fun wedding/reception following all of the traditions
  • Have a fun wedding/reception without any of the traditions
  • Have a court-wedding with just your friends
  • Have a court-wedding with just your parents/siblings
  • Have multiple weddings - one for legal purpose, one for destination, one for religious/family

In the long-term, it doesn't matter if you had a blast at your wedding or if it was full of awkward family issues or even if you just signed a piece of paper and went to work the next day. What matters is how the rest of your marriage works out. So to all of my married couples, good luck with that!

Add a Comment

Season of lightsFri, 18th Dec '15, 3:15 pm::

When we moved into this house 3 years ago, I replaced most of the heavily used incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to reduce our electric bill. But regardless of the brand, vendor, or quality of CFL bulbs I bought, they kept going bad in 6-12 months and I ended up using incandescent bulbs in more places than I wanted. So for years now we've had a mix of incandescent and CFL lights all over the house. A few months ago I estimated that over $100/month of our electric bill was just due to the tons of bulbs (candelabra and regular), recessed lights, and halogen lights!

A small 60w bulb left on at all times will use $70/year in electricity! Replace that with an equally bright CFL and while it only uses $20/year in electricity, in my experience there's a good chance the bulb will blow out within a year. But replace that with a $2.44 LED and the cost goes down to just $10/year and the LED is guaranteed to work for at least 3 years non-stop.

Last month I started the slow and tedious process of converting every single light in our house to LED. I spent about $300 and replaced every single light except for candelabra bulbs and some fluorescent tubes. I'm waiting for a good deal (hopefully under $500) to replace all the candelabra bulbs. Since we rarely use the fluorescent tubes and plan on replacing them with recessed lights in a few years, I don't see the value in switching them over to LED right now.

Once I am done replacing the candelabra bulbs, I estimate that lighting will cost under $20/month. This means the LED lights will pay for themselves in a year! After that we save $1000/year in electric bills, have a much brighter house, and I rarely have to change bulbs again. Next year I plan on buying a prelit LED Christmas Tree too. I love living in the future!

Add a Comment

Mario!Fri, 18th Dec '15, 3:20 am::

After years of discussing that we should buy a gaming console, this week we finally bought Nintendo Wii U. Juliet and I are not fans of first-person-shooters or fast-paced action games. I've always loved puzzles and she likes games that keep you moving so the Wii U was a perfect fit for us. We bought a really neat puzzle game called Art of Balance that I love and we'll probably get Wii Fit U so she can try out the different fitness programs. She refuses to play Wii bowling with me anymore (I won our first and only game) and instead wants to keep playing Mario Kart (she won 5 out of 6 rounds).

The last 10 months with the baby and the 9 months prior have changed our life so much that we forgot what our normal routine was. Now that Naveen is growing from an infant into a toddler, it is becoming easier to take care of him, giving us a little more free time to play video games or just relax after he's gone to bed. We have quite a few chores / home projects lined up before the end of the year but hopefully after that, we will get to spend more time doing fun things.

Next week, we're planning on doing a number of fun family things - decorate tree ornaments with baby, visit museums / theme parks, and go kayaking. It is way too warm right now and looks like it will be 81F/28C on Christmas Day! So instead of making snow angels, maybe we'll jump into a river.

Add a Comment

Life updatesSat, 12th Dec '15, 10:45 pm::

This was a very private year for me. From the birth of my son to my family and friends visiting us, 2015 was all about real-life social connections and nurturing relationships. Most of the time, I kept the going-ons private and offline. We took probably 5000 photos of my son but posted only a handful of them online.

This was a year of learning and doing for me, very little introspection or relaxation. I could have easily made more time for kayaking (which is when I do most of my contemplation about life) but I just didn't want to. Maybe because I'm still learning how to be a good parent or maybe because of social obligations, but I didn't make much time for myself. Most of the year I was in autopilot mode, simply doing what I needed to without overthinking my actions or the reasons behind them.

This was a year without creativity for me and I don't want to repeat this again in my life. I can't look back at this year and proudly say "I made that" about anything. I don't regret a moment I spent with my loved ones instead of making something cool but I do know that I get my energy and drive from making, not consuming. So in the long run, I need to be more creative to keep myself sane.

This was a year when I came to terms with life, death, and everything in between. From insurance policies to prolonged illness, from baby's first words to news of a friend's death, this year drove home the point that I am smack dab in the middle of adulthood, accepting everything life throws at me. A few years ago I would lose my wits dealing with the ups and downs of routine life but the roller-coaster of this year makes the past turmoils seem almost smooth sailing. Apparently, this year I also started using a lot of conflated metaphors. I plan to put a stop to that right after this sentence.

This was a loving year for me. While not much changed in my career, finances, or social-standing, I have never felt so connected and loved by the people in my life. Juliet is an unbelievably loving mother and wife, my parents and sister are always there to talk to me about anything (especially Naveen), and my friends and coworkers have been so supportive all year. There was no drama, no guilt trips, no awkward social situations all year. It's been a wonderful year people-wise and I couldn't be more thankful for it.

Add a Comment

Health Insurance in the USMon, 2nd Nov '15, 9:40 am::

Now that the health insurance open enrollment period has officially started, it is time for me to decide how sick my son and I plan on being between January 1st and December 31st of 2016.

If I decide that we will not fall sick, get injured, or use any emergency medical care, then I will go with cheapest insurance plan where I can have a Health-Savings-Account. For us here in Tampa Bay Florida, the cost is $400/month and we have to bear 100% of all medical costs up to $12900/year before insurance pays anything. This means if we both get really sick, even though we decided well in advance not to, we will pay a total of $17700 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.

If I decide that one or both of us will fall moderately sick and have to see our doctors a few times but still not get in an accident, require an operation, or be rushed to the Emergency Room, then I will buy a Silver Plan that costs about $500/month and we only have to pay $30 to see our primary doctors and $75 to see most specialists. If we decide to change our mind in the future and get into an unscheduled accident or choose to get a major surgery without planning in advance, we will pay a total of $17200 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.

If I decide that one or both of us will fall severely ill, get in an accident, require an operation, or be frequently rushed to the Emergency Room, then I will buy a Gold Plan that costs about $585/month and we only have to pay $10 to see our primary doctors and $40 to see most specialists. When we finally get into our scheduled accident or elect for major surgery, we will pay a total of $17000 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.

The beauty of the health insurance market is that it doesn't matter how correctly I decide my future health conditions, the worst case condition is about the same for almost all the plans - between $15000 and $20000 per year for a 35 year old male and his 9 month old son. That is, if both my son and I are in a major accident or we get sick for a prolonged time and require hospitalization, we will pay about the same amount regardless of the insurance plan I pick.

Deciding the best case is what health insurance is all about. If I correctly decide that we will not have to go to the hospital all year and we stick to our decision no matter what, we only pay the low monthly cost of $400 and can squirrel away over $6000 into a Health-Savings-Account, which we can use in a later year when we decide to get sick or be injured. Too bad, only the lower cost plans enable you to save into a Health-Savings-Account. If I incorrectly decide that we will get a little sick and see an ENT or two a few times but instead we remain perfectly healthy throughout the year, then I just wasted $100/month in extra insurance that I didn't use and cannot get back.

You might have read all of the above and wondered why I keep using the word 'decide' instead of 'guess' or 'predict'. That is because I use guess and predict to denote market risk, where you can gain or lose depending on how the future turns out, for example the stock market or even elections. You can make educated guesses and predict the outcome. But I feel very dirty trying to bet on the health of my infant son. Of the thousands of spreadsheets I have made in my life, the only one that made me feel sick to my core is the one in which I had four different rows of his predicted health, the best-suited insurance plans, and the corresponding premiums.

By definition, a health insurance market with competing insurance agencies requires me to take a gamble on our future health. But from my son's point of view, I am not gambling. I am deciding. I am deciding whether I should pay higher monthly insurance premium or not. If I do, we don't have to wonder if his fever is high enough to go to doctor - we can just go if he feels warm enough because it only costs us $10 to see the pediatrician. But if I decide to opt for a low premium plan, then going to the doctor costs $125 every time and we don't want to do that unless it is a real medical issue.

There is now a financial incentive for everyone to diagnose themselves. The more you want to diagnose yourself, the lower the cost of your health insurance plan will be, especially since the worst-case is about the same for all the plans. So yes, I am 'deciding' if we plan on being healthy or not next year. The cheaper plans that don't cover anything until you first pay over $12000 in medical costs, require you to self-diagnose everything and work well for healthy people who won't need to go to doctors. The expensive plans make doctors visits cheaper so you rarely have to second guess yourself and work well for people who have health issues. What I am deciding now is which group I want to belong to next year. Once I have that answer, then I have to make sure my doctor, my son's doctor, and most of the specialists we have seen (e.g. ENT) accept the specific plan from the selected insurance company.

And that my friends is why it takes me a month to decide.

Add a Comment

Sat, 10th Oct '15, 12:15 pm::

Juliet is on a 4-day trip with her coworkers, leaving the baby in my care. I got most of my tech work done earlier in the week, giving me ample time to look after Naveen. I have been doing chores non-stop since 8am this morning and I still have a lot of things to do. I cleaned, watered, and fed the zoo outside, changed and fed Naveen, installed a new steam dryer, video-conferenced with my parents, took out the trash, put Naveen to sleep, cleaned the porch and gym, cleaned the duck pond, emptied the dishwasher, filed a week's worth of paperwork, and readied food for both of us. Next up is feeding the baby after he wakes up and getting him ready for my friend's birthday party tonight. Tomorrow I'll probably have a similar list of chores.

Life without the wife is pretty tough. I miss her so much. Even Naveen misses her because he keeps looking around for her when he's playing with me. Last night was especially tough because he's teething and kept waking up every 15-20 minutes in pain. I gave him some numbing-gel that Juliet bought and then he finally feel asleep.

Juliet comes back Monday morning. Can't wait!

Add a Comment

Level 35Sun, 4th Oct '15, 12:15 am::

For the past two years, I have been rounding my age to 35 anytime someone asks. For the next 12 months, I will be accurate when I say 35. Then for 2 more years, I will be incorrect again when I continue to say 35. Probably around age 38, I will incorrectly start saying that I'm 40. My actual age felt like a big deal all my life until I turned 30. Suddenly after that, it stopped being important.

Now the age I care about is my son's. He's turning 8 months this week and is a shining example of curiosity, giggles, and chubbiness. Since his day-care was closed for a Teacher's event on Friday, he spent the day at home with me. It's definitely a lot of work to keep him busy, fed, and clean but it is great to see the progress and development. He's already saying Mama/Baba and trying to walk. All I'm waiting for now is for him to start playing with some of the toys I love, like legos, puzzles, construction sets etc.

Speaking of toys, I spent quite a few hours yesterday and today playing with Juliet's amazing birthday gift to me - Ozobot. I usually don't like getting tech gifts because I am super picky with my gadgets. But she did her homework well with this one. These little robots will follow any colored line on a flat surface and change colors, direction, and speed based on the marking on the lines. It's like a real-life Pac-Man robot!

Over the last two months, I have started to take better care of myself. I am regularly exercising, taking walks, eating healthier (esp. avoiding junk food), and doing lots of simple things to reduce my stress level. It's taken a while but I am finally feeling relaxed and getting some decent sleep after years of craziness. I know I'm going to need my strength the moment Naveen starts walking :)

Add a Comment

ChangesFri, 3rd Jul '15, 12:50 am::

Tonight is a big night - it's the first time our son Naveen is sleeping in his crib in the nursery. He's already rolling and sitting up on his own and I'm fairly certain he will start crawling in a matter of weeks. My parents have continued to be amazing and we will all (including Naveen) miss them a lot when they go back to India later this month.

Once they leave, life changes for me. Instead of hiring a nanny or sending him to daycare immediately, I am going to be taking care of him during the day when Juliet is at work. I already do most of my work later in the evening when fewer users are online so I don't think my work schedule will be impacted much. But waking up early in the mornings when Juliet leaves for work is going to be hard. I am planning on having a good, fun routine for us and will hopefully stick to it until he's ready for daycare. As worried as I am about handling the new responsibility, I am tremendously excited about doing new activities with him every day. We have yet to go on the Pinellas Trail! Or the beach!

I don't plan on making this a daddy-blog - it's just a blog about my life and right now the focus is the baby. And I gotta admit, having a baby has changed me in ways I could not have imagined. Things that used to bother me to no end, are slowly becoming non-issues and sometimes even pleasant - like interruptions during programming. I used to hate it when someone interrupted me in the middle of work or activity. But if I hear the baby cry, I pay attention immediately - whether I just sat down to work or almost finished. Most of the time it only takes a few minutes to feed/change him so it is often a welcome break from hours of non-stop coding.

Another drastic change I've noticed is that I have nearly stopped procrastinating. All my life I've done things at the last moment and never expected to change because that's just who I was. But now? I jump on to every chore at the first chance I get - be it changing my life insurance policy or emptying the trash. I've been wondering why I suddenly feel obligated to do my chores without delay and I can't come up with a rational reason. It's just something that happened over the last few months without me realizing. And it feels wonderful :)

Add a Comment

Many firstsSat, 16th May '15, 10:30 pm::

Today was the first time my son picked up a toy on his own and played with it for a while. He also attended his first party - Rebecca's Graduation from Nursing School! Congrats Becca! My parents have now been here for a little over a month and neither Juliet nor I can imagine a life for Naveen without them being present everyday. We're so happy that they extended their stay and will be with us for two more months. Here's Naveen holding his first toy ever:

Add a Comment

Entire worldTue, 24th Mar '15, 1:45 am::

I still can't believe I'm a dad now. It's been over six weeks and both Juliet and I are getting back into the routine of normal life but every few hours we take a step back and go "Wow! We have a child now." My parents had me at a much younger age so it is a bit different to compare our becoming-a-parent experiences. When I was born, there was no robotic space-ship swing or constant health monitoring.

Throughout the pregnancy, delivery, and now Naveen's infancy, I haven't made any specific plans or goals about anything. Juliet's been taking charge of planning everything from his crib setup to feeding schedule. All I have done is made myself available to her and the baby 24/7, doing anything they need. While that sounds easy on the surface, it is anything but, especially because I've always been the take-charge kind of person myself. I have my own ideas and opinions on almost everything but from the moment we found out that Juliet was pregnant, I suddenly felt like my goal was to support and provide instead of plan and decide.

After the first few days of Naveen's birth we realized how critical sleep was for both of us. I need at least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. She needs about 8 hours but can handle waking up a couple of times. After a bit of trial and error, we ended up with a schedule that has worked for over a month now. She takes care of him from 6am-8pm and I take over after 8pm until 6am. She gets to sleep at least 8 hours in between and I get about 5-7 hours of sleep before I start getting tech support phone calls. It's not a perfect system nor is it sustainable in the long-term but it works for us, for now.

In a few weeks my parents will be here and Naveen will start sleeping longer than 3 hours at a stretch. So we'll come up with a new routine. Then just when we're all getting used to it, Juliet will go back to work. Then after a month of another new routine, my parents will return back to India. Then we might get a nanny. Or I might reduce my work-hours over the summer to take care of him myself. Then we might put him in day care. And all of this is just in the first six months of his life.

I can't even think beyond the next few weeks at this point. That's why I'm glad Juliet's taken charge. I'd rather not worry about every doctor's visit or baby development tracking. And I kind of like staying up all night in the living room with the lights dimmed while Naveen sleeps right next to or on me. I'm listening (via headphones at low volume) to nature and science documentaries playing on my iPad all night as I code away peacefully. Every few hours I take a small break to feed, change, and soothe him.

I was pretty concerned before he was born about my role in his early life. I was never worried about being a good role model and teacher once he starts walking and talking but I did not know how I'd be able to help out Juliet while he was still a baby. But surprisingly, everything just came naturally. I don't mean I innately know how to feed, bathe, or clothe a baby - Juliet had to show me all of that (multiple times). I mean it just felt natural to me that this is what I'm supposed to do.

Before he was born, I kept thinking that I will only feel like a real father once he starts playing with toys or climbing trees, so I just have to make it through the first few years and then the fun will start. And now, I don't even want this night to end because he's resting on my chest, snuggling like I am his entire world.

Add a Comment

Just over a fortnightSun, 22nd Feb '15, 5:25 pm::

Finally after over two weeks, I got to sleep non-stop for 7 hours tonight. Juliet still hasn't slept for more than 3-4 hours once since Naveen's birth. Meanwhile, it's all easy livin' for the kid:

Add a Comment

Naveen's First WeekSat, 14th Feb '15, 3:30 pm::

It's been only a week since baby Naveen was born but already, our whole world has changed. We are both singing nursery rhymes, barely sleeping, and learning how to calm the baby. Here are some photos from Naveen's first week.

Add a Comment

Baby Naveen MehtaSat, 7th Feb '15, 2:55 pm::

Happiest announcement of my life: Baby Naveen Mehta born today at noon weighing 6lb 15oz! Both mom and the baby are doing well. He's got my hair, eyelashes, and hands. He's got Juliet's cheeks, complexion, and mannerisms. The name "Naveen" means "new" or "novel" in my mother tongue Gujarati.

Add a Comment

Sat, 31st Jan '15, 10:25 pm::

Juliet's doing well and despite her early contractions over the past couple of weeks, the baby remains snugly comfortable inside her belly. Though her due date is still 3+ weeks away, I'm not sure we'll have to wait that long. As for me, my old dry cough has returned and I've been coughing non-stop for the past 6 weeks. None of the meds I've taken have helped and I'm going to see my doctor again this week. Thankfully I'm not contagious, just miserable.

So because of my cough and Juliet's contractions, we've been spending almost all of our time at home. The good thing is that this has given us enough time to set up the baby room and clean out the house. We have the bassinet, crib, changing table, car seats, stroller, and most of the nursery all ready. Just waiting for the baby boy now :)

Add a Comment

Baby ShowerMon, 19th Jan '15, 7:30 pm::

Yesterday we had a blast at our baby shower, superbly organized and planned by Juliet's friend Rebecca. Here are the awesome photos taken by my buddy Arthur.

Add a Comment

The year in which I try to make things not too seriousFri, 2nd Jan '15, 2:25 am::

My life over the past few years has become far from simple. The work I was doing started to get pretty hard and things at home turned serious once my wife began to grow a baby inside her. I feel I have gotten used to everything taking more and more of my time and power just so it is done right. I have never tried to be perfect, but as I grow older, I find myself wanting things to be done my way.

At first, I did not have a way. I just wanted to get things done. So I had to find a way and along that way, I slipped and fell many times. After doing this many a time, I learned that it was important to look before I put my foot down. Then I learned to put my foot down only on dry ground, not wet floor. Then I learned to slow down when climbing down stairs even if they are dry. Then I learned to hold the handles on the side in case someone else was running down and pushed me.

My fear of falling has turned me into a funny old man who takes too long to find where to put his foot down, only walks on dry ground, slowly, and holds on to the handles just so he doesn't fall. Believe it or not, this is the road I made for myself as I learned how to get things done without slipping and falling.

Why am I talking about this now and thinking about such things? Because for the past few months, I have lost a lot of sleep wondering how I will ever show my son all the wonders of this world without him being confused all the time about everything. My grown up life is anything but simple. It has taken me many years to figure out which boxes to fill on what pieces of paper and which keys to push in what order. And I am still learning how to talk to people when things go seriously wrong and when to open my mouth and when to keep it shut.

Growing up has not been easy. Learning has not been easy. Everyone around me keeps telling me how little sleep I will get once I have a child. So if everyone is telling the truth, raising a child, even if it is the best thing in life, will not be easy. What has me worried is that my life, which is already so full of worry, will get even more busy and hard.

That's why I have decided to be simple. I don't mean I still stop working on hard problems or stop filling out the different boxes on important pieces of paper. By simple I mean I will spend more time doing small, easy things that take me back to a life when I did not worry so much. I will spend more time in the kitchen, I will spend more time in the park, and I will spend more time doing things that do not need a computer. These are the things I need to do so I can raise a child.

My problem all this time has been that doing simple things, makes me feel like I am not going to have enough time to do work (both computer and paper work), which causes me to worry about money and keeping my promises. So I avoid doing simple things that could take time away from work. I now realize that that is the true cause of my life becoming so crazy and confusing. I only do things that are not simple! Of course my life has become nothing but simple.

There is no way to suddenly make my work and home life simple. That's not how life works. But the nice thing about a day is that there are only 24 hours and if I spend four or six of them doing simple, happy things with my wife and child, life will start to feel and slowly become simple and happy. Of course the things that worry me will never go away. But starting now, I will stop fighting them every waking hour. It's time for me to smell the roses, make some breakfast, and change a baby.

And to show that I can do simple, I wrote this entire piece using nothing but simple words from a table of only ten-hundred most used words. If you don't believe me, check it out yourself by going here: The Up-Goer-Five. If you have read anything I wrote in the past, I hope now you understand why this piece reads like it was written by a ten year old.

Add a Comment

Mon, 1st Dec '14, 12:40 pm::

Happy December! 2014 is almost over and our lives have never been busier. Ever since my parents left in early November, we have been busy with planning and organizing for the baby - redoing the master bathroom so we have a proper bathtub, emptying out my office and converting it to a nursery, cleaning out the garage and attic to make storage space for toys, cradles, and clothes.

Juliet is doing well and so is the baby. I love her nesting instinct because it's making her donate/dispose old clothes and furniture. Since our house has lots of storage, we've gotten into the habit of just saving everything. I finally broke my habit when my dad helped me organize all of my paperwork and I threw away years of accumulated junk. Juliet is getting into that mode now and I couldn't be more supportive.

Things will continue to be busy right up into Christmas. If all goes according to plans, we'll have the master bath and baby room ready by then, with plenty of space in garage and attic. After all the house projects are done, we're hoping to take a short weekend away from home and relax one last time before the baby arrives.

Many of my friends have shared their experience of becoming a parent with me and they are all so different. Despite the 8-hour long class on "Preparing for Childbirth" we took last weekend, I still have no idea what to expect and how it's all going to work out. All I know is that I know nothing. Hopefully in a few months, I will start to learn all over again.

Add a Comment

Thu, 6th Nov '14, 12:35 pm::

After two months of staying with us, my parents left today. We had a great time traveling around Florida and just spending time with each other. They got used to our home zoo and Juliet and I got used to having nightly dinner chats with them. Now the house is back to being empty but only for a few more months! Juliet is doing well and the baby-boy-in-belly is quite active. With the due date getting closer and holidays coming up, life's going to get a lot busier for both of us.

Add a Comment

Spicy Fluffy BirthdaySat, 4th Oct '14, 6:50 pm::

I had a very exciting and eventful birthday. We had a late breakfast at the Vinoy and lazily walked over to the International Curry Festival where we had delicious Indian and Thai food over the course of a few hours. Then we went antiquing, followed by an hour at the SPCA, petting kittens and rabbits. We got home and Juliet and my parents had cake ready for me. Lots of people I know complain about getting older but I love it. Here's looking forward to another year!

Add a Comment

How about Mowgli? No? Tarzan? Simba? George-of-the-jungle?Mon, 22nd Sep '14, 11:00 pm::

Today we found out that we're going to have a baby boy!!! Juliet is doing well and so is the future baby boy. We took my parents to dinner, along with our friends Rebecca and Carlos and revealed the baby's "blue" theme via a delicious cake.

While Juliet has been super cheerful all day, my parents and I are admittedly speechless. Juliet asked me why I didn't seem as excited as her and all I could say was that I don't know how to express a lifetime's worth of prospective happiness in a single day. I'm used to being happy about a toy here and a kitten there. How does one express the sheer infinite joy of everything that awaits us in a singular emotion?

My parents are staying with us for 6 weeks, then leaving for India, and returning back in January 2015. My grandma will be here in a month and stay with us for 2 weeks. I would love for her to return back in January with my parents but at her age, I don't know if 32 hours of travel each way is doable. Here's hoping she gets to meet her great-grandson someday soon. In the meantime, I'm going to make sure Juliet stays relaxed, stress-free, and healthy.

Add a Comment

Fri, 12th Sep '14, 11:10 am::

Last Saturday, my parents & uncle/aunt arrived in Tampa. This was the first time my parents have been to the US since I came here in July 2000. They're all on a 7-day cruise right now to Jamaica and Mexico and my parents will stay with us for a couple of months afterwards. This is the first time in 15 years that my parents will be present for my birthday. Also, we haven't spent this much time together except for the 45-day vacation I took to India in the summer 2002.

Apparently I had put my blog on hold back then because I was having too much fun in real life (and also because dial-up sucked in 2002). Now I wish I hadn't, as I only have vague memories of what we did over that month and a half. Good thing broadband is ubiquitous now. Even if we do mostly mundane stuff, I hope to write it down for posterity.

Since my parents left for the cruise within a day of arrival, we didn't get much time for activities. Those will happen in the upcoming weeks. Though I did manage to wedge in a fun airboat ride in the Everglades for everyone just before I dropped them off to the cruise terminal. And best of all, they got to see our home zoo with all of the critters.

Add a Comment

Arriving February 2015!Thu, 21st Aug '14, 3:50 pm::

Good news everyone! Juliet is 13 weeks pregnant now and we are very excited. My parents are coming to visit us in a few weeks and we hope to spend a lot of family time together.

My friend Tony created the glorious announcement image above from photos taken with the help of our friend Kelly. We took individual photos of all of our animals and even balanced diapers and baby powder bottle on the back of our tortoises.

While no animals were harmed in the making of this image, I was peed on, pooped on, spat on, licked, clawed, gnawed, and thoroughly scratched while helping Kelly and Juliet take all of the individual animal photos. I'm not complaining though. I think of it as training to be a parent.

Add a Comment

Good bye CookieSun, 17th Aug '14, 11:45 pm::

Our beloved cat Cookie passed away tonight. He had been Juliet's little boy since his birth over a decade ago. Six years ago, he met my cats Giga and Tera and taught them how to be more cat-like. Before meeting him, my cats were lazy, fat, and afraid of the outdoors. A few months of spending time with Cookie and my cats started climbing trees. Cookie was a perfect cat and always came running to us whenever we called out his name. He loved playing with our puppies and roamed the neighborhood making feline friends. We are going to miss him so much! RIP Cookie :-(

Add a Comment

Happy Decade Giga & Tera!Fri, 8th Aug '14, 11:25 pm::

My cats Giga & Tera are officially 10 years old today. They shall enjoy a feast of treats and lots of cuddles.

Add a Comment

Six years!Sun, 27th Jul '14, 11:35 pm::

We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary by having a nice relaxing day and a scrumptious dinner at Spoto's Grill 131. Yesterday, we unexpectedly ended up at a petting zoo in North Tampa where Juliet got to feed a baby possum. Now that I think about it, in the last six years, we've ended up at a lot of places unexpectedly. Restaurants, antique shops, flea markets, parks. Usually I plan almost everything in advance so it's fun to get a bit of unexpectedness every now and then.

Add a Comment

For posterity and beyondMon, 14th Jul '14, 10:35 pm::

Earlier today, Juliet and I were trying to remember the exact date something happened last year. We narrowed it down to a specific week and then figured out the specific date because we knew it was a Friday. It takes a lot of effort to remember past events, mundane or momentous, from just a year ago, let alone a decade. That's part of the reason I love writing this 'blog. Once I say "Today I went to the animal shelter and got two kittens" or "My car hit 33,333 miles yesterday at 1:23pm", it is remembered forever. This Saturday, Juliet took my car to go shopping with her friend and hit 111,111 miles. Thanks to technology, I can store irrelevant bits of information like this until the end of time. But not all bits are so trivial.

Four years ago, today was a day of mourning for my family when my paternal grandpa passed away. I wrote a few words about how I felt and have re-read them every year on this day. Almost a decade ago I wrote about the death of my maternal grandpa and the memories I had of visiting him during summer vacations. Sad or happy, exciting or dull, all I'm doing is writing down memories before I forget them.

Sometimes I don't write important details because I may not be ready to share it with anyone but I still like to write a bit so maybe later I can refer to it. The day I met Juliet, I wrote "Today turned out to be yet another unusual day" without even mentioning her. Eight months later, when she flew off to London to meet my parents, I harkened back to that unusual day when we crossed paths and set in motion the Universe's plans to create the cuddliest home zoo ever. Who knows what's going to happen in the future but it feels good to write things down so that some day, we can look back on a particular day and re-live it, even for a brief moment.

Add a Comment

A sunny decade laterMon, 23rd Jun '14, 12:25 am::

What a busy weekend we had! Juliet and I are both halfway between introverted and extroverted. We love entertaining friends and family but we can only do that comfortably in small groups for a few hours at a time. We have been trying to plan a 50-60 people party at our house for three months now but have not made any progress yet. While we haven't been able to pick a date due to circumstances beyond our control (landscaping guys took too long, house projects got delayed because of damaged shipments etc.), I think even if everything was lined up perfectly, we would still be hesitant to get started because we're just not the big-party-for-no-reason kind of people.

In the meantime, we have been inviting all of our friends to come visit us any time they want. Coincidentally, a dozen folks visited us this weekend and it was awesome. It felt like Diwali back in India! My godson Jackson, his mom, and his cousin visited us Saturday morning so they could play with our home zoo. Then my buddy Brian came over for some serious table-tennis time, followed by Juliet's friend Karen and her three kids. Sunday morning my friend from Philadelphia Megan and her husband Chris dropped by to spend an idle day by the pool. In the evening, our friends Cary and Laura stopped by to bid us farewell before they move to Arizona this coming week.

Ten years and a week ago, I moved to Florida with the help of my buddy Arthur. For the past week, I have been trying to come up with something meaningful to write about the whole decade that passed by - words of wisdom, lessons learned, top 10 most embarrassing moments - anything to summarize the ten years of life I have built here. But now I realize that is pointless because it doesn't matter if I'm still driving the same car I bought in 2004 (I am!) or gained weight (15lbs/7kgs, mostly due to my awesome beard) or have lost friends or made new ones (who hasn't?). Life happens to all of us and while I made mistakes and learned or didn't learn from them, so did everyone else in their own respective lives. All I know is that ten years ago I was alone in the whole state of Florida and this weekend I couldn't find one minute of alone time to write this entry.

Add a Comment

You have no email. Enjoy your day!Wed, 11th Jun '14, 12:05 am::

I used to fear ending up with a life where I would have a full, busy schedule. I was and still remain fiercely against living an eventful life where a lot of things happen every day. If a scheduling genie was granting three wishes, I would ask for (1) my email/voicemail inbox to be always empty (2) my to-do list to contain only one important item per day, and (3) absolutely no preset meetings or appointments.

Since I have not yet met a scheduling genie, my life continues to be a constant barrage of planned and unplanned events, tasks, commitments, and projects. Something is always going on. Be it house projects, work deadlines, or social obligations, there is something new happening every day. I have to maintain detailed to-do lists, from "server deployment plan" to "garage cleanup list" just so I can keep up with everything.

I am living the exact life that I feared.

But it's ok. I am getting a lot done in the meantime and I am slowly working towards a life that is closer to my ideals of doing just one thing and doing it right. Be it work or play, I avoid distractions and interruptions. I have never been a fan of multitasking. I don't check my phone when I'm having dinner or plan dinner when I'm on a conference call. Even though I am not in a position to live the idyllic leisurely life I want right now, I will never going to stop trying. I truly believe that nothing is more productive and beneficial than distraction-free single-minded focus, be it in work or play, business or charity. And a full, busy schedule is the antithesis of that.

Add a Comment

Just one ticket pleaseSat, 24th May '14, 12:00 am::

In 2008, Iron Man I came out. I really wanted to go see it. I asked a few friends and nobody could make it. I asked coworkers and nobody could make it. I got bold and asked out a cute girl I knew and she couldn't go either. I went home and went to sleep early because I was so distraught. Over 7 billion people on this planet, a million of them in my own town, and not a single person wanted to go watch a movie with me.

But then suddenly out of nowhere, I thought, "Hey I can just go by myself. It's 10pm, late enough that chances of any embarrassing run-ins will be low, but not so late that I'll be late for work tomorrow." So I go out of bed, dressed up like I was going out with friends, bought a single ticket, and enjoyed the movie thoroughly. As I drove home, I called my best friend to say how great the movie was and that he should definitely see it. Next day I talked about the movie with my other friends and coworkers. I was constantly scared of them asking me "Who did you go see it with?" but surprisingly, nobody asked me.

Without realizing it, I had overcome my fear of rejection. The next day I told the same cute girl that I was going to the local mall and she should meet me there. She liked how confident I was and said why not. We had a great time at the mall and met up more often later. Soon she moved in with me, then we got engaged, then we got married. It's been the happiest six years of my life and I don't think any of that would have happened without that single ticket to Iron Man I.

I decided to write this down because I came across someone else online who didn't have a friend to go to the movies with.

Add a Comment

Wed, 7th May '14, 1:10 am::

We went to my old college friend Michele's wedding this weekend and had a great time. I'll post the photos soon.

Right now, we're in the middle of a lot of house projects: reorganize garage, level backyard, setup goat area, fix up bathrooms, and lots of minor upgrades. As soon as the goat area is ready, I'll share the pics.

Life's pretty busy with a lot of different things lately. Other than coding projects that keep me up all night, I've been dealing with a lot of boring but important paperwork for insurance, health, travel, and financial planning. I calculated that we pay more for insurance than any other expense except for taxes. We have home hazard insurance, flood insurance, mortgage insurance, health insurance, term life insurance, accidental life insurance, disability insurance, professional liability insurance, and auto insurance. On top of that, we pay for cellphone insurance (which I've availed of twice already thanks to my recklessness), pet health plans, and travel insurance for every trip we take.

Speaking of travel, now that I'm a US Citizen, I have to apply for a visa to travel back home to India and the paperwork for that is surprisingly exhaustive. I'm hoping that my schedule will become a bit more relaxed over the next few months once I've dealt with all of these tasks. Until then, it's just one thing on top of another every day.

Add a Comment

This is NOT meSun, 20th Apr '14, 2:55 pm::

I don't know who this guy is but he is making me question my existence more than Descartes or Nietzsche ever did. For the first time in my life, I have found a doppelganger. Well, it was actually Juliet wondering what I was doing on a beach without her. It appears we both spend quality time on beaches flailing our arms around, wear garish clothing, sport a manly beard, and refuse to bow down to the tyranny of barbershops. To you Sir, I say "Congrats on being almost like me!"

Add a Comment

The Goats have arrived: Marco & PoloMon, 14th Apr '14, 7:50 pm::

After years of waiting since our first encounter with Nigerian Dwarf Goats, we picked up our own baby goats this weekend! World, meet Marco & Polo!

They constantly call out to each other when separated. Hence the names: Marco - Polo. Marco's the older black & white baby goat and Polo is the little waffles-colored kid.

The first four photos are from two weeks ago when we first saw them at a farm up north and the rest are from this weekend at our house. Right now, they're staying in a make-shift enclosure in the porch. Over the next few weeks, we'll setup a nice shelter for them next to the Prairie Dog and Rabbit enclosures in the backyard, and build a protection fence around the whole area so they can safely chomp grass all day.

I also uploaded the pics from our weekend trip to see family in Utah last month.

Add a Comment

Enchanted!Sat, 5th Apr '14, 12:55 am::

Tonight, we went to see the comedy musical show Disenchanted with our friends Cary and Laura at the Straz Center in Tampa. I knew it was going to be funny but I had no idea it was going to be utterly hilarious. The play is a sarcastic take on the Disney's Magic Kingdom universe, comically yet bitterly mocking tropes like damsel in distress, prince charming, once upon a time, and happily ever after.

While I had read many positive reviews of the show prior to the ticket purchase, I expected the quality of the performance to be mediocre. Instead I was blown away by how beautiful the artists' voices were and how well the live orchestra performed. The lighting, sound, set design, and costume design were very well done, and although the theater and stage were small, it felt no different from any big budget Broadway show.

Add a Comment

Guess whatSat, 5th Apr '14, 12:40 am::

Take a look at this cellphone photo I took at my friend Rick's house, peeking directly into his telescope. Try to guess what it is. Scroll down for the answer.

It's the sun through a special solar filter. You can clearly see the sunspots as the dark smudges.

Add a Comment

Building an awesome home surveillance systemTue, 1st Apr '14, 12:10 am::

During the first year of moving into our house, we focused on function: fix what's broken, replace what can't be fixed, and make everything work as best as possible. The second year we focused on necessary furnishing and organization: bedroom sets, dining table, floor mats and so on. The third year we're splitting the upgrades - Juliet's in charge of paintings and decor and I'm geeking out on home automation and surveillance. I'm quite happy with the technical decisions I've made so far and would like to share what's worked for me:

Home Network: The cheapest, easiest, and most reliable way of controlling all the different systems in your home is over the good ol' LAN. Since every system in my house was going to be controlled via the LAN, the first thing I did was buy a powerful router: Netgear WNDR4500. In addition to having 4 Gigabit ports, the WNDR4500 supports dual band WiFi at 2.4ghz (usually 802.11g - good: long range, every WiFi device supports it; bad: all your neighbors use it, microwaves interfere with it) and 5ghz (usually 802.11n - good: better speed, less noise; bad: shorter range, only supported on latest devices). Connected to the router is my cable modem, couple of TP-LINK Gigabit switches and a TP-LINK Gigabit Power-Over-Ethernet (PoE) switch. If you want a solid home network, make sure all your core switches support 10/100/1000mbps and only use CAT5e or CAT6 cables. All my wired devices are connected to the TP-LINK Gigabit switches. The TP-LINK Gigabit PoE switch is connected to all of my wireless access points.

Wireless Access Points: Even though my router has very good WiFi connectivity, it does not cover my entire house and definitely not the yard. We installed four EnGenius EAP600 units around the house and porch so that almost every corner of my house gets blanketed with perfect signal strength. The EAP600 gets power from the Ethernet so mounting it on the ceiling is a very simple step if you have easy attic access. The best thing about EAP600 is that in addition to supporting dual-band WiFi at 2.4ghz and 5ghz, it supports band steering, "a technology that detects whether or not the wireless client is dual-band capable, and if it is, it will push the client to connect to the less congested 5GHz network." This means my iPad and laptops that support 5ghz automatically connect on that frequency while my older devices continue to work on 2.4ghz. The best part is that there is a single wireless network (SSID) to connect to. Having a good wireless network is necessary if you want to view the surveillance videos from anywhere in the house on any device.

Devices: Speaking of devices, I am absolutely in love with my iPad Mini Retina and highly recommend it as the remote control for your entire house. I find the regular iPad too bulky and the iPhone/iPod too small to operate. I can't speak for or against any Android or Windows tablets as I don't know if the software I use is available on those platforms. As for the hardware to record my 12 camera feeds, I went with something unconventional - an Acer Travelmate P6 laptop that was on sale! I set it up to never go to sleep, operate with the lid closed, and removed all unnecessary software since it was going to use a lot of CPU/RAM 24/7. Believe it or not, a modern laptop with Core i3 and Gigabit Ethernet is more than capable of recording 12+ cameras. Best part is I can hide the laptop somewhere inconspicuous for added security and not worry about it being a target itself. Only problem with a laptop is storage. While 500 GB ought to be enough for a week's worth of video for 4 cameras, it barely records two days worth from my 12 cameras.

Storage: I attached the Acer laptop to my Synology DS211J NAS. I cannot profess my love for the Synology brand enough. I've bought, setup, maintained, and troubleshooted probably 30 different brands of network-attached-storage devices in the last decade and absolutely NOTHING comes even close in performance, price, quality, and robustness to Synology - not even products 3-5x more expensive. Even the low-end DS211J version is very reliable and works great for home backups, media sharing, and in this case, recording video footage. Pop-in a couple of 2TB drives, create a shared folder, map the shared folder in Windows, and drive S: is now ready to store two weeks of videos!

Software: Before I arrived at the current laptop, storage, and software solution, I spent months trying out various software (both free and commercial) and hardware (plug PCs, mini PCs, even VMs). My requirements were pretty fixed from the start: (1) Must work on iPad and iPhone (2) Must work from inside and outside the house (3) Must support at least 12 cameras (4) Cost under $500 in software/device licenses (5) Must allow real-time video and easy playback of recorded footage. While I came across many different solutions, the one that worked best is the free-for-personal-use video monitoring software Genius Vision NVR. It only took minutes to install on the Acer laptop and barely 30 minutes to configure to record all footage from all 12 cameras. It has companion apps for the iPad and iPhone and has decent security to make sure nobody can access my cameras without the right credentials. When adding the cameras to Genius, make sure you name each camera channel properly because there's no way to change them later and the iOS apps automatically sort the cameras based on the channel name. Since you cannot rearrange the cameras on the iOS apps, you really want to get the order correct beforehand. I prefixed my camera channels with 01, 02 etc. to get my desired sort order. Once Genius was configured properly, I opened a random port on my WNDR4500 firewall and made it point to the laptop's IP and Genius port 3557. On the iPad and our iPhones, I added two NVRs (a) At Home (b) Away from Home. The At Home connection points to the internal LAN IP of the Acer and Away from Home points to my WAN IP. Since my ISP rarely changes that, it is not a big deal for me to update that if necessary. I could've used a dynamic DNS service but oddly enough, most of the popular ones are no longer free and the ones that are, I don't know well enough to trust.

Video Surveillance - IP Cameras: Having used many different IP cameras in the past, I knew this was going to be difficult. I wanted 12 identical cameras that worked perfectly in day and night, in full brightness and pitch dark. Nearly all of my cameras face East or West and so it was critical that as daylight fades away the infrared mode kick in automatically and vice versa at sunrise. Additionally I wanted outdoor PoE cameras that could handle moderate rain, high humidity and temperature changes. Weeks of research led me to try out Dahua IPC-HFW2100 (IP66) and I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised at how well they work and meet all of my requirements. I must add that configuring them was a pain times twelve and that without this Amazon review, I would not have been able to setup the RTSP stream necessary for Genius Vision NVR. Make sure you get an IP camera that supports NTP and point it to or another NTP server so that you never have to worry about the camera's internal clock, which is usually displayed on every stream. If you setup the camera to overlay the current time on the stream, you can immediately tell if any camera stream is frozen by just looking at the on-screen clock.

PoE Switch: I highly recommend getting PoE cameras so that you only need a single cable to the camera instead of power adapter and electric sockets everywhere. In terms of performance and reliability, PoE will always beat WiFi + power adapter. Problem with PoE is that the switches are usually expensive. Most PoE switches with 8 ports only have 4 PoE ports. I did not want to buy 3-4 PoE switches and instead got a BV Tech 16 port / 100Mb PoE switch. I was originally quiet worried about having just a single 100 Megabit cable connect all of my 12 cameras but believe it or not, it has worked quiet well. Even if all of my cameras are streaming at 4Mb/s, that is still under 50Mb/s, well below the theoretical capacity of a 100Mb switch. The best part is that since this device has individual switches to turn on/off the power to each port, I can use it to reboot any camera without unplugging the Ethernet cable.

It has taken me a good six months to plan, budget, purchase, test, and deploy all of the above and finally I feel content with it. I would like to setup Genius Vision NVR to record on motion detection instead of bulk 24/7 recording but that will take a lot of tweaking for each camera. Regardless, we now have a system that we can access from anywhere in the world and it works as well as any professionally installed solution that would cost 4x as much.

Other than the surveillance project, I've also replaced all of our regular A/C thermostats with CyberStat WiFi thermostats that Juliet and I can control from our phones. No more wondering if we left the bedroom heating on while we go on a weekend trip - we can check it and change it from anywhere with Internet access! Next up, I'm thinking of installing electric switches that can be controlled from the Internet and of course in person. And then some day, I plan on writing an algorithm to control colored LED lights in our living room based on a variety of factors.

Add a Comment

Last minute heroicsSat, 15th Mar '14, 1:05 am::

I don't remember a single instance in my academic life when I finished my homework well in advance of the due date. Yet surprisingly, I can't recall being late for any assignment unless I had a serious excuse. For as long as I can remember, I have always scheduled my homework to be completed just moments before it was due. Or in other words, I have always waited until the last possible moment to get started. You might think that this negative personality trait is sooner or later going to get me into serious trouble. I'm not cocky enough to deny that possibility but due to the reasons I list below, I highly doubt it.

While the disciplined students and obedient employees were working on their big projects months in advance, pacing themselves cautiously, providing adequate buffer zones in case of problems, I was learning how to improvise at the last minute, regardless of the subject matter at hand. While they were trying their very best, I was unknowingly learning how to ration the resources I had (time and energy) while delivering my desired quality of work. On the surface, this makes me look like someone who does just enough to get by but nothing could be further from the truth. Not only have I always aimed for the best results, I have forever challenged myself to be more ambitious. It is that innate desire to do more things juxtaposed with my inherent laziness to do no more things that has fine tuned my ability to "just wing it".

I am not writing all of this to show off my improvisational skills but rather to encourage the last minute heroes to continue procrastinating tasks as long as they do not miss the deadlines. I spent my school and college years participating in many different activities and programs simultaneously, waiting to do everything until just before the cutoff time. The amount of self-inflicted guilt I bore for not being more disciplined was demoralizing and unjust, especially since the results of my efforts were almost always top quality. I made myself feel bad for not following the path I was told was "right", even though I was surrounded by disciplined students who took weeks to write their essays and ended up receiving lower grades than the papers I wrote in the final two hours.

It was not until I joined the workforce over a decade ago that I realized that my lifetime of last minute heroics had prepared me to excel in the face of impossible deadlines. In school, you get four months to do your research, collaborate with your classmates, and design your presentation. In real life, you get pulled from an already-delayed project you're working on, to take over an urgent do-or-die assignment that you know is a bad idea in the first place. Given that situation, would you rather be the disciplined student who needs a four month plan to accomplish anything substantial or the champion of procrastination who has been living on the edge all their life?

Add a Comment

Thu, 27th Feb '14, 11:20 pm::

After five years of having sub-par Valentine's Days due to work, school, and non-fun travels, we finally decided to do something memorable this year. We flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico and spent the weekend traveling around in Santa Fe. Here are the pictures.

A little over three years ago I went to Santa Fe with my buddies and fell in love with the air, landscape, and relaxed life. So it was a pleasure to visit the town again, this time with Juliet. In addition to window-shopping around Santa Fe's famous Plaza, we climbed up 120 feet into the thousand year old cliff dwellings in the nearby Bandelier National Monument.

The last thing we did before we returned home, was a limo tour of the shooting locations of the TV show Breaking Bad in Albuquerque. We're both fans of the show and waited for every episode with bated breath. If you ever find yourself in Albuquerque and love Breaking Bad, I highly recommend taking the Breaking Bad Experience Tour.

Add a Comment

Enjoying the boringTue, 14th Jan '14, 4:00 pm::

I am taking a break from coding (because one of my meds is giving me very painful migraines) and instead of watching a funny movie or exciting TV show, I found myself transfixed on month-old recorded videos of the local "Code Enforcement Board" proceedings on St. Pete TV.

The mission of the Codes Compliance Assistance Department of St. Petersburg is to maintain the quality and extend the life of existing housing, to stabilize neighborhoods and to protect the public. As I understand, the Code Enforcement Board rules on violations of building codes and gives fines when the violations are not rectified in the allotted time.

Word for word, the above paragraph qualifies as the top candidate for the most boring thing I have ever written on my 'blog and I've written some seriously bland material on the housing-bubble and financial crisis. Yet here I sit, completely captivated by video of a board room with seven administrators, hearing one case of violation after another. For each case, a code enforcement officer takes the stand under oath and reads out a case number, name of the accused, and the violations. The violations are everything from shattered windows and broken fences to operating unlicensed restaurants in residential zones.

What impressed me was that everyone from the enforcement officers and board members right down to the accused homeowners were so rational, logical, and frank. Unlike the fake TV judges with over the top stories about domestic skirmishes, this is real life and even though no major crimes are committed, there is so much at stake for the homeowners and community. And unlike courtroom cases where there is a lot of he-said-she-said interpersonal conflict and drama, homeowners end up facing the Code Enforcement Board when for some reason or other, they fail to take care of property, paperwork, and procedures. In simpler terms, instead of resolving playground fights, this is the grownup version of why Johnny didn't do his homework.

In one instance, a homeowner did not take care of a fallen tree that was partially blocking the road. One of the neighbors filed a complaint with the city, and rightly so. The city did an investigation and sent a notice to the homeowner, giving him a month to fix it - a pretty fair action. The homeowner ends up in the board room because he did not take care of the tree after a month. Now we hear his side of the story. He said a large section of the tree was touching live electric cables. The electric company was scheduled to take care of that but they haven't. The board then unanimously gave him another 60 days to take care of the tree, more than enough time to resolve the issue with the electric company. While this sounds fairly routine, the homeowner sounded pretty frustrated because all of this was beyond his control. He didn't cause the tree to fall, he cannot clear it because it is touching electric cables, he had a hard time getting in touch with the electric company, and here he was, being dragged into board room on a regular work day.

Unlike the hundred "This can happen to you!!!" stories we hear about in the media, this is the one that can most likely happen to me. And it is hard to find someone to blame in this. The electric company probably has thousands of such cases to deal with after every thunderstorm, the neighbors don't want to hit the tree while driving, the homeowner isn't going to risk getting electrocuted cutting the tree himself. The city officers did the right thing in investigating it and the board did the right thing in extending the period. While I have no background information on the board members, each of them who asked a question or made a statement, did it politely, clearly, and without any prejudice. This is not some all-powerful "board" who's judging the poor citizenry. This is just regular people making rational decisions and hard choices for the good of the community.

However, sometimes you do feel bad for the accused. This guy (actual screenshot below) was being charged with operating an unlicensed barbeque grill in a commercial zone. Come on guys! Let the man cook in peace!

Add a Comment

On my own scheduleThu, 9th Jan '14, 8:10 am::

I am currently running an unintentional experiment with my sleep cycle that very few grownups with responsibilities have the luxury of attempting. Since I've had a bad cough for more than a few weeks now, I've stopped worrying about anything except getting better. As a result, I stopped trying to go to bed at a set time or waking up with an alarm. I stay up as long as I want, I sleep as much as I want, I take as many naps as I need, and I code whenever I feel like.

Yesterday I woke up at noon, ate my first and only meal at 6pm, fell asleep at 7.30pm, woke up at 1.30am, and coded until 7am. I am a bit sleepy now and will fall asleep soon but I am in no hurry to do any work, chores, or sleep. Since physical exertion makes me cough, I've been pretty lethargic. Here's some interesting things I realized:

1) Freedom from guilt is refreshing! Not feeling guilty for sleeping in until 2pm or watching cartoons from 3pm until 1am is elating. Far too often we live our lives in a certain way because that's how we are supposed to. As long as I am not dropping the ball on my responsibilities (bills, social commitments, work projects etc.), there is no reason for me to feel guilty.

2) 24-hour cycle is definitely not for me. In fact, my sleep cycle isn't even periodic. It's very random. Some days I've stayed up 20 hours without feeling tired and some days I've slept 16 hours. My only concern has been feeling good. Obviously being sick and taking cough medicine skews how I feel and how often I want to sleep/stay-up but even on the days I barely took medications, I would fall asleep at 4pm only to wake up at 9pm for absolutely no reason.

3) I am procrastinating less! Technically, I am not procrastinating at all since I have no schedule so whenever I do anything, it is done on time. I do have some self-imposed deadlines but they are not stringent. Being able to meet them while still living on a completely carefree schedule feels wonderful.

4) I am listening to my body - more so than ever. I am not fighting my urge to sleep or eat or stretch. While this means I don't have to eat my meals at a set time, it also means not ignoring that I am hungry at 4am. Instead of forcing myself to do things because it's time, I'm waiting to feel hungry or thirsty before I eat or drink. The revelation to me is that this hunger feels very different from the "it's 12pm so it's lunch time" hunger. This is definitely a sample size of one issue but I feel like I am eating the proper amount I need instead of over- or under-eating like I generally end up doing when I wait too long to eat or have to eat much sooner than I want to.

I'm not trying to hack my body into doing anything fancy. I just want to stop being miserable and my condition has improved considerably over the last week. I don't plan on living like this forever though I have to admit, the psychological benefit of this carefree-ness during a typical grouchy period of sickness has kept my spirits high throughout. Next time I'm sick, I'm going to do this for sure.

Add a Comment

On the 10th day of ChristmasMon, 23rd Dec '13, 5:25 pm::

My Christmas gift to Juliet this year was a real-life encounter with a Capuchin monkey at our house! Enjoy the photos.

Add a Comment

US CitizenshipMon, 9th Dec '13, 11:00 pm::

As of today, I am a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I had my oath ceremony today in Tampa and was joined by my wife Juliet, her mother, and our close friend Carlos. Due to delays in mail delivery, we found out just two days ago that my oath ceremony was to be held today. I was looking forward to inviting more people to attend but the short notice put a kibosh on that idea. After the oath ceremony, we went to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate. Then we came home, I took a four hour nap, ate some more cheesecake and Mac & Cheese, and watched The Simpsons for three hours straight. All in all, a pretty standard American day.

On a more serious note, I am looking forward to getting my first jury summons. While a vast number of people hate being summoned for jury duty, I love the idea that the common man still gets to play a role in the judicial system. I also registered to vote today, so now I'm responsible for 0.0000000000285714% of everything the US government does.

On an even more serious note, this was a day of mixed emotions for me. As jubilant and proud as I was to become an American today, I was also humbled by the thought that I will now have to surrender my Indian passport and renounce my Indian citizenship since the Indian Constitution does not recognize dual citizenship. My Indian passport has been one of my most prized possessions, literally a proof of my identity. I've used it to prove who I am at every US Visa and immigration interview, every driver's license renewal, every mortgage signing, and even when we applied for a marriage license. While I haven't traveled much internationally to miss the various visa stamps, I will miss the "Home" address of Calcutta (now called Kolkata) on the second page of my passport, where my parents still live. Even though I've been a Permanent Resident (greencard holder) in the US for many years now, my passport still said my "home" was in India.

The flip-side of this is that I will soon get a shiny new US passport, enabling us to travel to many more countries around the world with minimal restrictions. The only countries I have been to is India, Nepal, United States, Canada, and Mexico. Now Juliet will finally get a chance to feed more interesting animals around the world!

Add a Comment

Our duck & tortoise preserveTue, 26th Nov '13, 12:50 pm::

I've spent almost the entire year planning, designing, and repeatedly modifying the duck and tortoise area you see in the photo below. I worked with my wonderful neighbor Bevv (who did the initial design), my handyman Dan and my lawn expert Chris to build it all.

We have a large Sulcata tortoise (Lola) who lives with the two ducks (Peek & Poke). Here are the major structures:

Fence: The back portion is just a typical fence with a stained wooden 1" trim on the top, everything held up straight by 8ft 4x4s. The side and front edges are 4x4s piled on top of each other, with 6ft iron rods drilled straight down through them with concrete at the base. Then we piled up dirt on the outside and planted a variety of greens. Since the ducks kept jumping out and chased our small Chihuahuas around the whole yard, I added the wooden criss-crossed trellis around the front. A primary reason for making the fence solid is that it prevents the tortoise from trying to scale it.

Enclosure: They all sleep in together in the wood enclosure built by Dan (towards the bottom left of the picture). The enclosure is heated by infrared bulbs on thermostat set to turn on at 70F. The enclosure has a front-flap that can be raised up with a simple pulley and hooked on the side to keep it open during the day. At night I just lower it. There is also a back flap that you can open up like the trunk of a typical sedan and we use that to fill up water/food. Also very useful when I want to hose out everything. There is a small mesh on one side of the enclosure to make sure it doesn't get too hot in the summer. If it gets too cold, I can put a small blanket on it to keep the warmth in.

Pond: This was the most difficult thing to get right and I spent more time, money, and effort on it than anything else. Initially we had one of those pretty koi-style ponds with a big pump and filter as you can . I was prepared to deal with duck poop but I had no idea what the tortoise had in store for me. The tortoise ate grass all day and clogged the pump, filter, and pipes so bad we had to scrape the entire pond and rebuild. The pond you see now has a simple gravity drain. It is a large stagnant pond which gently slopes to the back. There is a 4" PVC pipe that drains everything out towards the back of the yard. There is a single heavy-duty valve that I can access without getting into the duck area which empties the pond within 30 seconds. I hose off any messes on the pond, close the valve, and refill. Takes about 10 minutes. The ducks and tortoises get fresh water and I barely have to do any work to keep it clean. I'm pretty sure I can use the drained material as fertilizer around the yard.

Plants/ground-cover: These I left up to Chris. We tried typical sod in the middle but the tortoise kept eating that instead of her food. Also the ducks made a mess everywhere. So we opted for pine-straws and lots of small shrubs. We planted Jasmine on the outside of the front fence and bunch of other flowering plants like Lily of the Nile. The planters will hopefully grow long enough to cover the back fence soon.

We got the ducks last Christmas and I have spent the entire year getting this area setup just right. The ducks are SO happy and the tortoise is very active too. While I may not have done much work with my own hands, I came up with all the little solutions for each tiny problem and trust me there were many. We wanted our critters to live as close to their natural habitats as possible and I think we got it pretty close.

Add a Comment

Fri, 22nd Nov '13, 3:40 pm::

Life's been pretty busy and eventful lately. I passed the United States citizenship interview last week and will soon be able to vote in elections (though not run for the President of United States position). I rented a tuxedo for the first time in my life yesterday and will be wearing it for our friends Billy & Lisa's wedding tomorrow. I went to his bachelor party this weekend in St. Augustine and had a great time. We're hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner next week with friends and family. We've spent the past two years fixing up our house and finally after a new air conditioner and pool pump/motor, I feel we're about done. We even bought a long carpet for our hallway and a replacement oven for our kitchen last week. I think it's about time we had a big house party!

Add a Comment

Fri, 25th Oct '13, 2:45 am::

It's finally getting cold here in Florida. Past few winters, I spent a lot of time bringing the tortoises and other critters indoors during cold nights and taking them out on sunny days. Each time I brought them in, I spent a lot of time cleaning their indoor enclosures daily. After getting tired of that earlier this year, I decided to modernize my zoo and bought four infrared heat lamps with reflectors and two thermostats. Though it was hooked up months ago, today is the first time I turned the system on and I'm ecstatic to say it's working perfectly!

The tortoises and ducks are being kept warm at 70F-80F (20-25C) in their outdoor enclosures and I don't have to wake up at odd hours in the night and early morning to check up on them. I made sure that the lamps were installed at a safe height and the circuitry was completely sheltered from rain. Additionally, since these are infrared lamps, they don't shine bright or interfere with the animals' sleeping cycles.

In the large scale of things, putting a couple of lamps is not a big deal but the relief I get from not having to worry about the temperature each night is worth it. Of course, tonight I've been behaving like a kid and keep checking the heat lamps every few hours just so I can feel giddy whenever I sense the warmth on my hands.

Add a Comment

Fast-food analogy for the US Government ShutdownTue, 1st Oct '13, 11:40 am::

If you have been confused about the US Government Shutdown, here's an overly simplified fast-food analogy of the situation courtesy of reddit:

  • "Alright so to confirm, we'll be getting one party size pepperoni and mushroom pizza with olives, right?"
  • "But we all agreed that we wanted olives."
  • "WELL NOT US!"

And so the U.S. shut down every Pizza Hut until an agreement could be made. Those who shutdown the Pizza Huts still get pizza. Note that olives were voted on as something that should go on the pizza three years ago, but then some new guys showed up to the party and decided to be stubborn about the olives and refused to accept the olives unless you took the cheese, sauce and bread off the pizza.

Add a Comment

Economic impact of Arbitrary National HolidaysSun, 29th Sep '13, 2:45 pm::

While making plans for Thanksgiving, I just realized this year it falls on November 28th. As Thanksgiving is celebrated on fourth Thursday of November in the US, the latest it can occur is indeed November 28th (1st November being a Friday). Since 1990 this is only the fourth Thanksgiving to fall on November 28th. The next one will be in 2019.

People usually start shopping for Christmas gifts after Thanksgiving. The later Thanksgiving falls, the less time there is for shopping. The earliest Thanksgiving can occur is on November 22nd, almost a week earlier. Number of potential shopping days range from 26 (November 28th) to 32 (November 22nd). Since the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest shopping period for almost all retailers and e-commerce companies, reducing the duration by 20% can have one of two effects: (1) average sales/day go up because people still need to buy all the gifts or (2) average sales/day remain stagnant because people don't have enough time/money to buy all the gifts, reducing sales. Adjusting for typical business cycles, it would be interesting to see whether (1) or (2) happens.

Add a Comment

Fri, 13th Sep '13, 2:40 pm::

Life's going on as usual down here in Florida. I've been keeping myself busy with a variety of computer, house, and home zoo projects. Now that Juliet has a predictable work schedule, we've been spending a lot more time together doing typical married-couple things. We went to the farmer's market on Saturday and bought fresh fruits and vegetables. We're cooking more at home and living a pretty healthy lifestyle (except for my late night programming sessions).

I've already written about not writing more often before so no point in repeating myself but it's not the lack of time that has kept me from updating my 'blog - it's my state of mind. There are just too many things I can write about but don't know if I should even bother. Had Snowden, Syria, or Sequester happened a decade ago, I would've written numerous passages elucidating my thoughts and expressing my cynicism on every topic. But now it feels pointless to write about things I have no direct involvement in. Everyone is getting their news from the Internet today, no point in being one more source of textual drivel.

Even though we are all affected by the news indirectly, my opinion on each matter no longer compels me to stand up on a pulpit and yell them out loud for everyone to hear. My opinions have not gotten any milder, just my desire to voice them publicly. I wonder if this has anything to do with age/maturity or rather my current lifestyle, which is very laid back and full of non-stressful creative outlets. Do I (a) spend an hour writing about what the morality of doing X is, (b) go out for an evening walk with the missus, or (c) build a gravity-drain for the duck pond so it is easier to clean up? I used to choose (a) but now I'm choosing (b) and (c) a lot more often.

In a way, I am happy I don't have much to write about lately. It means everything is alright within and without my head. And if I really feel like typing furiously at the keyboard, I'll avoid online debates and channel that energy into writing something positive on my 'blog. Till next time!

Add a Comment

Fri, 9th Aug '13, 2:55 am::

We got back home late last night after a two week vacation to celebrate our fifth wedding Anniversary. We went on a weeklong cruise to Alaska and then spent nearly a week in Seattle and neighboring areas. Here are the Alaska/Seattle photos.

I also finally uploaded the photos from our trip to India last year.

Add a Comment

Five years!Tue, 23rd Jul '13, 12:15 pm::

Exactly five years ago today, Juliet and I got married. The past five years have been a dream come true. Our life together is everything I ever wanted and beyond. We're celebrating our anniversary this weekend so for now, all of my plans remain a secret. It's going to be marvelous!

Add a Comment

This week at the home zooSun, 7th Jul '13, 9:50 pm::

Last week, my friend Brian brought his African Grey parrot Marley to our house. We are taking care of Marley until Brian returns from vacation. Marley is staying in our porch and keeping the dogs, cats, and me thoroughly entertained. Throughout the day, he whistles and I whistle back. He has even tricked me a few times by reproducing my phone's ring tone and the home security alarm's door-open beeps.

Speaking of birds, the ducks are getting quite devious. Despite being flightless ducks, they have managed to escape their habitat almost every day this week to chase the dogs. Yes, our ducks routinely glide out of their enclosure in order to scare the living daylights out of our Chihuahuas. While they do not actually hurt the dogs and just chase them playfully, it scares the dogs and we had to put a stop to it. Sunday before last I raised the height of their enclosure fence to three feet and after a week of no trouble, they figured out that if they took a running start and flapped their wings hard enough, they could just about clear the fence. So today I finally did what I have been trying my best to avoid - trim their flight feathers a.k.a. wing clipping. This makes them unable to gain altitude while still allowing them to glide down safely from a perch.

The problem with having animals as pets is you face moral dilemmas on a nearly daily basis. From the very question of whether we should even "own" animals and keep them locked up in our domiciles to how much money should you spend to prolong the life of a loved pet, a pet owner constantly has to walk the fine line between what is humane and what is not. I thought that with time, my views about pet ownership would change but surprisingly have remained the same despite the 18 critters we have (19 until Marley goes back home).

I do not believe in caging any free, wild creature, whether it is a common duck or a rare chameleon. Nature belongs in nature. I am vehemently against private ownership of exotic animals solely for entertainment purposes. However, I am perfectly ok with some exceptions - well cared for animals in nature preserves, rescue habitats, and limited number of good quality zoos. The three simple reasons for the exceptions are education, rehabilitation, and rehoming. Since our babies are re-homed from local animal shelters or pet-owners who could not take care of them, I have no qualms about giving rent-free residence to 3 cats, 2 dogs, 4 tortoises, 2 prairie dogs, 5 rabbits, and 2 ducks.

Now that we have a veritable collection of mostly-tame wildlings, it is imperative that we take care of them to the best of our abilities even if appears unnatural at first glance. Sometimes that means separating the two boy bunnies because they keep fighting and sometimes that means trimming the feathers of ducks to prevent them from hurting themselves and our other pets. Don't worry, trimming the feathers is painless for the ducks and they grow back just like our nails.

One thing we never try to do is change their nature. Prairie dogs like to dig. Ducks like to swim. Dogs like to bark. Cats like to scratch. And Marley likes to whistle. It would be inhumane to force an animal to go against their natural instinct just because it is inconvenient for us humans. We have worked hard to ensure that each of our pets has the perfect habitat to best suit their natural environment. And every now and then, they surprise us. Herbert and Phyllis the tortoises love eating purple flowers from the Petunia plants that we planted for shade. Prairie dogs love climbing high up on the metal mesh we used to build their enclosure. And Lola the tortoise loves swimming in the duck pond.

Every day is a zoo day. Here's a photo of Marley & Me:

Add a Comment

Fri, 28th Jun '13, 12:15 pm::

I have been pretty quiet lately, not just on my 'blog but also socially. While things have been quite busy between research, work projects, and house projects, my silence has not been for a want of time. Over the years, I've scheduled my life so that I have ample time to relax and unwind every day. I think my recent taciturn attitude has more to do with a gradual but noticeable change in my mindset about life, legacy, and lore.

When I started this 'blog over a decade ago, I had an exuberant desire to share, contribute, talk, discuss, and vent. I don't think my enthusiasm has waned but rather my definition of what it means to share. Sharing no longer means uploading photos, videos, and stories online. Sharing means giving someone a wonderful memory. Whether it is a small gift or a fun-filled weekend driving around Florida, I am just happy to be there with my loved ones.

I think the only reason I still continue to write my 'blog is because I've never forced myself to write. I write when I want to and because I want to. It is not an obligation to the world but an outlet for me. Today, after over a month, I felt the urge to spew some drivel and here you are, sportingly bearing every word of it. Here's hoping the fodder for my next update will be genuine excitement and not ennui.

Add a Comment

My new heroesSun, 19th May '13, 6:35 pm::

Over time my heroes have changed. My heroes are no longer the Einstein or Buffetts of the world. While my younger self was forever in awe of larger-than-life personas of famous scientists, entrepreneurs, and sportsmen, I nevertheless found it uncomfortable and disingenuous to try to be like them. Instead, the people who most inspire me now are the ones who are at peace with themselves and continue to improve the world in their own unique way. I don't aspire to be famous or wealthy, not because I feel like I can't, but because I'm not willing to pay the price for them.

So it warms my heart when I come across a new hero. Meet Prof. Yitang Zhang. Toiling away for years on his own, he recently made a significant breakthrough towards solving one of the most unyielding prime number conjectures:

    "As details of his work have emerged, it has become clear that Zhang achieved his result not via a radically new approach to the problem, but by applying existing methods with great perseverance... Zhang said he feels no resentment about the relative obscurity of his career thus far. “My mind is very peaceful. I don’t care so much about the money, or the honor,” he said. “I like to be very quiet and keep working by myself.”

Add a Comment

We built a zoo!Mon, 15th Apr '13, 12:05 am::

Now that spring is here, I've been spending a lot more time on house projects than coding marathons. With the help of my handyman Dan, last week we built a custom bonsai table for Juliet. Our wonderful neighbor Bevv designed our new tortoise and duck area earlier this year. Last weekend, I finally designed the perfect house for the big tortoise and the ducks and Dan built it yesterday.

This week I'm going to setup a small waterfall and filter in the duck pond with my lawn guy Chris' help. We're also going to add rocks, driftwood, and heat-lamps to the enclosures for our prairie dogs, rabbits, and tortoises. Within a week or so, I'm pretty sure we'll have a real-life mini-zoo right in our backyard with five-star accommodations for all of our critters. I'll post photos within a week or two at most.

Add a Comment

Thu, 4th Apr '13, 4:35 pm::

The #1 reason I love playing table tennis is that my perception of time slows down drastically. I thought I just practiced for about 5 minutes playing against my table tennis robot but turns out it was 20 minutes. When I exercise on the elliptical or lift weights, it's the opposite - working out for 5 minutes feels like 20 minutes. This past weekend a few of our friends stayed over and we played table tennis all night and it felt barely an hour had passed. We estimated it was over five hours of play combined.

Add a Comment

How to make life easierTue, 19th Mar '13, 12:35 pm::

I took me a long time to realize that all of us live the same life. No matter what happens to us on the outside, on the inside, all of us have dreams, fears, and emotions. Even the grumpy teacher who was always giving you a hard time and never showed a sign of empathy. Even your grandma and your annoying coworker. Even Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. On the outside, people may be good or bad, famous or unknown, rich or poor, beautiful or homely, entertaining or boring. But on the inside, we're more or less wired to experience the same types of feelings to varying degrees of amplitude - happiness, sorrow, self-doubt, ecstasy, and countless others that make us feel 'human.' My fear of failure is no different than yours, your aspirations to do good are same as mine, and our desire to be fondly remembered is why many of us hope to be grandparents some day.

In general, how well we do on the outside, determines how we feel on the inside. Promotion at work makes us happy and being sick makes us sad. If you have the determination and courage, you'll work hard to make the outside better so you can feel good on the inside. That's why we work hard enough to afford our own place and not have to deal with loud roommates. That's why we get an education, move to a new city, get a job, and buy a house. We're all just trying to improve our lives on the outside so that we can have peace and satisfaction on the inside.

The problem is that inside all of us lives a very greedy being with a never-ending appetite for more. There are two ways to feed this beast. One is what most people typically do - feed it with 'more' from the outside. Buy a bigger house, get a second doctorate degree, strive to be famous, or seek public office. All of these are perfectly acceptable ambitions but they require a lot of sacrifices and tend to make life pretty difficult for a long period of time. But there is another way to feed the beast within and it can be a never-ending source of happiness, patience, encouragement, and dedication: Passion.

If you are passionate about something, and I mean genuinely passionate, things like career, hobbies, and goals become a lot simpler. You don't have to worry if college A is better than college B or employer X is better than employer Y because as long as you get to indulge in your passions, you'll be happy, you'll keep learning, and you'll keep getting better. Having a passion does not necessarily make you happier or more successful than those without, but it does give you an edge. Not everyone can have rich parents, right connections, good looks, or affable personality. But anyone can be passionate about anything.

You don't have to be passionate about your career or field of study but it certainly helps. I wouldn't be a programmer if I did not thoroughly enjoy programming. I've been programming for two decades and I'm just as excited about building something new today as I was before the web was invented. I've been fortunate enough to not have too many personal disasters and calamities but I can say that throughout the years, no matter how good or bad things have been, I could always get lost in my world of programming and forget about the world, at least temporarily. My escapes gave me the strength and tools I needed to push myself in the real world and make my outside and inside life better without having to rely solely on external input. Some have defined that as introversion. Others have said that I was lucky to have found my passion so early in life. I don't like to assign labels or attribute to fortune the choices we make naturally. All I know is that being truly passionate about something makes life easier and a lot of fun.

Add a Comment

St. Louis, MissouriSun, 3rd Mar '13, 12:35 am::

Juliet and I have been working for just over a year without a decent break. So we were looking forward to our trip to St. Louis, Missouri. We just got back and here are the vacation photos. Her idea of a good vacation is lots of fun activities. Mine involves sitting back in a comfy chair and reading a book in a room with a view. Suffice to say, we did it both ways.

We went to Gateway Arch, Forest Park (St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, Science Center), City Museum, and Fox Theater (Book of Mormon on tour). I read The Information while gazing at the river and Arch. We got a private show at the Science Center Planetarium and a private tour of Tree Kangaroos and Butterfly Atrium because we were the only ones there. We let Doctor Fish nibble on our fingers and slid down monster slides at City Museum. We played slots at Lumiere Casino and had delicious Peruvian and Thai food. We went shopping and walked around the downtown. I slept in late most mornings while she attended her medical conference. She watched HGTV in the evening while I did some work.

It was a very relaxing four-day vacation, because even though we did a lot of sightseeing, the entire experience was quite stress-free. Our flights were smooth, our hotel upgraded us to the premium Arch-view room at no cost, we got free entrances to almost all the exhibits because we were the only visitors, we had no wait times at restaurants, and everything was close enough to walk or drive within minutes. I'd love to revisit St. Louis in the future when the weather is a bit nicer. At the end of this month, we're going to Atlanta for a friend's wedding. Hopefully it will be warmer.

Add a Comment

Sun, 10th Feb '13, 11:40 pm::

Yesterday I ran an unexpected half-marathon, completely unprepared. My friend Arthur signed up for an ultramarathon near Gainesville, FL and I drove up to crew for him on Friday. After completing 50 miles, his pace slowed down and he asked if I could keep him company until he finished 100 km (62.1 miles). While I haven't run a mile in years, I figured it wouldn't be so bad, after all I was accompanying someone who had already run 50 miles non-stop. I figured wrong. I had the wrong clothes, my shoes were not meant for trail running, and I hadn't been eating or drinking properly all day since I was driving back and forth between aid-stations to check up on him. While it was no walk in the park, we kept a good pace and he finished 100 km in 16 hours 45 minutes.

Almost immediately after the race, we got in my car and I started driving back home. I drove through the night and got home early morning today. We rested until noon and watched movies all day. He's flying back tomorrow and then it's life back to normal. Except my legs are still pretty sore from the unplanned half-marathon.

Add a Comment

KType is now RocketKeys!Thu, 31st Jan '13, 3:35 pm::

Little over three years ago, I took a long walk and came back determined to build KType - a tool to help people with speech disabilities. It took over a year of intense independent research and development but I finally released KType Pro in late 2011. I went to India in early 2012 and beta-tested it with the inspiration behind KType - my cousin Keval - who took mere minutes to start typing full words and sentences. Eight-months later, I released KType Free to help spread the word. Throughout the process, I received unbelievable amount of support from my wife, family, friends, and even complete strangers. Best of all, I regularly received words of encouragement from actual users and their families.

In October 2012, I was contacted by a brilliant researcher-turned-CEO, Alex Levy, whose company MyVoice develops "life-changing aids for people with speech and language disabilities." Over the years I met numerous developers, speech-therapy experts, and families of people with speech disabilities and I always had a difficult time explaining to them what KType really was. Yet from the very first minute of our conversation, it was clear to me that Alex truly understood what I was trying to do with KType and he could explain the app better than I ever could. Wasting no time, I flew up to Canada the next weekend to plan the future of KType and to attend my first Halloween party.

Since my return from Canada, I worked with Alex and his team on releasing the new version of KType. I am so happy to say that KType is now RocketKeys, part of the MyVoice family of apps, and available in the Apple App Store. Tomorrow, I'm driving up to Orlando, where Alex and his team are exhibiting RocketKeys at the Assistive Technology Industry Association 2013 Conference. From what Alex tells me, we have a very popular booth in a prime location, so I should be prepared to talk to attendees all day non-stop. I can't wait!

Three years ago when I decided to change my entire life around and take such a huge career, financial, and social risk, I asked my wife what her thoughts were. Without a blink, she replied "Do it." I told her to take some time to think clearly about it because it could mean lots of personal stress and financial difficulties. She immediately said "You'll figure it out. I'm not worried." For a while, I thought she was just being nice or didn't want to discourage me by saying anything negative but now I realize, she was just being honest. She truly did believe that I would figure it all out even though at that time, I had no experience in the assistive technology industry, had never built an Apple iPhone/iPad app, had never done multi-year independent research, had no experience in building prediction engines, and had absolutely no support from anyone in the field.

It took a few years but she was right, I slowly figured it all out. And she supported me the whole time in the most-likely-to-make-Chirag-succeed-way, by telling me that "it doesn't sound too difficult for you." There are two surefire ways to encourage someone: (1) tell them it is impossible (2) tell them it is trivial. The latter works better on me because when everyone tells me it is impossible, at least I have an excuse when I fail, like when I ran just 50 miles instead of the 100 miles that I signed up for. But when someone says it is too easy for me, my ego won't let me quit, no matter how difficult it really is.

I have no idea what the future holds but I know I couldn't have gotten here without my wife's support. Juliet, I love you and hope you're ready for my next big project after this :)

Add a Comment

Mon, 21st Jan '13, 9:20 pm::

We're building a pet enclosure in our backyard so that our tortoises and ducks can roam freely. One of our neighbors came up with the actual design and it includes a small wading pond and lots of ferns. We're planning on adding heat lamps to keep the critters warm when it's cold outside. I will post lots of photos of our mini-zoo once it's ready. I can't wait!

Update: Here's a short video of our ducks wobbling around in the backyard. Towards the end of the clip, you can see the ducks and the cats together and behind them is the new enclosure still under construction.

Add a Comment

Looking aroundTue, 15th Jan '13, 1:10 am::

2013 is off to a pretty crappy start. It started with lots of computer issues and sleepless nights, followed by the tragic death of a brilliant hacker. Then while I was in the middle of a bureaucratic paperwork hell, I got the shocking news of the untimely death of a close family friend in India.

In situations like these, you can't help but reevaluate your life's priorities. Should you work hard and save for a better future or should you make the best of today because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? Even if you believe that it should be a balanced mix of both short-term and long-term goals, should you give up some of your long-term principles to make your loved ones slightly happier in the short-term? The problem isn't that these are hard questions to answer. The problem is that no matter what answer you come up with, life has a way of shaking the foundations of all of your assumptions, bringing you back to square one all over again.

Philosophical musings of such existential nature essentially boil down to the eternal question, "What's the point of it all?" While the question is communal, the answer is deeply personal. A few years ago, I resolved to answer this question for myself with the stipulation that no matter what happens in life, my answer shouldn't have to change. After all, if there is a point to life, it can't change just because I gained weight or lost my savings. I pondered over what makes me happy, what makes me excited, and what motivates me the most. No matter what "purpose of my life" I came up with, it seemed temporary. "Computer programming?" Who knows what's going to happen in a decade. "Raising a family?" Certainly, but it seems too generic and more of a commandment than an ultimate purpose. "Be the best at X?" Seems too selfish and if I lose my ability to do X for any reason, not a long-term answer.

After thinking about this question for days on end, I finally came up with a very simple answer that initially seems vague and pretentious but in fact has stood the test of time quite well. My purpose in life is to help others. That's it. I'll join you in saying that on the surface, it reeks of platitude and sounds patronizing. But the more I live through good times and bad, the more my resolve to fulfill this purpose strengthens. And it answers the hardest questions in life so beautifully. What's the point of it all? To help others. How do I handle tragedies? By helping others. Why do bad things happen to good people? Who knows, let's help them first!

While I can say I have found my calling, I haven't found the best means to achieve it yet. I can't afford to make generous donations to charities and I'm not the kind of person who feeds the homeless in soup kitchens. There are a million people who are more passionate about helping others directly like that than I am. What I am passionate about is building tools to help others. KType was my first serious attempt at that but it is far from my last.

Every time I hear something that makes me sad and start to question the meaning of life, I tell myself that the answer for me, is to help others. It seems like a feedback loop of perverse incentives but the sadder I get, the more determined I become to help others. My newfound defense mechanism against problems without solutions (tragedies, trauma, grief) is not to look inward but around. I don't know if that is a good thing or not but so far it's working - instead of being morose, I'm learning to be more empathic.

With condolences to the family of the recently departed Sudhakar Bhai Sampat, I remain hopeful that his memories will live on for years to come.

Add a Comment

This is what it's all aboutWed, 2nd Jan '13, 11:55 pm::

A review of KType I received today:

    "Thanks to Chirag Mehta for this wonderful app. I've searched high and low for a speech machine for my cousin who has Huntington's Disease. This is the only one I tried that my cousin wants to use. It's simple, customizable, reliable, and the word prediction feature is so fast and right on that it's almost spooky. As a rule, my cousin can say an 8-word sentence with only 12-15 keystrokes. This app also has a feature to customize for people with unsteady hands. As my cousin continues to lose her motor skills, she will be able to continue to speak with this same app."

For the past month, I've been working hard on the next version of KType with a brilliant team of developers and can't wait until it is officially launched.

Add a Comment

A good year for learningSun, 30th Dec '12, 9:00 pm::

Instead of making new resolutions for 2013, I'm sticking with my goals for 2012 - keep on learning. Earlier this year I decided to learn as many different things as interest me - both in depth and breadth. I had no specific target in mind and let my curiosity roam free. Along the way I learned new programming languages, design patterns, and frameworks. I spent weeks digging into the history of the Middle-East conflict and petroleum extraction processes. I learned how to solve the Rubik's Cube in under 3 minutes. I watched hundreds of hours of videos on topics ranging from bio-mechanical engineering and sociology to linguistics and quantum electrodynamics.

I don't think my new-found understanding of how to efficiently compare nucleotide sequences is going to come in handy during my next database project but it makes me realize how much there is to know and how little I still do. I feel I know one percent of one percent of an iota of a minuscule amount of things that are knowable in my own field of computer science. And I know a millionth of that when it comes to biology, astronomy, or art history.

I've been programming since I was ten. During my over two decades of programming, I have spent countless hours digging into everything from transliteration and linear programming to network services and video encoding. Yet I have barely touched the surface of computer vision, neural networks, natural language processing, or machine learning. I have yet to build my own robots! 2013 is going to be the year I learn a lot more things. And I'm looking forward to it more than ever. Happy New Year!

Add a Comment

Bank Error in Your FavorSat, 8th Dec '12, 1:20 pm::

It's a gorgeous winter day here in Florida. Perfect weather, sunny skies, and best of all, someone else made a mistake in my favor. I went to the county services to file some paperwork and they made a mistake. Since they could not reverse the transaction, they offered to provide me two future services at no charge. Now I don't go around looking for free deals or figure out ways to beat the system; not worth the effort in most cases. But I do appreciate those "Bank Error in Your Favor. Collect $200" instances because more often than not, the error is not in my favor and I have to waste a lot of time correcting someone else's fault.

On the topic of fault, having written quite a few business software applications, I have a tremendous amount of empathy for clerical workers and customer service personnel. Not just because they have to face irate customers and frantic callers on a daily basis but rather because their fault is not usually theirs. I do not blame the clerk today for processing my paperwork incorrectly when she clicked A instead of B. All humans make mistakes. I fault the developers of the system who do not provide her a way to fix the mistake by reversing the transaction with minimal effort.

In defense of the developers, it is not always easy to build an "undo" transaction in every system and there is a significant cost associated with reversing entries that have already been posted. Instead of having just two types of transactions "purchase" and "sales", you now need two more - "purchase return" and "sales return". If you were selling ID tags with serial numbers, now you need "undo issue" and "undo payment" transactions. These additional types of transactions have to be included in every screen, journal, table, and report, increasing the cost of development.

Since I have yet to come across a software development project with infinite budget, usually the features that get cut are the ones that would help reverse human errors. Instead of paying for an expensive undo button, administrators prefer to provide additional training to the users so they do not make mistakes. But humans always make mistakes. And when they cannot fix it, the feeling of helplessness causes low morale, irritability, and overall loss in productivity. If you see a long line and stressed out customer service personnel, be nice to them because the fault is most likely not entirely theirs, even when they type 3 instead of 2.

Add a Comment

Introducing the Glorious Game of Scrabble-Ping-PongTue, 27th Nov '12, 12:25 pm::

Last night we invented the Glorious Game of Scrabble-Ping-Pong. Similar to the famed sport of Chess-Boxing but far less painful, Scrabble-Ping-Pong is a game of speed, quick thinking, and real-time strategy.

The Rules of Scrabble-Ping-Pong are as follows:

  1. Round 1: Two alternating moves of Scrabble per player.
  2. Round 2: Five serves of Ping-Pong per player.
  3. First player to get 200 points in Scrabble OR 25 points in Ping-Pong is declared the winner.
  4. Alternate between rounds of Scrabble and Ping-Pong until either player wins.
  5. Local rules of Scrabble and Ping-Pong apply.
  6. Each move in Scrabble is timed and given at most 2 minutes.
  7. No breaks or rest intervals between rounds of Scrabble and Ping-Pong.
  8. Live scoreboard must be clearly visible to both players at all times to enable dynamic strategizing.
  9. In case of a tie in one game, the winner is declared based on the other game.
  10. In case of a tie in both games, feel free to make up your own tie-breakers.

Our scoreboard from last night, colorfully filled-in by Juliet, is shown below:

Here's our Scrabble board:

I can't wait till the next Glorious Game of Scrabble-Ping-Pong!

Add a Comment

Airboat ride in Everglades City, FLFri, 23rd Nov '12, 2:05 am::

Last week Juliet and I took a short vacation to Marco Island, FL. We went on another airboat ride, this time in Everglades City, FL:

Add a Comment

Voting with sugarTue, 6th Nov '12, 12:55 pm::

Today is the US Election day and since I can't vote yet, I've decided to cast my ballot in a more delicious way. A local bakery here in Florida: Frida's Cafe is selling Obama and Romney cookies. According to the owner Frida, their election day cookie sales correctly predicted the elections in 2000, 2004, and 2008. I can't wait till Juliet gets home so we can go "vote". After the election results come in tonight, I will post if their cookie-sales-based predictions were correct or not.

Edit at 11:50pm: Frida's cookie sales predicted Obama won (Obama 2750 cookies, Romney 2470 cookies). And now all the TV channels are calling the election a victory for Obama. So Frida's cookie sales continue their successful streak of prediction.

Add a Comment

My first HalloweenWed, 31st Oct '12, 12:10 am::

I went to Canada for the first-time in my life this past Friday. I would have loved to take Juliet with me along for the ride but she was on-call all weekend and couldn't change her schedule. I went to Toronto to plan the future of KType and figure out a way to reach significantly more people. It's too early to say anything now but I'm very optimistic about the long-term impact of the research I put into creating KType.

I also went to my first Halloween Party this weekend and more importantly, I dressed up in a costume for the first-time in my adult life. I went as (Ultimate) Nick Fury from the Marvel comics. Please excuse the poor lighting but here I am hanging out with Iron Man and Captain America:

Add a Comment

KType progress reportFri, 12th Oct '12, 5:25 pm::

I released KType Free a couple of months ago and it has been gaining traction steadily ever since. I'm getting regular feedback from SLPs around the world with feature requests, usage questions, and suggestions for improvement. Pat Mervine, a well-known SLP who runs Speaking of Speech forums, shared it with her followers and someone even pinned it.

Today I came across a wonderful video showing the film critic Roger Ebert using a powerful new communication app called TalkRocket Go by MyVoice. Roger Ebert lost his voice in 2006 after a jaw surgery and it is endearing to hear him "speak" using technology. This is why I wake up every day and stay up all night programming.

Add a Comment

Getting nostalgicFri, 28th Sep '12, 4:15 pm::

I like to get nostalgic often, not because I miss good ol' days but because I want to refresh my memory. If you never look back to the past, the memories will slowly fade away. Every time I recollect something from the past, I strengthen my memory of it and can recall it again in the future with ease. The problem with refreshing memories of wonderful forgotten experiences is that they are already forgotten! How do you recall that which you don't remember you once experienced?

I've noticed that I start to remember long-forgotten events precisely when I am making new memorable events. Last week I went to a conference where the host used a handheld Tibetan Singing Bowl to beckon the audience and it reminded me of a trip to Darjeeling that I took with my family over fifteen years ago where I got to play these bowls myself. We even bought a bell that you could play by brushing the striker around the circumference instead of hitting the metal. A couple of months ago I was setting up our new bunny cage and I had an instant flashback to 1991, when I volunteered at my boarding school to clean the bunny cage, so I could avoid mandatory early morning lectures.

Obviously not all forgotten memories are wondrous stories of glorious times had. Sometimes as I'm falling asleep, my brain starts flashing Chirag's Top 100 Most Embarrassing Moments videos, from the time I broke my dad's friend's accounting software system to the time I told another kayaker that I've been paddling for years and promptly flipped over in the middle of the ocean. My brain (and sometimes my wife) does a phenomenal job at making sure I never forget these unflattering moments. That's why I actively try to remember the other times when I didn't make a complete fool of myself so that when I grow old, my past won't seem like a series of gaffes and uncomfortably silent moments.

Add a Comment

Surgery and ProgrammingFri, 14th Sep '12, 1:10 pm::

If you've ever wondered what life is like in the Mehta household, it is sort of like this video: Doctor and Ice Cream Tester.

After watching the video, Juliet immediately changed her daily "Honey! I'm home!" greeting. Now she comes home after a long day of hard-work doing surgeries and asks me, "How was your day at the ice-cream factory?" Cracks me up each time, especially since it's mostly true. I sit on my sofa with my legs up, typing code away all day - sometimes making things red and green in Excel, sometimes making rectangles more rounded. And yet every other day she'll hear me complain about everything from restrictive software licenses and DRM to crappy Internet connection and the never-ending torrent of user errors.

She just pats me on the head and says "Wow! They ran out of Strawberry flavor? That must be torture..."

Add a Comment

My superpowerThu, 6th Sep '12, 10:45 am::

I have discovered that I have a superpower. I can cause rains and thunderstorms! I say this with full confidence because of the last five times I have filled up my pool with not-so-free water, it has rained within 12 hours. Last night I filled the pool after over a week of no rains. I checked the weather forecast beforehand and there was no chance of precipitation. It's raining so hard right now, the pool is overflowing.

Add a Comment

Labor Day vacationMon, 3rd Sep '12, 7:45 pm::

For the Labor Day weekend, Juliet and I went to a cute little resort in Lake Wales, FL called Chalet Suzanne. We also went to Bok Tower Gardens and Spook Hill. Here's our photos.

Add a Comment

Theoretical Math! What is it good for? Absolutely everything!Thu, 23rd Aug '12, 3:15 pm::

We are all accustomed to electronics getting cheaper and smaller over time, as if companies magically shrink down their components. We just assume that smart folks in white coats inside R&D labs turn on their supercomputers and swipe away on their 4D neural network interfaces really really hard and suddenly the bulky, costly components within all electronic devices can be replaced with a cheaper, smaller parts. In reality, each and every change from a larger part to smaller part is made possible by scientific breakthroughs in physics, material science, and sometimes even math.

Do you remember cellphones from a decade ago? With their pointy antennas and bulky size? What happened to that antenna? Math happened! Or in this case, space-filling curves. Most people have seen fractals - they are shapes that can be subdivided into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a smaller copy of the whole - the more you zoom in, the more complex the design gets. While they make cool desktop wallpapers, most people don't think much about them. Turns out, their intrinsic self-similar design makes some of them (called space-filling curves) a perfect shape to capture electromagnetic signals, specifically wideband and multiband radio signals.

So instead of pointy antennas, cellphones now have tiny, embedded fractal antennas in them. These antennas can operate with good-to-excellent performance at many different frequencies simultaneously due to their fractal shape. Instead of inventing a brand new material or industrial process to shrink down the size of the antenna, scientists applied math to figure out the best shape for a really tiny antenna that can still get good reception.

The best part? The specific space-filling curve used in fractal antennas is called a Minkowski Island, named after the 19th century German mathematician Hermann Minkowski, one of Albert Einstein's teachers. Minkowski realized that the special theory of relativity, introduced by Einstein in 1905, could be best understood in a four dimensional space, now known as "Minkowski spacetime", in which time and space are not separated entities but intermingled in a four dimensional space-time. So not only did Minkowski help make GPS, in-car navigation, and science fiction about breaking the space-time continuum possible, application of his theoretical studies in fractals now makes it possible for people to have good cellphone reception without pointy antennas. Take that Edison!

While it is easy to understand why applied sciences and engineering disciplines need to be funded and studied, it is harder to justify the study of abstract theories because practical applications can take decades or even centuries! After all, why should you care that topologically speaking, a coffee mug is the same thing as a donut (or a ring)? Today, you may not. In twenty years, application of topology in 3D printing could revolutionize the entire manufacturing industry around the world.

Add a Comment

KType FreeSun, 12th Aug '12, 7:25 pm::

After months of coding, I finally released KType Free. If you have an iPad, you should download it right away. The free version is identical to KType Pro, except for the voice quality. For KType Free, I used the freely available OpenEars library which embeds the CMU Flite text-to-speech engine. For KType Pro, released over six months ago, I licensed a commercial text-to-speech engine that offers realistic human voices.

With the release of KType Free, I'm hoping that those who cannot afford the cost KType Pro's superior audio quality, can still benefit from all the other features that KType offers. Additionally, now people can try out the KType interface at no cost and if they like it, upgrade to the Pro version for better voice quality.

It's been less than a day since KType Free has been available on the Apple iPad AppStore and I've already got tons of downloads and emails from potential users! Over the next few weeks, I want to make tutorials and get in touch with more potential users.

Add a Comment

Thu, 9th Aug '12, 6:30 pm::

For the first time in my life, I solved a Rubik's Cube! I used the algorithm described here. Now, I practice.

Add a Comment

The worst and the best of humanity summed up in a single front-page imageMon, 6th Aug '12, 8:25 am::

In a span of just twelve hours yesterday, I witnessed the worst of humanity in the form of bigoted hateful violence against innocent civilians and the best of humanity when NASA's MSL / Curiosity rover finally landed on MARS after flawlessly executing the most complex landing sequence ever devised.

Add a Comment

This is why 3D printers are awesomeSat, 4th Aug '12, 2:20 am::

Thu, 2nd Aug '12, 11:10 am::

In a little over three days, NASA's one-ton Curiosity rover will land on Mars. Though the world is pretty blasé about machines landing on other worlds and trotting about year after year, Curiosity's risky maneuver during the final seven minutes of landing is so extraordinary, it seems utterly impossible. Here's a video explanation of what the final "seven minutes of terror" of the Mars Curiosity landing will be.

Add a Comment

Wed, 18th Jul '12, 10:20 pm::

I'm getting a health checkup tomorrow morning for insurance purposes. They have asked me to not eat anything during the 12 hours prior to the checkup. Usually, I get so caught up with programming that I forget to eat all day. Last week I unintentionally fasted for two days straight when I was busy trying to learn a new programming language.

And yet all I can think about for the past three hours is food. I'm not even hungry! I had a large bowl of mixed vegetable stir-fry just four hours ago and still feel full. But knowing that I am not allowed to eat anything makes me want to eat everything. I can't wait till the checkup is over. Then I'll probably eat something to celebrate the end of my forced fast and then forget about food because I'll be busy programming all day.

Add a Comment

An essay about my wife written using simple words and short sentencesTue, 10th Jul '12, 11:45 pm::

My wife's name is Juliet. She is taller than me. She likes feeding animals and playing boardgames. I like to travel with her. Sometimes we go to see movies. She falls asleep on sofa when we watch movies at home.

She has to go to work every day. She likes doing surgery but I think she likes shopping more. I like it when she makes me yummy food. She does not like it when I smell bad. So she makes me shower every day. She tells me "I love you" every morning. She calls me many times during the day.

She likes arts and crafts. She makes pretty things with beads and paint. She gives lots of gifts to everyone. She makes squeaky noises when I tickle her. Her favorite cat is Cookie. Cookie also makes squeaky noises but only when he is hungry. Juliet makes up funny songs when I am sad. I give her lots of hugs when she is sad. I like to make her laugh. She is my favoritest person in the whole world.

Add a Comment

TornadoSun, 24th Jun '12, 10:45 pm::

Watching a tornado lift large pieces of wood 40 feet into the air and head directly towards you and your house is pretty scary. Earlier today, Juliet and I were assessing the rising water-level from Tropical Storm Debby when suddenly we noticed huge chunks of wood and debris rise up from behind our neighbor's yard, headed straight for us. I thought it was just a gust of wind till Juliet exclaimed "Honey! It's a tornado!" We rushed into our hallway bathroom and waited till the howling noise was gone.

After a few minutes, I went to check the animals and the backyard. Before the tornado hit, we had stowed away all of our animals in secure carriers and thankfully, they were all fine. The pool, which was previously just overflowing with water but relatively debris-free, was full of broken branches. I ran over to our front yard and found that one of the smaller trees had been snapped in half. The roof appears to be undamaged. All in all, nothing that an hour or two of yard work can't fix. Maybe $50 in labor and material.

However, I still can't seem to shake the feeling of that sudden rush of blood to my head when I saw a real-life tornado just 30 feet away from me, headed straight for my house. The coast isn't clear yet as meteorologists are predicting at least two more days of tropical storm weather. Until then, we're hunkering down and staying safe.

Add a Comment

Sun, 24th Jun '12, 3:15 pm::

Tropical Storm Debby has caused over 5 inches of rainfall in the last 24 hours here in Largo, FL. Our pool is full to the brim and backyard looks like a rainforest. I've been waiting for the rains for months now but I think I've had my fill after this torrential downpour.

Add a Comment

iTunes Match download error - AppleScript solutionSat, 16th Jun '12, 12:45 pm::

This blog entry is for those who are trying to re-download their entire iTunes Match library on OS X for any reason and getting tons of errors like "This item cannot be downloaded: The item you have requested is not available for download", "There was a problem downloading. An unknown error occured (11111). Please check that the connection to the network is active and try again." When the error message pops up, iTunes stops downloading any more files and if you are like me and have thousands of songs queued up to be downloaded, manually having to click the "Ok" button will take weeks or months. Here's my solution to at least downloading the other files:

1. Create a new blank AppleScript and save it to your desktop as "" via File > Save. Make sure the File Format is set to Application and check the "Stay Open" option. The script will not work without this.

2. Copy-paste the following code into the AppleScript Editor:

on idle
  tell application "System Events"
tell process "iTunes"
if (count of windows) > 1 then
set frontmost to true
key code 36
end if
end tell
end tell
return 2
end idle

3. Save the file and close all windows except for iTunes. Make sure only one iTunes window is open and begin your downloads.

4. Double-click the icon on your desktop.

5. Sit back and watch as all the iTunes error messages are clicked automatically. I recommend you don't try to multi-task while this is going on because iTunes will be brought to focus any time there is an error message.

Add a Comment

Dietary adviceTue, 12th Jun '12, 11:10 am::

Nutrition science or the study of diet, has the biggest bikeshedding problem that I know of. To paraphrase, if you go before the Board of Directors and ask for 1.5 Billion dollars to build a Nuclear Reactor, no one will review or discuss the details of the plant. They will assume that experts have been over every inch of the plans, and not want to look foolish by asking a silly question. However, if you ask the same group to approve a 30 dollar expenditure for lumber with which to build a bikeshed, then be prepared for a 45 minute discussion about all aspects of the Bikeshed, including the color of the paint.

Nobody tries to argue with a cardiologist about the workings of the heart. Nobody tries to debate a neuroscientist on the function of the hippocampus. But everybody and their mom has an opinion on what a healthy, balanced diet is just because they own a stove and have been eating all their lives. Over the past century, scientists around the world have identified the following foods as both good and bad: coffee, oil, butter, sugar, salt, wine, beer, carbs, cheese, dry fruits, eggs, meat, seafood, and almost everything in your fridge right now. Consequently, nobody can be certain what is healthy to eat, especially when each individual's needs are taken into consideration. This confusion makes it possible for entirely new industries to flourish - diet advice, dietary supplements, nutrition media (books, documentaries, web sites, apps), ready-to-eat meals, weight-loss, and organic food.

Take a step back and realize that if people actually knew what was healthy for them, none of those industries would be booming now. The problem is that everyone involved in these industries is ready to dispense dietary advice along with the purchase of their product. Everyone has an opinion on whether cheese is good for you or bad. The reason scientific research seems to be conflicting is because of poor journalism. No scientist in their right mind would come out and say "Don't eat butter!" What they do say is "In a study of 125 middle-age men with sedentary lifestyles and a history of hypertension, we found that reducing daily consumption of butter for 3 months, lowers blood pressure by 10%." Media gets hold of this research and suddenly we get "Butter is bad for you!" and "Is there something on your toast that will kill you?"

The vague definition of healthy diet that I prescribe to, comes from MichaelPollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I avoid almost all discussions about diet beyond that because the specifics vary for every single person. A newborn baby with a genetic disorder might not be able to handle plant fiber. A young adult on the rowing team will need more food, including eggs, salts, and sugar than someone of equal body size and metabolism rate who spends all day relaxing indoors. Sugar has different effect on different people and so does fat, cheese, wine, and every other food stuff. We are all slightly different and so maybe your body needs more potassium than mine. That does not mean the effects are entirely different. If you and I both eat four large pizzas a day for three months, we will both be pretty similarly unhealthy with increased weight, higher cholesterol, and possibly scurvy.

So should you put olive oil in your vegetables or go without? Your wish. Just don't listen to anyone who claims to know the exact answer for your specific needs because they don't. Would you ask someone "should I buy a new sofa?" when they don't know your home layout, existing seating arrangement, bank balance, or lifestyle? Then what gives them the authority to tell you what goes into your belly?

Add a Comment

Forget about it...Tue, 29th May '12, 11:50 pm::

I was watching Stargate Atlantis earlier today and came across this quote: "I try not to let the things I can't change bother me." I think our own minds bother us a lot more than the words and action of others. Hearing a hurtful taunt or a snide remark takes a mere moment but replaying that incident over and over in our mind can hurt us for months and years.

I've become pretty good at letting go of negative thoughts and feelings over the years but the quote reminded me that there is still room for me to grow. While I'm pretty impervious to social pressures and drama, I'm still not good at forgetting things I don't want to remember which in turn means I continue to be bothered by things I cannot change.

I think that is because I continue to assign a strong emotional value to memories, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. The less emotional emphasis I place on an incident or action, the faster it slips out of my mind. Reminds me of the Fight Club quip: "The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide."

Add a Comment

Jungle Book HomeWed, 16th May '12, 4:00 pm::

Today I learned that Rabbits and Prairie Dogs are extremely territorial. Sit back and read the tale of how I found that out first-hand.

A little over a week ago, we got two adult Prairie Dogs. Having taken care of them for some time now, I know one of them is very friendly (named Willy) while the other one is very shy (named Nilly). Nilly can get a bit bitey if you try to play with her so Juliet and I are very careful around her. As I was making my afternoon arounds in the backyard, feeding and tending to our home zoo, I notice the friendlier one, Willy was on his feet, barking loudly and biting the cage wires. I walked up to his cage and he started rubbing his head under my fingers. I opened up his cage to pet him and he gently walked over my arm, moving towards my shoulder. Since I haven't played with him outside of his cage much, I thought now might be a good time to let him feel comfortable around me.

I locked him back in his cage, walked over to the big walk-in bunny cage, made sure Buttercup the bunny was sitting quietly in her little bunny hutch, out of the view, and brought Willy into the bunny cage. Willy suddenly got all excited at finding dirt under his feet and started sniffing around. I was starting to feel quite pleased with myself when suddenly, he stood up on his two feet like Prairie Dogs often do and started barking and yelping at me. I tried to pet him but he kept lunging at my hands. Now Buttercup, hearing all the commotion, got out and pounced towards Willy. Picture me, a grown-ass man on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to separate a rabbit from biting a Prairie Dog and vice-versa. Now I know why people sit in front of computers in cozy offices all day - no hissing animals trying to bite everything around them!

I kept separating them, then tried to calm Willy down, when all of a sudden he would bark, and Buttercup would rush out of her hutch again. This went on for about fifteen minutes, by which time I ran out of breath and my back started hurting from bending up and down constantly. I knew there was no way Willy was going to let me pick him up and put him back in his cage.

So I devised a plan. I would bring a little sleeping bed from his cage and put it in the bunny cage to make him feel at home. I carefully got Buttercup to go hide in her hutch, while I nudged Willy into the furthest corner away from Buttercup. Now that there was some distance between the two, I opened the bunny cage door, rushed to the Prairie Dog cage, got Willy's bed, and hurried back into the bunny cage before the two started something again. Fortunately, upon seeing his bed, Willy calmed down, but not enough to let me get near him. Now I had to find a way to pick him up along with the bed without being torn into shreds.

I know! Thick plastic gloves! Once again I put the bunny in her hutch, and moved Willy and his sleeping bed to the corner. Then I darted across the backyard at full speed, jumping over the cats relaxing by the pool, into the back porch, where I struggled to unclasp the bungee cord securing the doors of the cat food cabinet, inside which I keep a spare pair of thick plastic gloves. I pulled those out of the cabinet, ran straight across the yard yelling "NOOOOOO" at the top of my lungs to Buttercup, who was now inching cautiously towards Willy. Just a second before Buttercup was ready to leap, I swung the door open into the cage, effectively barricading her from Willy. Now began my yellow-gloved dance of calming Willy down.

I didn't wear the gloves fully, leaving a good two-to-three inches of finger-tips hanging empty so if Willy bit it, I wouldn't get hurt. Oddly enough, he did not mind being petted by the soft empty glove tips but anytime I tried to hold him in my grasp, he fought back. After about ten minutes, he got used to the glove enough that I could pet him. Then before he noticed, I quickly picked his bed up, four feet high above the ground - high enough that he wouldn't jump. So naturally, he tried to jump right into my face but having learned my lessons when handling sugar gliders and even small kittens in the past, I managed to maintain a safe distance between Willy and my face. With my other hand, I slowly opened the bunny cage, walked out, gently closed the bunny cage (without being able to lock it shut), and rushed over to the Prairie Dog cage, opened it up and let Willy in.

Within five seconds, he was rubbing his head against my hand, and kept doing that even after I took the gloves off. He was back to being the sweetest thing ever. Meanwhile, Giga the boy cat was readying himself to get into the cat-attack mode at Buttercup because she was trying to get out of the bunny cage. I immediately closed the Prairie Dog cage, ran towards Giga to chase him away, and locked the bunny cage. I walked back to the Prairie Dog cage, tightened the lock to make sure it was secure and then finally trudged my way into the back porch.

And there she was, my girl kitty Tera - sitting on the floor, hastily chomping down days worth of cat food, having pushed down the sealed container from the cabinet on to the ground, scattering food pellets all over the floor. Within seconds, Cookie and Giga joined her in the unexpected feast. I'm living Jungle Book meets Night at the Museum!

Add a Comment

It's ok to be wrongWed, 16th May '12, 10:15 am::

I like people who can say "I'm sorry" when it's their fault or if they're wrong, regardless of the severity of the matter. While most people are polite enough to apologize if they step on your toe, very few will admit they gave you the incorrect information, even if it's just among friends or something as trivial as the name of a movie actor.

I'm the first person to admit I was wrong as soon as I realize it. It's not a big deal - nobody's perfect and we all make mistakes. So I'm always amused when people blatantly try to save face and continue to escalate the lie in order to avoid just saying "oops my bad!" Sigh.

Add a Comment

Animal HouseSun, 6th May '12, 8:05 pm::

Now that we're settled into our new house, we've started setting up nicer, long-term habitats for all of our pets. We setup a big cage for the bunny a week ago and today setup a strong, covered enclosure for our Sulcata tortoises. We just got two adult Black-tailed Prairie Dogs today and will be moving them to a big cage this week.

Most of our pets are either rescues or adopted from Craigslist because the owners couldn't take care of them. As of right now, we have exactly a dozen pets: Three cats (Giga, Tera, Cookie), two Chihuahuas (Jack, Ladybug), three tortoises (Herbert, Phyllis, Rosie), two Prairie Dogs (Willy, Nilly), one rabbit (Buttercup), and one tiny fish (Steve). Since all of our pets are tiny (Giga is the largest at 12 lbs), it's not really a lot of work to take care of them and the cost of food and supplies is pretty low too.

And in return for taking care of them, they give us unconditional love and cuteness. Except for Tera. Her love is conditional and based on how hungry she is. But that's alright. I'm like that too.

Add a Comment

Mon, 16th Apr '12, 1:05 pm::

My cousin Priya visited us this weekend and we had a blast travelling all over Central Florida. We went to Universal Studios - Harry Potter, sipped wine at John's Pass, kayaked down the Weeki Wachee river, visited the Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg, took a stroll through Florida Botanical Gardens, and got our feet wet at Indian Rocks Beach. Here's the photo gallery.

Add a Comment

Wed, 4th Apr '12, 2:33 pm::

If you love languages, dictionaries, or word-tools, check out Ultralingua's monthly newsletter.

They just featured my web & iPad/iPhone app 'Tip of My Tongue' in their April 2012 newsletter under the 'Tools to Try' section. In addition to neat language tools, they often interview polyglots, linguists, and logophiles. If you like planting eggcorns in garden path sentences, give them a shot.

Add a Comment   Google+

New mission in lifeThu, 29th Mar '12, 2:50 pm::

I have a new mission in life - spread the word about KType to the whole world. One would think that being technical, I would use some sort of affiliate-marketing search-engine funnel-optimizing analytics-dashboard to let everyone know how useful and accessible KType is but after much consideration, I have taken the old over-exuberant-salesman route - I'm making phone calls! Instead of getting better search-engine placements to directly attract end-users, I want doctors, speech-therapists, and non-profit organizations to recommend KType to users who might benefit from it.

One of the best ways for me to do that is to contact the Assistive Technology Device Loan Programs for all the US States and offer them fully-functional copies of KType at no cost. Users with speech/motor disabilities can borrow iPads preloaded with KType from their state organizations and try the app out for up to 30 days. I'm also offering to train (over the phone at present) any potential users and their caretakers at no charge. Since most organizations already have funds preallocated for iPads, there is no additional cost to them to offer KType.

It is a very time-consuming process but I think it will ensure long-term growth of KType. While I would like to take out magazine ads and rent trade-show booths someday, for now I just want to find potential users and work with them to improve the app. I know it worked for my cousin Keval (the K in KType) but I don't certifiably know if it works for individuals with stroke, cerebral palsy, or ALS.

If you would like to help, suggest Assistive Technology organizations, speech-therapists, and medical caregivers that I can directly contact. Or better yet, ask them to check out the KType Demo.

Add a Comment   Google+ - A Programmer's RantFri, 16th Mar '12, 4:07 pm::, we need to talk. I love your service. I happily pay $79/year for Amazon Prime to get free shipping and on-demand video rentals. I buy something from you every week and spend thousands each year on Prime Eligible products. I even used your EC2 AWS service when I had to crunch through a lot of data during my research for KType. So it hurts me to tell you that you have the worst product sort and filter interface that I have ever used. Not because you do not have enough features or the interface is confusing or bland, but because you do it wrong. Here's what's wrong with a typical search on

1) Incorrect sort order: I searched for 'cat food', filtered for only Prime-Eligible items, and sorted it by Price: High to Low as you can see in the first screenshot. I don't think $34.89 > $38.99 > $39.74. I understand that behind-the-scene, you are trying to calculate the lowest price offered either by you or a 3rd-party vendor and applying lots of complex calculations based on item characteristics, bulk quantity, and other parameters to make sure each item price is calculated correctly but that is not what I asked for. I said Prime-Eligible for a reason - I want to buy directly from you and I don't want to pay for shipping. Most of your 3rd-party vendors charge slightly lower than you but charge a lot for shipping. You need to ignore their prices when I choose "filter for prime-eligible, sort by price"

2) Broken filters: Why is the second item in the first screenshot even shown? At first glance, it doesn't have a price, it is not prime eligible, and it doesn't even seem to be sold directly by you. When I dug in, I found out that does sell this item directly, with free shipping for $42.84. If that is the case, then it should have said Prime-Eligible and shown up higher up in the sort order. Look at the second screenshot. I searched for new, Prime-Eligible 'tv remote' under $25. Why is the first item you show me priced at $69.95? What about the second and third item that are missing prices?

3) Unavailable sort: Why do I have to "Choose a Department to enable sorting"? Why do I have to decide if "disposable nitrile gloves" are categorized under "Health & Personal Care", "Home & Kitchen", "Automotive", "Industrial & Scientific", or "Patio, Lawn & Garden" by you or other 3rd-party vendors before I can sort by price or customer review? Especially since the same products show up in most of the departments. If external sites can do this using your API, why can't you?

It's 2012. Sorting and filtering at the most basic database operations. You created - a product search engine. You enable programmers around the world to use your servers at low-prices so they can build complex websites backed by your RDS and SimpleDB database services. You have some of the smartest developers around the world working for you. And yet I get frustrated every time I try to find something on your site. I can't be the only person who has a problem with the aforementioned issues. Can you please fix them so my cats don't go hungry? Think of the kittens!

Add a Comment   Google+

Mon, 12th Mar '12, 11:45 pm::

Today was our first real "normal" day at the new house where Juliet and I didn't unpack any boxes or run any house-related errands. After over four months of incessant negotiations with sellers, lenders, contractors, and vendors, I can finally get back to my regular routine. I had put many projects on hold since October and I'm really looking forward to start working on them again. Here's hoping for a productive summer!

Add a Comment

Thu, 1st Mar '12, 10:52 am::

Steel Inside Mount Bracket is very happy to see you.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 29th Feb '12, 10:53 am::

As a programmer, no words bring me more joy than a user saying "I love it!", especially when I've been working tirelessly on a single project for months and it just went live. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more happy users!

Add a Comment   Google+

Mon, 20th Feb '12, 4:25 pm::

Back home safe and sound. All of my luggage arrived without any problems too.

Add a Comment

Sun, 19th Feb '12, 7:45 am::

Flying back to Florida tonight after spending an exciting, family-fun filled three weeks in India. Should be home in about 31-32 hours from now.

Add a Comment

KType - First UseSun, 12th Feb '12, 2:26 pm::

After 18 months of research, learning, and coding, tonight was the first real-world test of the KType iPad app and I couldn't be happier at the result. My cousin Keval was very happy to 'say' something on his own!

Add a Comment   Google+

Indian GPSThu, 2nd Feb '12, 6:07 pm::

We're driving 250 miles from Varca, Goa to Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra today and really need a GPS to navigate. It will take about 8 hours to drive over the hilly, back-country roads and writing down the 94 steps of directions won't help. I have my iPhone but the data plan is exorbitantly expensive so I can't use Maps on it normally. My parents have a USB mobile internet device but it doesn't work with my Macbook Air or iPhone. Thankfully, it does work with the new Windows 7 laptop I bought for my mom. So after some jury rigging, here's my Indian GPS solution:

Connect the USB mobile internet device to the Windows 7 laptop, share the connection using Ad-Hoc wifi, and turn off the screen to save battery. Connect a USB power cable from my iPhone to Macbook Air, that also has the screen off. This should hopefully ensure a day's worth of uninterrupted power and internet access to my phone. Then use the iPhone Maps app to navigate till we reach destination. In case of failure, stop and ask any trucker or motorcyclist for directions. They usually know the way to the next town over, if not more. *fingers crossed*

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 1st Feb '12, 5:58 pm::

Yours truly and KType got a mention in this Slate article about improving the computer keyboard.

    Caps lock has to go...
    Perhaps it should have occurred to me years ago, but it wasn't until recently that I fully realized that everybody hates something about their computer keyboard. I was in the company of several family...

Add a Comment   Google+

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.

Add a Comment   Google+

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).

Add a Comment   Google+

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.

Add a Comment   Google+

Buying our dream homeWed, 21st Dec '11, 11:59 pm::

After over a year of searching and two long months of waiting, we finally closed on our new house today. Over the next few weeks, we'll get the leaky roof fixed, carpet replaced with tiles, wallpaper replaced with fresh paint, and most of the old electric fixtures upgraded. I'm super excited about the screened back-porch as I'll probably sit there all day and code.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 21st Dec '11, 11:17 am::

We're buying our dream home later today. And the wait is killing me. All I can think of is the line from Doctor Who: "Is this how time normally passes..."

Add a Comment   Google+

KType v1.0 released!Mon, 19th Dec '11, 2:26 am::

KType v1.0 is finally live on the App Store! I just finished updating the website with the list of features.

If you know anyone who could benefit from the app, feel free to contact me and I will provide a promo code to get the app at no charge. My plan for 2012 is to work with as many end-users as possible to make KType more accessible. Over the next few weeks, I will create video tutorials on how to configure and use the app.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 10th Dec '11, 12:17 pm::

Turn on the speakers and play this video a few times with eyes closed. Then turn off speakers, open your eyes and watch it a few times. Then turn on the speakers and watch it until your mind is blown away.

Add a Comment   Google+

KType submittedFri, 9th Dec '11, 3:05 am::

After 14 months of effort, I just finished version 1.0 of KType and submitted it to the Apple AppStore. Here's hoping it passes their review soon.

Add a Comment

Hammer vs. ScrewdriverMon, 5th Dec '11, 12:42 am::

I don't understand why techies judge each other on their choice of platforms. I took part in the Global Day of Code Retreat 2011 yesterday and spent 8 exciting hours programming in various languages with lots of different programmers. It was a great learning experience but I was constantly jeered at for using a "toy" Macbook Air instead of a "real" Windows or Linux laptop. At other times when I've carried a Windows laptop, I've been treated like I was a corporate sellout and not a true programmer.

I love the look on their faces when I tell them I manage 80 Windows boxes, 30 Windows servers, 20 Linux servers, and write software for Windows, Linux, and Macs on a daily basis. I program user-friendly front-ends and heavy-duty backends. I make web apps and I make desktop apps. I make mobile software and I make browser extensions. I write code that talks to databases and I write code that talks to hardware. I deploy to Arduino and I deploy to Amazon/AWS. I go down to bitblt'ing and I go up beyond design patterns. I use Excel and I use LibreOffice. I use vi(m) and I use emacs. I use IDEs and I use text-editors. I code in CoffeeScript and I code in C. I write VBA macros and I write Lisp macros. I use GUI and I use command-line.

I simply use the best tool for the job. Without context, every tool, language, software, and platform choice can be deemed unwise or inefficient. No good can come out of mocking someone for coding in PHP instead of Python or using Blackberry instead of Android. I try to learn every single thing I can because even if in the end I decide not to code in Ruby for now, I can walk away knowing what it would be perfect for and what it wouldn't be appropriate for.

Add a Comment   Google+

Fri, 2nd Dec '11, 11:18 pm::

The latest update of my iPad/iPhone/iPod app: Tip of My Tongue is now on the Apple Appstore. Tip of my Tongue makes it very easy to find words that you just can't seem to recall. It contains a list of 125,000 words and you do not need Internet-access for searching through the word list.

Add a Comment   Google+

Thu, 1st Dec '11, 11:58 pm::

I have way too many network devices at home.

Add a Comment   Google+

My kid will go to Starfleet AcademyWed, 30th Nov '11, 11:14 am::

Imagine a spherical cow in a perfectly competitive market of commodity widgets. That is, ignore intricate details like job satisfaction, industry regulations, and personal pride and prejudices.

Now let the lifetime income of a college graduate be A, high school graduate/dropout be B. Thus the lifetime income benefit of going to college is A-B. If college tuition < A-B, you go to college. Otherwise it is smarter to not go to college. For the past century, tuition has been lower than the lifetime income benefit of going to college so it is rational to go to college if you can make it happen. But tuition has been steadily rising and A-B has been constantly falling. Someday in the future, tuition > A-B and depending on your major/field of study, this might already be true.

For decades now, rational parents have been saving up for their children's college education. It is better to equip the kids with the right tools so they can earn more money in their lifetime than just giving them a lumpsum inheritance that they might squander. But if tuition > A-B, college education is economically inefficient and inheritance seems like the logical choice.

This isn't new. This is exactly what happened before 1950s, before the public was sold the dream that the only way to success is higher education. It is certainly true that in fields of science and engineering, higher education corresponds with higher standards of living and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But if tuition for a BA in Marketing is higher than the lifetime financial benefits that the degree brings, it makes economic sense to forgo the degree. Today, it might still be worth it but 15 years from now, the situation will not be the same.

If you're a parent, you should still save up for your kids but they might not use the funds towards a college education but a downpayment on a house or investment in their own business. To people today who have been raised believing that college degree is a must, this will seem appalling. But if tuition > A-B, it will simply be rational.

Add a Comment   Google+

Mon, 28th Nov '11, 11:44 pm::

Amazon refunded me $75 because price dropped significantly on something I bought two days ago. They no longer offer price-drop guarantees on their products so kudos to their Customer Service team for making an exception. As I'm too lazy to go shopping at retail stores, I end up buying everything on Amazon, from toothpaste and batteries to pet-food and jewelry. No wonder my account says that on average I spend over $160/month on Amazon!

Add a Comment   Google+

Sun, 27th Nov '11, 11:40 pm::

I had been pretty stressed with tons of projects over the past few weeks and finally got a chance to relax a bit over the Thanksgiving holiday. I ate a lot of delicious food, slept in late every morning, added finishing touches to KType source code, worked on a bunch of pending projects & reports, and watched two full seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I also did most of the shopping for our upcoming trip to India. I can't wait to see my family! It's only been a year and a half since I saw them but it feels like a decade. Just counting down the days now.

Add a Comment

KType for iPadSat, 19th Nov '11, 9:37 pm::

KType for iPad: Product Demo (try the HD version if you have the bandwidth)

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 19th Nov '11, 9:36 pm::

My jury-rigged setup for the KType Product Demo video shoot.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 12th Nov '11, 12:18 pm::

I don't know why but I could watch two robots playing ping-pong all day. I can't wait for the International Robot Ping-Ping Championship 2020.

    Robot plays table tennis (vs Robot, vs Human)
    A humanoid robot system for table tennis playing developed by Zhejiang University, China was recently reported by Chinese media. The system consists of two humanoid robots. Each robot is 55kg in weight, 160cm in height and has 30 Degrees of freedom. This demo shows a rally between these two robots which last 176 strokes(about 2.5 minutes). This video also shows that one humanoid robot can rally with a human player with various ball speed and can strike the ball using either forehand or backhand.

Add a Comment   Google+

Making a product demoSat, 12th Nov '11, 11:55 am::

I'm making a product demo for KType and wanted to study some examples of well-designed demos before I got started. I'm looking for products that aren't straight-forward (buy plane tickets on your phone) but rather have slightly difficult to explain concepts (home media server that provides playlist sharing and wifi media-streaming without DRM issues). I want to learn how they've taken a complex idea and managed to explain the core concept in a few dialogs or slides.

KType is one of the many software projects out there to help people with speech disabilities. Saying that it "helps people with speech disabilities communicate better" doesn't really drive home the point. There are a hundred apps and devices that try to do the same. What sets it apart is that it is built for unsteady hands and works well even when the user has difficulty in using the iPad touchscreen. In addition to the tons of neat features (make your own keyboard, intelligent suggestions/word-completion), KType is simple enough that anyone can customize it. It is easy for me to write a paragraph extolling the virtues and features of KType but it is really difficult to compress that down to 60-90 seconds of digestible, non-boring video.

After going through hundreds of demos, here are some that I liked for one reason or another (please excuse the lack of capitalization/spelling in my raw notes below):

ipad-app demos:
early edition -
paperlinked -
qwiki -
flying books -

goab -
soundcloud -
reader -
sugarsync - SugarSync - Access All Your Data Anytime.
mediarover - MediaRover Product Demo
boxee - Boxee - Media Center

emailcenter -
appointment+ - Appointment-Plus Product Demo

salesforce - Sales Cloud Demo
cisco click - Give a Click to Change the World
ms crm - Microsoft CRM Product Demo

iportal morse - iPortal Accessibility demo
my first aac - My First AAC Demo

actual use:
ebay - eBay iPad App Demo Video
mixrank - MixRank Overview
exacqvision - exacqVision iPad app

Add a Comment   Google+

Handling Unintentional Multi-Touch Input for KTypeSat, 5th Nov '11, 11:22 am::

I just wrote a short article on how KType deals with the problem of more than one finger unintentionally touching the screen at the same time. It's a real problem for users with unsteady hands because while they try to point with their index or middle finger, their thumb or side of palm keeps touching the screen and dislocates the cursor position. I included lots of diagrams to explain the problem and the solution. Let me know what you think.

It's been almost a year since I hashed out the basic user interface and list of required features for KType. Last night I finished writing the remaining features. I will publish KType version 1.0 in the Apple AppStore after I thoroughly test all the features over the next two weeks. Over the next few months, I will be making instructional videos and updating the website with FAQs, How-Tos, and support information. It's finally happening! I'm so excited :)

Add a Comment   Google+

You are welcome, World.Thu, 3rd Nov '11, 4:14 pm::

When preparing my daily meals, I try to maximize the formula: (taste * healthfulness) / (time * cost)

I want to eat delicious and healthy meals while spending as little money and time preparing it as possible. Those who like to cook, do not mind spending 45 minutes preparing a meal that takes 15 minutes to eat but I do not condone such inefficiencies. After a decade of preparing my own food, I have finally optimized my formula to the point where I can share it publicly for the good of mankind.

One can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), two tomatoes, four sweet peppers, and eight leaves of cilantro make for an exponentially filling lunch while providing ample nourishment. I just chop & mix things up and microwave it for 90 seconds. Certainly there are a hundred ways I could have done it better (cook on stove, avoid canned food, grow my own tomatoes etc.) but that would raise the time and cost factors without significantly increasing the taste or health benefits, thereby lowering the overall score. You are welcome, World.

Edit: I should mention that I add a lot of different spices based on my mood. I don't like bland food.

Add a Comment   Google+

Fri, 28th Oct '11, 8:14 am::

The difference between buying and shopping is planning. If you know what you want, you go to the store and buy it. If you don't know what you want, you go shopping.

Once you've decided what you want to buy, you choose the best place to buy it from. This ensures (a) you get what you want, in terms of quality and (b) you get it at the value you want, in terms of cost and service.

When you go shopping, you let each vendor suggest to you which items you should buy. While you might get the level of quality, cost, and service you want, you can never be certain. It is easy for marketers to influence your expectations when you don't know what it is that you're actually looking for. They can change your perception on the level of quality and service you should seek and the sale price you should be comfortable with.

If you want to be an average marketer, influence my expectations. If you want to be a great marketer, influence my planning.

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 25th Oct '11, 2:40 pm::

KType brochures designed by my sister Roshni. I just received a shipment of 500 brochures printed by The quality looks amazing. So excited! Will soon be handing these out to doctors, speech therapists, and others in the accessibility & special-needs field. Working on the KType iPad app non-stop this week.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 15th Oct '11, 4:54 pm::

"What sets the brave apart from the timid is how we handle change. If nothing ever changed, there would be no seasons, no rain, and no butterflies. While change is inevitable, love is indestructible. You have within and without you a never-ending stream of love, courage, and hope... "

I wrote the above for a close friend's kid who is going through some personal trauma. I felt the excerpt above is universal enough to share it with everyone here.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sun, 9th Oct '11, 11:59 am::

The United States of Movies:

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 5th Oct '11, 11:09 pm::

Every singe story on the front page of Hacker News right now is in memory of Steve Jobs. Rest in peace.

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 4th Oct '11, 9:24 am::

Juliet took me surprise (indoor) rock-climbing with friends for my birthday on Saturday. Check out the pics.

Add a Comment   Google+

Fri, 23rd Sep '11, 11:31 am::

"We cannot explain the observed effect in terms of known systematic uncertainties. There, the measurement indicates a neutrino velocity higher than the speed of light."

I just watched the live webcast by CERN discussing the years of research that lead to the conclusion that neutrinos travel slightly faster than photons i.e. faster-than-light travel (BBC article). This is why I love science. The scientists aren't saying they broke the light-speed barrier. They're showing all of their work to the world and inviting everyone to pick it apart and prove them wrong.

They measured the time it took neutrinos to cover a distance of 500 miles and it turned out to be about 60 nano-seconds less than it would take light to cover the same distance. To make sure that they didn't have any measurement errors, they took into account the rotation of the Earth, change in curvature of the surface of Earth due to the position of the Moon, continental drift due to earthquakes or other natural events, and movement of Earth through space. They also took into account all equipment and experimental delays and possible systematic uncertainties. They made sure no outliers were affecting the sampling average. After considering everything that could cause incorrect measurement, they conclude that the neutrinos are moving faster than the speed of light.

If a flaw is found in their research or experiments, it will further strengthen the speed-of-light as the ultimate barrier to speed. If other scientists can validate the research and conclude that it is indeed true, then it will be a major discovery. Unfortunately, it does not mean warp-drives from Star Trek.

Add a Comment   Google+

Mon, 19th Sep '11, 10:45 am::

Google Body is neat. May not work in all browsers just yet. Works in Chrome.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 10th Sep '11, 7:10 pm::

I've been working on designing the public-facing website the past few days. The site doesn't have to be complete until the KType iPad app is launched (hopefully by the end of 2011) but I wanted to get the design/theme planned so I could use the similar layout for brochures, presentations, and other literature. All suggestions and criticisms welcome.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 10th Sep '11, 4:36 pm::

I just realized that I live in a peninsula in a peninsula in a peninsula. My neighborhood of Bay Pines is a peninsula within the Pinellas County which is a peninsula in the state of Florida which is a large peninsula.

Add a Comment   Google+

Weekend in the Garden of Good and EvilTue, 6th Sep '11, 12:54 am::

Juliet and I went to Savannah, Georgia this Labor Day Weekend with our friend Sandra and her daughter (our goddaughter) and here are the photos. I had visited Savannah twice before to see my friend Vu but it wasn't until this weekend that I took the time to fully appreciate the city's cultural and socio-political origins.

After a wonderful walk through the Oatland Island Wildlife Center on Sunday, the girls went shopping around Ellis Square while I decided to read some short stories and poetry by the fountains. I came across one of the most haunting poems I've ever read - Seven Twilights by Conrad Aiken and felt compelled to dig deeper into his life. He was born in Savannah in 1889 and when he was a small boy, his father killed his mother and committed suicide himself. This tragedy had a profound impact on his development and writings. Saturday night we took a "ghost tour" around the city during which our guide told us about numerous Savannah residents who had tragically died of malaria or spousal-abuse centuries ago and haunt the old houses to this day. The Aiken name was missing from the roster, though the writing thoroughly conveyed the message.

With a huge immigrant population of Haitians and Irish during the 18th and 19th centuries, Savannah developed its own flavor of Americana literature, art, and architecture, much like New Orleans in Louisiana and St. Augustine in Florida. The city was founded in 1733 by Gen. Oglethorpe and laid out around four open squares intended to provide space for military exercises. The layout was also a reaction against the cramped conditions that fueled the Great Fire of London in 1666. By 1851 there were twenty four squares in the city.

The house we rented was next to Forsyth Park, which was featured heavily in the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Sunday evening we watched the haunting movie version, starring Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, and Jude Law. The story was set against a backdrop of the traditional Southern social elites in the early 1980s and portrayed elements from voodoo beliefs and alternative lifestyles that are as much a part of Savannah's culture as the ghost tours and historic church congregations.

While there is no single incident during the entire trip that I can point out as haunting, I left the city with a feeling of tragic nostalgia. It didn't matter that the city today is a vibrant port-city or is just one of the many cities around the country with a rich history. In the course of a few days, I had witnessed the birth and death of generations. Time had either wiped clean or set in stone the dreams and nightmares of men and beasts alike. As I reflected upon my own mortality and unfulfilled dreams by the fountains of Ellis Square, Juliet walked up to me and gave me a tight hug. She said "I missed you" and I replied "I missed you too. Now let's go home."

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 31st Aug '11, 3:54 am::

It has been almost a year since I took a long walk to determine the course for the rest of my life and I feel it's time for some retrospection. Last year, I decided to leave my promising job as the Director of IT at a fast-growing pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Florida so I could work on KType full-time. KType is my independent and self-funded research project to improve communication for people with speech & motor disabilities by creating low-cost, customizable software and hardware tools.

Giving up a rising career at a growing company was no easy decision for me and a part of me will always wonder what if I hadn't taken the road-less-traveled-by. When I started working on KType, Juliet was studying hard for her final semester at graduate school, we had tons of debt and barely any savings, and I had absolutely no idea if KType could even be built with the requirements I had in mind. A year later, Juliet is now a surgical PA having graduated at the top of her class, we have paid down our debt considerably and even saved a little, and I have a fully-functional KType prototype that I'm excited to have potential users try out very soon.

Though I am constantly making progress, I know I still have a long way to go. The primary goal of the KType project is to help others communicate and I feel disappointed in myself to say that despite a year's worth of R&D, I still haven't helped improve anyone's life yet. But that's going to change now. Over the next few weeks, I will reach out to local hospitals, special-needs schools, and nursing homes to find potential users for KType. Last year I resolved to make KType. This year I resolve to share KType.

To say that I am extremely nervous about all of this is an understatement. But if I can help even one person, I will consider KType to be a success. If you know someone who cannot speak nor type because of paralysis, injuries, ALS, cerebral palsy, muscle spasms, or other neurological causes, please feel free to contact me.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 27th Aug '11, 3:27 pm::

I like to notice patterns in everything - it's one of the few very things humans can still do markedly better than computers. One pattern I've noticed in news is the ever increasing number of headlines for "Al-Qaeda's No. 2 Leader Killed." I plotted this logarithmic graph based on the number of Google search results for the phrase.

Add a Comment   Google+

High-frequency HijinksSat, 20th Aug '11, 7:03 pm::

I'm having way too much fun torturing my dear wife in the name of science. I'm working on the KType iPad app and need to figure out a reliable way to detect whenever an external button is pressed. Instead of requiring my users to touch the iPad screen, I want them to be able to press a physical button with their hand/foot/chin and register it as a click on the iPad app.

One of my initial ideas was to pair a low-cost bluetooth num-pad with the iPad and detect whenever a key is pressed. While it sort of works, there are some technical issues that cannot be resolved trivially. So I'm still looking for a better/cheaper way to detect from my iPad app that an external button has been pressed.

One idea I've considered exploring is high-frequency sound. It's easy to make a small battery-powered device that emits a specific high-frequency tone when pressed. If the iPad's microphone can detect this tone easily, then it can register a click. Of course, the sound must be inaudible to humans and pets but still be detectable by the iPad microphone. To test it out, I started playing these clips at a low volume.

I could hear 8kHz-16kHz sounds fine but not the 17kHz and above clips so I cranked up the volume all the way. Juliet started freaking out in the other room as she could clearly hear everything up to 20kHz. While it was hilarious to watch her get so flustered, it is also bad news for my research. It appears I might not be able to rely on high-frequency sound for input and need to keep looking for a better way.

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 16th Aug '11, 2:39 am::

Juliet and I went kayaking down the Weeki Wachee River with our friends Billy & Lisa on Sunday. We came across a rope swing and instantly forgot that we were grownups as you can see from the video. The video was shot using my iPhone 4 wrapped safely inside my DiCAPac WPH10 waterproof cover.

Here is my second attempt at taking a video underwater. Holding a camera steady in the midst of 2-3mph water current was pretty difficult.

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 16th Aug '11, 12:23 am::

My little sister has an impressive photography portfolio. And she just started about a year ago! I'm so proud of her :)

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 13th Aug '11, 10:37 pm::

Juliet and I took a painting class today where we sipped on wine, ate some cheese, and painted a tiny bottle of wine being poured into a gigantic glass. Attached is the masterpiece by yours truly.

Add a Comment   Google+

Thu, 11th Aug '11, 12:02 pm::

August 27, 2011 is the ten-year anniversary of Internet Explorer 6.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 10th Aug '11, 11:46 am::

I just had to sign some PDF documents and send them back to a software vendor. I hate the entire process of printing, signing, scanning, and emailing or faxing so I decided to find the easiest and most reliable way to do it online. After an hour of searching, signing up for various online services, and testing out their PDF-signing tools, I have to say wins hands-down.

I had a scan of my real signature on my computer so that made the process easier but HelloFax lets you create signatures using a mouse or email a photo of your signature from your phone. I signed up for the free account, uploaded the PDF, uploaded my signature, placed the signature on the document appropriately, typed today's date & my name, and clicked "I'm done!" HelloFax instantly emailed me the signed PDF and I emailed it back to the company. The entire process took just a few minutes and did not cost me anything. I would have most certainly paid them $1/fax had I needed to use fax instead of email today.

Add a Comment   Google+

Fri, 5th Aug '11, 11:49 am::

Last night I was telling Juliet about the stories of Vikram & Vaital that I grew up reading and watching on TV as a kid in India. Feeling that I didn't give her a good enough summary of the collection, I decided to look online and found something I didn't expect.

This is the part I knew: According to the stories, King Vikram promised a sorcerer that he would capture a vampire spirit, Vaital, who hangs from a tree in a desolate forest. Each time Vikram tries to capture the spirit, it tells a story that ends with a riddle. If the king knows the answer, he must answer and if he answers it correctly, the spirit would escape and return to his tree. If Vikram cannot answer the question correctly, the spirit consents to remain in captivity. King Vikram guessed the answer 24 times and the spirit flew away each time.

This is the part I learned today: On the twenty-fifth attempt, the spirit tells the story of a father and a son in the after-math of a devastating war. They find the queen and the princess alive in the chaos, and decide to take them home. In due time, the son marries the queen and the father marries the princess. Eventually, the son and the queen have a son, and the father and the princess have a daughter. The spirit asks what the relation between the two newborn children is. The question stumps Vikram. Satisfied, the spirit allows himself to be taken to the sorcerer.

In summary, the "I am my own grandpa" story is over a thousand years old and has roots in ancient Indian tales. And the Ray Stevens song based on the story is hilarious.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 3rd Aug '11, 4:15 pm::

I wish I knew who the original author of this tale was so I could credit them. It is most definitely one of my favorite stories. Feel free to share.

The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs ... I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps 25 years," replied the American.

"And after that?" the Mexican asked.

"Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?"

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

Add a Comment   Google+

3rd AnniversaryWed, 27th Jul '11, 11:53 pm::

Today was our 3rd wedding anniversary. Hard to believe how fast time passes. Since the anniversary fell on a Wednesday, we decided to celebrate it a bit earlier and took a short vacation in Longboat Key last weekend. But we saved the gifts for this week. Juliet surprised me by designing new business cards for me and in return, I did what I always do - spoil her with shiny things (necklace & earrings).

Things have been pretty busy for both of us lately, especially with her long 6am-7pm surgery days. I've been working on steadily and can't wait till I have something ready to share. Last weekend I took some time to create a Google+ extension in Chrome and so far over 2,000 people have installed Plus Minus. I did not expect such a positive response and was pleasantly surprised to see that people love it. I'm planning on making a Firefox version soon. In the meantime, I'm learning CoffeeScript.

Add a Comment   Google+

More science, not lessFri, 22nd Jul '11, 1:32 pm::

I went to bed late last night and woke up to the sound of loud beeping alarms. Having survived an electrical fire that shook me up from peaceful slumber in 2005, I still panic a bit whenever I detect loud continuous beeps in my sleep. To my relief, I discovered that there was no fire - it was just a power failure and my security system and computer UPS were beeping to alert me that the battery backup had kicked in. Not knowing if it was just me or the whole neighborhood, I walked over to my neighbor's house to check and he said the whole neighborhood was without power because of a transformer malfunction. He called the electric company and was told the power would be back in two hours.

With no power to go back to, I ended up just hanging out with my neighbor and we talked about "The World". It's been a long time since I had a good, friendly argument offline and frankly I was surprised at how different the world appears to him than it does to me. To me, NASA, space exploration, and particle physics research are a necessity. Pushing the boundaries of science, regardless of how soon the research can have practical applications, is imperative. To him, all government-sponsored research was taking away money from hard-working people and giving it to lazy scientists so they could put shrimps on treadmill (depressing link below). In his view, all research should be funded privately and not at the taxpayers expense.

I argued that yes, while 1 out of 1,000 grants involves putting shrimps on treadmills, scientific discovery is not like running a factory. You cannot just say "cure cancer", expect a bunch of researchers to go into a laboratory, and come out with a single cure. That's only possible in Spiderman comics. In real-life, people from all over the world pour their hearts and souls into one single tiny aspect of the entire problem and tirelessly work on it for decades, and if they are fortunate, discover something meaningful. My neighbor has chronic back pain and I asked how would he feel if scientists discovered a special protein that gets released into the shrimp's bloodstream whenever it starts to develop signs of chronic fatigue and that we can create medicine that have the same beneficial effect on humans with chronic back pain? After a few moments of silence, I could sense his mind-gears turning.

Being cynical as I am, I expected him to quote yet another talking-point from some news article but surprisingly he said "You know, that's not so bad. What's half a million bucks when you can get rid of life-long pain for millions of people?" I exclaimed, "And that's exactly what science is! We don't know what is going to work and what's not but we have to keep moving forward. Going to Mars and beyond may seem like a waste of taxpayers money when you could be building more schools but without promotic scientific research, you will never be able to break out of the problems we have in the world today."

We argued back and forth for the next couple of hours about everything from drug legalization to policing of the Internet but before we parted ways, he thanked me for changing his views on scientific research. He said "You know, I never looked at it that way." That made me feel genuinely happy. I expect others to disagree with me on socioeconomic matters as it is quite often not a matter of black and white but rather infinite shades of grey. However, science is a matter of black and white to me. Science good, not-science bad. Of course there are shades of grey within scientific research itself but overall, the world will be a better place with more science, not less.

Add a Comment   Google+

Thu, 21st Jul '11, 10:21 am::

"Nobody is dreaming about tomorrow anymore..."

"How much would you pay for the Universe?"

Add a Comment   Google+

Introducing Plus MinusThu, 21st Jul '11, 2:52 am::

If you use Chrome and love Google+ but hate how messy the Stream gets, check out my new Chrome Extension: Plus Minus. It lets you easily mark Google+ posts as read. New posts in your stream show up normally and after you read a post, click the triangle next to the person's picture to shrink the entire post into just two lines.

Try out the extension and leave your feedback in the comments below.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 20th Jul '11, 7:55 pm::

Juliet and I took a trip down to Longboat Key this weekend and stayed in a cute little beach cottage. We spent the mornings splashing in the Gulf and the pool and the rest of the day looking at critters. We visited Big Cat Habitat and Mote Aquarium, both in Sarasota, FL - must see places if you are in the area and love animals.

Add a Comment   Google+

Wed, 20th Jul '11, 7:51 pm::

Just uploaded some pics from my trip down to the Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, FL with Juliet this weekend.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sun, 17th Jul '11, 10:12 pm::

Saw this Common Marmoset yesterday at Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, FL. I title this piece: "Soon..."

Add a Comment   Google+

Sun, 17th Jul '11, 8:51 pm::

Spotted this preserved giant squid at the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, FL today. It's body was over 30 feet long and weighed 500lbs when it was found off the coast of New Zealand a few years ago.

Add a Comment   Google+

Sat, 16th Jul '11, 10:40 pm::

For the past couple of years, my wife and I have indulged in a quirky endeavor. We love animals and no matter where we travel to, we make sure to check out local animal shelters, rescue habitats, and wildlife sanctuaries. And if permissible, she feeds the critters. I created a site called "My wife feeds", linked below. Feel free to share!

Add a Comment   Google+

Fri, 15th Jul '11, 2:27 am::

I dug into the code behind G+ tonight and made my personal blog sync with my G+ posts. I've had my blog for almost ten years now and don't plan on giving up on it anytime soon or rather ever. However, it is a pain to copy-paste content from G+ to my blog all the time so I automated it. I shared some of my findings behind the JSON XHR on reddit.

Add a Comment   Google+

Thu, 14th Jul '11, 5:44 pm::

I wish I could nest circles on Google+. I have a circle for relatives and a circle for family. My family circle should automatically be a part of my relatives circle. Similarly, I have a circle for my programmer friends and a circle for my tech-savvy friends. Instead of having to add all my programmers friends to both the circles, I wish I could just drag the entire programmer circle into the tech-savvy circle.

Circles can be a lot more powerful than just groups or tags if you allow circles to contain other circles. Technically, this feature is possible (though it might not be trivial to implement). In the past Gmail did not have nested labels but now it does. So I'm pretty sure that if enough people clamor for this feature, it will be added.

If you didn't get the joke in the image, see this.

Add a Comment   Google+

Life plansThu, 14th Jul '11, 4:10 pm::

After over three years, I went grocery shopping all by myself today. Usually Juliet does all the shopping and sometimes I tag along but she's been pretty busy with work lately. Now that she is qualified to assist in surgeries at a number of local hospitals, she leaves the house by 6.30am and gets home after a long 10-12 hour shift. I'm keeping pretty busy myself with my research and consulting work but thankfully I'm not as busy as her. So I've started to become more of a house-husband and help her out with chores.

It's finally starting to feel like normal life now. I hope to visit India next year and have my cousin Keval try out the KType app. For the next year or so, I want to work with him and others like him to improve KType and make it more accessible. Only time will tell what happens after that.

Juliet and I want to start our own family in a year or two and we'll most certainly need a bigger house. I bought my 750 sq. ft. house six years ago as a single, care-free guy and never imagined that someday I'd get married and need more space! While it's a bit early for us to buy a house, we still spend hours on Zillow each week, fawning at all the pretty houses with lots of rooms and space. We want a 2,000 sq. ft. house with half an acre of land or more but in the area we live in, large plots of land almost always come with a huge 5,000 sq. ft. house. Unless there is a big reason to move, we'd rather stay in this area because the weather is great, the people are nice, and we like the relaxed pace of life.

I know it sounds lazy but our long-term plan is to organize our life and standard of living such that we don't have to have full-time jobs. We want to travel, raise a family, and spend time with our loved ones without having to work 40-60 hours per week. That means while we can technically afford a gorgeous Mediterranean-style waterfront villa, we have to resist the urge to sign our lives away to the God of Mortgage and the Deity of Bills and instead live below our means when it comes to big-ticket items - house, cars, gadgets.

For now, our hunt for a mid-sized house surrounded by lots of evergreen trees in a large plot of land continues. Here's hoping we find it within a couple of years.

Add a Comment

Thu, 14th Jul '11, 2:07 pm::

One of most interesting articles I've read in a while.

    How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet
    It was January 2010 when investigators with the International Atomic Energy Agency realized something was off at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran. Months earlier, someone ha...

Add a Comment   Google+

Thu, 14th Jul '11, 1:52 am::

I came across a photoshop of my old comic Calm Down!, originally designed by my friend Tony Yang:

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 12th Jul '11, 4:13 pm::

If you ask a stranger to take a photo of you, it is the stranger and not you, who owns the copyright of the image.

Add a Comment   Google+

Tue, 5th Jul '11, 8:55 pm::

This 9-minute long video taken in one continuous shot made me feel really happy: The Grand Rapids LipDub.

Add a Comment

Sun, 3rd Jul '11, 6:30 pm::

We went snorkeling to Egmont Key this morning and saw lots of pretty tropical fish. I bought a water-proof case for my camera last week and took it underwater for the first time today. The water was pretty rough and the visibility was quite low, so I wasn't able to take a lot of good photos but I did take a few short clips that came out nice. On the way back, we spotted a couple of dolphins, a few sharks, and a manatee from our ferry.

Here are some photos and my first underwater video. You can watch the video in HD here.

Add a Comment

Sat, 18th Jun '11, 11:50 am::

People ask me all the time about the status of KType. I had a demo running in February and since then I've spent hundreds of hours coding with nothing to show so people wonder what is it that I'm really doing. I'm doing SCIENCE! And that's the problem. While I can code up a whole new menu system in a day, doing actual research takes a lot of time. But I do have something interesting to share.

KType suggestions are coming along great. When a user types "wy so srs", KType can now suggest "why so serious". KType will run on the iPad and cannot rely on an internet connection to make suggestions. So I have to come up with these suggestions in real-time as the user is typing, based on the data already stored within the KType iPad app. My goal is to make 5 good suggestions within 0.5 seconds of the user pressing a letter. With a dictionary of over 600,000 words and phrases saved on the relatively slow iPad storage, it is no easy task to pick the best 5 choices in under a second. Just reading the 600,000 phrases takes over 8 seconds! So I have to be as clever as I can be and only search within words that I can predict might match.

To put in more bluntly, I have been spending months just to save milliseconds. Because in the end, the user's experience matters more than anything.

Add a Comment

Sun, 12th Jun '11, 11:10 am::

Yesterday I took new pictures of all of our animals and also made a short video around the yard and house with them. Check it out.

Add a Comment

Figure out how to be happyThu, 9th Jun '11, 11:50 pm::

The end goal of every single human pursuit is happiness. We work hard so we can earn money so we can buy things so we can have fun so we can experience a slice of happiness. We fight wars so we can bring peace so we can live freely so we can experience a slice of happiness. We take revenge so we can bring justice so we can feel righted so we can experience a slice of happiness. We tell lies so we can deflect blame so we can save our face so we can live proudly so we can experience a slice of happiness. If you repeatedly ask "why" someone does anything, good or bad, the answer will invariably lead to their idea of happiness. Everyone just wants to be happy. And that's why it's one of my favorite things to think about.

Publicly, most everyone will say "I'm happy" but privately they might tell their confidantes "my life is miserable." And that's perfectly alright. Happiness is not a destination but rather a fleeting moment of "huh, everything is working out" while we go about our lives. I love the notion of happiness because like birth, age, and death it affects everyone. Everyone is born, grows old, and dies and throughout the entire ride we're all chasing happiness. Certainly the romantics among us claim to quest for love instead but what is love if not a path to happiness (and plenty of sorrow)?

If you can figure out how to be happy, you don't have to be healthy, wealthy, or wise. Those qualities can certainly help but they can also blind us from finding out what truly makes us happy. I make a concerted effort to identify things that make me happy and I partake in them as often as I safely can. But I've realized that there is more to happiness than doing things that make you happy. Regrets, guilt, jealousy, and rage can pierce through five layers of entertainment sandwiched between six layers of accomplishments. Life just gets you down sometimes, no matter how much of a fight you put up.

And that's when I find solace in being ephemeral and inconsequential. I am not invincible and I am not infallible. I am not eternal and I am not immemorial. I don't have to succeed and I don't have to win. Every decision I make is based on the wisdom and experience I have accumulated up to that particular moment in time. I cannot predict the future and I cannot control the outcome. All I can do is do my best, do the right thing, and continue my pursuit of happiness. Just like everyone else.

Add a Comment

Nice thingsThu, 2nd Jun '11, 10:45 am::

Happy B'day Mom! Today is also the first anniversary of our Indian Wedding! I can't believe it's already a year since we went to India. I can't wait to go back. I'm pretty sure this time we'll go in the winter season so we can travel around the country comfortably.

Last night I got back from a short vacation to see our relatives in Houston, TX. Juliet and I drove a thousand miles to Texas last Thursday and stopped by New Orleans en route for some delicious beignets. Juliet flew back home on Monday and I drove back yesterday, rocking out to 90's music for 15 straight hours. In Houston, we met my dad's maternal cousins and their ever-so-boisterous kids. It was a great experience hanging out with them, especially since none of them had met Juliet before. In the mornings and afternoons, we chilled in the pool and in the evenings, we sat around the kitchen table snacking on Indian junk food and recollecting stories and experiences.

One of my favorite things in life is to hear people say nice things about others. I don't do drama and don't much care for negativity. It is very easy to spew petty complaints but it takes a big heart to genuinely appreciate and admit how wonderful others are. Like Thumper said in Bambi, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." So I get teary-eyed whenever I hear people praise others. It was such a wonderful feeling to hear my relatives say things like how nice my mom is, how creative my sister is, or how lucky I am to have found a wife as sweet as Juliet. I live for days like this.

Now it's back to regular life. Juliet has been working as a surgical PA for a few weeks and is getting accustomed to her busy schedule. I have been making slow but steady progress with my research project over the past few months and now that Juliet is busy all day, I can kick things into overdrive and get some serious work done. I can't wait!

Add a Comment

Kayaking on a Tuesday morningTue, 17th May '11, 12:20 pm::

I wish I could blog while kayaking. Some of my best thoughts come to me when I'm zipping through the water in my kayak. When picking kayaking locations, I always fall into the trap of grass is greener on the other side - the further away the destination, the more beautiful and fun I think it will be. Alas it is not always so. I went paddling down the Alafia River on Friday, about a 90-minute drive each way. The median water-depth was barely six inches and the eight-mile trip over numerous rocky rapids took about three gruesome hours. While it was pretty, it did not rank among my best paddles.

Last night I made plans to paddle three miles out to an island in the Gulf, about two hours away from my home, but this morning I didn't feel like driving that much. So I went to Lake Seminole Park, where Juliet and I take our puppies all the time, hardly something I consider a great kayaking destination. But this morning I was surprisingly proven wrong. I had a great time paddling five miles in about 80 minutes. It made me realize that to have a great time, you don't always need the best views, the perfect weather, or the optimal gear but rather a good-enough mix of all of them. While Lake Seminole is littered with houses on the western flank, the eastern shoreline is a nature preserve with lots of shady trees, seagrass, and wading birds. While early-morning (6-7am) is often my favorite time to paddle, 10am can still be fun.

With the cool sea breeze blowing over the lake, I paddled by seagrass that rose 10 feet over the water. The wind picked up and nudged my kayak towards the waterfowl habitat. I skimmed over water-lilies and sent many a wood-ducks fluttering away. I paddled past dilapidated wooden docks and under the 102nd Avenue bridge that rumbled when cars raced across, a hundred feet above me. I saw, heard, and felt everything distinctly and consciously. A fish jumped out of water here and a pelican splashed into the water there. You could call this a typical Florida paddling trip but for reasons I can't explain, it was akin to meditation for me.

Add a Comment

Thu, 12th May '11, 8:15 pm::

I have won the game of email! There is no better feeling of carefreeness than having an empty inbox. Though I prefer phone and IM over all other communication, I'm a heavy user of email and my inbox is rarely empty. There is always something I need to do, something I'm waiting for, or someone I need to reply to. For this brief moment in time, I have an inbox free of stress, chores, and obligations. To celebrate this, I'm going kayaking early morning tomorrow.

Add a Comment

Thu, 28th Apr '11, 10:45 pm::

I've been working on a really neat problem this week for KType - how to compare phrases and find the best matching ones. If a user types "wnv u wnt", I want to autosuggest "whenever you want." Every computer and phone has spell-check to fix spellings but there is no established algorithm to convert abbreviated speech into regular English, especially for multi-word phrases. Certainly some words are easy to guess like wnv = whenever but what should "smtg" be? Something? Smoothing? Smothering? Smelting? Well that depends on a lot of factors like the popularity of the word, the subject matter, the words that come before, and most importantly the actual context. "I wnt to tl u smtg" most probably means "I want to tell you something."

I've been reading up on algorithms like Bitap, Levenshtein, Bloom filter all day and haven't come across any algorithm that I can directly use. Looks like I'll have to figure this problem out on my own. Fun times!

Add a Comment

Of dreams and nightmaresWed, 20th Apr '11, 11:35 pm::

I've always had a love-hate relationship with sleep. While I never have a problem falling asleep and seldom wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, I rarely shut my eyes and just wake up 6-8 hours later. Between the time I fall asleep and wake up are hours and hours of dreams and nightmares that keep me engaged each night. I'm planning on staying up late tonight to "reset" my dream/nightmare cycle. I can recollect most of my dreams every morning if I want but usually avoid doing so.

Many of my dreams have recurring themes. One common dream I have is finding entirely new rooms and sections of my own house or my parent's house. A recurring nightmare I have is realizing I have a final exam today for a class I have somehow signed up for but never attended or studied for. My dreams are often surreal and geography agnostic - I could be in SeaWorld, Orlando and walk up to the street vendor in Kolkata for a quick snack. My nightmares are a cross between 24 and Everybody Loves Raymond - a ticking time-bomb of social awkwardness.

I have always had dreams and have failed to explain the cause despite my meticulous attempts to analyze my diet, exercise-level, moods, entertainment, stress, or health. I love finding patterns but I can't seem to find any with respect to my sleep cycles and dreams. What I do know for certain is that if I sleep less, I can't seem to recall my nightmares. This makes me a little tired physically but mentally I feel a lot more refreshed than if I sleep 7-8 hours and have 3 hours of nightmares. So every few days, I stay up late to try and reset the cycle so I can get more dreams and fewer nightmares. If I sleep more than 7 hours, I am guaranteed to have a bunch of nightmares that will affect my mood for the rest of the day.

In order to prevent or minimize the negative effect from nightmares, I used to control my dreams, but I stopped doing that because it was extremely exhausting and no different from being awake for many hours every night watching foreign films without subtitles. I've tried "planning" as I fall asleep - planning everything from my next day's todo list to life goals and dreams. I've tried meditating and clearing my mind as I fall asleep. None of these have any effect on the onslaught of dreams and nightmares each night. While one might say these nightmares are a result of suppressed emotions, repressed memories, or personal anxiety, I would disagree with that because (a) I live a pretty drama-free life with barely any social or interpersonal conflicts (b) I've had both vivid dreams and nightmares since I was a carefree kid, and (c) my dreams often segue to nightmares and vice versa so it's not a well-defined condition like after-effects of PTSD.

As a result of these dreams and nightmares, I like to stay up late and sleep fewer hours. But all is not lost. There are fun things I can do as I fall asleep. I can transition into a wake-initiated lucid dream as I slowly fall asleep and make myself hear any music or sounds I want. It's like the world's largest iPod library in my own head. I just think of a song and I can hear the entire orchestra with all the small, distinct notes playing clearly in surround sound. Or I can think of a voice and converse with anyone I want, just like in real life. Sometimes, I can even make myself "see" anything I want with my eyes closed. I only do these things as I'm slowly falling asleep. If I'm already asleep and realize that I am in a dream-state, I choose not to control it because it is exhausting like I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

When I'm not actively dreaming but still lazy enough to not get out of bed, I do a lot of problem solving in my sleep and love it. Often I will get stuck on a computer project during the day and find the most optimal solution during my sleep. I don't think I "dream" the solution but rather think of many different solutions in a relaxed state, devoting a larger part of my active concentration to solving the problem instead of sensing environment, taste, sounds, or sights. I would love to be able to get into this state more often, though not at the cost of peaceful sleep.

Sometimes when I've had just the right amount of wine, I go to bed and wake up feeling refreshed 8 hours later without any dreams. I'm sure I still dream but as long as I don't remember dreaming when I wake up, I'm happy. I just hate feeling tired every morning because I was writing, directing, and acting in a live-action movie in my head for the past few hours. Here's hoping for a dream-free night!

Add a Comment

Sun, 10th Apr '11, 4:20 pm::

My friend Arthur and his girlfriend are visiting us from New Jersey this weekend and we've been doing a lot of sightseeing with them. We went to the Harry Potter Theme Park at Universal Studios on Friday and visited the new Salvador Dali Museum yesterday. We also went to an equestrian competition in Tampa yesterday evening at the Raymond James Stadium. We're on our way to get some yummy Mexican food before we hit the beach. They're flying back home tomorrow and then it's life back to normal for all of us.

Juliet and I were both pretty disappointed by the new Dali Museum. Architecturally it is a very interesting building design but the entire experience felt hollow and extravagantly commercialized. Walking through the old museum, I always felt like I was getting an opportunity to see a private collection of invaluable art, something I would never get a chance to see anywhere else. The new museum felt like the Disneyfication of Dali's entire portfolio with a Cafe Gala ready to serve you sandwiches and gift shop selling overpriced jewelry by designers who had nothing to do with Dali. The layout of the art gallery itself was very unimpressive, just two large rooms with Dali's artwork splattered all over with no running theme or logical organization. I love Dali's artwork but I was thoroughly disappointed by the complete lack of warmth in the museum design. Instead of Dali, if this this museum housed modern art or Ikea furniture samples, I would have loved it.

Add a Comment

Mon, 4th Apr '11, 12:10 am::

We just got back from a mini-vacation at a remote log-cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Here are some photos from our trip. A few weeks ago I booked a log-cabin called Dances with Wolves so Juliet and I could have one final vacation before she starts working in May.

It was a beautiful cabin and even though the weather got a bit cold and foggy, we had a great time. We took our puppies with us and took them on walks every day. On Saturday we stopped by a hidden waterfall and spent hours looking for gems and gold rocks in the water. No luck for now but there's always next time. We cooked all of our meals at the cabin and just relaxed in the jacuzzi all day. I'm pretty sure we'll be making the drive up to Smoky Mountains many more times in the future.

Add a Comment

Officially releasing ZetaBee.comThu, 17th Mar '11, 12:40 pm::

I have been working on my side-project for slightly over a year now. Over the years I've made a lot of websites and software but they were all built from scratch each time. The idea behind ZetaBee was that I would make lots of small but useful apps under a single site so I don't have to recreate features like user management, shopping cart, billing, and secure access over and over again. So far, I've made three apps in ZetaBee and yesterday I shared them online.

I received tons of useful feedback but more importantly, I got a lot of encouragement to keep working on these in the future. I'm working on KType full-time but whenever I need a break, I add a feature or two on ZetaBee. Working independently on any project for months on end isn't easy and certainly makes you wonder if what you're doing is actually useful to others or just a waste of time. I'm really happy that others found ZetaBee useful.

I use all three ZetaBee apps myself and only created them because nobody else had made something similar that I could have used instead. My personal favorite is Text because I use it to plan every single thing in my life. It's also pretty secure so I don't have to worry about anyone getting a hold of my personal notes and world-domination-plans. I recommend you check out the demo and play around it with yourself to see if it would work for you or not.

Add a Comment

Mon, 14th Mar '11, 11:55 pm::

This past weekend Juliet and I drove up to Atlanta to attend a traditional Vietnamese wedding of my Rutgers buddy Vu. We had a great time there and I got to hang out with a lot of Rutgers grads, including my friend Tony Yang. Saturday morning we took a tour of the awesome Tanglewood Miniature Farm in Atlanta where we got to feed and play with lots of little animals like goats, sheep, and alpacas.

On Sunday, we visited a wonderful couple we met earlier this year on our cruise to Mexico, Brian and Caroline. Brian cooked a delicious veggie sandwich for us while Caroline gave us some real-life parenting tips. We're hoping to see them again soon when they visit Florida with their kids.

We're planning on doing some more traveling before Juliet starts working in May. I have a lot of interesting places mapped out. I'll write about and post photos as we make these little trips.

Add a Comment

Thu, 10th Mar '11, 8:55 pm::

I saw a good pulmonologist last week and have been taking a lot of different medications for my cough. I'm feeling better and in a few weeks, I should be back to my healthy self. I can't wait to start kayaking again. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities.

I'm starting to work on my research project again after a couple of weeks of sick-break. I've posted some articles about my progress on and will be adding more soon. The problem I'm currently working on is predictive typing i.e. auto-suggestion. Since this will be the core of KType, I want to make sure I build it right.

Add a Comment

Wed, 2nd Mar '11, 11:55 am::

I've had a nasty cough for over three weeks now that makes talking, walking, and even sleeping unbearable. I just got back from seeing a pulmonologist and he prescribed me a concoction of cough suppressants. I can't wait to get better.

Add a Comment

Bit of encouragementWed, 23rd Feb '11, 10:25 am::

I think everyone is capable of doing almost anything they want - they just need a little encouragement. I have friends who can manage a hundred-thousand servers but become catatonic when asking for a raise. I have family members who can plan a hundred weddings but feel insecure when signing a rental agreement. I can see what they are capable of and yet they seem so queasy to just go for it. I used to have no tolerance for such anxiety but I've realized that it's not a sign of weakness to be nervous but rather a call for validation.

Nobody wants to screw up and they just want a little bit of encouragement to tell them that it's ok and that they're doing the right thing. Most importantly, they want this encouragement from people whose opinions they value. They just need a little push to do amazing things and I feel fortunate when I am given the opportunity to nudge them in the right direction.

Add a Comment

Best Valentine's Day of my lifeTue, 15th Feb '11, 11:05 am::

I've come down with a painful throat infection and haven't been able to sleep for the past two nights. The coughing hurts my throat and lungs so much that I keep waking myself up every other minute. Yesterday was Valentine's Day and I spent the entire day trying to rest. I didn't get Juliet any gifts and didn't take her out to dinner either. Instead, she got me cough-syrup, made warm tea with honey and milk, and took care of me like I was a four-year-old. As crappy as I felt all day and night, that was the best Valentine's Day ever in my life. This morning she took me to the doctor, picked up my medicines while I rested, and right now she's off to buy me a space-heater so I can sleep better at night.

I love my Valentine.

Add a Comment

Fri, 11th Feb '11, 12:35 pm::

Tomorrow I'm going camping with Juliet. This will be our first camping trip together. If she's enjoy this trip, I'll take her kayak-camping on the many islands around Florida. I booked a tent-site at Highlands Hammock park, about two hours away from our home. We'll take lots of pics and I'll post them when we get back. Tonight we're going to a comedy show. It'll be a fun-filled weekend.

Add a Comment

KType.netFri, 4th Feb '11, 4:45 pm::

Happy B'day to Keval! To celebrate his birthday, I launched today. I've been working on the iPad app for a few weeks now and things are coming together quite well. I'll have a video demo soon. For now, you can checkout the demo online.

Add a Comment

Thu, 3rd Feb '11, 3:15 pm::

This conversation takes place in my house EVERY SINGLE DAY:

  • Wife (in front of mirror): Do I look fat right now? I feel like I look fat.
  • Me (without looking up from my laptop): Nope. You look hot.

Girls are strange.

Add a Comment

What next?Wed, 19th Jan '11, 8:15 pm::

Last year was pretty stressful and around December I decided to slow things down for a bit. So after Juliet graduated, we did some traveling, caught up on missed TV shows, and partied like it was 1899. Suffice to say, I can't handle so much happiness and have thus decided to put an end to my carefree existence immediately!

I have two personal goals for 2011: (1) Make KType work and (2) Kayak 52 miles in the Suwannee River Challenge. I haven't worked on KType in over 3 weeks and am dying to get it up and running. The kayak ultramarathon is in October and I've started training for it. Though I prefer not to blabber about things I haven't done yet, I can't resist mentioning that I'm very excited about both of these because I feel they will complement each other very well. Kayaking will be a healthy break from multi-day programming sessions and I'll have plenty of time to think about KType when I'm out on a river for six straight hours.

Earlier today Juliet mentioned that she has one goal right now and that is to get a good job as a Physician Assistant in St. Petersburg / Clearwater / Tampa Bay area, preferably in the areas of Dermatology, OB/GYN, or Oncology. But she wondered what her next goal would be. I'm just as curious to find out. Like me, she is fueled by challenges and always wants to do something new, exciting, and unexpected. I told her that's the best part of my life - the uncertainty of it all.

Unlike most people I know, I will never be content with knowing exactly how my life will play out in 5-10-15 years. The world offers far too many adventures that keep me from sticking to decade-long plans. I like one-year plans because those I can make a schedule for. KType is different because it's more of an academic pursuit than a software project. I'm completely uncertain of what lies ahead for me career-wise and haven't given much thought to it. And that's the way I like it.

Add a Comment

Sun, 16th Jan '11, 4:55 pm::

Juliet and I took a small vacation earlier this week. We cruised down to Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico on the Royal Caribbean ship Radiance of the Seas. We had a great time and met a lot of cool people. Check out the pictures.

It took me some time to upload these because my main computer died. I'm still surprised that it lasted for over three years despite 24/7 usage. I'm just using my Mac Mini and Acer laptop for now. I haven't decided if I should buy another desktop or not. My computer room is so quiet and peaceful now. Maybe I'll just buy a MacBook Air in a few months.

Add a Comment

I love TV ShowsMon, 3rd Jan '11, 9:40 pm::

When I was a wee-little kid, I used to love TV shows, mostly cartoons and children shows. Movies were for grownups. And I never figured how some guy who died in one movie was alive in another. Then as I grew older, I came to love movies a lot more. Everything about movies was perfect. They have a definite start and end, a storyline with a definite plot, and tons of excitement packed into a few hours. As I started to go through some of the great films, I learnt how to recognize and appreciate good direction, screenplay, and editing. In contrast to these amazing movies, television was dull, slow-paced, and frankly unprofessional. TV shows were for old, boring people.

Now that I'm on my way to be one of those old, boring people, I'm finding myself falling in love with TV shows all over again and for very different reasons. TV shows characters stay with me for a long time. I can identify with the people, relate to them, and see them mature over time. Two-hour movies (except for series like Harry Potter) just can't capture years of character development. I don't watch reality shows and prefer to watch shows with adventurous and humorous themes.

When I was in my movies-are-better years, I used to make fun of my parents and grandparents because they loved watching melodramatic TV shows that went on for years and years. In the last few years, I've seen many TV shows completely and loved every moment of it. It actually makes me a bit worried when I think about the amount of time I've spent in front of the TV and that's why I decided to write this 'blog entry.

Off the top of my head and in no specific order, the shows I've watched every single episode of: Avatar: The Last Airbender, South Park, Futurama, Dexter, House, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Doctor Who (New Series), Torchwood, X-Files, Mad Men, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, The IT Crowd, Eureka, The Riches, Louie, The Office (US version), Seinfeld, Friends, Penn & Teller BS, 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Big Bang Theory, Dilbert, Ally McBeal, Mad About You, and SATC. I've also watched almost all episodes of The Simpsons, Frasier, Family Guy, American Dad, Monk, This American Life, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Whose Line Is It Anyway, SpongeBob Squarepants, Two and a Half Men, Spin City, That 70's Show, The Wonder Years, and Doogie Howser. Lately, Juliet and I are watching 30 Rock together and I'm going through the first season of Merlin (she's not much into scifi/adventure shows).

It does sound like I watch an awful lot of television and I haven't even mentioned documentaries like Cosmos, Understanding, The Universe, Modern Marvels, Planet Earth, and Attenborough classics. Time and again I've considered watching less TV and reading more but somehow I just keep finding new shows that I end up loving. I don't feel guilty for watching TV because I know it helps relax my busy-bee of a mind and gives me a much needed break from programming. And since my programming productivity hasn't gone down and in fact has risen lately, I find no reason to stop my television watching activities. I've been mixing TV with programming and it has been working pretty well for me. I code for 4-5 hours in front of the TV, then get tired of coding and play with my cats and bunny while watching TV for a couple of hours. Then I get bored of TV while the pets get tired of me, so I turn off the TV and program for 5-6 hours in absolute silence.

For me, the end goal is sustainable productivity, while being healthy in mind and body. Also, keeping my wife, family, friends, and pets happy. So far so good! However, I've learnt to be careful whenever I start to like something too much, in this instance, TV. Hence I decided to pause Merlin for an hour and write this 'blog entry, just to get my thoughts out on the whole subject for me and you to decide. Now that I've written it up, I feel pretty good that I'm not going down the path of addiction, be it to TV, internet, programming, or pets. Of course, you may think otherwise so feel free to speak your mind and let me have it.

Add a Comment

Fri, 31st Dec '10, 11:20 am::

I just did my final chores for 2010. I cleaned up all the animals, cleaned out our Florida Room, made all the phone calls to companies (bank, credit card etc.) that I had been pushing off for a while, and finalized the paperwork for our cruise to Mexico in January. Year 2010 is almost over and I'm looking forward to 2011. Happy New Year everyone!

Add a Comment

Four fantastic moviesSat, 25th Dec '10, 7:15 pm::

Juliet and I watched four fantastic movies today. We started with the classic Planet of the Apes. The next movie we saw was Freezer Burn. It was hilarious partly because we serendipitously saw it right after Apes and partly because the dialogs were all too real-life like. Then we caught the BBC premier of the Doctor Who Christmas Special: A Christmas Carol. Juliet's not a big fan of the Doctor and even she liked it. I, of course, loved it.

Finally we saw one of the most uncomfortably funny movies I've ever seen, Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by the guerrilla artist Banksy. The film is presented as a documentary but it seems all too comical to be real. To me it looks like yet another elaborate hoax by Banksy. The documentary is about the life of an artist called Mr. Brainwash but seems too much like an embarrassing comedy by Wes Anderson.

It's raining outside and we were bundled up in front of the TV all day. Here's hoping tomorrow will be sunny.

Add a Comment

Lunar Eclipse 2010Mon, 20th Dec '10, 7:45 pm::

Tonight's total lunar eclipse is very special. It is the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice in 372 years. It'll take place over a span of 4 hours between 1am and 5am with one full hour of totally eclipsed moon. It's clear outside though a bit cold. I'll most certainly go out at different times of the night to watch. I'm so glad I have an awesome hammock in my backyard.

Add a Comment

Juliet's Graduation from Barry University 2010Sun, 19th Dec '10, 12:20 pm::

Yesterday was Juliet's graduation ceremony at Barry University - Class of 2010. Check out the graduation pics. She received the Dean's Award for the student with highest GPA (4.0) and an award from the Pi Alpha Honor Society. After the ceremony, we went to a really good local restaurant called Grill 131. If you're in the St. Petersburg / Seminole area, be sure to check it out. We had a great time and celebrated with some yummy cake. I'm still stuffed from all the feasting and don't plan on getting up from my chair today.

Add a Comment

Juliet graduates at the top of her class (Valedictorian with 4.0 GPA)Mon, 13th Dec '10, 4:15 pm::

I'm so proud of my wife. Juliet had her last finals today and got an A. In the last two and a half years, she's had over a hundred exams and in every single class she got an A. Her GPA is 4.0 and she'll be the valedictorian of her graduating class. Her graduation ceremony is this Saturday and I can't wait to see her get up on the stage. I'll post pics soon after.

Next month she'll take the Florida board exams to be certified to work as Physician Assistant. The day after that I'm taking her on a cruise to Mexico. That's her graduation gift :)

Add a Comment

Sat, 11th Dec '10, 1:50 pm::

This 'blog entry is being written on a laptop that is physically in India while I am sitting on my sofa in US. I'm remotely logged into my mom's new laptop so I can customize it just for her. Her laptop was loaded with so much crapware that it was unusable. Despite having 2GB of RAM and a fast CPU it was crawling. I used Skype's screen-sharing option to see what she was seeing and got her to install TeamViewer.

Once we got TeamViewer working, I took over and for the past 4 hours have been removing crap from her laptop and installing some useful applications. TeamViewer doesn't require you to create an account or give out your email. Download software at both ends, enter the remote PC's ID & pin and you're good to go. I highly recommend it for fixing family PCs.

Add a Comment

Motivating myselfTue, 7th Dec '10, 1:45 pm::

I love watching Doctor Who (new series mostly). I'm too lazy to exercise. So I have made a new rule to motivate me to work out and it's been working well for a few weeks now. I'm only allowed to start watching Doctor Who once I get on our elliptical machine. If I work out for 30 minutes, I can watch the show for 30 minutes during the exercise and a bonus 30 minutes afterwards. If I work out for 45 minutes, I get to watch the show for 45 minutes during exercise and a bonus 45 minutes afters. Since each episode is 45 minutes, that's two episodes. Last night I worked out for 99 minutes. What can I say, I really LOVE Doctor Who.

Add a Comment

Thu, 2nd Dec '10, 6:40 am::

I just bought my sixth monitor, an HP 24" LCD with a resolution of 1920x1200. I already have five LCDs (1050x1680 each) and have placed them next to each other like this. Last month, I hooked the 5th one to my Mac Mini. However, programming in XCode on a small monitor like this is a pain, especially with the iPad Simulator shrinking to 50% scale by default on lower resolutions. So now I'll have a sixth monitor. I was going to put the fifth one away in storage but Juliet insists I should have all six on my desk because it makes me look like a total nerd.

Last few weeks I haven't written much code for KType because I realized there some more important material that I need to learn. So I'll be studying for the next week or two using online lectures. Sometimes I feel bad about "wasting" time watching lectures instead of just jumping into the code and hacking it on my own. But experience has taught me that one day spent learning often saves me ten days in coding.

Add a Comment

KType & LifeTue, 16th Nov '10, 7:05 pm::

I have been working nearly full-time on KType for a couple of weeks now and things are finally starting to take shape. If you're unfamiliar, KType is my research project to build software/hardware tools for improving communication for people with disabilities. For the past 6-8 months, I've been talking about it to everyone I know and I'm glad that things are coming together now. I bought a Mac Mini two weeks ago, spent the past week learning how to program iPads, and finally created the initial design of the KType iPad app. Check out the screenshots. I am nowhere close to being done but I know I'm slowly getting there.

As part of my research project, I'm maintaining a wiki at and updating it with anything useful that I come across. I have a basic reference page with links to news articles and products about assistive technologies. Over the next few months, I will be post detailed case notes as I work with my potential end-users. Now that things are moving at a good pace, I will post regular updates.

I know I've barely started working on KType but just getting to this point in my life where I can put a good 40-50 hours a week into such a project has been a challenge. People thought I was stupid when I told them that I was planning to quit my job so I could work full-time on a multi-year research project that will not get me a degree, money, or fame. And when I explained that I intended to drop out of a prestigious MBA program so I could work on this 8-10 hours a day out of my house, they thought I had gone insane. Of course, once I talked about the project goals, applications, and end-users, I got a lot of support from everyone.

The real difficulty about KType is everything that is NOT KType. Programming and computers are easy. Life is hard. Just because I'm working on KType doesn't mean I don't have to worry about family, pets, house, cars, mortgage, bills, and taxes anymore. In fact, my money-related nightmares have quadrupled since July. I have been using my cashflow application diligently to plan our spending and thankfully so far, things look good. Giving up my job meant giving up on a stable middle-class lifestyle in exchange for financial uncertainty. Once Juliet gets a job next year, I will worry less, though I doubt I'll ever stop.

Not knowing our future financial situation means not being able to plan the big changes in life, something that I love doing. We want to buy a bigger house so my parents can come stay with us whenever they want, for as long as they want. In the current housing market, I doubt I'll be able to sell my house easily so we might end up renting it out for a few years, which comes with its own set of responsibilities. Juliet and I want to start our own family and while I am ready for it personally, I don't know if and when we'll be able to afford her student loans, two houses, and a baby or two on top of everything else.

What I'm trying to say here is that life's going on as usual. I'm working on something I truly love while doing my best to take care of everything else. It's tough but worth it. I have a wonderful partner who understands my dreams and supports my decisions even if it means postponing someone of our plans. As my favorite Doctor says, allons-y!

Add a Comment

Fri, 12th Nov '10, 3:35 pm::

We started watching a new show on Netflix Instant Watch - The Riches starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. We're only on the second episode yet I'm already hooked.

Add a Comment

Signs They Just Want Your MoneyFri, 5th Nov '10, 3:05 pm::

I'm skeptical of people who talk for a living. If you wrote a self-help book and now give lectures around the world talking about your book, chances are I want nothing to do with you unless everything you say is grounded on hard science. If what you say cannot be proven or disproven, I'm not interested, even if all of it might be true. This includes alternative medicine advocates, nutritionists, personality coaches, most business / leadership coaches, NLP counsellors, and definitely the followers of pseudosciences like astrology, faith / spiritual healing, dowsing, ghost hunting, homeopathy, magnet therapy, and ESP. I know many people in my personal life believe in some of the above but it doesn't bother me. After all, I'm a fan of a time-travelling Doctor from the extraterrestrial planet Gallifrey so who am I judge what someone else believes in.

I came across an interesting video yesterday titled Your Brain At Work by a business coach. While the title, presentation format, and mention of a business coach set off red-flags, I gave the video a shot because it was presented in the Google Tech Talk series. I was pleasantly surprised to find it had many moments of insight with the presenter constantly citing case studies and medical research to back up his claims. What he said obviously seemed very true. The brain indeed has a prefrontal cortex and certainly studies have shown it is important for complex thought processes and critical analysis. And personal experience tells me that humans certainly get affected by negative stimuli much more intensely than positive stimuli. The presenter certainly knows what he's talking about.

His words reinforced my understanding of the brain's functions and capabilities and I even mentioned it to my wife that she should watch this sometime. I was so impressed with the presentation's logical reasoning, structured format, and reliance on actual reason that I let my skeptical guard down and completely ignored all the subsequent red-flags that I always watch out for. This morning I decided to go back and review some of the research he cited before I shared the video with some of my friends and that's when the house of cards came falling down. None of the original research has been published in any well-known journal in the fields of neuroscience, brain, medicine, or even psychiatry. The presenter made substantial references to studies but they were conducted by him and most of them were published in a journal founded by him. He coauthored many of these studies with researchers with impressive CVs but some of these researchers were not even in the fields they conducted the research in. None of these are deal-breakers individually but when I spot a series of them, I step back and question a validity of the primary author.

While there is an easy way to sniff out bogus science, there is no tutorial on how to spot a life coach who wants a lot of money to teach you how to live better. So having failed to identify the lack of hard science last night in the presentation, I decided to make up a list of my own. This list is not a critical analysis of the video I watched yesterday but is just a model to help me and hopefully others.

Five Easy Signs They Just Want Your Money:

  • Bold, dynamic speaker: You need two things for someone to pay you to talk: (1) Have something worthwhile to say and (2) Be an awesome speaker. Most life coaches I've seen only have the second part and they do their very best to hide the lack of actual, original content in their presentations. But that is an art in itself as you'll see below.
  • Obvious facts get repeated: This is an easy one to spot. If you catch yourself agreeing with someone talk, that's a big red flag. Knowledge doesn't work like that. You have to work hard to understand scientific methods like path integral formulation. I'm learning a new programming language using online documentation and video presentations and I keep going back and forth every few minutes to make sure I really "get" it. If something as mundane as a programming language is that difficult, what makes you think someone can explain "how the human mind works" in 45 minutes? Asking 1,000 people whether they like red or blue after seeing green and concluding that the human mind prefers red is not science, despite gratuitous use of fMRI images. At best, it is a well-designed survey. The goal here is to make you feel like they know what they're talking about so you can feel like you're learning something. If I show you that I know something, then I talk about it, instantly you'll feel like you now know it too, especially if I ask easy to answer questions that cement your beliefs.
  • Generalizations abound: Real science is very, very specific. Generalization in science is very difficult, if not impossible in some fields. For almost a century now, many scientists including Einstein have tried and failed to come up with a unified theory of how everything works in the universe and so far, this remains an open line of research. Yet the guy on stage who wrote a book on herbs can explain everything about everything? Usually, speakers with a good grasp of one field will try to apply it to every problem that the audience presents. So a guy on stage selling vitamins will say there is a vitamin tablet for every single problem in your life, including your son who keeps getting into trouble at school, your boss who doesn't appreciate your hard work, and your business partner who keeps trying to steal your share. Another guy selling meditation tapes will tell you that meditation is the solution to all of the above problems and the guy selling "mind-body control" or "neuro-linguistic programming" will say his tools will fix everything. Beware of generalizations.
  • Unique perspective on the common: This one's a doozy. I said above that most speakers don't have anything new to say yet now I say having a unique perspective on a common phenomenon is a gotcha. The reason is that this is their big sell and how they managed to get on the stage. If there is absolutely nothing new in someone's talk, it is easy to call their bluff despite their dynamic hand-waving abilities. But if during all the hand-waving, the speaker makes you wonder "huh, I never thought of it that way" even once, then you've fallen hook, line, and sinker for their act. And every act needs a setup. The speaker's unique perspective is their thesis statement, their angle, their bait. "Have you ever felt like A, B, C? Believe it or not, but A, B, and C are all because of W, which is just an upside-down M!" Surely you never thought W being an upside-down M had anything to do with A, B, and C. So this person on stage must have some insight that you don't. Right?
  • Special acronyms & mnemonics: I saved the best one for the last because it is something EVERY SINGLE life coach does. They make up really cool, action-word-laden acronyms to help you remember the bad and the good. Often they'll put up a slide saying "The real cause of stress in life is DONKEY: D for Dishes, O for Office, N for Naggers, K for Karma, E for Enemies, and Y for YOU!" Hey, that sounds about right. This guy sure is insightful. And then they say "The solution to DONKEY is NOPANTS: N for Never giving up", O for Onomatopoeia, P for Palindromes, A for Ants, N for Nts, T for Ts, and S for Seriously, I'm done making this stuff up." There. Easy as pie. Making lame acronyms doesn't make anyone deep or insightful. It simply gives them more practice at making stuff up, something they're already doing when writing the rest of their speech. Instead of cheap acronyms, I prefer Steganography, "the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message." You want an example? Scroll up and read the first-letter of all five of these paragraphs :)

I really don't have a problem with experienced people teaching others how to do anything, including living a good life. Most of what I've learned is from others. However, I do have a problem with people who claim to have done SCIENCE and then when you dig in, turn out to have done no such thing. I don't expect a hair-dresser teaching an apprentice on how to curl hair to cite a dermatological journal. But if you talk about neuroscience, quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, or any hard science, you better be standing on firm ground. Quantum Thermodynamics is a wonderful field but you can't use it to explain why sometimes you feel like aliens are watching your every move.

Add a Comment

Wed, 3rd Nov '10, 1:05 am::

It took me almost six hours today but I finally sorted through 4,000+ photos from our Out-West Voyage. Here are the photos from the trip, organized in ten small albums. I haven't added the captions yet but I plan on doing that over the next few days.

Sorting through a thousand photos isn't difficult when only one camera is used. In our case, we had Chris' Droid, Arthur's iPhone, my iPhone, and Arthur's DSLR. We all took pictures at different times in different places, though Arthur took the bulk of the hi-res pictures on his DSLR. Since we crossed back and forth many state lines and time zones, it is practically impossible to just sort the photos by date and time to get them all in the right order. I wanted to break up the photos into ten albums and put about 30 photos per album. So I imported all of the photos in iPhoto on my new Mac Mini and organized them manually. I do not retouch or edit any photos except for resizing them automatically for faster downloads.

This reminds me - I bought a used Mac Mini last week. I hooked it up to my 5th LCD and setup Synergy so that I can control my main PC and the Mac Mini using a single keyboard/mouse. I certainly have way too many computers and electronic devices in my house now. I have my main 8-core PC, an Acer laptop, the new Mac Mini, Juliet's HP laptop, a tiny laptop permanently connected to my TV, two iPhone 4s, an iPad 3G, an iTouch, a Nokia N800, and 2-3 old PCs locked in my closet. I'm planning on giving away the old PCs soon so it's not too bad. My main PC is now 3.5 years old but is just as fast as the day I bought it.

In other news, today my 'blog turns 9. When I started it in 2001, I had no idea I would still be updating it on a regular basis. Next year I might do something creative for my 'blog's 10 year birthday.

Add a Comment

Wed, 27th Oct '10, 11:30 pm::

Home sweet home at last. I arrived home a few hours ago, safe and sound. I drove about 6,000 miles in the last two weeks, 2,500 of them since Monday. Zero tickets, no damage to my car or gear. I had a wonderful time driving back from Salt Lake City, Utah and am so glad to be home. My fingers hurt from holding on to the steering wheel for 15 hours today so I can't type much. I'll write more about the trip in the next few days. In nutshell, it was amazing and I can't wait to go on another one next year.

Add a Comment

Wed, 27th Oct '10, 6:35 am::

I'm 928 miles from home on the western border of Louisiana, driving for the rest of the day listening to Hindi music. It'll be the final stretch of my 6000 miles journey from St. Petersburg, Florida to Salt Lake City, Utah and back. Surprisingly, I'm still not tired and I do not mind the long drive one bit. We took over 4,000 pictures and I plan on going through them as soon as possible. I'll probably upload the best 200 or so into 5-6 different albums. Vacation is serious business.

Add a Comment

Tue, 19th Oct '10, 12:05 am::

We're camping in Holbrook, Arizona tonight after having driven through New Mexico over the past two days. I drove from St. Pete, Florida to Houston, Texas via Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I've been taking pictures all the way and once Arthur and Chris met us up in El Paso, they took over the photography department. In New Mexico, we visited White Sands desert, Cibola National Forest, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and Chaco Canyon. In Arizona, we visited Petrified Forest (part of Painted Desert) and will be going to Meteor Crater and Grand Canyon tomorrow.

We're taking so many pictures that I'm afraid it'll take me a week to just go through them. I'm certain I'll upload it all here as soon as possible. We have 3 more nights of camping before we get to Salt Lake City, Utah. I'm so excited that I can't sleep.

Add a Comment

Thu, 14th Oct '10, 2:55 am::

I'm off on my desert/canyon vacation trip with my buddies! Next top, Houston, TX. I'm so excited. I'll miss Juliet and all of our critters.

Add a Comment

Tue, 12th Oct '10, 11:40 am::

Googlebot is my friend. It reads everything I write. It checks my 'blog daily to see if I wrote anything new. It even reads my old writings and projects to see if I added anything. Then it shares everything I've ever done with the rest of the world. It introduces me to new people and is polite enough to not peek into things I want to keep hidden. Googlebot is my friend and I'm thankful for it.

Add a Comment

Fri, 8th Oct '10, 9:45 am::

I've been coding away at KType for the past few days and have a good idea of how the system will come together and work. I'm pretty excited. I'll be able to show something within a few weeks now. Today, I go shopping for my trip.

Add a Comment

Presenting Cakesy.comSun, 3rd Oct '10, 11:10 pm::

I'm turning 30 tomorrow. Instead of getting emotional about the event, I made a cute little website called that lets you write messages using fake-frosting on cakes. You can finally send a cake like this to your friends to tell them how you truly feel. My friend Tamara came up with the original idea for Cakesy and helped pick the different cake designs. She was also the inspiration behind the Team Maker app I wrote earlier this year. I don't know how she comes up with ideas that have such a high popularity to effort ratio.

Earlier today, Juliet and I went to play mini-golf with her family. We had a great time, had some yummy birthday dinner, and now we're watching Doctor Who on Netflix. Happy 30th to me in just under an hour :)

Add a Comment

Success MatrixWed, 29th Sep '10, 6:30 pm::

I spent a considerable time this past month learning new systems, platforms, and tools to improve my skills in programming. Choosing what to learn is often quite a difficult task of its own because you never know how the 200 hours you spent learning a new technology will impact your skills, creativity, and the very way you think. One important thing I learnt while learning to learn is how to distinguish between tools and raw materials, and more importantly, why.

Tools are what you build the product with. Raw materials are what the product is built of. The fable of The Chicken and the Pig would be quiet appropriate here: No matter what you build, tools are involved but raw materials are committed. I used to spend a lot of time picking the right tools for the right job because that's what you're supposed to do. Yet I saw lots of examples of really crappy tools being used improperly in very successful products. On the other hand, I also saw very good tools being used properly in products that failed miserably. How could there be no correlation between the input and output? Turns out I was only looking at part of the input. What I should have been concentrating on, was the combination of the raw materials and tools:

Success MatrixStrong MaterialsPoor Materials
Strong ToolsDesigned to succeedAwaiting disaster
Poor ToolsAwaiting sweat & bloodDesigned to fail

Having a successful product certainly requires a lot more than strong raw materials and tools but having those two right gives you a strong foundation. That buildings and bridges built with poor materials fall is no shocker. What does surprise people every now and then is seeing something built with poor tools succeed. These products require a lot more sweat and blood to succeed but they can succeed indeed. I don't have first-hand knowledge working with the following tech sites but based on the information I've gathered from articles, interviews, and online postings, I would classify them in the success matrix as:

Success MatrixStrong MaterialsPoor Materials
Strong ToolsDropBoxXmarks
Poor ToolsOrkutCuil

The problem with technology (and the primary reason I decided to write this post) is that it is difficult to decide what is a tool and what is a raw material when in the end, it's just a bunch of 1s and 0s. If you're building a shed, wood and nails are raw material, axe and hammer are tools - no ambiguity at all. But for a web project, is the back-end database a tool or a raw material? What about the platform, the programming language, the framework, the client-end scripting library, the graphics engine, or the server host?

Since the difference is hard to spot, the question is if it even matters or not. I'd say it does, for one simple reason - raw materials cannot be changed after you've started building the product whereas tools can be, albeit at a minor cost. You can't switch from wood to cement half-way through a building project but you can certainly upgrade to a nail-gun from a hammer when your arms get tired. Using the ability-to-be-swapped as the primary condition, it can be easy to decide if something is a raw material or a tool in a tech project. Hosting? Usually a tool, unless you build your project solely for AWS. Programming language and framework? Usually a raw material unless the back-end is what's doing the bulk of the hard work and the front-end is simply a pretty proxy. Database engine? Could be a swappable tool if you abstract away all database-specific calls from your code.

Programmers often get into long arguments about which technology is right for the job and why you should use X and never use Y. Fact of the matter is, if something is a raw material for your product, take the time and do the research to make an educated guess. It will always be a guess because you never know what will happen in the future. If something is a tool, just pick something that gets you going quickly because if it doesn't work, you can always switch to something else later.

Add a Comment

Starting KTypeFri, 17th Sep '10, 12:05 am::

For some time now, I've been looking for a good way to build a system to help people with speech/neurological disabilities communicate better and tonight, I found it. After my cousin Keval from Mumbai got in an accident over six years ago, he lost his voice and motor skills. Over the years, he has gained some control over his right hand but it is not enough for him to type on a keyboard or use a mouse. It appeared from some videos that my sister sent me last year that he might be able to use a touchscreen to push digital buttons so I decided to look into developing a software/hardware system customized for him.

I created a rudimentary on-screen keyboard that helped guess what he was trying to type, a "smart" version of the T9 typing-mode on cellphones. I called it KType and it used Google's AutoSuggest feature to "guess" what the next word or phrase would be. That it was a good idea was confirmed when I recently ran across Google Scribe - a simple demo that works on the same principle (and uses the same Google data-source) as KType but offers a different user-interface.

I sat with Keval for many hours during my recent trip to India to try and figure out what kind of system would work for him. Last month, I met a friend's brother who has a neurological disorder that prevents him from speaking and makes motor control very difficult. I know I shouldn't extrapolate too much from just two people's requirements but I know that if I am able to make something that works for both, it will most certainly work for a hundred others, as there are many people who have problems speaking and using general-purpose electronic devices to communicate. With all of this in mind, I started to build a list of requirements for the hardware and software platforms that I will use for the next generation of KType.

The hardware I need to use will:

  1. Be cheap and affordable: After all, health-care is expensive as it is. No need to make software that only runs on $10,000 machines. Maximum hardware cost: $1000, prefer to be: under $500, sweet-spot: sub $300.
  2. Be available throughout the world: If not immediately, then within a year or two at most. No NASA rocket parts, only commodity hardware.
  3. Have a touchscreen: It can be used as the primary input or as the configuration panel.
  4. Have good audio out: Will be required for text-to-speech.
  5. Be connected: Wireless required, Bluetooth highly desired.
  6. Integrate with other devices: I may need the ability to integrate with joysticks, hardware push buttons, HDMI monitors, and other I/O devices.
  7. Run on battery and for many hours: So the user can be mobile.
  8. Easy to reset: 9 out of 10 errors should be fixable by turning the device off and on again.
  9. Relatively easy to program: This is very important for me because I don't have five years to code patiently. I want to give a working KType device to Keval yesterday.

The software I need to use will:

  1. Be free from licensing issues: I want everyone to use KType without any restrictions.
  2. Work on multiple hardware devices: I want to write once, deploy anywhere. I am not building a high-performance, finely-optimized video game. I just want to make code that works and is stable, even if it's not "perfect".
  3. Allow users to update to latest version: I don't want to manually upgrade all the devices. Ever.
  4. Perform low-level hardware-functions is necessary: If I want to create a wireless network between my selected hardware device and a webcam, the end-user shouldn't have to deal with complex configuration. I want the ability to create an ad-hoc wireless network dynamically in code.
  5. Exist today in usable form: I'm not going to wait for Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Adobe to release their latest and greatest SDK before I can start coding. I need to get started right away.
  6. Be fast: While initially I'll do simple things like easy-to-use on-screen keyboard, I have plans to do some very CPU-intensive processing in the future. So I can't really develop in QBasic.
  7. Have an extensive set of libraries: I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I want to use the most advanced wheel freely available today.
  8. Not be a fad (i.e. be around for a while): I plan on working on KType for the foreseeable future. I can't start to code it in Erlang and find that the flavor of the day is Clojure or Ruby. Last thing I want to do is a complete rewrite. So the software platform I decide to use, better be around for a long time.

Having mulled these requirements over and over in my mind for the past few months, I was starting to get disappointed that I couldn't find a viable software/hardware solution. While the Apple iPad definitely met most of my hardware requirements, programming for it in Obj-C hardly fulfilled my software requirements. Finally tonight, I came across AirPlay - a software development system that will let me write code in C/C++ and run it on a variety of hardware devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Though AirPlay may not meet every single software requirement immediately, with the iPad expected to get some competition in the coming months from the likes of Samsung Galaxy Tab and Archos Tablets, I think making a cross-platform software that would work on any of these devices will be the best solution for me and my users.

I started to play around with AirPlay tonight and I'm definitely excited. My iPad is setup and ready to be programmed. Can't wait!

Add a Comment

Tue, 14th Sep '10, 5:35 pm::

I got my iPad 3G today! Time to start fiddling.

Add a Comment

Sun, 12th Sep '10, 12:45 pm::

It's been over a week since I started my new schedule and I'm pretty satisfied with it so far. I've gone running with our two puppies almost everyday, worked on my projects like I intended to, fulfilled all of my commitments, and got a taste of being in the zone. My stress-level has gone down drastically and I've been feeling extremely creative all the time. I know this because yesterday, after a hiatus of almost 3-4 years, I felt excited to dabble in computer graphics once again.

I made a 3D city out of Jenga Towers (warning: 7mb) by programming in Structure Synth and rendered it using SunFlow. To see how I did it, read this and to do it yourself, read this. While playing around with 3D graphics seems like a waste of time unless one intends to make it a career, I know from past experience that once I feel creative enough to make some artwork, the energy and enthusiasm starts to flow into my code and projects.

In other news, we cancelled our cable TV and home phone line. We mostly watch shows and movies on-demand via Netflix Instant ($9/month) so there's no point in paying $100/month for less choice and worse programming. I've been watching Doctor Who episodes while Juliet loves to watch chick-flicks and romantic comedies.

My plans for our big desert/canyon trip in October are coming together. I planned the entire 1700-mile route last week and will make the reservations for the camping sites later today. I'm so excited!

Add a Comment

The walk of my lifeFri, 3rd Sep '10, 12:40 pm::

I took a long walk by myself today. I had been waiting for this walk all my life and it was everything I ever thought it would be. Most people plan for success, many plan for happiness, and the rest plan for difficult-to-achieve goals. I took a long walk to plan for balance and self-actualization. Now that I'm not working full-time, there are too many things I can make myself busy with. Most of the things I want to do are computer-related and if my past-experience is any indication, they will bring me temporary excitement, momentary fame, and years of bug-fixes, feature-requests, and unpaid tech-support emails. In short, every new project I pick up comes with life-long baggage and even though I love these little things, they prevent me from doing the big things I really want.

I began my walk with the goal of simplifying my life while still enabling me to do everything I want guilt-free. This includes lots of computer things, family-time, exercise, kayaking, self-improvement, and social commitments. After an hour of pondering, I came up with a weekly schedule that will be nearly identical every day:

My daily chores would fit between 6am-7am and 7pm-11pm. All my interesting projects would be during 8am-6pm. Once a month, I will reevaluate my open projects and make changes to my schedule as needed. As of right now, I have prior commitments for Monday and Wednesday, at least till the end of this year. This leaves five days where I can do anything I want during the day. These five days were the most difficult to allocate. While I'd love to spend all of my time working on cool web apps like most of my projects or ZetaBee, I came to a realization that this is a never-ending, never-finished list. These projects have brought me immense joy and experience but have also taken up a lot of my free time in the past.

Additionally, these projects also conflict with my nature adventures. I want to go kayaking all day or hike a long swampy trail without feeling guilty that I'm not working on x-y-z. Then there is a big issue of getting in The Zone, "a phrase used by software developers to mean the ultimate level of mental focus." Working on six different projects in the same week basically means you don't get in the zone for any of them - too much distraction and shallow focus. I want the ability to get in the zone so I can do something with absolute concentration and utmost dedication.

My solution is to split the projects into (a) ONE-BIG-PROJECT and (b) everything else. The one-big-project is what I'll work on during Thursday-Sunday so I can get in the zone. Everything else goes to my "Too-Much Tuesdays" bucket. Every Tuesday, I will get to pick what I want to do that day. If I need to work extra on a project because of prior commitments, I can do that. If I want to go kayaking, hiking, or just have a Star-Trek movie marathon, I can do that. If I want to take a day-trip with Juliet, I can do that.

My goal is to stick to my weekly schedule without fail and push anything that would prevent me from staying on track to the Tuesday bucket. This will free me from guilt, distractions, and unnecessary busy-work so that I can work on my one-big-project for days on end. For the foreseeable future, my one-big-project will be KType. KType will be a mix of software & hardware to help people with disabilities communicate better. I'm certain that I will be writing a lot more about it in the coming days.

To make sure I stick to my schedule, I'm now tracking my time using If it works well for me, I will write about my experience and methodology. Personally, I've never been too obsessive about following a routine and as long as I stick to my general schedule, I'll be more than happy. The goal here is to not stick to schedules but to create new, useful tools that help others. The weekly schedule, time tracking tool, and all these plans are just to make sure I don't go off-track, broke, or lazy.

Add a Comment

Fri, 27th Aug '10, 1:25 pm::

As of today, I no longer have a full-time job. This will be a huge and welcome change for me. I have a lot of things I need to do in the upcoming months. This weekend Juliet and I are going on a mini-vacation to Las Vegas - first time for both of us. After that, who knows where life will take us. I'm daunted by the uncertainty of it all though very excited by the possibilities.

Add a Comment

Sat, 14th Aug '10, 2:40 pm::

I've been extremely busy the past month and will be so for the next month at least. Life's good, no major news, everything going well. I'm just working really hard to ensure that soon I can start working on the projects I've been aching to work on, for years now.

Juliet and I are going to Las Vegas in a few weeks and I'm planning a camping trip with my buddies in October. We're off to the vet now to get all of our animals their regular health-checkups.

Add a Comment

Our 2nd wedding anniversaryTue, 27th Jul '10, 7:00 am::

Today is our second wedding anniversary. For the past ten minutes, I have been trying to come up with something heartfelt to say about the past two years that does not sound cheesy, sappy, or copy-pasted from the last page of a romantic novel. Nobody can stand those annoying "happily-ever-after" couples in perfect relationships who rarely disagree, barely quarrel, and never leave each other's sides! No points for guessing, we are that couple.

I can't speak for Juliet's side of the story (because I am certain that I am a very difficult person to deal with 24/7) but from my end, these two years of marriage have been pretty much like living a dream. Our longest fight probably lasted 60 minutes and it was all my fault (according to her of course). Could I have predicted 2-3 years ago that I would be in such a healthy, loving relationship today? Absolutely not. Can I predict that things will always be this perfect in the future? Unfortunately not.

Then what's the point of writing about any of this instead of describing our dinner plans for tonight? The point is to capture a snapshot of my life as it is now, so no matter how the future turns out, someday I can look back at today and be nostalgic. The point is to admit that things are indeed good, even though I'm always scared of jinxing myself. The point is to confess that two years ago when she walked into my life, I was nervous as flip about our future, not because I didn't know her well but because I knew myself all too well.

While it would be sweet and romantic of me to describe how beautiful, wonderful, and smart she is, I really just want to congratulate myself for NOT SCREWING IT UP! While she deserves accolades for being the perfect-little Indian bride two months ago, I deserve the "Average Guy's Award for Making It Work With a Hottie." On a day to day basis, I don't think of her as anything other than my wife - the lovely woman who does my laundry, feeds our animals, and bugs me to fix this or clean that. It is only when I begin to write my 'blog or talk about her to a close friend that I realize how fortunate I am. And in addition to being lucky, I must be pretty damn awesome to have kept her interested in me all this time. I probably deserve an award for that too. At this rate, I'll soon need a new room just to store all my awards.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention this: Happy 2nd Anniversary hon!

Add a Comment

Goodbye dear grandpaWed, 14th Jul '10, 7:00 am::

My grandfather (paternal) passed away about 8 hours ago. He was a very kind man and made friends everywhere he went. He helped anyone in need and always remembered to ask you about your family. He grew up in pre-Independence India and was the youngest of 11 siblings. My grandparents have been married for 55+ years, persevering through financial struggles, numerous family crises, and life & death traumas.

I just reviewed news from my dad that they cremated my grandfather and distributed his ashes in the Ganges. We've all known for a while that this day would come sooner or later and were mentally prepared to accept the fate. Even when the doctors had diagnosed him as brain-dead, it did not affect me; at least he was physically present in his bed in his room in his house in Kolkata, surrounded by his family. Maybe I was subconsciously hoping that he would wake up and get better. But now that he is physically no more, I can't stop crying.

As per the tradition, my family will be in mourning for the next 13 days.

Add a Comment

Sun, 11th Jul '10, 1:00 pm::

Friday, July 9th was my last day at Formulated Solutions as a full-time employee and I had a very hard time controlling myself from becoming emotional during office hours. I came to Florida six years ago and spent the best years of my 20's working very closely with some really great people. I've made long-life friends here and am hoping to keep the friendships alive for the rest of my life. My boss Eric has always been more like a close elder brother than a distant authority figure. His father Thomas, brothers Brian and Kris, and business partner Ken have been a constant source of support for my work, ideas, and dreams. I will miss daily lunches with Kelly, Sandra, Jim, and Tyler. I will miss those complex accounting meetings with Vinnie where we tried to simulate 6 months of accounting transactions and their effects on the Balance Sheet in our heads. I will certainly miss discussing big database changes with David, Jim, and Linda.

It was not an easy task for me to give my resignation to Eric and I am very happy that he was supportive of my decision. I was never treated like some random employee; from the first day till last, I was treated like one of the partners. I made every decision, in the IT department and beyond, with complete freedom. So even the thought of resigning was difficult. However, in order to achieve my goals of academic research, financial independence, and personal growth, I had to do what my heart and mind told me. I resigned with the promise that I will forever be a friend and be there whenever I'm needed. Calling my last day a bitter-sweet experience is putting it mildly.

Add a Comment

Wed, 7th Jul '10, 7:45 pm::

July has been tough. My grandpa (Dad's dad in India) has been on life-support for almost a week now. He's 77 years old and has suffered from multiple strokes and diabetes for years now. The doctors issued a "Do not resuscitate" order for him yesterday. I talk to my family in India a couple of times a day but there has not been any change in his condition. There's not much to talk about. I'm so glad that Juliet and I met both my grandparents last month.

I've been pretty busy with work and things are only going to get tougher over the next 3-6 months. Juliet is working hard to graduate in December and in the meantime, I'm planning on paying off all of my student loans. I'm on the path to change my life such that starting 2011, I can concentrate on research. Not much else to say except wish me luck.

We went to the beach an hour ago. The water is warm yet soothing. I'm afraid the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is going to ruin the ecosystem here. A single hurricane that hits the Florida panhandle and pulls in the oil eastward, would be enough to destroy the hundreds of beaches, mangrove forests, and marine and plant life along the entire west coast of Florida for years to come. Here's hoping that doesn't happen.

Add a Comment

Wed, 30th Jun '10, 11:05 pm::

Salman Khan is a famous Indian actor with over two decades of box office success. Recently, another Salman Khan is gaining fame because of a different kind of audience he holds captive. This Salman Khan, or "Sal" as he likes to call himself, is an educator unlike any other you've heard before. Sal runs one of the most popular and prolific online universities in the world, Khan Academy, from his home. Khan Academy is an ever-growing collection of YouTube videos that aim to teach a variety of subjects from math to history and biology to physics.

Sal scribbles down math equations on a digital blackboard and narrates each step of the equation in a very soothing but not boring tone. These lectures last 10-15 minutes and cover a small part of a subject. Currently there are about 140 videos spanning the subject of "Linear Algebra" and I've reviewed the sixth video in the series so far. I am in the process of reviewing a lot of math that I haven't touched since graduating from college six years ago. I plan on doing a lot of independent research over the next 6-12 months and I need to learn a lot of math behind digital signal processing, computer vision, and audio synthesis. That means hundreds of hours of learning calculus, linear algebra, physics, and complex numbers.

I've known about the Khan Academy for many years but didn't bother checking out any videos because I felt it was meant for middle and high school students. Indeed, that is how Sal started making these videos - to help his nieces and nephews with their school work. However, now that I actually want to relearn a lot of stuff I've learnt in the past but forgotten over time, I find Sal's videos to be perfect for me. They are very straightforward, he explains almost every detail, and since it's YouTube, you can rewind or skip sections easily. I watch a 15 minute video in about 8-9 minutes. However, there are some parts I watch 2-3 times if I don't understand them the first time around.

I've been listening to Sal's voice for three days now and I'm certain I will continue to do so daily for the next six months. I looked at a lot of other OpenCourseWare, including free classes by MIT and nothing comes even close in terms of quality to Sal's videos. I think the real reason is that while all the large universities are trying to upload videos of in-class lectures by professors and making books, notes, and exams available online, Sal is concentrating on what matters most - simple and clear instructions in small, digestible doses. An MIT OpenCourseWare lecture on Computer Algorithms is daunting. Each lecture is between 60 and 90 minutes long and contains slides, related content, assignments, exams, projects, multiple downloadable formats, and group discussions. Sal's videos run full-screen and have no distractions, interruptions, or extra work. If you want to truly learn a subject, Sal's videos are what you need. If you want to get the in-school experience of doing homework, assignments, and exams, then get started with OpenCourseWare from any number of universities.

My goal is to learn many different subjects in a short span of time. So in addition to Sal's videos, I'm reading books, writing programs to solve some of the new problems I encounter, and reviewing any scientific papers that interest me. 2011 will be an exciting year for sure. I can't wait to catch up on everything I missed.

Add a Comment

One of my favorite comedians - George CarlinSat, 26th Jun '10, 10:05 am::

Every now and then, I'll come across someone who does not understand or appreciate standup comedy by the likes of George Carlin and Bill Hicks. Someone on commented that they don't see why people love Carlin, after all every quote of his sounds like any angry-old man could have said it. That is indeed true; there is no lack of bitter old men making wise-ass comments like "Stop whining. Be a man. Screw the world." In fact, any single quote by Carlin could be mistaken as having been authored by Lewis Black, Ron White, Dennis Leary, or even a Twitter account.

However, the reason people love Carlin quotes is because they have also heard the other thousands of sentences that make up his entire standup act. His standup acts were brilliant and sliced through the world to show you every little piece of BS like an MRI machine. A single sentence just serves to remind us of Carlin's ideologies, which till the day he died were original and untainted. He also had a way with words.

People love Carlin because he influenced the way they think. It is because of Carlin that I don't worry about "Saving the Planet." It is because of Carlin that I "love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to." Carlin is one of the hundred people whose words, wisdom, and wit have made me who I am today. Penn & Teller have influenced my thinking and views on the world in a similar way. My wife and I have rescued over 10 pets and I say Screw PETA! Add to this list comedians like Bill Hicks, Louis CK, and Woody Allen.

I aspire to have original ideas and always seek to make my own decisions based on the facts and relevant opinions. Listening to comedians like Carlin improved my skills in critical thinking and my ability to discern facts from opinions and biases from agendas. It took my thinking to a whole new level and taught me to question everything. I would say it is because of Carlin that I know I will NEVER stand in line 6 hours for a new iPhone. His standup on "Stuff" has certainly influenced my real life. I live in a 800 sq. ft. house when I can easily afford a 3,000 sq. ft one. I don't buy and hoard stuff because his act sliced through my life and made me realize stuff is just stuff. Now I'd rather spend $100 to spend a whole day at a theme-park doing stupid things with my wife and friends than buy the latest gizmo.

Pick a day when you have nothing to do for 6 hours and listen to some old and some new Carlin material. You'll realize the man was a true genuis. If nothing, your BS-detector will get a good workout next time you watch the news.

Add a Comment

Sinister MeThu, 17th Jun '10, 7:10 pm::

People usually forget how sinister I can be on a day to day basis. Juliet lost her car/home keys while shopping at Walmart yesterday and almost had a nervous breakdown this morning when she couldn't find them after searching through her purse, dresser, book-bag, and every nook and cranny of the house for a solid 30 minutes. I gave her spare keys (I always keep all of our spares in a very clearly marked area just for instances like this) and she left for work on time. She called me while on her way and asked if I could go to Walmart and look for her keys. I said "Sorry hun, I have a lot of work to do and I'm not sure if I'll be able to get to Walmart today." She sighed "Alright... I'll search our home once again and go there myself tomorrow."

I called Toyota on my way to work and asked how much a new set of keys would cost. They said it would be about $50 so it's not really a big deal. I called Home Depot and asked how much to make a new set of keys for our house and it's pretty cheap too. I called Juliet and left her a message saying not to worry about her keys because we can get replacements for everything at under $75. She called me back and said I am awesome because I'm so understanding and helpful.

After work, I went to Walmart, found her keys in the lost-and-found bin, and just got home. I put her keys inside the purse that she already searched three different times. She has been freaking out all day about these keys, been feeling guilty for losing them, been feeling guiltier that I have been so understanding and not mad at all. She'll be home in a few hours and find the keys in her purse. She'll immediately say I went to Walmart and put them in her purse. For the subsequent 10 minutes, I'll deny going to Walmart and express my shock at how she can't find her own keys in her own purse! Then after she accepts that maybe she didn't look hard enough this morning, I will show her this blog entry.

I expect to sleep on the sofa tonight but I think it'll be totally worth it.

Update: I received a lot of punches and kicks between 9pm and 10pm last night for my shenanigans. Totally worth it though.

Add a Comment

Sun, 13th Jun '10, 10:00 pm::

I know it took forever but I finally uploaded the 600 pictures from our Indian Vacation & Wedding. It took me about 7 hours to go through thousands of photographs from many different cameras and I haven't even begun to check out the videos (there's probably 5-6 hours of HD video footage). I will also write a detailed log of our entire trip very soon. For now, it's time to watch the season finale of Breaking Bad.

Add a Comment

Sun, 6th Jun '10, 11:55 am::

We had an amazingly awesome time in India and just got back to our home in Florida. I'm so exhausted after the 44 hour journey back. I'm also kinda sick from the change in weather, temperature, food, and water. Hopefully I won't get any sicker. I will write more soon.

Add a Comment

Tue, 25th May '10, 12:15 pm::

I am in my childhood home. Juliet is unpacking my bags while my dad and sister are questioning why I brought so many shoes. This is the weirdest feeling I've experienced in a while. It's like my two worlds have come together in a dream land of sorts. On one hand I feel completely at home with my family, talking and chatting in Gujarati. On the other, Juliet's here with me and we are packing and unpacking stuff all day like we are on a vacation to the Florida Keys.

I met my cousin Keval for the first time in over 5 years this weekend and he looks so much better. His recovery from the multiple brain surgeries between 2004-2006 has been nothing short of miraculous. He is able to move his right hand and communicates using an alphabet chart. There has to be a more comfortable way for him to communicate better using technology.

Today Juliet and I will get the final measurements taken for our wedding garments. We also have to check out our hotel rooms and the venues for all the different events. It will be a busy two weeks but I am so excited.  

Add a Comment

Sun, 23rd May '10, 6:10 pm::

We are safe and sound in Mumbai. Thankfully our flight was pretty uneventful. There was a recent plane accident in south India and everyone is emailing me and Juliet asking for an update. Our flight landed in Mumbai at 9 pm last night and we had our big reception ceremony at noon today. I met 150 relatives and family friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in over a decade. It was great meeting everything. I'll upload pics once I get some time.

Add a Comment

Fri, 21st May '10, 10:45 am::

We've checked in to the Tampa Airport, waiting for our 12:00 pm flight to Newark. Then we fly to Mumbai directly. All of this seems to surreal. I'm getting married for the THIRD TIME to the same woman! And my sister's getting married and moving to the UK!!! And I get to see all of my family and friends after FOUR LONG YEARS! I don't capitalize words willy-nilly or throw exclamation points around but I can't help myself today. I'm SO EXCITED!!!

Add a Comment

Thu, 20th May '10, 10:55 pm::

We're almost done packing. We fly to India tomorrow. So excited!

Add a Comment

Thu, 13th May '10, 6:15 pm::

I get to see my mom in 9 days. I haven't seen my family in over four years. The wait and anticipation is killing me...

Add a Comment

Tue, 11th May '10, 11:10 pm::

My family is from the village of Balasinor in Gujarat, India. When I visited Balasinor as a kid, my dad told me that archeologists had found dinosaur egg fossils in the village. Now decades later, archeologists are calling Balasinor India's Jurassic Park. I should update the Wiki page for it to reflect the news.

Add a Comment

Types of MoneyWed, 5th May '10, 8:15 am::

I wish I could 'blog in my sleep. Last night as I was falling asleep, I made an epiphanic observation about money, or at least it seemed so to me. I don't know one person whose life hasn't been tremendously influenced by the amount of money they have or don't have. People have too little, too much, or in case of the wise few, just the right amount of money. They work too hard, not at all, or just the right amount. They spend too much, too little, or just the right amount. How we feel about money depends on whether it's coming in, going out, owed, borrowed, found, or lost. We measure the worth of time and things in money and we measure the worth of money in time and things.

Having studied the economics of money and banking, I can describe how governments, corporations, and banking institutions are supposed to quantify and measure money, growth, and investment in theory. But in practice, what it all really comes down to is how individuals truly "feel" about money, regardless of how large the sum of money is. How we feel about money comes from our intuition and understanding of the situation. Intuition and understanding are important because there is no proven method of minimizing the risk in any financial decision. If there was a scientifically provable formula for making money without any risk, not only would the owner become the richest person in a very short time but public disclosure of such a formula would bring down every economy because nobody would invest in stock market, small companies, or even their own self when there is a certified way to make money elsewhere without any risk whatsoever. To make a lot of money, just apply the formula more often, to a larger sum of money. It would be no different from grinding in a multi-player video game.

What our entire financial future boils down to is how we feel about different kinds of money. Money you earn by working really hard is different from money you inherited. Money you pay to send your child to school is really different from the money you pay to get them out of jail. Money you have in the bank is different from the money I have in the bank. $100 means a lot to you, it means less to me, and nothing to someone else. This is the force that runs the world economy. If we all felt the same about money, then there would be no luxury goods - they'd either be staples or non-existent. If everything is a staple good then nobody would want to invest in such a competitive market. So it is a very good thing that we all feel differently about money.

The following is my attempt to classify income/earned money as I know, feel, and observe. By no means is it a comprehensive list so feel free to share your "money types".

1. Sweat-Blood money: You worked hard for this money. It didn't come to you easily. You can proclaim loudly that you got it legally, honestly, and justly. You made a tremendous effort and large sacrifices to obtain this chunk of change and you deserve every penny of it. This is often the most satisfying money to earn and save. It is tough to spend this money on frivolous expenses but very satisfying to spend on things that helps yourself and others.

2. Guilt money: You feel guilty that you got this money, regardless of whether you deserve it or not. You will accept this money because you have bills to pay but something inside of you keeps nagging you about how you shouldn't have gotten this money. But you won't return it because you need it. You may have borrowed money from a friend and now that they don't speak to you anymore, it feels like guilt money. You may have done some work you are not too proud of and made some guilt money to pay the rent. The only good thing about guilt money is that it is spent almost immediately, unlike "Give-it-back money."

3. Give-it-back money: This is the money you would give back immediately if you could go back in the past and change something. Life-insurance money falls into this. If you'd rather have someone not die, then the inheritance is give-it-back money. Also if you truly hurt someone in the process of making this money and regret it every day, it's give-it-back money. There is nothing good about give-it-back money except it is usually a large sum.

4. Bank-error money: Someone in the bureaucracy screwed up and now you find yourself marginally richer. Congrats! Keep it in the bank and earn interest on it. DO NOT SPEND IT immediately! If you got an extra paycheck because of data-entry error in the payroll system, chances are that after 6 months, nobody will notice it. Keep mum and enjoy the tiny fortune. A million dollar error will be fixed (and someone is getting fired). $250 error will be ignored. Bank-error money is like finding an extra cookie in the 6-cookie packet. It won't change your life but it will brighten your day. So smile!

5. Found money: The problem with found money is that it is also "Lost money" for someone. If it's less than $20, it is no different from "Bank-error money." The person who lost it will curse but get over themselves. But anything above $20 could quite possibly be a significant loss to an average person. Imagine a single-mother of two with bills to pay who loses $75? Try to return it if at all possible. Donate it if you can't. Keep it if you are really poor. But realize that it could turn into "Guilt money" very easily.

6. Networked money: This is the money you make because you know someone who knows someone. This is the money rich old guys make because they all know each other and can make a lot of money for each other by playing nice, at the expense of a thousand others. There is nothing inherently wrong with networked money as long as it doesn't screw others. However, the big problem with it is that it often masquerades as "Sweat-Blood money." So the guys who really made millions because they knew the right people now think they earned it by being smart, hard-working, and innovative. Hello Wall Street!

7. Me-too money: This is a very dangerous yet prevalent variant of "Networked money." Only reason you make this money is because all your peers make this money. You don't really care about this money, you don't even know how to spend this kind of money, but you earn it because you're supposed to. You have a PhD in an engineering field? You gotta make 150k by age 45. Your cousins are all making $100k as mid-level managers? So must you. This is the worst reason to make money because you're exchanging something you value, your time, for something you don't need. When you realize what you've spent a decade or two of your life chasing money, you might think it's all "Guilt money" but there's a slight difference - you needed the "Guilt money", you didn't need "Me-too money."

8. Lottery money: Almost everyone wants this, even those who swear by "Sweat-Blood money". This money brings the promise of getting anything you want. It is the shortcut that bypasses "Networked money" and "Me-too money." In addition to actual lottery winners, major sport-stars and celebrities also earn this money. If the money you make is disproportionately higher than the effort you make, it is no different from a lottery. You could be the great musician in the world but if you make more money than the GDP of the 150th country in the world, you ran into some lottery money. The best part about lottery money is that there is no guilt, no need to give-it-back, and nobody lost anything for you to obtain this money. It is a no-strings-attached manna from heaven. What could possibly go wrong? Except... reality. Unless you have extreme self-control and are smart with finances, you will lose this money. You will buy things you don't need to impress people you don't care about. In that respect it is not much different from "Me-too money." The primary difference is the number of zeros at the end. You can put this money to very good use but most probably you'll throw your wife or daughter a huge birthday party on an exotic island. Then you will give it to the "Networked money" or "Loop-hole money" guys and lose it all.

9. Minted money: Though often confused with "Lottery money", money made via very successful and smart ventures is minted money. It is often a combination of "Sweat-Blood money" and "Networked money" though the main difference lies in the immense scale of the operations. Founders of Google, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and PayPal minted money. They created entire markets around their products and not only grew themselves but also made everyone who worked with them rich. These people created products that filled specific needs and provided value to the users. A lot of technology startups hope to mint money in their steps, though most of them are really just hoping for "Crapshoot money." Minted money is often denounced as "Loop-hope money" and the latter often presents itself as minted money.

10. Crapshoot money: If you are a smart, creative person and saw your parents work themselves to death to make some "Sweat-Blood money", you know there has to be a better way to make it in the world. You've figured out that lottery, networked, or me-too money is for schmucks with poor statistical skills and no vision. You have skills, raw talent, and the drive to live on nothing but dreams, vision, and sheer hope. You are in this to mint money! Sorry. You're just aiming for crapshoot money. Like the YouTube guys. And Facebook, Twitter, and You have a good product, you certainly do. It's unique, interesting, and usable. You have the eyeballs, PR, and smart people. What you don't have is something that people will pay money for over and over again. You're hoping to either be bought out, sell ads, or sell data. You are betting on luck and a lot of it. There is a silver-lining to this cloud. Even if you do not completely succeed in your goals of changing the world, you could make more than enough money to buy a Château or two. There's nothing really wrong with crapshoot money. It is well-deserved, requires just as much sweat and blood as any hard-earned money. It just relies on getting tremendously lucky. And the biggest problem is that when you do succeed, you're going to deny luck was even involved. Nope, it was sweat and blood the whole way.

11. Loop-hole money: What do you do if you are exceedingly smart yet too impatient to wait a decade or two till you mint money? You find a loop-hole. You seek arbitrage opportunities. You create structured investment vehicles to invest in asset-backed securities without providing investors any transparency. You are far above the "Networked money" guys. You are the genius in the Ivory Tower who consistently grows money. You are the brain-child behind Enron. You run Goldman Sachs. You bring down commodities markets in Asian countries so you can efficiently conduct a hostile takeover. Those "Minted money" guys may be wealthier and smarter than you but your shrewdness gives them nightmares. "Networked money" guys want to be you. "Lottery money" makers think they are you. And "Sweat-Blood money" guys would loathe you if they knew you existed. Fortunately for you, they're busy blaming the "Networked money" folks.

12. No money: You don't want money or things. Money is just to provide the bare essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. You don't want a car, boat, or even a cake on your birthday. Somehow money just never caught your eye. You may or may not have passions and aspirations. As satisfied as you may be with your situation, unfortunately people think you're poor, hippie, or just plain unambitious. But it's alright. You go write that book or song. Go ahead and make that website or a widget to make cars use less fuel. You might succeed and end up with some "Crapshoot money" or you may not. Who cares? You have nothing to lose. Carpe diem, baby.

13. Old money, dirty money, blood money, FU money: You have so much money you don't even know what to do with it. You don't care how you got it. Maybe your dad is a billionaire. Maybe he sold guns to both sides in a war. Maybe you overthrew the democratically elected leader and proclaimed yourself the dictator-for-life. Maybe you took bribes, commission, or whatever dirty money you could get your hands on. After all, you worked hard for this money! The world's a dirty place and you're just a small town rube trying to make it in the big bad city. Money is money. Those holier-than-thou "Sweat-Blood money" types should just fess up and admit they don't have the drive and ambition to compete in this world. There is not much good that can come out of old or dirty money. The only good thing is that it slowly dwindles down to "Networked money" and then disappears in a generation or two.

There are many other kinds of income/earned money I can list but I'd say most everything fits into one or at most two of the slots above. There is a whole another side to money when it comes to spending it. Maybe I'll write about it some other day. In the meantime, which income/earned money type do you think you are?

Add a Comment

Wed, 28th Apr '10, 9:45 pm::

This past weekend I went kayaking and camping with a group of other kayakers in the Chassahowitzka National Park. We kayaked a total of 22 miles over two days and camped out on different uninhabited islands. Check out the pics here.

I am typing this from my new iPad that I purchased for my parents. It is pretty slick and easy to use. Thankfully they will no longer have to worry about viruses and spyware. If I like using this myself then I will buy a 3G-enabled version once I come back from India. Our trip is less then a month away and I can't wait.

Add a Comment

Mon, 19th Apr '10, 8:05 am::

My friend Arthur came down to Florida this weekend. Friday evening Juliet and I picked him up from the airport and we all went to Ybor City. We spent hours at Gameworks and saw the hilarious comedian Brian Posehn. Saturday we spent the whole day at Busch Gardens and watched movies all evening. It was raining heavily Sunday morning so Juliet made some yummy breakfast (yay muffins) and we just chilled around the house for a few hours watching The IT Crowd. We dropped Arthur off at the airport in the afternoon and didn't do much the rest of the day. It was a great weekend and I hope we get more guests in the future so we can do this all over again.

Add a Comment

Mon, 12th Apr '10, 5:05 pm::

Whenever I get lunch or dinner at a restaurant, I always finish my meal and never bring back any leftovers. Today, I bought a large sandwich with the intention of eating half of it for lunch at my desk and the rest for dinner once I get home. I figured that way I won't have to prepare dinner for myself. Normally Juliet cooks up something healthy for me every evening but she won't be home on weekdays for the next six weeks because of her clinical rotation. So I have to fend for myself.

I ate half of the sandwich and right next to me is the other half. I can't wait to get home for dinner. So so hungry. I'm waiting for an update to complete on a server and all I can think of is the sandwich. Self-control is difficult when you can smell yummy food.

Add a Comment

Sat, 10th Apr '10, 5:00 pm::

I just got back from kayaking with Juliet at Chassahowitzka. Last week I went kayaking around Dunedin Spoil Islands, Three Rooker Bar, and Honeymoon Island. Tomorrow I'm going to Caladesi Island. It's finally beautiful weather and I don't want to stay a minute indoors. We had a really rainy, gloomy winter this year and I have been dying to go kayaking for months now.

I did get a little sunburn from 8 unplanned hours in the sun last weekend but it's all ok now. Next weekend, my friend Arthur from New Jersey is visiting us and we plan on going kayaking too. And I'm going kayaking/camping with a bunch of other local kayakers on April 23. It will be a 35-mile kayak trail over three days and we will camp out in different places along the way. I'm pretty excited about it. Tonight, we're going to a comedy club with Sandra and Matt.

Meanwhile, my parents are planning our Indian-style wedding in India. We're so excited. Less than 45 days before we fly off to India!

Add a Comment

Religious tolerance in IndiaMon, 29th Mar '10, 7:25 am::

I came across this article about Hindu pilgrims celebrating a Muslim warrior in Kerela. The article talks about how Hindus visit various temples and also a specific mosque as part of the pilgrimage. Most people outside of India don't know how much Indians truly respect and accept the religions of others in day to day life. Despite the frequent news stories of religious-hate-fueled riots, most Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Jains all coexist very peacefully. It doesn't matter if you are a Sikh or not, you get used to saying "Sat Sri Akal" whenever you come across an elderly Sikh person. You say "Eid Mubarak" to Muslims on their holy days. You say "Merry Christmas" (not happy holidays) to a Christian and you learn to say "Jai Jinendra" to Jains.

It is understood that everyone has a religion and you are not only supposed to tolerate it but accept and respect it. Sayings like "Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai; Aapas mein hai bhai-bhai" (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians are brothers) are taught to children from early age. The truth is, teaching people to respect others' religions reinforces one's belief that their own religion has to be equally respected. On the other hand, atheists get no respect in India. "Nastik" meaning atheist is considered a dirty word. It is ok to be any religion, just not no religion.

Add a Comment

Fri, 26th Mar '10, 8:20 am::

Now that the weather is warm and the mornings are back to being beautiful, I started running this week. I take our puppy Jack with me and we walk, jog, and run about 2 miles each morning. I'm running for fun and health, not preparing for a race. Even if I decide to race, I plan on maintaining my 2-miles/day routine. I'm planning on a kayak trip next month with a bunch of other local kayakers. It'll be a weekend-long paddle and camping trip. I'm pretty damned excited and can't wait.

Add a Comment

Sat, 20th Mar '10, 10:55 pm::

I finally have a few photos of our house now that we have new tiles and fresh paint. We're still in the process of setting up furniture and decorations and will be done in about 2 more weeks. Today was a pretty busy day. We spent most of the day assembling wooden file cabinets for my home-office. While cleaning out my office, Juliet mentioned to me that she had never built a campfire. So we built one in the backyard. We had some marshmallows and destroyed miscellaneous incriminating evidence. Having a backyard rocks.

Add a Comment

Trypophobia sucksFri, 12th Mar '10, 8:15 am::

For as long as I can remember, I've been a trypophobe. Trypophobia is the irrational fear of clusters of holes, pods, circles, cracks, cuts, and other asymmetrical shapes especially those found in nature. When I look at these things, I get very uneasy, grossed out, and sometimes even nauseous. Some of the things that have this effect on me include lotus seed pods, pumice, holes in concrete, bug tunnels in wood, enlarged pores of the skin, bone marrow, Wasps' nest, and bubbles in dough.

My phobia extends not only to that but also to some textures and patterns that are irregular and not symmetrical. However, not all irregular patterns gross me out, nor do all clusters of holes make me feel uneasy. I used to think I was the only one till I came across an online discussion about textures and their effects. This blog post by another trypophobe definitely rang true to me.

Juliet is pretty good at identifying what kind of textures might gross me out and warns me beforehand, usually she's correct. I don't think I'll ever get over this fear but then I don't really care enough to. It's just one of those little things that makes me, me.

Add a Comment

Sun, 28th Feb '10, 6:05 pm::

We went to the Ikea in Tampa yesterday and surprisingly we found the food there better than the furniture. The store was setup amazingly well and there was a really good cafe. However, the furniture didn't seem to be of high quality and it wasn't cheap either. Plus I would have to haul it all the way home and assemble it myself. Just didn't seem worth it. So instead, I ordered a kitchen buffet online and got free shipping. It looks better than what we saw at Ikea and is made of solid wood instead of particle board or MDF.

Juliet spend the entire day cleaning the house and I rearranged the office / computer room. We still have a lot of stuff to move around but it's finally feeling like home. I need to get rid of my plastic cabinets and get some decent filing cabinets for all of our documents. Maybe once the house is painted, I will start looking. Tonight I have lots of homework to complete so that's it from me.

Add a Comment

Fri, 26th Feb '10, 11:20 pm::

Tomorrow we go to the new Ikea that opened in Tampa last year to buy some furniture for the house. I'm excited!

Add a Comment

Sun, 21st Feb '10, 6:05 pm::

The tiles are done! The entire house looks so much better now. I'll try to post some pictures soon. If you are in the St. Petersburg / Tampa Bay area and need tiles or flooring done at a very good price, call up Michael from MCG & Associates. Mike's entire crew was awesome and did a fantastic job.

In addition to getting new tiles, we rearranged almost every room and gave away a lot of my old furniture. The baker's rack, kitchen table + chairs, kitty post, a small sofa, and tons of smaller things are now gone. This makes the house more spacious and now we can have a guest bed setup in the office room. Now we have to get all the rooms except the bedroom painted, the bathroom renovated, and give away a lot more stuff (old clothes, computer equipment etc.)

Last few weeks I've been so busy with school and this week is no different. I still have three more weeks to go before the semester is over. Since we're going to India in May-June, I don't think I'll be able to take summer classes. So in my free time, I think I'll work on some software projects that I have been thinking of for a while. I'll share more once I get started.

Add a Comment

Thu, 18th Feb '10, 9:40 am::

We're getting tiles installed in our entire house starting today. The contractor is here and they're already ripping off the tiles in the kitchen. All the rooms including kitchen, bedrooms, living room, and utility room should be completed by Monday. After the tiles, we'll probably hire someone to paint all the rooms. The last big project will be renovating the bathroom. I can't wait till it is all done.

Add a Comment

Violated by Chat RouletteWed, 10th Feb '10, 10:45 pm::

Juliet and I just spent about 30 minutes on Chat Roulette and I swear I never want to visit that website ever again. Chat Roulette lets you chat using a webcam with strangers from around the world. At first glance, it looks like a great idea - harnessing the power and diversity of the Internet to see and talk to people from around the world. But in reality, we talked to at most five decent people for about five minutes total during the half-hour. The rest of the time we ended up being shocked by how insulting, racist, idiotic, and just plain rude everyone was. I have a pretty strong stomach for criticism and insults but I seriously felt violated at times because people were saying things to our face that you only see in prison movies. My faith in humanity just took a nose-dive tonight.

In slightly more civil news, I started reading In Defense of Food. I will write more about it once I've read it. Till then it's work, college, and regular home life.

Add a Comment

Mon, 8th Feb '10, 7:45 am::

So someone in Gujarat, India posted a groom-seeking-bride matrimonial ad for a "Chirag Mehta" in a local newspaper and incorrectly put my as the contact address. For the past two weeks, I've been getting photos of single Indian women with marriage proposals in my mailbox. Juliet isn't happy.

Add a Comment

Fri, 29th Jan '10, 7:30 am::

In 2001, I bought my first LCD, a 19" Princeton Graphics monitor for $1200. In 2004, I bought two Dell 19" for $600 each to replace the original LCD. In 2007, three Dell 19" LCDs for $400 each to replace the two Dells. Now, I can buy six 23" LCDs for approx. $200 each for a total cost of about $1200. It's funny how the number of monitors continues to increase while the total nominal investment remains constant.

I had been talking on and on for years about getting a 6-LCD setup and I'd even predetermined what I'd do with each LCD in a 3x2 layout (top1: IM/Chat, 2: Graphics Editor, 3: Putty/Shell, bottom 4: FTP/Explorer, 5: Text Editor, 6: Browsers). My techie friends laughed at me but at a resolution of about 2048x1152/LCD, I would have ample resolution for just about everything and I wouldn't have to alt-tab at all. My productivity in web-development would absolutely sky-rocket. And since could rig my own stand to hold the 6 LCDs in place instead of buying one for $600, I could get my dream-setup for about $1500. I had built my workstation in 2007 to easily handle 6 DVI ports when the time was right. Now all I needed was an excuse to splurge.

Last month, two of my Dell 19" LCDs died, leaving me with just one monitor. My wife joked that I needed new monitors because she didn't wanna be married to some one-LCD guy. She practically kicked me out of bed and told me to find my 6-LCD X-Mas gift. I spent three hours surfing Newegg, Dell Outlet etc. and finally found my dream setup. Right before I clicked 'Place Order' I yelled out "Honey if I click this button, I'm never leaving my computer room." I don't think she heard me but I clearly did and for some weird reason I didn't like it. I cleared my cart and started looking for a laptop instead.

I've always been anti-laptops because come on, how can you even compare a 3 or 6-LCD setup to a laptop with a tiny screen, tiny keyboard, and crappy batteries. However, something went off in my head at that point and I realized I didn't want my perfect 6-LCD setup even though it was right there in front of me. I have wanted 6-LCDs every single day for the past decade - ever since I started making websites. But it was when I yelled that I don't want to leave my room that I realized that I actually do want to leave my room.

Now I take my laptop with me everywhere I go and program whenever/wherever I want to. It's a very big change for me and my productivity has definitely taken a hit. However, my desire to code has risen and that is important. Who cares if I'm capable of being highly productive if I don't feel like it most of the time? I guess the take-home lesson here is that it is not the specs but the environment and experience the setup fosters. I still might buy my 6-LCDs someday, if I ever have a crazy do-or-die idea, but for now I'm just happier with a laptop.

Add a Comment

Tue, 12th Jan '10, 11:55 pm::

I grew up playing with Lego and similar building-block toys but once I fell in love with software, I pretty much forgot that I could tinker with hardware too. For about two decades now I've been writing code to make computers do whatever I want them to do. Meanwhile my opinion of hardware has been that it is a failure-prone black-box that my beloved software needs to run on. If I could program tomatoes and watermelons to send email, share photos, and add numbers, I would throw away all my personal computers and go grocery shopping immediately. But since I am unable to do that as of yet, I will do the next best thing and start playing with building-blocks and hardware again.

A lot has changed in the past decade in the world of hobbyist hardware. There is a whole ecosystem now surrounding a tiny computer called Arduino that costs only $30. Arduino lets anyone write small programs that can interact with the world using sensors and motors to make things happen in rea-life. No matter how smart my code is on a regular computer, the most effect it can have on the real-world is to send an automated text-message or make a loud noise unless I buy some expensive hardware. Arduino can let me turn on/off LED lights, measure room temperature, detect infrared light, turn on/off motors, and much more. Basically, now my Lego toys can cheaply become tiny machines or robots and the best part is that I still get to write software to make it all work together.

I'm still waiting for my Arduino to arrive and already have an idea for my first, second, and third projects. The good thing is that being a beginner in this field, I get to learn a lot of new things in a very short span of time. After you have been working in a field for a decade or more, coming across new things becomes a rare event. It's not everyday that I hear about a revolutionary programming language or database system. But a tiny $30 PC that can inform me when my cats enter the kitchen? That's revolutionary!

Add a Comment

Sat, 2nd Jan '10, 1:00 am::

Of all the ways I could have imagined starting the year 2010, I highly doubt "working 16 hours straight on New Year's Day" would have been on the list. At any manufacturing or warehousing company, year-end financials are always a big deal and since I maintain the core database, I have to make sure all the transactions are done properly. In addition to that, long weekends are perfect time for me to make upgrades to our computing infrastructure. So this means I've had a boatload of things to do between Dec 31, 2009 and Jan 4, 2010. I'm about half-way done and as of yet, no major catastrophes.

Oh ya... Happy New Year!

Add a Comment

Sun, 27th Dec '09, 8:05 pm::

We're back from our long weekend in the Florida Keys and here are the photos. We had an awesome time in Key West and in addition to visiting the Hemingway House and Butterfly Conservatory, we took an airboat tour in the Everglades and visited Miccosukee Native American village. I'm pretty tired after eight hours of driving and have a pretty busy week ahead so it's time to get off the computer and relax.

Add a Comment

Sun, 20th Dec '09, 12:55 pm::

This is how you MUST watch the new movie Avatar by diretor James Cameron of the Titanic, Terminator, and Aliens fame: Buy tickets to Avatar in 3D at an IMAX theater and sit in the center, middle section. Anything less will not deliver the true visual experience. While the storyline itself is not completely novel, the presentation and experience is. If movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter talk about magical lands, Avatar takes you to them. All I can say is that at the end of the movie, everyone wants to leave Earth and be in Pandora, the world this movie is set in.

Add a Comment

Sat, 19th Dec '09, 12:45 am::

We went to our company's Christmas party tonight and had such a blast. The party began with the company president Eric Dann (my boss) taking the stage and announcing that there were prizes hidden under some of the chairs! A frantic ruckus ensued immediately and only calmed down after the prizes were found. Having grabbed everyone's attention, Eric talked about how Formulated Solutions has grown from just three partners to almost a hundred employees in the past ten years. His joke about how he sees all of us more than his own family made everyone laugh but it rang true for many of us who have spent countless evenings and late nights making things work.

Starting a manufacturing company in the US and growing steadily in the face of economic downturns, outsourcing, and tremendous competition is the very definition of entrepreneurship and perseverance. Having been a part of the company for almost six years, I feel very proud of how far we have come along through all the ups and downs. It has been a constant challenge for me to support this growth and no matter how stressful the work days get, it feels good to be a part of a company that continues to move forward.

After a wonderful dinner, the free "casino" opened and we got fake $1,000 coins each to bet on Black Jack, Craps, Poker, and my favorite, Roulette. Juliet had an amazing streak of luck throughout the night at the Roulette table and in the final round of play, bet on the number 32 and won! This put us into the lead with combined winnings of (fake) $68,300. While we didn't get to cash those coins (alas), we still came home with a nice prize. We have a busy week ahead of us and then we get to vacation in the Keys. I can't wait...

Add a Comment

Tue, 15th Dec '09, 12:05 am::

2010 is just two weeks away and life is moving along swimmingly. School is almost over, work is going well, and the pets are healthy and cuddly at home. 2009 was a very stressful year for both Juliet and I because of school, work, travel, and immigration. We hope to end the year with a relaxing weekend down in the Florida Keys. I can't wait.

One of the things occupying my free time these days is independent research. I've been researching about computer vision for some time now and have started to learn about various algorithms that enable computers to detect faces, eyes, cars, and other objects. I've always been fascinated by image recognition and have lately been spending a few hours every other evening reading research papers on the subject. I don't have much to share at the moment but I'm fairly certain that I will be talking more about this topic in the coming months. My goal for 2010 is to dedicate a significant portion of my free time to independent research so that I will be well-prepared when I get into a PhD program.

Add a Comment

Wed, 25th Nov '09, 10:40 pm::

Yesterday evening we ripped off all the carpet in our house and earlier this morning I dumped off all the smelly carpet pieces in the landfill. Under the carpet was a pretty decent layer of laminate wood. It is much cleaner than carpet but still not decent enough. We will be getting tiles in our entire house pretty soon. I've been saving for new tiles for a while now and it's about time to get them installed. I also moved around the furniture in the living room and my computer room and the house now has a lot more open space.

We're going to Juliet's grandma's house tomorrow for Thanksgiving Dinner. I have an exam and a presentation due on Monday so this weekend will be study-time once again. Tonight, Juliet and I are watching a bunch of movies.

Add a Comment

Sat, 21st Nov '09, 11:20 am::

I don't like going to school on a Saturday. I'd rather be out kayaking.

Add a Comment

Don't blackmail yourselfSun, 15th Nov '09, 10:25 am::

I came across a post on Hacker News this morning on "how to be successful by blackmailing yourself." The basic idea is that if you really don't want to do something then you should tell everyone how you will do it, thereby forcing yourself to do it by way of guilt and emotional blackmail. The author suggests that you should "use the power of blackmail whenever you feel that urge to avoid a certain piece of work (you know, the one you really should be working on right now)." It's the last fragment within parentheses that I want to talk about.

Don't compel yourself to do anything you don't want to. Don't guilt yourself into thinking that you should be doing something else instead of what you really want to do. People need to stop doing this in the name of productivity, efficiency, ambition, or goals. Instead, focus your energy on making yourself realize why something must be done, if it needs to be done at all. If you can convince yourself that it needs to be done, then you will have no problem doing it and will in fact do it willingly. If you can't convince yourself why it needs to be done, then you should do something to make sure you don't have to do it.

E.g., writing a school paper for a class you don't much care for. That is something that happens to me because some of my required Masters classes are a bit too easy (in fact my undergrad courses in the same subjects were much more advanced). I tell myself that life is a learning experience and writing well is an art that I must continually practice to remain proficient, regardless of the subject matter or specific task at hand. Knowing that this one 10-page assignment is a small piece of the bigger jigsaw puzzle of my life as student makes me want to work on it. Not because I love the class but because I see how this particular assignment fits into the big plan I have previously made. I always try to stick with my big plans unless there is a true reason not to. Is a 10-page assignment a true reason not to stick with my Masters degree and my academic plans? No. Then it is something that will take me one step closer to my final goal. Who doesn't want to take one more step in the right direction?

I don't play tricks with my brain or try to excite myself by small goals or high-scores (try to get an A+ in a 10-page paper I wrote in 2 hours). I see a lot of advice in such motivational posts that are mostly tricks and advice on lying to yourself. I don't set my clocks 10 minutes ahead. I try to understand why it must be so instead of fooling myself and hoping that a safety-net for my follies will somehow help me.

Why do I work on the really boring project at work that nobody else wants to help me on? Because I understand that this is something that helps with the bigger picture of my career. If it doesn't, then I will make sure I don't have to do it. I don't want to live a life avoiding things that must be done or playing tricks on myself just so I do things I don't want to do. If I sit back and truly don't want to do something, I make sure I don't have to do it.

This doesn't mean I look forward to doing the dishes. Wife and I both hate doing the dishes and we avoid using too many pots and pans while cooking. However, I do the dishes whenever I can because it makes the misses happy and that is my bigger goal. Doing the dishes gets me one step closer to marital bliss and who doesn't want that? Do I really want to claim "honey I will do the dishes" and do them reluctantly only because I claimed that publicly? Or do I do the dishes willingly because it makes my wife happy and thus me happy?

Add a Comment

Waiting to change my life aroundSat, 31st Oct '09, 11:25 pm::

I haven't written much here lately and I thought that it was because of my busy schedule. Earlier today Juliet and I took a stroll along the beach and we came across hundreds of women and men running for breast-cancer awareness and cure. As we cheered all the runners on, my mind went back to my months of training this summer and I realized why I have not felt like writing much in a while. I love writing when I am making big plans or in the process of changing myself or my situations. At this point in my life, I am not in a planning phase but a doing phase. I am going to graduate school, working hard at my job, and taking care of my zoo at home. This is a period in my life where I don't pick up new things every week but instead stick with the boring but important plans I made previously and push through with my best efforts.

Most people either plan a lot or work a lot but not both. This means they either end up hoping for great things but don't do anything or they do a lot without much forethought. I can't say I'm not guilty of that myself but I've got better at doing both planning and hard work in succession over time. In the past when I got into my work-hard phase, I used to fear that I've lost my aptitude for thinking big but now I know that is not so. It's very enticing to take up a fun project on the side and concentrate so hard on it that the rest of my life gets ignored. While I love that kind of excitement, it takes me away from the bigger goals in my life.

I want to finish my Masters and then in a few years, get into a Doctoral Program. I want to change my life around so research and invention play a bigger role than web design and programming. However, I cannot do that today without making a lot of people around me miserable and hurt. The time is not right. I cannot drop everything right now and instantly do whatever I want, no matter how badly I want it. So till then, I'm making the best of my present life and working hard in school and my job.

The way I see it, the planning phase is when I apply the knowledge I've gained over time to shape the course of my life. That is when I am open to new ideas and find out what excites and motivates me. The doing phase is when I don't waver from my plans no matter what and learn the skills I will need for the rest of my life. Right now I'm learning about project management at school and at work. I'm also learning about business processes, what happens in their absence, and how to make them work so people don't have to. While this may have nothing directly to do with my eventual PhD, I know these skills with help me throughout the course of my life. Things are pretty mundane lately but I know that every night I go to bed slightly more knowledgeable than when I woke up. This lets me sleep better because I know I'm slowly but steadily moving forward.

Add a Comment

Sat, 17th Oct '09, 12:15 pm::

Happy Diwali everyone! Diwali is the Indian festival of lights and here to give you a brief history of the tradition is President Obama. He explains it so clearly that I wish he made more tutorials like these for different things. It would be awesome to have a Presidential video on how to upgrade to Windows 7, make a soup out of tree bark, or give your cat a bath. I think that would really make my day.

Add a Comment

Two-spaces at the end of sentencesSun, 11th Oct '09, 11:55 pm::

I have been working on a group assignment for my class all evening. I would just like to tell all those people who use two spaces at the end of every sentence in a document to kindly take their respective posteriors down to the fiery domain of Beelzebub. It's 2009. We have proportionally-spaced fonts instead of mono-spaced text. Everything written online is automatically converted to single space because web-browsers treat one or more space characters as a single space. You may have experienced this yourself when trying to make a 'blog post or comment online. You actually have to use a special code to force web-browsers to render multiple space characters in a row.

Since we have charts and graphs in our paper that use a series of space characters for formatting, I cannot do a global search-and-replace for two space characters without messing up. We've all written different sections of the paper so each person has formatted and spaced it differently. The formatting I can remedy easily by using Word's style bar. However, I have to manually search through forty pages of text to find double-spaced sentence endings and fix them because the text looks pretty inconsistent otherwise.

Other than this, things are going well. I'm so glad to have Juliet back home. Since she missed my birthday, she got me lots of gifts and a nice big cake upon her return this Tuesday. I thought I had cleaned the house thoroughly before she got home. Then yesterday she went around every room and actually cleaned it. The house looks so much cleaner and makes me wonder if I even cleaned anything last weekend or just had a dream about it. I have my finals this week and two projects due so I'm busy studying day and night now. I have no classes next week but after that another half-semester starts. I feel like these classes are just never going to end.

Add a Comment

Sun, 4th Oct '09, 1:15 am::

It's my 29th birthday today and I'm doing homework four days before it is due. I think for the first time in my life, I am nonchalant about my birthday. Any other year, I would be complaining about having to do homework and chores but I guess after 28 of these, it's getting a little repetitive. Plus 29 is such a non-milestone age. Maybe next year I will do something fun for my birthday. Also, I'm sorta sick with a bad cough so I'd rather not go out and celebrate. I plan on drinking lots of orange juice and cleaning the house tomorrow. I should also get some laundry done as I've run out of clean t-shirts and have resorted to business shirts.

Everything else is going well. School is a lot of work and will get much tougher next year when I sign up for tons of classes. I'm not working on any interesting projects at home right now and just concentrating on school and work. I'm looking for a good research field for my eventual PhD. I'm not sure if I want to spend 5-7 years in computer theory, systems, AI, media, economics, mathematics, or a mix of all of these. I still have a few years to figure that out so I'm not rushing.

Add a Comment

Sun, 20th Sep '09, 11:55 pm::

My days after the ultramarathon have been super busy and the nights have been super short. Work is going well but since I am in the middle of a big infrastructure upgrade, I don't have a second to sit down and breathe. School started and I'm already busy with homework and projects. After two weeks of non-stop work and school, I went up north to Chattahoochee this weekend to see Juliet. She'll be there till the first week of October.

The past two days have been nothing short of an adventure. We went to see stalactites and stalagmites in underground caves, saw bats, swam in a freezing cold freshwater stream, had a little picnic, took more than a hikes in the forest, saw a river dam, chilled on a pier at a lake, got lost while off-roading, almost got my car stuck in mud twenty miles away from civilization, explored an abandoned fort, got terrorized by a loving puppy in the middle of nowhere, drove for hours along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, and sang lots of songs off-key. Last night we watched a few episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and ate some yummy pasta that Juliet made.

I'm exhausted and ready to get back to work tomorrow. Long drives give me so many ideas for my computer projects.

Add a Comment

Mon, 7th Sep '09, 10:25 pm::

Here are the photos from the Grand Teton Race 2009.

Add a Comment

Running 50 Miles in the UltramarathonMon, 7th Sep '09, 3:00 pm::

I am 39,000 feet high up in a plane connected to the Internet. I couldn't wait to get online so I could write a few words about my race and I'm glad American Airlines has Wi-Fi now. As my track sheet says, I stopped after running 50 miles out of the 100 miles that I signed up for. After four months of intense training and considerable preparation, I ended up with a DNF - Did Not Finish. Ever since I ran my first mile in April, I had been dreading the acronym DNF. To me that sounded like failure and lack of preparation. Till the day before the race, I was terrified of ending up with an embarrassing DNF - oh the shame! And then I ran 50 miles for about 24 hours in 10,000 feet altitude and 35F temperature through mountains, jungles, and canyons paved with loose rocks, tree roots, and extremely steep slopes.

One of the greatest feelings in your life is completely and absolutely surprising yourself about your own abilities. The fear of DNF is gone and replaced by the sheer excitement of what I was able to accomplish when the odds were so severely stacked up against me. I live at sea-level in Florida, run on absolutely flat, paved, marked trail in 100F temperature with high humidity. The Grand Teton Race trail was the complete opposite and I was in no way prepared for such rocky trails and high altitude. I knew I was not training appropriately but till I actually saw the mountain trails in person, I had no idea how unprepared I was. But I couldn't give up. I was here to run an ultramarathon and I was not going to stop until I did. After 50 miles (80 kms), my feet couldn't take it anymore and I happily DNF'ed.

I have blisters on all of my ten toes, both heels, and sides of both feet. This sounds bad but the best thing is that other than my soles, I have absolutely no fatigue, muscle pain, or weakness in my entire body. This makes me extremely excited because that means my body can take 50 miles and a lot more without any engine troubles - I just need better tires. I was glad to feel completely healthy (except for my feet) because that means my exercise regimen in Florida was good. During the race I managed my food, electrolyte, and fluid intake well, I was in full control over my mind and actions, and even after 24 hours, I could have kept going.

I know I did not get a medal for finishing this time but I got more than enough encouragement to keep on running from the tons of wonderful athletes, ultramarathoners, volunteers, and race organizers. They pushed me throughout the course and kept my spirits and energy high. My friend Arthur was my pacer and flew up from NJ to make sure I kept moving forward and helped me with everything from gear, nutrition, and medical assistance. At the same time, my friend Vishal in India, Tamara in NJ, my boss Eric in Florida, and my parents and sister in India kept tracking my progress and sending me encouraging words. My family, friends, and coworkers encouraged me before, during, and after the race and that is more than I can ever ask for.

The one person who probably suffered more than me during my entire training was Juliet. For the past four months, I refused to do anything fun on Friday nights because I had to wake up early on Saturdays. Every Saturday morning I would go out running and leave her alone at home with all of the house and pet chores. Every Sunday I would sit around and be lazy so I could "recover from my long run." She encouraged me to keep training no matter how little progress I seemed to make early on. She bought most of my gear, set up the food and drinks for my runs, and even came out a few times to train with me on some of my shorter runs. And during my race, every time I returned to the base aid station after a loop, Arthur would tell me Juliet called up and said she sends me her love.

After the race, everyone asked me what my next ultra will be. Ultrarunners are serious addicts! They made lots of suggestions, especially races that I can train for while living in Florida. I would absolutely love to do more races but I don't know if I can anytime soon because of the huge time and money commitment that even short races take up. I'm taking a break from running for at least a week or two so my feet can heal up. After that, who knows. I want to get back into kayaking again and probably build something fun like our aviary in the backyard. My school starts tomorrow and I have a pretty big project at work that I need to concentrate on. I don't know how the other ultramarathoners do it but it is definitely not easy to train for one race after other. One thing I know for certain is that I loved the wonderful experience I had during this race and would most definitely do something like this again in the future when I have ample time to train. Thanks everyone for the love and support. Next time I'll bring home a medal.

Add a Comment

Fri, 4th Sep '09, 1:25 pm::

Tomorrow is the big race and once the race starts, you can track my progress here. To say that I am overwhelmed would be an understatement. Yesterday Arthur and I hiked up to the top of Fred's Mountain and back down just to get an idea of how tough the race is. During the race, I have to hike up and down Fred's Mountain four times. It is extremely rocky and I almost slipped many times. I think doing it the first time will be ok but I have no idea how I'll do it at 1am after I have been running for 19 hours straight. This is no doubt the craziest thing I have ever signed up for voluntarily.

I met a lot of people in the last few days and everyone is extremely friendly and encouraging. Some of them are doing the 100-miler, while most are in the 50-mile and 26.2-mile marathons. Now that I have seen how utterly difficult the track is, I have no idea how far I can go within the 36 hours. All I know is that I am going to keep walking, running, jogging, and crawling till I either finish or get disqualified for being too slow. I trained as hard as I possibly could have and there is no way I could have prepared for such high elevations and rocky terrain in Florida. So now, all I can do is give this race the very best I can. My next 'blog post will be once the race is over. Wish me luck.

Add a Comment

Wed, 2nd Sep '09, 11:45 am::

I'm in Alta, Wyoming at the Grand Targhee Resort (street view). I had a long day yesterday traveling from Florida to Wyoming but am fully relaxed now. I have three more days before the Grand Teton Ultramarathon begins. Hopefully, my body will acclimate to the high altitude and the thin air before the race. I'm eating lots of fruits, foods rich in iron, and drinking lots of orange juice. That should help boost my red-blood cell count and help me breathe better here.

There are very few people here right now and not much to do other than sit outside and admire the gorgeous vistas. I plan on taking lots of pictures but I don't think I can upload them till I get home next week. I would love to go for a long walk in the wilderness right now but I'm saving my energy and muscles for the really long walk this Saturday and Sunday. Once my race begins on Saturday 6am, you can track my progress here. I added this same link to the '100-mile race' button in the top-left of my 'blog, right under my name/logo.

Add a Comment

Sat, 29th Aug '09, 8:40 pm::

I did not know that Florida had two time zones. I am currently sitting on Juliet's bed in a cute little apartment in the Florida State Hospital campus in Chattahoochee where she will be staying for the next six weeks. She is here for her first clinical rotation; the concentration is psychiatry. After this she has seven other rotations in seven different fields and hospitals over the next year and a half. If this past year of school was intensive and stressful, the next one for her will be extensive and adventurous.

Chattahoochee is a five-hour drive from our home in St. Petersburg and the clocks here run an hour behind. It is a quaint little town with a rich local history. The long drive into the town through the scenic rolling hills and narrow lanes reminded me of Wyoming where we eloped to last year for our wedding and honeymoon. Who knew that a year later I would be dropping her off in a remote town for a month and a half with such a heavy heart. I'm incidentally leaving for the same mountains and canyons of Wyoming in a few days for my ultramarathon. I really wish she could have come with me but this clinical rotation is a huge opportunity for her career and I wouldn't want anything less than that for her.

Yesterday was the "White Coat ceremony" at her university where the teachers officially gave students in her class their medical white coats as a rite of passage, thus bestowing upon them the responsibility and trust that is expected of a medical care professional. It was a short and sweet procession and Juliet was awarded a scholarship for being the top student in her class. I cannot put into words the amount of effort and dedication that she put into her studies over the past year and was immensely proud to see her hard work being rewarded in front of hundreds of students and their family and friends. Most students in graduate and post-graduate programs, including yours truly, just do enough to get decent grades so they can move on to the next course. Not Juliet. She gave every lecture, class, lab, quiz, test, and exam her utmost best. While her eighteen-hour study days drove both her and me crazy, I realized that very soon she will make a genuinely caring and brilliant Physician Assistant. I am very proud of her and so happy that she is in my life.

Our friend Sandra and her daughter Madison were also at the ceremony and took lots of photos. We celebrated the night with some yummy Hibachi and crashed early. We packed both our cars this morning with all the things Juliet will need for the next six weeks and drove up to Chattahoochee. Once I get back home, I will try to put some of the pictures from her ceremony online. Right now I'm stuck in a small town without any wired Internet access and am using a laptop tethered to a cellphone to write this 'blog entry. And Juliet just prepared some dinner for me so my tummy says good bye Internet!

Add a Comment

World's not getting worseSun, 23rd Aug '09, 11:00 pm::

I came across this question posted online: "Every time I go out in public now, everything I see disgusts me. The fat, lazy, ignorant people... It makes me sound like an elitist, but I just can't help it nowadays. Anyone else feel like this sometimes?" This reminded me of the movie Taxi Driver where the mentally-disturbed lead character played by a young De Niro comments that "All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."

The way I see things, there is good, there is bad, and then there is the ability to see good in bad and bad in good. Not everything is as one-dimensional as we often make it out to be. The fat could be the next virtuoso, the lazy could be the next Nobel Laureate, and the ignorant could be the next lifesaving hero. When judging and stereotyping people becomes second nature, we must take a step back and try to remember what it felt like to be a child with a clean slate. Every new person was an experience, every new place was a vacation, and every new sight was an answer.

Pessimism and cynicism are not the sole tools available to our mind for making realistic expectations of the future. Optimism, surprise, and awe should be as much a part of our prediction engine as any other emotion. Limiting your mind to only use negative streams of thought in making expectations of the future is like thinking the stock market will constantly go down forever, regardless of what else is happening in the world. Thinking that people will always be fat, lazy, consumption-driven and are getting more so means you leave no room for any other positive expectations from them. Moreover, judging weight, laziness, ignorance, and consumerism to be solely negative traits takes away any good that might come out as a result of these traits. World isn't definitely black or white and neither are traits absolutely good or bad. Elitism itself has good and bad aspects. It encourages improvement and purity in pursuits while it limits explorations into fields previously deemed impure or lacking, though they might not be so.

I often run into people who tell me the world is going down the wrong path or times are changing for the worse. They haven't been around long enough to know it has always been like this and in fact, technology and knowledge are slowly improving things around the world. We are nowhere close to world peace but we have come a long way from the Dark Ages. Reading the news everyday does make one feel like the world is ending and things will never improve, but rest assured that in the grand scheme of things, all of this is arbitrary yet improving. All you can do is keep an open mind so that even when you tend to judge a book by its cover, you can appreciate a surprising twist every now and then.

Add a Comment

Wed, 19th Aug '09, 7:25 pm::

I've been busy at work lately, setting up some powerful new servers. I'll be leaving for my 100 mile race in about ten days. My name's already on the list of competitors. I've tapered off my training and am just counting days till I go. I'm very excited and just as anxious.

Add a Comment

Sun, 2nd Aug '09, 3:50 pm::

Annoyances add up over time. A month ago, our garbage disposal broke. Last night a supporting post under our bed broke (insert weight-gain joke here). Over the past few months, our bathroom sink started draining slower and slower. Sometime last week the screen from one of the windows in our Florida room became detached. Over time, the lack of space in our kitchen started to bug us more and more.

Having a busy life, these things tend to get swept under the rug because who has time to fix it. However, they continue to be annoyances and the stress adds up. Finally, on wonderfully productive days like today, I wake up and make a list of everything wrong in the house that bugs me. Then I buy whatever is necessary to fix every single problem. And then I fix it, at least for the time being. I feel so accomplished now that we packed up and put away our dining table; the kitchen finally has good walking space. We've only used the dining table thrice in the past year so it's not really a big sacrifice. I also made a small pen for Jack the Chihuahua so he can stay in the kitchen all day and not run around the house chasing cats.

Our house was in chaos till this morning and finally everything is coming together. Juliet vacuumed and cleaned up the house and I fixed the garbage disposal, Florida room screen, bathroom sink, and the bed. Now, we can relax for the day, have a good meal, and watch some TV.

Add a Comment

Our first wedding anniversaryMon, 27th Jul '09, 5:05 pm::

It's our first wedding anniversary today! I can't believe it has already been a year since our wedding in Yellowstone. I was told the first year would be a true test of our patience, tolerance, and commitment. I was indeed apprehensive but the reality turned out to be quite the opposite as it ended up being the best year of my life. Admittedly, this past year has been tough on both of us because of our school, work, and absolute lack of time. And yet we had a blast taking long drives and short trips, watching movies, and going out on dinner dates almost throughout the year.

Our first year of school is over and the next one will start soon. It won't be an easy year since I'm taking twice as many courses as I previously did and she has to go on clinical rotations all over the state. But if this past year was any indication, no matter how difficult life gets, we'll stick together and have a good time :)

Add a Comment

Feeling like a kidFri, 24th Jul '09, 12:30 am::

For the first time in many years, I feel like a kid discovering how a computer works. I had been so busy with making websites, software, and applications for others that I forgot what it was like to just learn and explore like I once used to. I've spent the past decade worrying so much about clients, projects, and deadlines that whenever I had to learn something new, I rushed in, learned the bare essentials, and then got back to finishing the project. I never took a day or a week to just fiddle with new things. All I cared about was building something useful that did whatever the users wanted. While that seems quite productive initially, over time I started to lose the passion I had for computers, mainly because everything felt dull and boring because everything had predetermined specifications and deadlines. In a way, it limited the scope of my knowledge and skills by pushing me towards familiar, proven tracks.

I haven't been working on any major computer projects at home for a few months now and was having a hard time NOT working on something. The habit of constantly building something for others has become a chronic addiction. How can I sit around watching TV or spend 12 hours a Saturday training for my marathon instead of writing code? The feeling of "I should be doing X instead of Y" is one of the most guilt-ridden, debilitating experiences that an ambitious person can face. However, I also believe that all work and no play makes even the most interesting activities suck. How can I make something useful when all I care about is making something useful?

When I look back to see all the fun things I've made, I either made them when someone either asked me directly or when I was sitting around fiddling with something else. It's been a while since I've made random little things while playing around. Tonight I spent some time toying with Processing.js. It looks quite interesting. There are a million other neat projects that people around the world are working on. From a new database system to programmable art, there are so many things I want to learn about for the sake of learning instead of using them as tools for specific work-orders or turning them into full-blown business proposals. I'm excited!

Add a Comment

Running alongside the Flip-Flop ManSat, 18th Jul '09, 10:15 pm::

I ran 36 miles today. I jogged the last 8 of those miles with the famous 64-year-old Flip-Flop Man of Florida, Larry Perrier. I had pretty much given up at the 28-mile mark because of the heat and swollen feet and called Juliet to come pick me up. Out of nowhere, Larry showed up next to me and guessed that I was training for an ultra-marathon, probably my first 100. He said it looked like I had been running since 6-7am and had covered about 30 miles or so miles. I told Juliet that I'll get home on my own. For the next 8 miles he talked about everything from running to macroeconomics. We discussed the joys of running in the rain, the annoyance of noisy lawnmowers, and the bargaining power of Russia in the international oil market.

He is certainly a man who follows nobody rules. It was amusing that there I was, with all my running gear, hydration pack with electrolyte solution, gel packs, heart-rate monitor, and expensive shoes talking to someone in flip-flops, carrying nothing except for a cane and some food in a plastic bag. I have been doing my best to follow all the guidelines to safely and properly train for my race and there he was, just walking as if 40 miles is no big deal. Here's a short film that a couple of students from University of Florida made about Larry.

He asked me about my running experiences and issues. I mentioned about the recurring pain on the bottom of my soles and he said it's probably Plantar Fasciitis. That's why I was about to give up at the 28-mile mark today - my feet hurt so bad I was trudging along at a 3 mile per hour pace. "It's just pain" he said, "It won't go away but you'll get used to it." Just hearing that made me feel better and I ran 8 miles with him. He said I look like the kinda guy who will do a 100 miles one or twice just to prove it to myself and then I would switch to some other equally strenuous physical activity. I was floored by his ability to read me so accurately.

We parted ways when we got near my neighborhood. He said he runs into a lot of people on a regular basis and hopes that we cross paths some day again, maybe tomorrow, maybe 2011. I hope so too.

Add a Comment

Permanent Residence a.k.a. Green CardMon, 13th Jul '09, 7:55 pm::

After being in the US for nine years, as of today I am a permanent resident alien a.k.a. a green card holder. Juliet and I had our interview in Tampa and other than a long wait, everything went pretty smoothly. We had memorized so many little things about each other because the USCIS (previously known as INS) interviewers do whatever it takes to find out if the marriage is bona fide or not. If they suspect that the marriage is not real, they separate the couple and ask them questions independently, like "What was the last movie you saw together?" or "When did you last go out to a restaurant together?" However in our case, we weren't interviewed separately and the interviewer didn't ask any difficult questions because it was pretty easy to prove using our existing documents that our marriage is indeed real.

We have joint bank and stock accounts, we bought a car together, we have spent our holidays with each other's families, we filed joint income taxes, and we refinanced our house together. The view of the INS is that real couples do all these things because it makes better financial and social sense for couples that intend to stay together for the long haul to plan their finances and social lives together. Fraudulent green card marriages usually have tell-tale signs like separate bank accounts, separate assets, spending holidays away from each other etc. The other thing that made our case easy was that neither of us has ever been arrested or been in legal troubles aside from a parking ticket or two.

I am very thankful to all the people who helped us with this entire process. My coworkers Kelly & Vinnie, my boss Eric, and most of all, my friend Arthur who agreed to be the co-sponsor along with Juliet because she is in school and does not have a full-time job at the moment. Arthur was more than willing to help us in any way he could and unlike me, did not procrastinate on preparing any paperwork. INS requires that the sponsor of the green card via marriage (i.e. the US Citizen spouse) hold a full-time job to support the applicant (i.e. the immigrant spouse). If the Citizen spouse does not have a full-time job, the couple needs to find a co-sponsor with a job who is willing to spend a LOT of time preparing documents and mailing paperwork.

We hired an immigration lawyer, Mr. Creighton Shafer from Diaz Shafer in Tampa, because I did not want to get into problems because of technicalities like above. Had we not hired an immigration lawyer, I would not have known about the requirement of a co-sponsor in our specific case and would definitely have been in some trouble because of it. I'm sure eventually everything would have worked out but missing or incorrect paperwork often causes months to years of delays, during which I couldn't leave the country easily. Fortunately, our lawyer told us the right way to go and we got Arthur involved as a co-sponsor from day one.

Mr. Shafer was with us all day today and had made sure beforehand that we had every single document in order. Originally I had planned on going through this process on my own but later realized that there are so many gotchas when it comes to US Immigration laws that the best thing to do is revert to a professional. Since our case was pretty straightforward, it would have been possible for us to be fine without a lawyer and Mr. Shafer himself assured us of that, in case we could not afford his services. However, we went ahead and hired his services because honestly, I did not want to take any chances with the INS in case there were any issues. Thankfully there weren't any.

After the interview, Juliet and I celebrated by having a big lunch at P. F. Chang's in Tampa. We had the biggest dessert they offered and as usual, I ate 90% of it. We got home, napped for a few hours, and here I am.

Add a Comment

Tue, 7th Jul '09, 9:55 pm::

I'm having a pretty crappy week. My boy kitty Giga has been sick for past few days with high fever. We have been dropping him off at the vet hospital in the morning and picking him up in the evening for two days now and the same goes for tomorrow. They don't know what's making him sick but today after getting some fluids, he seems to be acting healthier. His blood sugar is extremely high and all signs point to feline diabetes. He is under five years old and in a pretty healthy shape overall so I'm hoping it's not diabetes but just the stress of having a fever.

Our electric bill for last month was a shocking $340! Normally it is about $200 in summer and $125 in winter. At under 800 sq. ft., our house is tiny and the air-conditioner doesn't have to be on all day. The refrigerator is working fine and we just got new washer/dryer that are much more efficient than the old ones we had. Only thing I can think of is that the air-conditioner might have a leak or an electrical problem that makes it very inefficient and so keeps it running constantly.

We have been trying our best to save as much as possible for those dreaded rainy days but it seems like they are here already. $325 for vet, $150 overage for electricity, $250 for medical bills that insurance won't cover, and who knows how much for a technician to come out and inspect our a/c unit. It all adds up. *sigh*

Add a Comment

Fri, 3rd Jul '09, 10:15 pm::

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men often go awry. For the past two weeks, I had been planning for this three-day holiday weekend with Juliet and well, things got off to an unexpected start. I got a call this morning from a coworker that a water pipe burst at work and all the side-offices including mine were two-inches deep in water. Considering that all of our computer equipment and power supplies sit on the floor, that was enough to get me worried.

I drove off to work immediately, taking Juliet with me hoping that the damage would be small enough that she could sit in the car while I went in, picked up a few computers, and let it all dry out over the next couple of days. Alas. My entire office was flooded and it took my coworkers and me almost four hours to get rid of most of the water from the building. Thankfully, none of the servers were affected and all the office computers were working fine. Monday is going to be a rough day.

We picked up two movies on the way home, Seven Pounds and Juno, and just finished watching them. Juno was pretty funny and cute. Seven Pounds was a very touching movie and Will Smith gave a very good performance. I think tomorrow we'll go down to Sarasota area during the day and see the fireworks at the St. Petersburg Pier in the evening. After my long runs over the past few weeks, I took a break but I need to get back into some serious running once again. Sunday will probably be a long-run day. September is approaching fast and I need to get into some serious shape by then.

Add a Comment

Why I want to run a HUNDRED MILESSun, 21st Jun '09, 1:15 pm::

Yesterday, I ran the longest distance I ever have in my entire life - 35 miles (56 kms) in a little under 11 hours. To train for the 100 mile Grand Teton Ultramarathon in September, I have been running 20+ miles every Saturday for over a month now. Most people I know run considerably faster than me though they can only run 3-10 miles at most. While millions of people run marathons each year, very few run distances beyond 50 miles. Ultrarunning, or running further than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, is a whole different experience and requires a unique set of training, capabilities, and strategies. Since many of my friends and family have been asking me about the experience, I'll post an FAQ of everything I've learned in the past few months.

Q: Um, why are you trying to run ONE HUNDRED MILES?!

Because I suck at running. In fact, I run so slow that last weekend during a 3.3 mile Adventure Run, I finished 321st out of 331 runners. I was slower than 97% of the Marine Corps Marathon finishers in 2004 and the fastest mile I've ever ran was a little over 10 minutes. Most people who can run a mile, can run it in under 8 minutes easily. I can't. However, just because you suck at something doesn't mean you give up. Instead, you do it as much as you can. So while I can't run faster, I try to run further. Three months ago when I thought about running 100 miles, it seemed like an impossible goal and it seems even harder today because now I actually know how difficult it is to run for half a day non-stop. I want to run because I feel it's something I just can't do and wasn't made to do. Proving myself wrong is my favorite hobby. Running, kayaking, or sailing are just the means.

Q: Can anyone run 100 miles? Don't you need to be in peak physical condition to run that far?

If you can run 10 miles, you can run 10 miles, 10 times. However, you can only run 100 miles if you train right. You don't have to be in great physical condition and I'll be the first one to confess that I'm not. You do have to spend a lot of hours actually running though. Most people don't have that kind of time, energy, or desire.

Q: Do you think you will run 100 miles successfully?

I don't know. I try not to think about the result. I believe there are three steps to every bold ambition. First, is to have the drive and courage to dream big. Second, is preparation - putting in the time and effort to reach the goal. And third is the result - crossing the finishing line. No matter what the goal, we have control over the first two. I signed up for a 100 mile race and I am putting myself through the gruelling training. I don't know if I will finish or not because anything can happen before or during the race. I want to start the race knowing that I prepared to the best of my abilities.

Q: How long will you take to run 100 miles?

As per the race rules, the 100 miles must be completed within a span of 36 hours. That's a pace of 2.8 miles per hour or 21 minutes per mile. I am hoping to finish in about 30 hours, with an average of 18 minutes per mile. I don't intend to sleep and hopefully will not stop for more than a few minutes per aid station. My comfortable long-distance pace is 15 minutes per mile so an upper limit of 18 minutes per mile is quite conservative.

Q: How does a person run non-stop for so long?

Running for 30+ hours non-stop means your body has to be able to do its normal functions without any interruptions. So breathing, digesting, growing hair and beard, healing wounds, fighting diseases and allergies, everything must go on continuously the whole time. The goal for me is to make my body feel relaxed like it is sitting on the sofa watching TV the whole time I am running up and down mountains. And there is only one way to do that - run long distances without stressing my body out and get my body used to it. If I am exhausted after running 25 miles, I cannot run the other 75 miles easily. But if I ran 25 miles as if it was just a minor jog, I will be much more capable of running another 25 and then another 25.

Marathon runners train very differently than ultramarathoners. They aim for speed and strength. They push their body to the limit from the first mile right until they cross the finishing line. Ultramarathoners are in no hurry to get anywhere. The saying goes that "the secret to running an ultramarathon is to start slow and then slow down." Often many good marathoners fail to finish ultras because they push themselves too hard early on.

I am incapable of running fast so I don't have much of a problem with this. I just have to make sure I don't slow down too much. I jog at a speed that feels natural and comfortable to me though it's such a slow pace that people walk right past me! However, it is a pace that I have learned to maintain. I can keep moving at that pace as if I am sitting on the sofa watching TV. When most people want to get in shape and start running, they try to run too fast too soon and end up getting side stitch (sharp pain on the sides) or worse, injure themselves. The trick is to just run slower and further. You will burn a lot more calories if you can run three more miles a day than run 10% faster.

Q: How fit are you?

Not that fit. At 5'8" tall, currently weighing 177 lbs (80 kgs), I am technically overweight with a BMI of 27. I still have a relatively high body-fat ratio (18%) and don't look muscular or skinny. I am just like your average computer programmer in every shape and form.

I did lose about 15 lbs (7 kgs) in the first two months of training but haven't lost any weight since. I actually gain a few pounds every weekend because I like to eat a lot during my long runs. I can't bench-press much nor can I lift a lot of weight. Truth be told, I don't act, look, or feel like a guy who just ran 35 miles.

Q: So then how did you run 35 miles?

By not stopping when I wanted to and stopping when I had to. Ultrarunning is 99% mental and 1% MENTAL. The body is never in control and the mind must never lose control. I had been mentally preparing myself for a 40 mile run for over two weeks. I expected to run 40 miles in 12 hours after running 20 miles in 6 hours multiple times. This is the same pace I expect to maintain for my race. From the first mile early yesterday morning till the last mile at sunset, I kept a running inventory of all of my body parts and the condition they were in. It's like a video game where you keep an eye on all your soldiers, ammo, and equipment and make sure they are all taken care of for optimal performance.

Just because my feet hurt, doesn't mean I stop. Barely into the second mile, my left foot sent a message to the brain, "I'm in pain! Stop!" Had my brain listened to it, I would have run a total of 1.2 miles yesterday. Instead, my brain ran an analysis on the left foot's real-time condition and came to the conclusion that though the left foot is indeed in pain, it is stable, not on the verge of breakdown, and in no way severely in pain. So I kept running.

Over the course of the next 23 miles (8 hours), the temperature (feels like) rose from 83F (28C) to over 108F (42C) with humidity hovering at 65%. My feet, legs, arms, shoulders were all in pain but it was bearable. However, my brain decided it was too hot to continue at a good pace in this heat so I went home and relaxed for two hours in the shade. Once the temperature outside fell, I ran another 12 miles in 3 hours. At the slow pace I was going right before I stopped, I couldn't have completed 12 miles in 5 hours. My body was completely cool with pushing forward but my brain thought better. Stopping actually made me go faster. Had it not been for the high temperature earlier in the day, I could have easily gone 40 miles non-stop but there is no point in running 40 this week in blistering weather and being sick for the next month because of it.

Q: All of the above sounds horrible! Will your race be like this?

Trust me, the above felt much more horrible in person. Hopefully, the race will be quite different. I live in Florida at an altitude of 20 feet and this has been an excruciatingly hot summer. The race is in the Grand Teton area in Wyoming at 8,000 feet altitude with average daytime high of 70F (21C) and nighttime low of 40F (4C). Instead of this heat, I will actually be bundling up for most of the run. However, that also means running with more gear and dealing with low-oxygen at high altitudes.

I am planning to arrive at the race venue 4-5 days ahead of the race so my body can get acclimated to the altitude. After I donated blood a month ago, I had a first-hand experience of trying to run with 20% lower oxygen in my bloodstream. It's not going to be easy but I think I can manage, especially if I can stand to run in 108F heat. The other challenge is that the race will go up mountain peaks and down canyons while Florida is pretty flat. That's where gym training helps. I've been doing Stair Master and Elliptical machines at the gym for 2-3 hour durations at moderate speed to build my leg muscles up. Also I cross a lot of pedestrian bridges during my long runs and that gives me some training with steep inclines.

In reality, nothing can prepare me for the race as well as training on the actual race course. Since I work and live in Florida and Wyoming is a four-hour flight away from me, I just have to do whatever I can.

Q: What do you eat/drink these days? What about during the runs?

I have a pretty healthy vegetarian diet and have started to eat a little more protein than I am used to. I've been a vegetarian since birth in India and don't see any reason to change. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, drink tons of V8 V-Fusion, and avoid fatty or high-carb foods. Unlike runners who bulk up on high-carb foods right before a marathon, ultrarunners eat steadily throughout the runs.

Yesterday, I ate two foot-long veggie sub-sandwiches over the course of 11 hours. I eat one Powerbar Gel every 30-45 minutes. I drink water constantly (one sip every 15-60 seconds). I have a hydration pack that I fill up with Gatorade and sip it every 2-3 minutes. Sometimes I feel like I run solely to justify my hedonistic appetite for sugar. Of course, eating and drinking so much also means I have to take more bathroom breaks than normal but that is a good thing because it is clear evidence that my body is functioning properly and not shutting down or falling into starvation mode.

Q: Aren't you afraid of collapsing from heat strokes or worse?

Of course, I'm worried about heat strokes and thousands of other things that can go wrong during a long run. That's why I constantly check my heart rate, temperature, vision, balance, breathing, sweat-rate/salt-loss, fluid-intake, and skin irritation. One of the key lessons I have learned from my training is that nearly every bad condition is avoidable if detected early enough. A stitch in time saves nine is nowhere truer than in endurance activities like ultra-races.

If I so much as feel a pinch in any of my toes, I stop, adjust my shoes, socks, and insoles till everything feels right, and then continue. The mindset during a marathon is to continue non-stop at any cost. That's great when you have to run for another 2-3 hours but completely breaks down when you have 28 hours to go. It was actually pretty tough for me to change my mind about this because I constantly feel like I am slowing down my pace if I stop. Turns out, over the course of 11 hours, I only stopped for about 14 minutes total for the various adjustments to my shoes, socks, hydration pack, shorts, hat, headband, and water bottle. Failing to adjust any of these could have caused me to lose balance and fall, get blisters or skin abrasions, or in case of hat, headband, and water bottle, get a heat-stroke and pass out.

The most fun I had yesterday was stopping at every mile or so, filling up my bottle at a water fountain, and drenching my entire body in cool water over and over. It took only about 45-60 seconds but I gained that by running considerably faster. As a side-benefit, I avoided heat strokes and didn't collapse from exhaustion.

Q: Does the kind of gear you have matter? Won't any pair of shoes and water-bottle do?

The right gear is extremely critical! Every little piece of gear on your body will rub up against your skin constantly and drive you crazy. On some of my runs, I have desperately longed for a piece of string or rubber-band so I could keep some part of my shoe lace or hydration pack strap from moving in an annoying way. Whatever you choose, it has to be extremely comfortable and durable. This doesn't mean I spent $500 for a water-bottle but it does mean that I tried four $7 bottles till I found one that I liked and that worked well. Same with shoes, headband, and I'm afraid hydration pack. The one I have leaked during my run, causing a liter of Gatorade to flow down my shirt, shorts, and feet into my shoes and socks, making my blisters worse. I didn't even realize it till I got home for my break because my entire body was drenched by water and sweat. These are the kind of things that happen 7.5 hours into a run.

Q: Other than your long runs, what else do you need to do?

I have a pretty busy work week and have classes/homework couple of weeknights so my exercise regimen during the week isn't too intense. I try to mix in different activities to make sure I don't just exercise my feet. I swim an hour or two a week and train on Stair Master and Elliptical. I don't like running on the treadmill and prefer to train my calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads with targeted exercises. I do some weight training with low weights and sets of 100-300 lifts. I also stretch a lot on days I feel too lazy to go to the gym. And at least twice a week I go running in the morning for 2-6 miles. The funny thing is that my long runs have trained me so well that I can recover from two hours of Stair Master within minutes.

Q: What does your wife have to say about all of this?

She knew I was a determined guy with odd ambitions before she married me so she has learned to just live with all of this. She fully supports me in all of my goals, as non-conventional they may be. She is in medical school to be a PA and studies take up most of her weekend hours. I use the same hours to train for my long runs so it works out quite well. She also makes my life much easier by buying most of my running gear and supplies for me. Oh and she picks me up when I decide that 108F is too hot to run and I'm four miles away from home. I don't think I give her enough credit for it but she's extremely supportive of my training though she keeps mentioning every now and then that I'm stupid for putting myself through this mess. Due to her school schedule, I doubt she'll be able to come to Wyoming for my race but if my weekend runs are any indication, I know I will be thinking of her every mile (mostly hoping that she'll come pick me up and take me home already.)

Add a Comment

Sun, 7th Jun '09, 7:00 pm::

I feel like I keep hopping back and forth between the mundanity of regular life and the excitement of impossible goals. Yesterday I spent about ten hours in the sun running and walking across five different towns along the Pinellas Trail. I ran 28 miles in under eight hours - my first (barely) successful attempt at an ultramarathon distance. I spent all of today dealing with house chores and pet stuff. Among other things, we're getting new washer/dryer delivered this week and the pets got shiny new water bowls.

The 28 miles yesterday really shook me up. I have run 16-22 miles many times in the past but have never experienced the amount of pain in my feet as I did yesterday. My big mistake was wearing the wrong socks which gave me blisters after about five hours. I am doing pretty well now and will be back to my usual self in a day or two. I knew that having the proper gear is extremely important for long runs and this little mistake only reinforced this notion. I also realized that I need better shoes because once my feet swell, my ankles can no longer support the high arch of my foot and pain sets in. If I am to succeed in my goal of running 100 miles in under 36 hours, I have to learn all of these issues about myself and fix them well-in-advance. In the meantime, I have enough things at back to work, school, and home to keep my occupied.

Add a Comment

Tue, 2nd Jun '09, 8:05 am::

My training for the Ultramarathon is going well. I've been running or exercising five days a week and resting for two. Most days I run 4-6 miles in the park in the morning and spend 2-3 hours on StairMaster and Elliptical machines at the gym in the evening. I'm losing weight but not fast enough. I hope to lose at least 10lbs within the next two months. I've been mentally preparing myself for my 30 mile run this weekend. It will be the longest distance I've covered in my life, 4 miles longer than a regular marathon. I'm hoping to cover 30 miles in under 8 hours.

Life's back to normal now that school is in session for both Juliet and I. Work is going well and I'm pretty excited for a major infrastructure-upgrade project that will start soon. The pets are healthy and happy. I love sitting out in the aviary after work and on weekend afternoons. Even though it gets pretty warm outside, the aviary is cool and breezy. I introduced Tera to our bunny Chichi this weekend and they seemed to like each other.

Since most of my free time is spent running, I made sure I was done with all of my web-projects. For the first time in years, I have no todos outside of my work, school, and home. It's a wonderful feeling coming home and only getting personal emails from friends and family instead of a hundred "Can you PLEASE change the color from red to blue?!" and "Please scrap 200 hours of work and redo it because I said so!" The only project I am working on right now is a personal project for my family, which I will put online once I have made more progress. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it work because it means a lot to me and my family.

Add a Comment

Sun, 24th May '09, 8:50 am::

I ran 20 miles (32 km) yesterday in a little over five hours. After the run, my feet hurt for a few hours but overall I felt fine. Right now I feel almost completely recovered with only a slight amount of soreness in my muscles. I used to think that if you trained well for running long-distances, you should have minimum amount of pain and soreness. Now I think it is not the amount of pain but rather how soon my body overcomes it so I can go do it again. I think this philosophy applies to life too. The faster you can recover from a setback, the stronger you will be.

I'm off to donate some blood now and later will spend some time in the jacuzzi and sauna at the gym. I have to train breathing in low-oxygen environments and the closest thing to that in Florida is a sauna.

Add a Comment

Sun, 17th May '09, 10:15 pm::

I'm so tired from a long-drive back from St. Augustine. Past ten days have been quite exciting. My family from New Jersey visited us and we spent three days traveling around Florida. We went kayaking in Silver Springs, indoor skydiving in Orlando, and gaming in Ybor City, Tampa. After they flew back to Jersey, Juliet and I have been taking little trips locally. Yesterday we went to Orlando to see her grandma and I decided to surprise her with a mini-vacation in St. Augustine as it was only an hour away from Orlando.

We spent the entire morning today walking around the old fort and the historic village of St. Augustine. I bought her a cute little pearl ring and we had some delicious chocolate fudge. After some yummy Mexican food we drove back home. Instead of going through the busy interstate highways, I picked smaller country roads that cut through forests and quaint old towns. It only took half an hour extra to get home but the scenery was most certainly worth it.

Neither Juliet nor I had school this past week so we were able to watch movies every other night. Star Trek is awesome, Angels & Demons is ok, and Meet The Robinsons is decent. Now it's back to busy life. Her school starts tomorrow and mine the week after. Work's keeping me busy and I have a couple of personal projects that I want to get back into. Often when I'm driving to work or school, I think of the days when I used to write longer 'blog entries. While I miss those days, I wouldn't trade wonderful days like today for anything in the world (except maybe a trip to India to see my family). It's good night for me and back to running tomorrow.

Add a Comment

I want to run a hundred milesThu, 30th Apr '09, 8:35 am::

For the past three weeks, I have been running six miles or more almost daily and have lost about 12 lbs (5kgs). I'm training for the Grand Teton 100-mile Ultramarathon in September. This is a 100-mile (161 km) race through mountains, canyons, and forests in Wyoming and has to be completed within 36 hours. Regular marathons are 26.2 miles (42 km) and most people finish in 4-6 hours. Ultramarathons are races longer than marathons and most ultramarathoners run the 100 miles non-stop. At the pace I am training, this would mean running, jogging, and walking for over 24 hours non-stop. By no means is this a minor challenge for me, physically and mentally.

I am crazy not stupid so I understand that in order to even attempt to run 100 miles, proper training is a must. Training includes running, walking, proper eating, and lots of cross-training. Since I live in Florida at sea-level, my body will have to work much harder to persevere at the high altitudes. Additionally, the terrain here is mostly flat whereas the actual trail requires runners to go up and down thousands of feet every few miles. This means lots of StairMaster training at the gym. Personally I am not interested in going to a gym and would much rather run outdoors but the lack of steep hills in Florida means I have to train my quads indoors.

Running an ultra is different from running a 10K or even a marathon. After all, a 100-mile ultra is like four back-to-back marathons. When training for a regular marathon, speed and timing matters. In an ultra, the pace and endurance matter the most. The saying goes, "to run an ultramarathon, start slow and then slow down." I can't run fast but I can run slow forever, which is why I have been very excited for the past few weeks. Ultramarathon seems to fit my style of running a lot better than regular marathons.

When training for ultras, long runs make or break your race. The only way my body can run 100 miles in 36 hours is if it is used to running 50 miles in 16-17 hours or 25 miles in 6-7 hours. This means, before I run for 100 miles, I have to try running 30-50 mile distances on weekends, on top of running 5-10 miles per weekday. If I just run four miles a day, no matter how fast, I won't be able to run the ultra because my body will not learn how to adjust to 6-12 hours of continuous running. The key is to make your body feel as comfortable as possible when running or jogging. A big part of my training is to learn to eat, drink, and relax while running slowly but steadily.

Work, school, and life at home keeps me busy enough and now I am planning to run 70-100 miles a week for the next four months. This will seriously reduce the time I spend goofing off online. However, it will give me a lot of time to listen to good music and audio books, especially on Saturdays when I go for my long runs. Maybe I can blog while running.

Add a Comment

Wed, 15th Apr '09, 11:15 pm::

Nothing is more exciting in life than embarking on a new impossible adventure. I am not sure if I'm ready to publicly announce anything yet but I am going to start getting in shape nevertheless. Once I am certain that I can deal with the time commitments, I will let everyone in on my new goal. All I can say is that I'm super psyched and crossing my fingers that I can make this happen.

Add a Comment

Google Narratives Series - InterviewSat, 11th Apr '09, 9:00 pm::

A couple of weeks ago, a wonderful lady from Google, Christine interviewed me for their "Google Narratives Series." She is seeking out developers who make novel use of Google technology and is writing about them on the Google Code blog. A few months ago, I used their programming tools to create Wiki Search app and tons of people use it now daily. Yesterday, her brief Q&A-style interview with me went live on their Code blog. It's a pretty nerdy interview unlike the meant-for-general-public WSJ interview from a couple of years ago. Right now, the Google interview is also displayed on the Google Code website.

Add a Comment

Sat, 11th Apr '09, 8:50 pm::

I've been quite busy last few weeks with work, school, and tons of house projects. Juliet and I are building our aviary slowly but steadily. Tonight we put up the mesh on all sides and tomorrow I will frame the entire structure with solid 2"x4" wooden posts. Next weekend I should have the roof ready and apply any finishing touches. See the last few photos of the aviary here.

I'm in the process of refinancing our house and doing a lot of number-crunching to make sure that it's worth our while. It seems like a very good time to refinance but the closing costs of refinancing are usually so high that unless you intend to keep your house for at least 3-5 years, it's not a smart move. In our case, we know that we will move up north for my PhD in three years or so. As a result, the TVM and amortization calculations get a little more complex.

We went to my coworker Linda's house today for a lunch BBQ and played a few games. Brian made some awesome veggie mushroom burgers for me and I'm still stuffed. Earlier in the day, we went to Busch Gardens for a few hours. School is good and so is work. It's getting warmer and soon we'll start going to the beach more often. I can't wait :)

Add a Comment

Tue, 7th Apr '09, 10:40 pm::

When I had computer science projects due in college, I used to read business articles for fun and distraction. Now I have finance homework and I find myself reading comp. sci. papers. It's not the subject material that I tend to avoid but rather the obligation. Reading for procrastination is fun. Reading for school seems like hard work even though I actually like the material.

Add a Comment

Sat, 28th Mar '09, 7:00 pm::

I bought a metal door for the aviary and put up the final post. Also laid down stepping stones all the way from the back porch to the aviary. I'm going to order the hardware cloth (wire mesh) tonight and hopefully nail it down next weekend. After that, I can hang the door and take care of the finishing touches.

School is back in session and I'm taking two evening classes. I already have homework assignments due so goodbye free time. We played with our new bunny last night and introduced him to all of our other critters. The cats are curious but not threatened. Chichi is really cute and will be happy in his new house once we're done with the aviary. Of course, every aviary needs birds and I'm sure we'll find a pair of lovebirds soon.

I've been working on a couple of small but exciting new projects lately and as I make more progress, I will share.

Add a Comment

Sat, 21st Mar '09, 6:10 pm::

I spent about seven hours outside in the backyard today digging holes, leveling the ground, and laying down stones. We're building an aviary. According to my estimate, it will take about five consecutive Saturdays to complete the project. Once it's ready, our three turtles, Koi, two sugar-gliders, and the soon to arrive bunny will all live in there together. Maybe a couple of lovebirds some day too. I'm so excited! I'll keep adding more pictures to this gallery as we make more progress.

Add a Comment

Forget about itFri, 13th Mar '09, 8:55 am::

I was talking to my friend Tony about a minor programming feature and he said "yeah, forget about it" to which I quipped "good, I like forgetting." About ten seconds later, I realized how true that statement was for me and how rarely we think of forgetting as a positive. Being able to forget means being able to let go of that which does not truly matter to you in the present and future. Having lived by myself in different places for most of the past decade, I met a lot of interesting people and had tons of wonderful and some not-so wonderful experiences. I do my best to remember the good experiences and actively try to forget the bad ones. It's pretty easy to remember the good stuff, you just have to recollect it every now and then.

Consciously forgetting information that you vividly remember is a whole different exercise. It is a process of self-control requiring continuous practice and goes completely against the body's psychological defenses. Remembering bad things is the body's way of protecting you against the same events in the future. "Fire hot. Fire burn. No touch fire." The people who learn from their mistakes, usually do not repeat them again. It is the people who do not learn from their mistakes that suffer repeatedly and you just need to glance over the local police blotter page to see a proof of that. The people who do not learn from their mistakes, basically "forget" the series of events that led them into trouble. Next time they are in a similar situation, none of the red flags go up to warn them of the impending catastrophe. But that's because they just "forgot" not "consciously chose to forget" and that's where the difference lies.

My method of consciously choosing to forget is so simple it seems completely ineffective and not even a method at all. But the very fact that I don't go to bed crying every night or wake up with regrets tells me that it is working for me. This is how I forget: Once I am over the initial shock of an unfortunate experience, I think honestly about what caused it. I accept all of my faults and those of others and tell myself that since I am still alive and in control of my thoughts and actions, no permanent damage was done. I may not forgive and forget everyone (I'm human after all) but I make sure that I do not hold grudges. After that, I recollect some of the good past experiences and then promise myself to never think about this particular unfortunate event negatively because in the end I learnt something out of it. And then I stick to that promise, forever. Hey, I never said it was easy, I just said it was simple.

No matter where you are from, all of us have our share of good and bad experiences. Everyone has loved ones who passed away and everyone can share a tale or two (or twenty seven) of unrequited love. Who in the world hasn't had friendships fade away or trust being shattered? Our experiences are personal but collectively the same. What makes us unique is how we reacted to them and how much we learn from them. You can keep mulling over an unfortunate series of events from the past and feel bad about them without actually trying to squeeze any lessons from it or you can completely ignore they even occurred. There are many ways to forget and each of us has an innate style of forgetting that we seldom think consciously about. My point here is that the very act and method of forgetting can affect your present and future so it is something we should not consider lightly. Or if you're like me, actually try to enjoy it. After all, the more garbage you forget, the more space you have to remember something worthwhile. Right?

Add a Comment

Thu, 12th Mar '09, 8:15 am::

Yesterday our super-helpful immigration lawyer in Tampa filed the paperwork for my US residency. It took months to get all the documents in order but finally it's done. It will be months before I get a travel permit to go to India. Till then, it's life as usual. School's going well, work is pretty exciting, and Juliet and I are planning on a small backyard project over the next few weeks. I think the biggest news of all is that I've decided that I want to get a haircut today after work.

We had a lot of fun last week when I took Thursday and Friday off from work. Early in the morning on Thursday, we went to the lawyer's office in Tampa to sign the documents. Then after a quick lunch at Cicis, Juliet took me on a surprise canoe trip down the Hillsborough River. It was such a gorgeous day too. We went to Busch Gardens after that and saw tons of birds and animals. We spent over an hour in the aviary with lories and lorikeets. She went on two rollarcoasters and I accompanied her on one. I find my fear of heights getting worse as I grow older. We had dinner at a nice sushi place near my work and then for the first time in months, I went shopping with Juliet and bought her a pretty pair of shoes for school.

Next up, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire and immediately after that, caught the midnight premiere of Watchmen. That was a long day from 9am till 4am. Rest of the weekend we took walks on the beach and relaxed around our house watching tons of movies on cable or chilling in the backyard on the hammock. That's when we both got antsy and decided that our backyard needs a special something. Once our little project is done, I will write more about it.

I have school projects to work on all weekend and then some. I haven't had a real vacation in a long time (no, wedding in Yellowstone doesn't count as a vacation and driving to NJ/NY in winter doesn't count either) so it felt good to just take things slow for a few days. I think I'm going to take a few more Fridays off while the weather is still nice. Till then, it's life as usual.

Add a Comment

Tue, 3rd Mar '09, 8:15 am::

The American Dream and meMon, 23rd Feb '09, 1:45 am::

Tonight I worked on my business school project while the Oscar ceremonies were on. I set my DVR to record the whole show and went back to working on my assignment nonchalantly. It was only when my dad called me from India and exclaimed "Jai Ho!" that I realized that my favorite musician A. R. Rahman had won the Oscars for the best original score and the best original song for Slumdog Millionaire. I said "That's so awesome" to my dad and went back to studying. Maybe I was just stressed about the project or maybe it was something else but I felt quite uneasy after that phone call. That was quite a stereotypical American hipster response coming from me, as if I have become so unfazed by media, splendor, and glitter that Oscars are passé and winning awards is dull.

Once I completed my assignment, I watched the entire Oscar ceremony in about an hour, with the gratuitous use of the fast-forward button. In true Oscar-audience fashion, I laughed and I cried, I cheered and I clapped. When it was over, I went online to read more about the Oscars and hear what others were saying. I often do that after major events, just to feel like I'm part of a global community at 1 am. To my dismay, other than the big media outlets like CNN and BBC, none of the sites I frequent cared much about the Oscars. One or two even mocked them and the winners. It was the consequent feeling of cognitive dissonance that prompted me to stay up well past my bedtime and write my thoughts down.

Americans just don't get the American Dream. They read about it in books and think it is a house in the 'burbs with a white picket-fence and a big dog. They think immigrants from all over the world come here just to buy a big house and watch the Super Bowl. I know this is what they think because I've been living here for the past eight years and by all accounts I'm living proof of having achieved it. But that's not what THE American Dream is. The American Dream that millions upon millions of people around the world aspire to achieve someday is not a mediocre life of relative stability with a two-car garage and automated bill payment.

The American Dream is being born as the youngest of eight children, failing medical entrance exam, dropping out of law college, joining film institute against family's wishes, and fourteen long years later winning a god-damned Oscar in front of the whole world. The American Dream is not the glory but the never ending struggle that one must go through while everyone around you has become complacent and already accepted the status quo as their fate. The American Dream is daring to dream that despite the millions before you who tried and failed, you have something within you that sets you apart and ever-so-slightly shifts the odds in your favor.

The saddest part about the American Dream is that for most people, it stops the moment they set foot in the country. I vividly recall my first flight to the US. I was nervous but determined. As the plane reached cruising altitude, I managed to calm my emotions down. After all, I had just bid my family, friends, and home for twenty years good bye. I told myself that I will make my parents proud and my friends will someday say "he used to sit right here next to me in class." I did not have a specific goal in mind and especially did not care about money or riches. As boring as it sounds, I just wanted to be "somebody." I just wanted my piece of the American Dream.

Eight years later, here I am. I've assimilated quite well. I have a gorgeous loving wife, lots of pets, a wonderful job, a nice house, two cars, and for the first time in my life, a real savings account. Having all of my wishes come true wasn't the American Dream. Arguing with my dad for two years to let me come to the US against his wishes, was. Having my sister determine the fate of my life because my dad asked her if I should be allowed to go to the US, was. Living alone for six of the past eight years and managing to remain optimistic about my future life, was. And yet, I haven't struggled even one-percent as much as most of the other immigrants who come here. By most standards, I've had it pretty easy. My American Dream delivered above and beyond my expectations. For most, it doesn't. It stops being a dream when the bills pile up and discrimination begins. The only glint of hope is that the kids will have a better shot at life someday.

I don't care to watch the Oscars because Meryl Streep has been nominated for the fifteenth time. I watch them because I want to see a grown man cry like a baby when he realizes that this very moment is the culmination of forty years of hard work. I watch them because I want to see lives changed and careers validated. There are no triumphant awards for programming web services or coding warehouse systems. Watching others get rewarded for their hard work is the closest that I can get to feeling like there is still some fairness in this world; that tireless efforts are eventually rewarded and perseverance pays off in the end. Watching others achieve their dreams helps me keep my dreams alive, however incomparable they might be.

The American Dream is not about money, fame, or power but about beating the insurmountable odds. The American Dream is never accepting that the best part is already over. The American Dream is achieving it and starting it all over again.

Add a Comment

Sun, 22nd Feb '09, 11:05 pm::

My dad just called me to say A. R. Rahman won the Oscar for the best original score and original song. It's about time! He was and will remain my favorite musician in the whole world. For every song I like by any other musician, there are two songs by Rahman that I love.

Add a Comment

Sun, 22nd Feb '09, 9:05 pm::

I am finishing up a project for my Marketing class and regretting not working on it sooner because the Oscars are on right now. Oh well.

Add a Comment

Earliest historical eventSat, 14th Feb '09, 12:05 pm::

A reddit discussion on "the earliest historical event that you can remember occurring" flashed back the memories of Indira Gandhi's assassination to my mind. I distinctly remember the curfew in the city of Kolkata because of the ensuing riots. My parents took me to a neighbor's apartment and we saw people running down the streets holding torches, shouting anti-Sikh slogans. Quite a few Sikh families lived in our neighborhood so it was a frightening event.

I just surprised myself by looking at the date of the assassination: October 31, 1984. I was only four years old then, yet I can clearly recall the event. Other things I remember from that time were Muppets on TV, a ping-pong game that could be played on our old Black & White TV, and reruns of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

Add a Comment

Tue, 10th Feb '09, 8:25 am::

I value leisure more than almost any important activity or task. My inner-lazy would rather not do something than do it. I would rather sit around and think about cheaper ways to make a GPS locator for missing cats than to actually go out and do it. I would rather spend all Saturday laying down in the hammock, watching birds fly across the sky above me, than work on even the most interesting projects.

And so that is exactly what I haven't been doing for the past eight months. Currently, the things that occupy my time are: My full-time job (45-50 hours per week), Masters college (16-24 hours per week), SCHED (12-16 hours per week). That's an average of 80 hours of work and school per week. I started working on a new hardware/software project last month to help my cousin Keval communicate better using a data glove. While I only spend 8-12 hours per week on this project, I need to spend closer to 16-20 hours per week to make significant progress and hopefully in a month, I will be able to. Add to that about 10 hours per week of house chores, pet care, paying bills, and immigration paperwork. Did I mention I have a wife who I love to spend time with? So add about 2-4 hours of wifey time on weeknights and 12-16 hours on weekends, and I'm at about 30 hours per week. This brings me to 90 work/study/projects + 10 chores + 30 wifey hours = 130 hours per week of doing stuff.

There are 7 * 24 = 168 hours per week and I'm booked for 125-130 of them. This leaves me with about 40 hours to sleep, shave, and shower or in other words, less than six hours per day to rest and take care of myself. I would rather just chill and do nothing for all 24 but then that would be too easy. My life's probably going to be like this for the next two years after which I will take a few years easy to reprioritize my goals and ambitions. Until then, it's slaving away all day with barely any sleep.

Of course, I love all of the things I do on a daily basis in the big-picture sense. School is tough but I am learning so much. Work is just as demanding but I'm building cool new tools to help manage and grow the business. SCHED is growing faster than anyone anticipated and we're getting a lot of good feedback so it's wonderful to make new features that users love. Juliet's very understanding and supportive of all of my commitments so the few hours each day we do get to spend together, I get to just sit back and relax. I really have nothing to complain other than the fact that I miss having time to go kayaking.

Add a Comment

Fri, 30th Jan '09, 1:05 am::

This week has been extremely stressful. It's pretty much study, work, traffic, chores, study, work, traffic, chores, study, work, traffic, and chores non-stop all day with barely any rest. From now till the end of this year, I won't have a single week to relax. Hopefully all of this effort will be worth it in the end. Other than stress and lack of sleep, everything is going well.

Add a Comment

Sat, 24th Jan '09, 11:45 pm::

If Giga had a diary, today's entry would say "Dear diary, today for the first time I explored our backyard and climbed a tree on my own. My new friend Cookie and the puppy Jack were running around and I had a great time chewing on some fresh grass while my daddy and mommy relaxed in the hammock all afternoon." Good thing Giga doesn't have a diary because most of the entries for past two weeks would say "I hate my daddy and mommy because twice a day, right before my meals, they hold me down by the scruff of my neck and force feed me some yucky banana-tasting medicine!" Giga has been a little sick lately and so the vet put him on antibiotics. It was good to see him up and about today in the yard.

The weather was finally warm enough today to sit outside and relax. We've been quite busy now that school has started. I have two classes on Monday and Tuesday till March and then two classes on Tuesday and Wednesday till May. I don't know about my summer classes yet. I doubt I will be able to blog as freely and passionately as I did last year. There's always next year :)

Add a Comment

Sat, 17th Jan '09, 11:30 am::

Our hammock and stand arrived this week and Juliet and I got to relax in it first time for a few hours this morning. It's pretty cold outside so we were bundled up in multiple blankets with our pets jumping all over us. I can't wait till it gets warmer when we can lay out looking up at the sky all evening. Our backyard is quite isolated and there are no bright sources of light nearby so hopefully we can stargaze for hours.

I had a busy week and don't really feel like working on the computer today. My boss gave us two tickets (yay free! Go Eric!) to a hockey game in Tampa tonight and I'm excited to go. I'm not really a sports fan and don't follow any team in any sport but I love going to games and being part of the crowd, cheering for the local teams. Other than that, I just have a ton of chores on my list for today. School starts on Tuesday so I won't have much free time after this weekend.

Add a Comment

Mon, 12th Jan '09, 12:05 am::

I was reading the Serendipity page on Wikipedia and by mistake I clicked on the 'Pileated Woodpecker' link under the main image on the right. Suddenly I realized that this is exactly the type of bird that I took a photo of yesterday when I went to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve with Juliet. I was not able to identify the bird till just now. Serendipitous indeed.

This weekend we watched three light-hearted comedic films. Friday night we saw Yes Man, Saturday night we caught Bedtime Stories with Sandra and her daughter Madison, and tonight we rented Forgetting Sarah Marshall from a local Redbox kiosk for $1/night. I love the concept of Redbox - a vending machine that rents out DVDs and you can reserve them online in advance. I just wish there was one within walking distance of my house.

It's about two months from SXSW 2009 and I can't wait. I'm taking Juliet with me this time even though we'll only be there for 3-4 days. I hope we get to see lots of unreleased and unknown films like I did last year. The amazing movie-going experience was definitely one of my favorite things about SXSW. Hope there's a repeat this year.

Add a Comment

Sat, 10th Jan '09, 6:40 pm::

Juliet and I went to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in south St. Petersburg today. It was a gorgeous Florida winter day and here are some photos of our hike. Earlier in the day, we both donated blood. Both of our blood type is A+ and it's usually in high demand. After our nature hike, we went to Home Depot and got some stuff to build a covered enclosure for our tortoise Herbert in the backyard. It took under an hour to build it all and I'll post pictures of that tomorrow. We're going out with Sandra tonight to an art show downtown in a few minutes.

Add a Comment

Sat, 3rd Jan '09, 1:50 pm::

It's been about a week since we returned from our 2,900 mile-long road-trip from Florida to New York via Atlanta, Virginia, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. I don't have all the pictures of the trip yet but here are some of the photos from my camera. Everyone we spent time with took photos with their own cams so it will take some time for me to collect them all.

After hitting New Jersey, we went to New York to see the family of my maternal uncle Kaushik Mama. I hadn't seen them for over four years and it was wonderful talking to Priyanka and Jenesha about our pets and my kayaking trips. We stopped by Arthur's house for the night on the way back from New York and saw my friends Tim and Michele the next morning. Right after that we left for Florida and I drove non-stop for twenty-seven hours with only three hours of stops in between. Surprisingly, I was not much tired after the drive and wouldn't mind doing long road-trips like this again.

We listened to a bunch of audio books during the long drives and I think that is what really kept me awake. Listening to music, no matter how loud and upbeat, makes me lose focus after a while even if I try to sing-along. Listening to interesting stories on audio books kept me awake and eager to hear the next sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Before I knew it, I had driven 400 miles across three states. Overall, this was a wonderful trip and I hope to have tons more all across the US with Juliet in the future.

Our classes will resume in a week or two. We have a few more days to relax before things get chaotic and stressful. Neither of us has a spring or summer break so that means we'll pretty much be studying non-stop from January to December with at most a 2-3 day break in between. The only rest we'll have is one evening here and another Saturday morning there when we can spend some time away from studies and with each other. Hopefully sxsw 2009 will be a fun get away for us. We're going out tonight to hang out with a few people and then I'm working on some of my projects tomorrow. And so begins 2009.

Add a Comment

Thu, 1st Jan '09, 1:05 am::

Happy New Year!!!

Add a Comment

Mon, 22nd Dec '08, 11:45 pm::

Juliet and I are in my aunt's house in North Brunswick, NJ right now. We left Florida on Friday December 19th at 10am and went to see her grandma in Deltona, FL. After that we drove to Atlanta, GA to see my friend Heather and her boyfriend Sean. We saw the famed Bodies exhibition and another very unique but eye-opening exhibition, Dialog in the Dark. I highly recommend both of these, especially the latter. We drove to Alexandria, VA from Atlanta to see my cousin Purvi and her husband Allen. We went to the Botanical Gardens in Washington DC and had some surprisingly wonderful Ethiopian food. We drove next to Philadelphia, PA and chilled with my friend Megan and her husband Chris for a few hours. It was pretty good to see her again after over two years. Finally we drove to North Brunswick, NJ and got to my aunt's house on 11pm on Sunday, December 21st almost perfectly as planned.

Earlier today we went to a local shopping center for a few hours and then went to a pub in New Brunswick, close to Rutgers University. There we had a few drinks with my friends Tamara, Syed, and Arthur. It was great seeing them after a long time and finally we topped off the evening with some truly greasy food from the infamous Grease Trucks on College Avenue.

Of course, the best part of the last few days is just seeing and talking to all of my friends and family whom I don't get to see on a regular basis though we do keep in touch online or over the phone. I'd say the best thing in life is spending time with loved ones and there's no better way to do it than drive 1,500 miles across the country and making it actually happen. By the way, it is 1,500 miles or 2,900 kilometers from the north Indian city of Srinagar to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. Next up on our list is New York City, Queens, Maryland, and whatever else may tickle our fancy. It is pretty exhausting but meeting everyone makes up for the tiredness. We still have another 1,500 miles to get back to Florida so we're going to need all of the energy we can get.

Add a Comment

Thu, 18th Dec '08, 12:25 am::

After months, I finally got around to taking picture of all our pets. Here is our lovely zoo family album.

Add a Comment

Thu, 18th Dec '08, 12:15 am::

As a way to relieve stress from our classes, papers, exams, and work, Juliet and I bought a 1000 piece 2ft x 2.5ft jigsaw puzzle last month. After almost two weeks, we finally completed it on Monday. Here is our Candy Galore jigsaw in all its delicious glory.

Add a Comment

Wed, 17th Dec '08, 10:55 pm::

I have an awesome superpower that most people don't know about. It is my amazing ability to trim kitty nails without any sort of violence or bloodshed. I just trimmed the nails of our three cats in under five minutes total - 12 paws, 54 nails - 0 meows, 0 scratches, 0 angry cats. Up next are the sugar gliders. I know they'll be pretty violent but I think we'll all survive to see a brighter day, a day without scratches on our hands and feet, a day when all animals live together in harmony and sing carols and feed the homeless... Either that or I'm going to be bleeding out of every inch of my skin. We'll find out soon.

Add a Comment

Wed, 17th Dec '08, 4:55 am::

Sometimes I just can't explain how my physical body works. Fortunately, I've been healthy for a long stretch and haven't experienced any illnesses for a while. Yet yesterday while driving home from work in the evening, I went from completely healthy to completely sick in under five minutes! I left work after a typical day and felt completely normal. While driving, suddenly I started to experience nausea, light-headedness, and motion-sickness. I'm certain it was not something food-related but rather felt like flu. It was pretty cold yet my body was burning up. I got home after what seemed like the longest-drive ever and collapsed on my bed. Juliet slowly helped me move to the sofa after I rested for a few minutes. She had cooked steamed veggies, pasta, and brownies for dinner and fed me two bowls before I asked her to stop. She prepared some TheraFlu for me and then I went to sleep by 8pm. I woke up a short while ago feeling completely healthy!

I'm going to drink lots of orange juice and TheraFlu over the next few days. It's just scary thinking that I went from feeling completely healthy to miserably sick in a matter of minutes. Maybe my body was lacking in some critical vitamin and the dinner replenished it. Hopefully, we'll both be healthy for our trip up north this weekend.

Add a Comment

Mon, 15th Dec '08, 7:25 am::

I've been quite busy past few months. My first semester in business school is over and Juliet's done with her exams for now too. This was the first weekend in over four months when we didn't have homework, papers, presentation, exams, or projects due. So we took some much needed time off and went to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. This weekend Tay and I also launched a new website that we had been working on for two months, The Laugh Button. It's a simple website with non-stop stand-up comedy by hundreds of famous comedians like George Carlin, Bill Cosby, and Mitch Hedberg. You can try the Random Comedy page while you do other work.

Juliet and I are leaving for New Jersey at the end of this week. We're very excited! I will post more details of our travels once we get going.

Add a Comment

Sun, 7th Dec '08, 2:25 pm::

My buddy (and best man at my wedding) Arthur just ran the 26.1 mile Las Vegas Marathon in an incredible 4 hours and 11 minutes! Congrats! And good luck for the even crazier race in March-April 2009, Marathon de Sables - a six day / 151 mile race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

Add a Comment

Fri, 5th Dec '08, 10:45 pm::

We just got back from my company's Christmas party and it was a LOT of fun. This was the first time Juliet and I went out to a social event together and it felt so nice to finally introduce her to all my coworkers and their significant others. We sat at the dinner table with my boss Eric, his wonderful wife Amy (who always makes sure that there is enough vegetarian food for me), and his brother Brian. After some yummy desserts, the casino tables opened up for all employees and each of us got $1,000 of fake chips. Juliet and I mostly stuck to the Blackjack tables and grew our combined $2,000 to over $20,000 in fake money at one point. In fact, we wanted to get back home and kept trying to lose it all but as luck would have it, we just couldn't lose! We bet everything on a single round over and over but kept winning. After almost twenty minutes, we finally lost our chips and having nothing left, bid our good nights and drove home.

This weekend is going to be tough for both of us. She has five exams this week and I have two. So it's pretty much non-stop studies for both of us till late next week. Then we have one weekend to go shopping for supplies and on December 19th, we plan to drive off to New Jersey via Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I'm excited about our long road-trip. More details once the plans are finalized. Till then, it's lots of studies and tons of work.

Add a Comment

Wed, 26th Nov '08, 11:45 am::

We're having pot-luck lunch at work today and the entire corridor outside my office smells like food. Juliet made some delicious corn souffle last night that I brought over. We're going over to Taylor's parents house for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow evening. After that it's a long weekend of studies for both of us as finals are fast approaching. But right now, all I can think of is yummy food that we'll all soon be eating.

Add a Comment

Phases and QuirksSun, 23rd Nov '08, 10:45 pm::

I had a pretty busy weekend. On Friday, wifey and I saw Broken Social Scene and had some nice dinner. Yesterday I setup an old computer, learnt a new language, and watched a classic. Today I worked on some code and we watched a couple of movies. I didn't get much school work done but I have all of this week to get on it. Holidays are coming up and I'm getting exciting about our long road-trip to New Jersey during Christmas.

Juliet and I have been living together for about six months now and we have a pretty good grasp of each other's quirks. However, we're still discovering each other's phases. Quirks are little things like her habit of leaving paper towels all over the house when she has a cold or my obsessiveness about turning off the lights in any unoccupied room. Quirks are relatively easy to notice and remember. Most pieces of romantic text highlight the beloved's quirks fondly, even the negative ones. Phases are slightly long-term behavioral tendencies that expose new insights into a person and are generally hard to identify. We change into a different person during a critical phase and act quite unlike our usual selves. The Juliet I know in our daily life is not the same Juliet who has four exams and three labs over the next five days. It is much easier for me to understand her during the hectic school weeks when I realize that this is simply her trying to be a good, hardworking student. Recognizing the start and end of a phase is critical to avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise during the period.

I went through my periodic coding frenzy this weekend. I told her earlier today, "Honey, once a month, I will go completely bonkers over some arcane computer system. I will not shower, shave, or eat during those 48-72 hours. I love you forever and ever but during those hours, please do not expect me to engage in discussions about our travel plans or even what you should cook for dinner because my mind will not be anywhere close to reality. However, after the coding marathon, I will be a better, more educated, more skilled developer with a stronger understanding of the subject matter and that will help us in the long-term. So even though you might fear that I have gone completely psychotic, I am just going through a mini metamorphosis and will turn out alright in the end."

Even though she cares and understands my passion for code and all things cryptic, I chose to explicitly say all of the above for a number of reasons. In addition to recognizing my phases and understanding my lack of attention, she can help keep my frenzies under control. Looking back to the development of Chime.TV a couple of years ago, I now realize that I spent way too much time cocooned in my house writing some pretty nifty code and not enough time socializing with friends. After six month of near-constant coding, when I finally emerged, I felt I had lost the ability to speak to people about anything other than streaming videos. I certainly do not want to go through that again. On the flip side, once she sees how beneficial my coding frenzies are to my morale, ambition, and general outlook on life, she can encourage me to work harder on my projects and motivate me to take some bigger risks.

When we see behavioral changes in the people we love, we aren't always sure if they are temporary or permanent. If we are know they are temporary, we can learn to cope with them better without putting extraneous pressure on them. If we find out they are permanent, we can adapt, confront, or intervene based on our best judgment. In my case, she understood my point of view and supplied me with lots of yummy food throughout the weekend.

Add a Comment

Fri, 21st Nov '08, 7:55 pm::

Juliet and I are waiting right in front the stage at Jannus Landing to see the indie band Broken Social Scene. It's pretty cold out here so we are huddled together. I am all smiles :-)

Add a Comment

Sun, 16th Nov '08, 10:15 pm::

What part of "follow your dreams" do people not understand? So many talented people around me purposely shackle themselves in mediocrity, boredom, and fear when they could be challenging themselves with brave new exciting adventures. Yes, for the most part, life is tough and there's not much change we can bring about in our daily routines. But every once in a while, we come across a fork in the road when we can take a new uncharted path instead of going on the same dull path that leads us to nowhere. Sure, it can be risky and careless. I'm certain the fear of failure and embarrassment can be daunting. But that's not my problem. That's your problem. Show me the results. Or at least prove to yourself that you truly persevered.

Everyone can come up with a list of problems and excuses on why not to do something. Before you come up with yet another excuse, think about how lucky you are that you can actually afford to sit back and think objectively about your options instead of being denied the opportunity. Not everyone has the privilege of chasing their own dreams, most just do whatever is necessary to live a decent life. If you have the chance to take a risk, I'd say go for it. Let a close friend or a loved one be in charge of watching out for the potential pitfalls while you take the optimistic, bold route. Good luck!

Add a Comment

What we really doFri, 7th Nov '08, 6:20 am::

I am a firm believer in humanity and thoroughly believe that most people want to be good people and do the right things. Though my belief in humanity is challenged on a daily basis by people all around me, I try to remain positive and do my best to identify the core causes of why people act in negative manners. I live a modestly typical modern life with a job, studies, and a wife. I have my own unique talents and skills but so does everyone else. We are all just trying to live our lives and do the right things. But we often don't. Why we don't do the right things all the time is a question that has intrigued me forever and I feel I am closer to the answer today than I have ever been and hence feel the compulsion to share it.

We all have problems, tons and tons of them. Thankfully, I've had very few problems related to money, academics, job performance, or health. But just like everyone else I know, I've had more than my fill of people problems. A fair share of the problems are because of certain, specific people in our lives that we just cannot get rid of. From neighbors that annoy us to coworkers that bother us, from classmates that harass us to relatives that humiliate us, these are problems that could be solved if those imbeciles would just listen to us! But until very recently, they never listened to me no matter how well I argued my case from all points of views, including theirs. This used to frustrate and stress me out to no ends.

I feel things are different now because over the past year or so, I've had fewer and fewer long-term problems with people. I've been able to resolve a lot of conflicts without making any major sacrifices or compromises. The key was to change my entire problem-solving system that I had been clutching on to since the day I was born. No biggie.

While it may seem strange, solving real life people problems is not very different from solving math equations. If x + 3 = 10, we can solve for x and arrive at the correct answer of 7 by calculating what 10 - 3 is. We were given one piece of fact and we had to determine the missing piece of information. We did this by looking at the problem and making some judgments on how to get to the answer. Had we done 3 - 10 or 10 + 3, we would have arrived at an incorrect answer. The problems we face in our daily life are closer to solving the more complex variety of simultaneous equations and linear algebra. We are given a bunch of facts, with many missing pieces, and we have to identify every missing piece of fact before we can make a proper judgment.

Say you start a new job, every person in your department seems like an absolute disaster, and you are supposed to fix it all. That's real life. But it's not much different from a math problem - you are given a lot of facts but not all of them are explicitly mentioned and now you have to make up your mind to do the right thing. Unfortunately, despite your best attempts, in the end it turns out that you royally screwed it up. What happened there? Here's how I see our judgment-making, acting-taking system:

We will never have all the facts on any situation or person. You can never know everything about the teammate who yelled at you even though you did all your work because even the teammate doesn't know himself that well. What you can do, is find out more about the person and where their point-of-view originates. The more we know the facts behind someone's action, the easier it is for us to form a rational judgment that does not frustrate or stress us out. In this case, we might learn that the teammate has anger issues, lack of self-confidence, and a fear of failure that makes him extremely stressed when things don't go as planned. Upon realizing this, we are not supposed to form an opinion of him as an angry, scared person and then become emotionally defensive to everything he says but rather, form a rational judgment that lets us deal with this person without exacerbating the conflict any further. We will never have an easy time dealing with this person and it will always take extra work from our end. However, if we make our judgment based on facts and not our opinions, feelings, or emotions on this person, it will be easier for us in the long-run.

In addition to judging others, we judge ourselves. A LOT. If something goes wrong, the first person that most everyone blames is themselves. And we are often our worst and harshest critics. Once again, we do it because we have formed opinions of ourselves and attached a lot of emotions to our personalities, quirks, and deficiencies. If you said something ridiculously stupid during a company meeting or even a dinner date, you cannot blame yourself forever as being a stupid person. What you should do is realize the fact that you were extremely nervous, you were not prepared, and you had a lot of things going on in your mind when you said all that. If that is the case, there's a fix for it. Do something to calm yourself down, prepare in advance, and work on blocking out everything other than what you are concentrating on. It's not easy but it's possible. So there's hope for you. Don't go about blaming yourself for days, weeks, and months for one trifling incident.

Next time you realize you are in a problem ask yourself is this is a people-problem and if so, stop yourself from thinking any further about your opinions or feelings towards the persons involved. Instead, try to honestly find out their personality, background, and situation. Then try to make your decisions. It is not easy. The person could be your mother or wife. It could be your boss who can fire you on a whim. Or it could be someone you truly respect but are also very scared of. Regardless of who the person is, you have to get more facts on their story before you decide how to act. If your final courage of action involves walking into the CEO's office and spouting off 10 things on why the new manager needs to be fired, you are doing it wrong and should go back to the "Get Facts" section again. I'm sure the new manager needs to be fired but the course of action you decided on is not the calm, rational method that will help the CEO see your point-of-view.

In the end, if your final judgment frustrates you instead of encouraging you to take appropriate action, you need to get more facts and revise your judgment. Nobody else will do this for you, except you. So get on it already.

Add a Comment

Mon, 3rd Nov '08, 7:45 am::

Today marks my seventh year of regular 'blogging. I began with posting links to websites I thought were cool and progressed to writing journals of my day-to-day activities. I gradually stopped posting random links and begin experimenting with science and technology posts. I continued to write about my regular life but I found my true balance once I started writing about my views on the world - personal, social, and cultural. I no longer feel it necessary to write about every major crisis in the news or every time I get a new gadget. I will continue to write about any interesting real-life events and when something moves me. What this means is, fewer updates pertaining to the mundane like project deadlines, upcoming exams, and laundry status.

Oh and my comic Calm Down is back.

Add a Comment

Sun, 26th Oct '08, 9:20 am::

I'm sitting outside in our Florida room next to Juliet, huddled in a blanket, studying on my laptop. I can see our three turtles, Loch, Ness, and Wolf swim around in the two aquariums along with the fishes and Giga keeps looking for ways to escape back into the house. The gliders Paxil and Rita are asleep and so is Herbert the tortoise. Jack, Tera, and Cookie are inside the house, probably asleep.

We went to Treasure Island beach yesterday for a stroll and had wonderful Thai food for lunch. We watched The Score last night. A two-hour movie is pretty much all the time we can spare to sit in front of a TV without starting to worry about projects, papers, and exams these days. She keeps glancing over to read what I'm typing and I keep hiding it from her. The sounds one hears in this room are soothing - the pitter-patter of the water in both the aquariums, chirping of morning birds perched on eaves and evergreen boughs, wind-chimes swaying in the winter breeze, and leaves rustling in the wind - it's quite a relaxing environment if you can tune out the infrequent automobile noises.

I have to write a six-page paper by noon and have more school assignments after that. I also have to work on a website with Tay whenever he hops online. Juliet has two exams this week. I got 97/100 in my Accounting exam last week. I cared tremendously about my grades back in undergraduate college but now I don't give much value to grades. The new things I am learning are valuable enough without me fretting over grades. It's back to reality for me now, i.e. the six-page paper that I have to write in a little over two hours.

Add a Comment

Fri, 24th Oct '08, 10:45 pm::

Juliet and I just bought a new Toyota Corolla 2009 with $0 down at 0% interest for three years. It's dark metallic gray and looks pretty nice. It looks kinda like this. We got a pretty decent deal and the first payment is in 45 days. I will continue to drive my Scion xA and Juliet will drive the new Corolla.

Add a Comment

Don't do muchThu, 16th Oct '08, 11:15 pm::

I had my first real in-class exam today after a break of four and a half years from college. I think I did well for someone who barely had the time to sit down and study. I have been pressed for time lately and this very lack of time is gradually teaching me how to better manage my todos, stress, expectations, and goals in quite an unorthodox way. I know my thoughts below will initially seem to be going all over the place but just hang on a bit because I will eventually reach the focal point that I intend to discuss.

The problem with life is that for most people, it really is the same story day-in and day-out. Even if you have an exciting work or social life, the excitement has the same flavor on a day-to-day basis. Then one day something changes and it starts to get more stressful. You can't change your life around immediately to counteract the increased stress, so it builds up. Pretty soon you fall way behind on your todo list and your goals and hopes are nowhere in sight. A few years later you ask yourself how did I end up here and whatever happened to my dreams and all those plans.

At the same time, you see successful people in every walk of life around you. The gym instructor is in better shape than you'll ever be, your coworker knows more about Excel than you thought was possible, your sixty year old neighbor can run faster and further than you can, the mechanic knows more about your car than you ever will, your friend has read more books than you can imagine, and even the stupid guy who interrupts movies on cable TV seems to cook better than you can ever hope for. It is as if we are being told we suck at life by being encouraged to be good at everything and we are going crazy trying to deal with it all.

Then New Year's Day comes around and the go-getters among us make resolutions and promises. Time to join gyms, lose weight, start reading, help the community, sign up for a music class, and take a course in web designing. All of this is supposed to make us a better person and help us grow. And I am all for it too, regardless of when and how you start. Knowledge, skill, and art makes one a well-rounded person so go for it by all means. The problem isn't that these things don't help us in the long run. The problem is that they displace the honest, self-actuating goals we had on our list and have forgotten over time. What was once a list of unique, personal goals, goals that truly mattered to you, is now a list telling you to sign up for pilates, swing dancing, and pottery classes just like eighty million others.

The trick is to not buy into it. I don't want to run faster than anyone and I don't need to be an awesome cook. I will not be jealous of my well-read friend's library and I will not try to be the best Excel number-cruncher (though I'm pretty damn good at it already.) What I will be, is the best me. I no longer want to be the best at anything and everything. If that means I get a B in Accounting while making more time for my wife and pets because that's what matters more, that is how it shall be. If it means my website gets fewer hits because I'd rather be sitting outside staring at the moon instead of computer code, so be it.

Throughout our lives we have been taught that it is a great thing to be good at something and success is what we should strive for. Society puts a great deal of value on the champions in every field. You cannot fight these uncontrollable urges to be better at everything unless you are consciously aware of your true desires in a given field. From the bottom of my heart, I do not care about running a mile in under six minutes. I never have and never will. However, the moment I see someone dart past me at a park, an annoying little bulb lights up in my head and commands me to "wake up early every morning and start running again so you can be fast like this runner." So I wake up the next morning, run for a few days or weeks if I'm lucky, and then give up. Why? Not because I hate waking up early or despise running, but because running is not something I genuinely want to do at this point in my life.

The simple reason most of our resolutions fail is because we don't want to do them. And on top of that, we are told that we are utter failures if we don't stick to our resolutions and plans - plans that we never even wanted to make to begin with. So this is where we are right now. We make our own dreams but get sidetracked when we get stressed in our day-to-day life and see others succeeding at their own goals. So instead of working on our goals, we pick up their goals because self-help books and self-titled gurus said so. We try hard but fail after we realize we don't really like bending over backwards in yoga or rock-climbing. Then finally we ask ourselves what happened to our goals and why life seems so stressful and joyless despite our every effort at improving things.

I learnt all of this over time after trying to do too many things too fervently and failing miserably at almost all of them. I still hope to do a lot of things but only ones that I really, really want to do and without trying too hard to succeed in most of them. The handful of things that I am passionate about and dedicated to, will still get my full attention but the rest of the things on my todo list will get sort-of done, whenever, if ever. By not caring too much about everything, I am able to care a lot more about some specific things and that I feel is the key to reducing stress and reaching one's personal goals.

Add a Comment

Tue, 7th Oct '08, 2:10 pm::

Juliet likes the name Wolf too. So we have a new turtle, Wolf, in the house now :)

Add a Comment

Tue, 7th Oct '08, 8:25 am::

It's been a stressful week so far. Too many work to-dos, studies, projects, and general chores. I hope it gets better soon. Juliet is just as stressed with her classes and exams. I want to punch the next person who says we're still in the honeymoon phase. The good thing is that each day I feel more confident that we're a very strong team and can stand together against all odds. It's been over four months and we haven't even had a single fight or a major argument. I guess neither of us is the fighting type. Of course there's been tons of disagreements but we worked it all out in the end without yelling or bickering. So that makes me very happy.

The pets are all healthy and wonderful. Last week Juliet rescued another little turtle, a baby Cumberland Slider. We haven't named him yet but I like the name Wolf. Mainly because I've always thought about having a pet wolf but I don't think that's possible anytime soon.

Add a Comment

About that financial crisisFri, 3rd Oct '08, 6:15 pm::

A lot of people have been asking me what this whole "economy in crisis" situation really is. How can banks in the world's most prosperous countries run out of money? Is it because the houses were overvalued? Is it because the people aren't saving? Or is it because of a variety of reasons like health-costs, unemployment, inflation, gas prices, or political instability? On the surface, it would seem prudent to say that it is a deadly combination of all of the above that's causing the financial crisis. We hear statistics being quoted on the news constantly that inflation rose, unemployment rose, new-home sales fell, auto-sales fell, and stock prices crashed. As I see it, these are the effects of the financial crisis not the causes. The causes are far too murky and boring in details for the average person to identify and enumerate. Luckily for you, I have all the time in the world and I love talking in metaphors instead of confusing finance terms when explaining something, so here it goes.

We have to remember that at every level of business and economy, different people are looking at different pieces of information. What you and I hear in the news is what the media has decided is the information most relevant to us. So unemployment, foreclosures, inflation, and most importantly gas prices are the things we hear as the cause of the crisis. This is the same information that the industry leaders, lobbyists, and politicians use to tell us why the bailout was necessary. However, this is not the information they are all personally looking at. Warren Buffet has sailed steady through enough business cycles to not flinch at above-average foreclosures or rising oil prices. What he sees and bases his decisions on, is an entirely different zoo of numbers.

One of the most seemingly benign creatures that is and will considerably affect the economy of the entire world is "Credit Default Swap" (CDS). Economists and some smart people (pdf) have been warning against CDS for a while but nobody seemed to care. After all, what is CDS and why would it ever affect anyone not involved in big-business? Here's how I explained CDS to a friend. The names and figures are merely for illustration and not accurate.

A few years ago, Lehman Brothers bought certified poop for $10,000 dollars and asked American International Group (AIG) to insure them for up to $10,000 in case the poop starts to stink. AIG took $100/year in insurance premium and said "Sure! Why not? This $100/year premium sounds wonderful." Thereafter the executives at Lehman and AIG proceeded to pay themselves $50 because man, this is an awesome deal! Now you have to remember that the folks at AIG were a smart bunch and didn't really want to ever pay $10,000 to Lehman or the ten others like Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley that they had similar contracts with. So, they got Bank of America (BoA) to insure them for up to $100,000 for only $500/year in case they ever had to pay off anyone. Bank of America obviously said "Sure! Why not? This $500/year premium sounds wonderful. " Thereafter the executives at AIG and BoA proceeded to pay themselves $250 because man, this is an awesome deal! And just like AIG, BoA bundled up 10 of these $100,000 contracts and found themselves yet another insurer. Sometimes, they would even go back to AIG to get them to insure $1,000,000 for $1,000/year!

Now a few years later, Lehman's poop surprisingly starts to stink. So does the poop that Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley bought. AIG has to pay up now. So AIG goes to BoA for the money, which goes to Barclays which goes to a subsidiary of AIG and that's when AIG puts its hands up in the air and says "OMG! I have no money! Somebody help me!" Lehman and Merrill Lynch go belly up. All the companies start to freak out because everyone's certified poop starts to stink, they cannot resell the poop to anyone, and nobody can pay them for the stinky poop even though they had insurance in the form of CDS against it.

Now multiply all the above numbers by something like a billion and that's where we are at currently. The total amount of money currently outstanding in CDS is over $54 TRILLION. To give a slight perspective on that, the amount of money that the entire nation of US spends on buying everything from food to houses to electronics to airplanes to space telescopes to rebuilding Iraq is $13 trillion a year a.k.a. the US GDP. The entire world GDP is $54 trillion and the CDS is currently slightly more than that. And this CDS is outstanding against just a handful of financial companies around the world.

The top-level executives see this figure and realize that a pretty big chunk of $54 trillion worth of CDS would have to be paid if every piece of certified poop starts to stink. If that ever happens, every company even remotely involved in CDS will go belly up just like Lehman Brothers. So they get the daddy governments to fix this mess they have gotten themselves into. The bailout that Wall Street has now won is nothing more than a $2 can of air-freshener they hope will mask the stench for a little longer. While $850 billion is a huge number, it is still only 0.17% of the entire CDS. This means if even 1% of CDS has to be paid, the companies will bleed money. If you have 100 pieces of certified poop, guess what percent will eventually start to stink? The executives at all these companies know that answer and are justifiably worried.

Now I have to add a big disclaimer that not all companies were as mind-numbingly dimwitted as those that have already gone belly up or are on the verge of. Some were instead pretty smart and actually bought CDS against these companies so in case these companies went belly up, they actually got money! Then there were companies that bought CDS against dirty socks and used towels which may not stink as bad as poop but still aren't sweet-smelling roses from the fertile lands of Bulgaria. And obviously there were many companies that bought CDS against those sweet-smelling roses in the rare case that the smell went away. So in reality the $54 trillion CDS is a mix of the good, the bad, and the despicably smelly. While nobody really knows the exact breakdown of the good vs. bad CDS currently, it can be easily understood that the bad chunk must be large enough for the entire financial sector to lose sleep and shirts.

Failing CDSs are just one part of this financial train-wreck. The larger part is of course the certified poop, known in more respectable circles as Collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and Mortgage-backed security (MBS), often backing some arcane Structured investment vehicle (SIV). MBS is the part that involves housing market, mortgages, and foreclosures. CDO is what magnifies the problems of faulty MBS exponentially. And SIV is what banks did to enable them to continue lending beyond their legal limits. So when I said above that Lehman Brothers bought $10,000 of poop, what I really meant is that they bought share in a bundle of house mortgages for a lump-sum of $10,000 in the form of a CDO, a CDO of a CDO, or a SIV backed by a CDO of a CDO backed by MBS. Even to me all of this sounds like a bunch of random letters thrown in without making much sense.

When I bought my house in 2005, I borrowed about $150,000 from a local bank here in Florida. They checked my credit history and determined that I was financially responsible enough to pay my loan for the next 30 years. However, dealing with all my payments is a chore because sometimes I want to pay extra, sometimes I want to pay a little early, and sometimes I want them to give me a detail of why my insurance and taxes requirements were increased. The local bank really doesn't want to deal with me and tens of others like me so they bundled up my mortgage with those of others and called up Citibank. Citibank did not care much about the quality of the mortgages it was buying from my bank because the executives who arranged these deals got paid on the potential revenues from this deal without taking into consideration the risk involved. Now Citibank bought ten mortgages from my bank, ten from another, and ten from another. Soon enough, they had a hundred mortgages that they expected to make a lot of money from over the course of three to thirty years. Now being smart like all these financial wizards are, they decided to do something productive with this money. Enter the insidious SIV, the infamous MBS, and the inscrutable CDO.

Thanks to the few remaining decent banking regulations, Citibank cannot loan out a lot of money if it does not have enough deposits. When Citibank bought my mortgage, it basically loaned out money to me and since I don't have any deposit in Citibank, I reduced their ability to loan more people more money. So the Citibank wizards decided to create a separate company, say CitiSIV which bought all the mortgages from Citibank. CitiSIV being a brand new company had no money so it borrowed a ton of money from the open market at low interest rates to pay Citibank for the mortgages. The lenders in the open market gave money to CitiSIV because after all, it's Citibank and everybody knows they are AAA rated. CitiSIV borrows money at low market rates but collects higher interest from the home mortgage payments. So CitiSIV make money. Then Citibank charges CitiSIV for loan origination and transaction fees so the money ends up back with Citibank. Not surprisingly, all of this is perfectly legal.

Now Citibank has a lot of money and none of the loans on its files. This means it can loan out a lot of money now and start the SIV cycle all over again by creating CitiSIV2. And there is where certified poop comes in. Lehman Brothers gave $10,000 to CitiSIV so CitiSIV could buy mortgages from Citibank and pay interest to Lehman Brothers. These mortgages that CitiSIV bought are now certified poop because the homeowners can no longer pay the mortgage. Why can't they pay the mortgage? Because most people, unlike me, bought houses much bigger than what they could afford and at variable interest rates that have now sky-rocketed, making it impossible to justify home-ownership with respect to renting. So there are a lot more foreclosures now. The mortgages that CitiSIV holds are not going to be all paid back and are effectively worthless. Why did people buy homes they couldn't afford? Because the local mortgage banks let them and even preyed on them.

While I know a bit about complex financial transactions from my background in Economics, most people don't and shouldn't be expected to. School teachers, research scientists, and office workers may know everything about their own fields but not much about ARMs, LIBOR, or HELOC. Most people can be expected to be moderately smart about their finances but that doesn't mean they know everything. What these borrowers weren't informed three to five years ago is that adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) and interest-only mortgages are only for those who know exactly how to invest their money. Selling ARM to an office manager was like selling drag-racing car to a soccer mom - both can only end in disasters. This means, the local mortgage companies loaned money to people who couldn't afford it after a couple of years. Why? Because they made money on sales and not on long-term payments. Real-estate agents and mortgage brokers got hefty commissions every time a house was sold so why should they care if the person who bought the house couldn't afford it?

Here is the wonderful game of hot-potato that has resulted in the current crisis. The home-owner didn't risk much when they bought the house because they got to "own" a fancy house without any down payment and could now potentially borrow money against this house. The mortgage broker did not risk his money, the mortgage bank did. The bank did risk money but only for a short time because it bundled up a bunch of these mortgages and sold them to Citibank. Citibank didn't worry about the risk because it sold SIVs against the mortgages. The people who bought the SIVs, say Lehman Brothers, didn't worry about the risky SIVs because they had AIG write CDS against these risky purchases. AIG didn't have to worry because BoA has insured them against all of these risky CDSs. BoA has no worries because Barclays has them insured. Barclays has nothing to worry about because AIG has them covered. So in the end, we have more money involved than most minds can fathom, resting on transfer of risk from one entity to another, all of it relying on the promise of the music-teacher who makes $25,000 a year that starting 2009 when his mortgage readjusts, he can pay $2,000 in mortgage payments a month.

This is how screwed up things are. And apparently $850 billion can help make things better. The politicians claim that $850 billion will be used to buy the bad mortgages from companies like CitiSIV/Citibank, sit on them for a few years, and then once the financial crisis is over, sell them back to companies like Citibank for a profit to the taxpayers. You would have to be brain-dead to even for a second think that somehow the bad mortgages will become valuable in a few years once the crisis is over. The music-teacher is not going to make $115,000 in a few years and will not be able to afford $2,000 a month in mortgage anytime soon. The bad mortgages will remain bad and significant portions of them will not be bought back from the US Government at a cost to taxpayers.

The solution to all of this? Suck it up. Let bad companies go bankrupt. Let bad investors lose all their money. Let investment bankers, mortgage brokers, and insurance underwriters be fired. And unfortunately, let people lose the houses they cannot realistically afford. If the government wants to help, they should first help those in dire need.

There is no painless way to heal a gaping wound but to stitch it up and bear the pain once. The sad thing about good economic policy is that it takes a while to take lasting effects and it makes a lot of people miserable in the short-term. Bad economic policy tries to help a few people immediately while making everyone else miserable in the long-term. $850 billion is nothing compared to how much it will cost to try to "fix" this crisis by throwing money at it. A lot can be done to improve the situation by giving direct help to the homeowners and small business owners who actually need it. Not much will be done by giving money to the same exact banks that took foolish risks, lost money, and begged the government for handouts. The bailout will infuse the markets with additional cash, reduce the value of the dollar, and once again, encourage bad investments because no investment is risky if the government is willing to bail companies out with taxpayer money.

Just think about it. You pay taxes. The government is taking that money and giving it to the banks. Now the banks will lend you money to buy a car. You will pay interest on that money, a part of which is actually your own money that you paid in taxes. You will pay interest to use some of your own money! This isn't some exaggerated doomsday scenario. This is right now. The bailout bill has passed and next month when I want to go buy a car, I will pay interest to borrow some of my own money. Meanwhile, the CEOs of all these companies will continue to get stock options, unlimited perks, and golden parachutes. Who said life is fair?

Add a Comment

My kind of problemSat, 20th Sep '08, 11:00 am::

I love tackling problems whose solutions appear to be the opposite of their true complexity. In other words, I love solving problems whose solutions appear to be very simple but are actually quite complex. And I love solving problems whose solutions appear to be very complex but are actually quite simple. A problem of the first type is automated image/video recognition. It seems so simple, after all, babies can recognize their parents within months of birth and yet the most powerful computers have trouble recognizing individual people and objects in a video footage. On the other hand, untangling a ball of strings seems like an impossible task but if you are patient, it's actually quite simple. What I don't much care for are problems that seem simple and are simple, like solving most of the newspaper quizzes and mind-puzzles, and problems that seem complex and are complex, like nuclear physics, banking regulations, and e-commerce websites. The problems themselves are neutral and have no good or bad values associated with them, it's just that they don't interest me personally or worse yet stifle my creativity.

Earlier this morning, Juliet entangled one of her necklaces and handed it over to me while making one of those cute girlie-pout faces. She didn't realize that she had just jumped started my morning. It took me under five minutes to untangle the necklace and that made her happy and me sad. I was kind of hoping it would keep my mind busy for at least twenty minutes. I remember a couple of years ago my sister showed me her Newton's Cradle with fine threads that were mangled beyond recognition. It took me over an hour to slowly resolve the mess and in the end, the cradle was completely functional and I felt extremely satisfied.

What's the point of me writing all of this today? The point is that if you recognize and identify the kind of problems you like to tackle, then you can selectively work on things that excite you instead of draining the life out of you. I don't want to work on yet another YouTube, Facebook or E-Trade. I don't want to fix a broken car engine. I don't want to take IQ tests or play memory games. I want to work on problems that fool me into thinking they are too easy when they are not because I like challenges that aren't clear-cut from the beginning. And I think I have a couple of them lined up for me right now. How about you?

Add a Comment

Mon, 8th Sep '08, 7:45 am::

I had a pretty busy weekend. On Friday, Juliet and I went to see Tropic Thunder (one word review: hilarious) and then went to Tampa to hang out with her school friends at a bar/nightclub. Early morning Saturday (that would be about 11am), we signed up for a joint bank account. I can't believe I procrastinated so long to get that done. That brings me to the main activity of my weekend, a new application I'm still working on called untodos that learns about your personality and helps you manage your todo list based on your quirks. If every person is unique and quirky, then why does every task planning software treat us all the same? untodos learns about your personality and tries to assist you in better managing your life todos. It won't replace Outlook and complex calendaring software for everyone but I know it will help me sort out the tons of things I have to do in life. It's not fully done yet but do let me know what you think of it so far. It's completely functional and usable, just doesn't have the "smart" features yet. You are welcome to check it out for yourself and sign up for a free account.

Amidst all the programming, we also watched Spiderman 3, played with the gliders, had lots of yummy foods, and just sat in the Florida room for hours watching the turtles, and talked about life in general. Our lives are exhausting but good. I just have to make sure I don't lose sight of the good things while chasing the important ones. Hopefully, untodos will help me with that.

Add a Comment

I'm not famousWed, 3rd Sep '08, 7:05 am::

Someone on reddit asked, "How are you famous?" As I expected, most people started listing their best accomplishments or personal anecdotes of importance. I thought I'd chime in with some of the cool things I've done over the years that got some media attention. It was while listing my accomplishments did I realize how trifling they were in the grand scheme of things.

I've had an article written solely about me on last year and was on the front-page of (with my pic) for about three days earlier this year. I've had newspaper and magazine articles written about me since age 16. One of my websites was reviewed on G4TV. My apps have been showcased in magazines all over the world, from Germany to Philippines.

Yet I don't consider myself famous, because I'm really not. Internet-fame is different from real fame. Internet-famous people have their own Wiki pages. Famous people have their own villas in France. We often forget there is a distinction between the two, especially when discussing it online. It has less to do with the amount of money you make and more to do with long-term personal relationships you build.

People with a website and an audience often forget that their audience is in a constant state of flux, just yearning to stumble upon something interesting and entertaining, be it via unconventional 'blog posts, established news outlets, or even email forwards. The fact that you have a daily readership of 20,000 or even 350,000 means nothing if the relationships stop at the keyboard. Of the millions who have downloaded my software over the past decade, there is exactly one person I consider a real friend. The rest were users who sent me valuable feedback.

Instead of making applications and websites that millions come across, I could have volunteered at a local charity and touched the hearts of just two people. That would be twice the number of real, long-lasting connections I've made in a decade spent writing code online. However, this doesn't mean I regret any of this. I will continue to make useful and useless applications for all to see and click around. I will try harder to come up with more interesting ideas to waste people's time in the hope that my little website makes someone's day. What I will stop doing is assuming that just because I am internet-famous, I am indeed famous or have done anything significant to impact the lives of many. Linus and Guido have, I haven't. I still have a lot to accomplish. As Shakespeare wrote, "Why, then the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open."

Add a Comment

Sun, 31st Aug '08, 6:35 pm::

I've been studying for four hours now. Juliet's working on her exam material behind me too. Yesterday we kayaked up and down the Ichetucknee Springs and later went to Gainesville to see Jessica, Andrew, and my godson Jackson. There's a lot going on in our lives right now, the details of which are irrelevant. What is interesting is how much of a change it is compared to just a few months ago.

I started this year with a very simple life. I had launched the new database system at work finally and had absolutely no major plans in my personal life. The tasks at my job were complex in nature, however, relatively stress-free. At home, it was just me and the kitties. I didn't have any other work or large projects to deal with. I could go kayaking every weekend and relax every evening. Fast-forward eight-months later and I find myself split between four different lives. I have a pretty busy life at home with Juliet and nine of our pets. Now I have a lot more responsibilities at my work as our company grows. Outside of work, Sched has taken a life of it's own and there's so much to be done for Chime.TV too. To top it all off, my masters program demands at least 35 hours a week including driving to and from Tampa, three classes, team projects, research, exams, and tons of reading material.

I pine for days when I can sit back and write whatever comes to my mind but I think those days will, for the next two years, be hard to come by. It's back to studying now.

Add a Comment

Mon, 25th Aug '08, 10:05 pm::

We finally got our sugar gliders! Here are some pictures of little Paxil & Rita Lynn (both girls). Paxil is the younger one, very calm, loves to cuddle, and jumps into your shirt pockets. Rita Lynn (or Ritalin) is very hyper and jumps around like crazy, especially on your back. Juliet loves Paxil and Rita Lynn is my baby. What can I say... I like crazy girls! Here's a video of Rita Lynn climbing all over me:

Sugar Gliders are similar to flying squirrels in that they can glide from one tree branch to another and are native to Australia and other Oceanic countries. Personally, I am very much against keeping exotic pets because I believe all creatures should roam free in their natural habitats and putting them in cages is cruel. However, I also believe in rescuing animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild or ones that would be a threat to native species if let outside their natural habitats. A coworker of mine gave me Paxil and Rita Lynn because her sugar gliders bred and she couldn't take care of six little flying possums. Juliet and I love animals and we had some extra space in the Florida room to setup a nice cage. The gliders have a lifespan of about fifteen years and we hope to give them a nice caring home.

This brings the total number of creatures in our house to eleven. Starting from the oldest to youngest: me, Juliet, Cookie (Juliet's boy cat), Giga (my boy cat), Tera (my girl cat), Jack (Juliet's boy puppy), Herbert (Juliet's tortoise), Loch & Ness (Juliet's musk turtles), and Rita Lynn & Paxil (our sugar gliders).

Add a Comment

Thu, 21st Aug '08, 6:50 am::

If you can see this, it means I am saving tons of money now that all my sites have been moved to my new server. Also, if you are an Xbox owner in the US and install PlayOn! on your PC, you can watch nearly everything from Hulu on your TV for free. I don't have an Xbox but any uPnP client will work, like my ShowCenter 250HD. Yes, there are ads but they are short and not very annoying. The video quality is pretty damn good too.

Add a Comment

Tue, 19th Aug '08, 6:00 pm::

I've been pretty busy past 10 days. My MBA program is starting this Friday and Juliet's MS program already started last Thursday. I just bought all of the books for my program from Amazon and some other sites. I've been busy last seven days moving over twenty websites from my old host to a new one as part of my financial organization plans. I will be so busy with my work and school that I won't have much time for web designing or much else.

I don't know what it is about getting married that makes a guy want to setup a kickass home-theater system but finally I have a nice setup. My 51" HD TV is now connected to Pinnacle ShowCenter 250HD that plays all the music, videos, and movies I have on my computer wirelessly without any special setup or software purchase. I now have an HD-DVR with 200+ channels on FiOS TV. And then there's Juliet's DVD/VCR player too. I realize I am doing almost everything I made fun of when others did it but somehow this all feels pretty good.

We bought a nice cage for the sugar gliders. The sugar gliders will be arriving pretty soon too. Once they're settled in, I will take lots of pics and share. I have a lot more website stuff to finish now. Next update will hopefully be from my new server. If it all works as planned, nobody will notice anything.

Add a Comment

Sun, 10th Aug '08, 10:05 am::

It's an awesome feeling to put back your tools after a job well done. I spent yesterday afternoon doing tons of fixups and cleanups around the house. My kayak rack is ready and looks pretty stable. It should hold up well in heavy winds because each of the two wood posts is buried four feet underground. I cleaned the carport and the backyard patio. Later, Juliet and I moved her sofa from my computer room to the newly-empty Florida room where my kayaks used to be. We moved some of her boxes to the Florida room too.

The house looks much neater and we have a lot more space now. We still have a lot more things to do before we can sit back comfortably. She has to paint the kayak rack and I have to find a tarp to cover it. We need to arrange the stuff in Florida room and find a cage for our potential new pets. I also have to combine our cellphones, find a wireless HD media-player for the TV, and get back into programming.

Add a Comment

Wed, 6th Aug '08, 6:30 pm::

I've been busy last few days with tons of paperwork and the overall reorganization of our finances. Combining my auto insurance policy with Juliet saved us over $600/year but adding her to my health insurance policy is going to cost much more than that. I signed up for a new credit card with 1% cashback and set it up to automatically pay most of my monthly bills like internet, phone, house utilities etc. She's busy finalizing the paperwork for her graduate school. I sent in the documents so I can get my student ID and parking permit. We still have to buy our textbooks and her loan certification is still in process.

The next three years are going to be quite tough for us as we're both attending graduate school. She is in the Master of Clinical Medical Science - Physician Assistant program at Barry University (St. Pete campus) and I'm going for an MBA in Technology & Innovation Management at University of Tampa. Hopefully both of us will be done with our studies by 2010 or at the latest 2011. We plan to stay put till then in the same house that I've lived in since 2005 and I hope to drive the same car for as long as it runs. She will need a new car sometime next year and we will get two more pets sometime this month. I have to build a storage rack for my kayaks so there's more space in our house. I love my job as I always have and hope to be here for as long as possible. She will be able to find a job nearly anywhere as a PA and that will be important when eventually I go for my PhD in 5-6-7 years.

Yeah, lots of plans. It's fun to make them. Nobody knows which of these plans we will be able to stick by but it's comforting to know we can make them. On top of all this, are my babies Sched and Chime, both of which still have tons of potential that I need to put my efforts into. Tonight I start building my kayak rack. Tomorrow, a bookcase for our school books. Day after, I get my glasses repaired (just some minor scratches), and then I get FiOS on Saturday. Even though, I have so many things to do, it seems considerably less work than before. I hardly have to worry about groceries, laundry, house chores, cooking, or writing thank-you cards anymore :) Having a good wifey is wonderful!

Add a Comment

Wed, 30th Jul '08, 12:15 am::

Our Yellowstone Wedding/Honeymoon is almost over. We leave for Florida on July 31st and have only one day of sightseeing left. I know I will miss the gorgeous weather and amazing landscapes of Yellowstone. Here are some of my favorite Yellowstone scenery photos. If you missed it, here are the pics from the ceremony, the preparation for the wedding, and some shots of Juliet and I in our wedding attire at gorgeous settings all over Yellowstone.

Add a Comment

Mon, 28th Jul '08, 11:15 am::

Juliet and I got married yesterday! Here's the pics from the ceremony and the preparation for the wedding. Arthur and I hand-picked the flowers for the wedding bouquet from the wild. Juliet and I then cleaned them up and made a pretty bouquet. Here are the pics of Juliet and I in our wedding attire at gorgeous settings all over Yellowstone.

Now we are off to grab some food and then visit the park again. I have a lot more pics of the park that I will upload later.

Add a Comment

Sun, 27th Jul '08, 12:05 am::

Juliet and I are in Yellowstone finally. Our flight to Salt Lake City from Tampa was delayed by five hours. That ruined our plans to come early to Yellowstone to scope out a good location for our second wedding ceremony tomorrow. My buddy Arthur from Jersey is the best man for the occasion and joined us on the rushed hunt for pretty waterfalls this evening around west and north Yellowstone. The location we liked the best so far has the Undine Falls as the backdrop.

Before we drove up to Yellowstone, we stopped by Island Park where my dad's aunt, Nani Masi, was vacationing with some relatives. She cooked us yummy Pav Bhaji and packed tons of snacks for us for the next week. I miss home-cooked Indian food - it's way better than the stuff you get at restaurants.

We have tons of plans for tomorrow including sightseeing early in the morning, wedding in the later part of the day, and then tons of photo-shoots around the Yellowstone Park. I'm off to rest and recuperate now. Haven't had much sleep in days.

Add a Comment

Single no more (officially)Wed, 23rd Jul '08, 11:55 pm::

We are officially married! Here's pics of Mr. and Mrs. Chirag Mehta and the ceremony. It's late but we have to start calling everyone now and share the good news. Thanks to Tay's stepmom Lottie for organizing the sweet-little ceremony, dinner, and signing the marriage license as the official notary. And my friend Sandra and Lottie's friend Loretta for being the witnesses. I REALLY wish my entire family could be here. It's ok though because we will go to India and have another sweet little wedding/reception there. That would be the third wedding. Our second wedding is this Sunday in Yellowstone. What can I say... I'm Indian - weddings are a big deal to us. Instead of a three-day wedding, we're just planning on getting married three times. Maybe we'll go to Jersey in December and get married there too. Haha, just kidding!

These were my vows to Juliet:

Juliet, you gave up everything you had, just to be with me. You showed me what sacrifice, honesty, and love truly mean. Because of you, I dare to dream of a life full of love, trust, and meals that don't taste like burnt super-glue. We've broken every rule of dating, moving-in, engagement, meeting-the-parents, and now, of getting married. You taught me that together, we can make our own path and do the right thing even when the odds are stacked against us. From this day on, I promise to be the best friend you seek, the stable rock you want, and the true love you deserve.

Add a Comment

Wed, 23rd Jul '08, 12:45 pm::

It's not easy writing wedding vows. The tears keep getting in the way.

Add a Comment

Wed, 23rd Jul '08, 8:45 am::

I can't wait till 6pm tonight :)

Add a Comment

Sun, 13th Jul '08, 11:40 am::

This weekend's been pretty busy. Yesterday Juliet and I took her little puppy Jack to the dog beach at Fort DeSoto. The cutest part was watching Jack do doggie-paddles. Even when I held him high above the water and not an inch of him was in the ocean, he would paddle his paws in the air as if he was swimming. We got home to find my kitty Tera acting quite sick :( Took her to pet hospital and seems like she has a urinary tract infection. Still waiting on the test results.

We went to the annual Fark Party at Howard Johnson in Tampa around 9pm and chilled there for a few hours. Next we went to Gameworks in Ybor City, Tampa and played Skee ball. I kicked ass as usual :) We got home pretty late, checked up on Tera, and went to bed.

Not much planned for today. Juliet's out getting groceries. Will rest and get some chores done. I hope Tera starts to feel better soon.

Add a Comment

Sat, 12th Jul '08, 10:35 am::

Juliet and I went to see Hellboy II last night - it rocked! I had weird dreams all night. We're off to the beach now :)

Add a Comment

No drama, no cryFri, 11th Jul '08, 7:30 am::

Drama is wonderful on the stage and screen. It is destructive in personal life. On stage, drama is an emotional, expressive story played out by characters stuck in unfortunate situations. In real life, it is a back-stabbing, nagging, he-said-she-said tale that holds back everyone involved from enjoying their lives. I used to crave drama in my personal life. Not a day went by when I didn't suspect a "friend" talking behind my back about me. I would be passive-aggressive for months and finally confront them when I couldn't hold it in anymore. How could they have said that about me or done that to me despite everything I did for them all these years? They would fight back with some harsh words and I would retaliate with "No, that was NOT what I meant when I said..." Seven phone calls involving four people, five nasty emails and replies forwarded to six others, and numerous text messages later, I realized the friendship was over. The signs had been there all along, I just couldn't accept it. It took me years to learn that the sooner you accept it and move on, the easier it is.

When you gain "the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide," you no longer have petty drama in your life. We don't like to admit that we create the drama that burdens our lives. It's easier to simply claim bad things happen to me or "drama is attracted to me." No, it's not. You can learn to ignore it and get back to your life. It wasn't until I made some really, really good friends that I understood how drama had impacted my past friendships and relationships. I would let others affect me - I allowed people who mattered not an ounce to me, to completely ruin my day, week, month by something as trifling as a snide remark. It wasn't them who were the source of my troubles, it was my penchant for taking things personally.

Now it's pretty much second-nature for me to ignore pettiness, meanness, shallowness, and other such negativity from people who aren't near and dear to me. If someone wants to impart wisdom and friendliness, I welcome it with open mind and open arms. Otherwise, I just smile and say "Good day, Sir." There are too many wonderful things in life I still have to experience and have no time for pettiness. So how do I avoid drama when it's staring me right in the face? I smile (albeit uncomfortably), maintain my composure, and politely end the conversation. In my head, it's all over already and quite painlessly if you think about it. No yelling, no breaking stuff, no vengeful acts. It's like looking at a crazy monkey in a cage at zoo and just walking past it instead of standing there for hours trying to imitate it.

Years ago I was told, "Never fight with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it." It took me a long time to see the brilliance in those words and even longer to actually live up to them. Now that I do, life's much easier and stress-free. Drama belongs on the stage, not in my life.

Add a Comment

Thu, 3rd Jul '08, 8:10 pm::

Day before yesterday Juliet and I went to the court and got our marriage license. We have 60 days to get married somewhere in Florida though our planned date is around the last week of July. Immediately after getting the license, we celebrated by going to Florida Blood Services to donate blood. I donated my 8th pint of blood (making me a Gallon Donor) and signed both of us up for platelet donations in two weeks.

Her trip to UK to meet my parents was as good as it could have been. They loved her and she loved them :) Here are the pictures of Juliet in London with my parents. This is my favorite pic of my bride-to-be :)

Add a Comment

Thu, 26th Jun '08, 3:25 pm::

I've been pretty busy at work these days. It's six-months since the new system I setup went live and while not everything is perfect, we're doing quite well with it. There's a lot that needs to be done before I start my school in August.

Add a Comment

How I fell in loveSat, 21st Jun '08, 9:15 pm::

As I sit here online on a typical Saturday evening, the woman of my dreams is on a flight to meet my parents vacationing in London, UK. Four weeks ago, Juliet moved into my house and life without much fanfare. Three weeks ago, we got engaged. Two weeks ago our new bedroom furniture arrived and we went kayaking to my favorite beach, Caladesi Island. A week ago I met her family. This week she met my friends Taylor, Kaela, Sandra, Arthur, Taylor's parents, and many of my coworkers. Now she is en route to meet my parents and family members for the first time. In this past month, my life has changed so much I find it hard to answer greetings such as "So what's new?"

I clearly remember the day I met this wonderful lady named Ms. Juliet Summers. In the evening of Saturday, October 27th 2007, I duly noted that "Today turned out to be yet another unusual day." Earlier that day, I had gone to my friend Jessica's baby shower despite feeling quite glum and unkempt. As the official godfather of the soon to be born Jackson Adams, it was my duty to present the father with some good beer. As I sat there observing the excited couple opening baby gifts, I saw the most beautiful woman walk into the room, her eyes as if trying to find a friendly face. My immediate thought was "You are so in the wrong place." Turns out it was the right place indeed after Jessica smiled and motioned her to take a seat a few feet across from me.

I distinctly recall the pervading thought that captured my mind throughout the rest of the baby shower. I know this will sound very cheesy and shallow but I actually asked myself, "Have I ever seen a woman as beautiful in my entire life?" I had a prolonged flashback that took me through all the college parties, math classes, music shows, and checkout lines at grocery stores and the answer was a resounding "Hell no!" Unbeknownst to me, she too felt that there was something special here. Being the guy who stereotypes people all too quickly, especially the prettier ones, I didn't bother trying to get her contact information. I figured I don't need to be yet another guy trying to ask her out. Furthermore, I had more important things to do, like play with my cats. So as the ceremonies and chats ended, I bid my farewell and walked over to my car, amused that today wasn't such a bad day after all as I had just talked to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Just as I was about to drive off, Juliet walked up to my car and said "I'd invite you over to a party that I'm going to but I don't know if I can bring any guests, so how about I give you my number? I can introduce you to many of my friends who live around this area." I smiled, we exchanged contact information, and drove off our separate ways.

Over the past eight months, Juliet and I became good friends. She tried to introduce me to some of her local friends but to no avail as I hate being setup on dates. During this time, I slowly got to know the kind-hearted, excitable, ambitious, and sensitive woman that she truly was. Despite her girlie-girl persona, one of the things about her that stood out was her blunt and direct attitude. There was no beating around the bushes and no passive-aggressive drama with Juliet. Though we were just friends, I knew there was a connection here that I had never felt before. I don't know how we went from being friendly to falling in love but last month, I asked her to move in with me and before I knew it, my home turned into a menagerie. We now have a combined four cats, two musk turtles, one tortoise, and one playful little Chihuahua. I love animals and couldn't be happier with our little zoo here.

If you just read all of the above and frowned because we completely skipped the requisite months and years of dating, you are welcome to join the club of skeptics. I understand all of this sounds haphazard and foolishly rushed because everyone knows it takes years of commitment and compromises to nurture true love. How can you be so certain if the person is right for you or not? I hope I never have to eat my words but all I can say is that once you've met the one, you know. You know it when she hands you her paycheck and bank account and says "You do all this crap from now on." You know it when she paints the bedrooms, grouts the tiles, vacuums the carpets, cleans the bathroom, scrubs the bathtub, and rearranges your kitchen utensils. You know it when she's terrified of flying alone yet decides to fly half-way across the world by herself to meet your parents just to get their blessings. You just know it. I know I do.

Add a Comment

Don't give it your best shotWed, 18th Jun '08, 7:35 am::

I like to give everything my good 95%. I used to try to be a perfectionist and give my best 100% and it never worked out well for me or others in the end. When you try to give your absolute 100%, you feel like you deserve twice, thrice, or even more than others who only put in their 50% or 75% effort. In reality, even if you do twice the work others do, the net increase in revenue or savings in expenses to your company is marginal. The way businesses work, if you increase the company's total sales revenue by 10%, the best you can possibly get is a 10% raise. If you manage to increase the sales by a million dollars, you will not get a million dollars, even if it was all due to you.

If your slacker coworker handles only 50 calls a day while you easily handle 100, that doesn't mean you will get twice the salary. It may seem like you are doing the work of two people easily however, in the larger scheme of things, your dedication and hard work only increased your company's customer service ability by 2%. Here's a nine dollar a week raise after taxes. Go celebrate! Unless you are contractually paid commission, wages and salary seldom have anything to do with measurable performance and everything to do with negotiation and social-networking skills. If you can get a better raise, go for it! Buy me lunch when you do.

However, chances are you will not be satisfied with the raise. So what is a wage-slave to do? Slack off? No. Just slow down. Stop being a perfectionist. Realize that you are working to pay the bills and that's it. It's wonderful if you love your job, I sure do. However, do not try to give your 100% thinking your company is going to return the favor. It does not make business sense for them. If you are a star-employee with unique skills, it makes sense for any business to hold on to you but only up to a certain price point and only in certain industries. So what's a good target to hit? I prefer 95% because it's pretty comfortable for me to give anything my 90% and just a little more effort and I'm at 95%. The magic 95% doesn't give me stress, lets me sleep at night, and in general, allows me to be much more productive. For you, that number might be just 80% or 90%. Put in as much effort as you can as long as you don't start to stress out with "but I work so hard."

If you work so hard and people don't care, stop working so hard. This rule doesn't apply just to office work. Take cleaning your home for instance. Maybe you are one of those people who keeps the house psychotically clean and starts yelling at everyone the moment a speck of dust lands on the floor because nobody other than you cleans the house... You work so hard! Yeah, stop. Clean enough to be comfortable, hygienic, and neat. Don't be a clean-freak and stress yourself and everyone else with it. I've lived with people who were clean-freaks and I've lived with people who were complete slobs. Somewhere in between, closer to the clean-freaks, is a spot where it's stress-free and comfortable.

In addition to office work and house chores, most charity and volunteer workers also get this "but I do so much" syndrome. I am certain you put in 30 hours per week towards your favorite volunteer organization for no pay and will get extremely sad when they don't mention your name in the monthly newsletter with the prominence you had expected. Well, think about it. Do you want to give your 100% and feel depressed when things don't turn out exactly like you want OR do you want to give your 90% and be ecstatic that they wrote a whole paragraph describing your charity project on the 3rd page?

On a different stream, a few years ago, my boss Eric gave me a wonderful book to read to help deal with office clashes and while it was not immediately obvious, I learnt a great deal from it and have pretty much incorporated the lessons into my daily life, well beyond the work environment. I highly recommend it: The Four Agreements.

Add a Comment

Mon, 16th Jun '08, 7:45 am::

It's mid-June and I've barely written anything on here. There's a lot to write too, mostly good. I'm just waiting for the right time I guess.

Add a Comment

Sun, 8th Jun '08, 5:15 pm::

I kayaked out to Caladesi Island today with Juliet. It was a pretty good paddle and I got to try out my new kayak Speedy in the ocean for the first time. It was smooth sailing on the way to Caladesi but I almost tipped over twice on the paddle back. It's a wonderful kayak for lakes and rivers but definitely not seafaring. We got out of the water just in time too. We have thunderstorms daily and it's raining and lightening like hell right now.

Yesterday the new Clarion furniture arrived. It looks wonderful. I'll put up some pictures up once the room is demessified.

Add a Comment

Mon, 2nd Jun '08, 11:35 pm::

I can't wait till the Clarion Queen 5-PC bedroom site is here this Saturday :) I am finally getting bedroom furniture!

Add a Comment

Sat, 31st May '08, 9:25 pm::

Have you ever truly believed that you were right yet everyone who cares about you thought you weren't? All you want is for people to be happy for you yet all you get is rebuke and dire warnings. You've taken a big risk, made a gutsy call, and understand the consequences yet your loved ones treat you like a reckless dolt. The ones you relied on for support and advice make you feel guilty for doing what you honestly feel is the right thing. Have you ever felt like that? It's debilitating. Why can't my loved ones just be happy for me for once and stop with the negativity? I am well aware of what can go wrong. If you can't be happy for me, then stop trying to make me feel sad. That is all.

Add a Comment

Wed, 28th May '08, 7:50 am::

Last week has been pretty crazy so I haven't had much time to get online for my mundane updates. I had a blast at Ginnie Springs with Tay and his family but the campgrounds were so crowded and full of drunk college kids that both Tay and I went back home a day earlier than planned. I know I'm getting old when drunk college girls start to annoy me instead of getting me excited.

I'm getting more and more fired up about my Pacific North-West camping trip in less than two months and have made pretty much all the reservations well in advance. My neck's feeling much better but the pain returns if I rest at any awkward angles. Life's good and there's not much I can complain about.

Add a Comment

Tue, 20th May '08, 8:45 pm::

I picked up my new Cobra Eliminator from Sweetwater Kayaks today. The guys at Sweetwater were quite helpful and set up the kayak's rudder, scupper, and adjustable-seat in advance. I even got free pads for my car's kayak rack to protect the new kayak from damage on rough roads. If you're ever in the market for a kayak, especially in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater/Tampa area, I highly recommend Sweetwater Kayaks.

I went to Lake Seminole to test out the kayak and I absolutely loved how it handles! It's almost 17' long but weighs only 42lbs, considerably less than my good ol' Ocean Scrambler XT aka Floaty. Once I adjusted the seat and the foot-operated rudder to a comfortable position, I hopped in and begun my first paddle. Being only 23" wide, I was afraid it would be too unstable but five minutes in the water and I had a pretty decent idea of how far I can tip before it capsizes. Having tried out the controls and stability, it was time to give it a real speed test. The results were amazing! I was going almost 30-40% faster on my first day than I have ever on Floaty. So in accordance with my habit of giving my paddling gear laughably obvious names, my new kayak shall henceforth be known as Speedy :)

My neck is feeling considerably better and did not hamper kayaking today. I felt pretty much back to my old self. I wanted to take pictures of Speedy but by the time I returned home, it was too dark. There's always tomorrow.

Add a Comment

Sun, 18th May '08, 3:00 pm::

This has been another relaxing weekend. I just watched Annapolis and just started to watch Pitch Black. I'm going camping at Ginnie Springs next weekend with Taylor and his family. Hopefully my new kayak will arrive by then and my neck will be better. If not, it'll be an interesting lesson in survival.

My neck has definitely been getting better though there's still considerable pain when I move around. I cleaned my house a bit yesterday but didn't have the strength to do five loads of laundry that I have been avoiding for about 6 weeks now. So I dropped off my dirty clothes at Gardens Laundromats and will pick up the clean clothes later today. My total bill was $43 for 46lbs of clothes. It seems pretty high but that's about 6 hours of work if I have to do it myself. Add to that the electricity usage for running the washer for 3 hours and the dryer for 5 hours and it sounds like a sweet deal. They hang the clothes on my own hangers and put them in my car too. So all I have to do is drive over, collect the clothes, and hang them in my closet. If this works out well, I think I'll go for it once a month. I can drop off the clothes before work and collect them on the way home.

Add a Comment

Fri, 16th May '08, 7:35 am::

I feel much better today. Yesterday I had a 30-minute physical therapy session early in the morning that helped loosen the tension in my neck and shoulders. I was prescribed a moderately strong pain-killer that helped ease off the pain. My boss referred me to his chiropractor who adjusted my neck and made me feel much better almost immediately. Whatever concerns I ever had about chiropractors are now gone because the relief was instantaneous and precisely targeted. I didn't sleep too well once again but I can already feel a marked improvement.

I should be all better within a few days, just in time for the delivery of my new kayak, Cobra Eliminator! I custom-ordered this super-fast kayak earlier this week and can't wait till it arrives. I picked the color "Mango" because it's the easiest color to spot against the backdrop of the ocean water so that motorboats don't run me over. I'm so excited! Now I'll have two kayaks. Who wants to go paddling with me?

Add a Comment

Wed, 14th May '08, 7:55 pm::

I went to the doctor today and turns out I have some sort of muscle spasms in my neck and upper back. It's not at all serious but will be quite painful for the next two weeks during which whatever the hell is wrong, is automatically healed by my body. I'm taking some non-drowsy muscle relaxant and other than the constant pain, should be fully functional. Just like every other time I've been sick, it's nothing serious thankfully, just really really annoying. No kayaking, running, or lifting heavy objects for the next two weeks.

Add a Comment

Mon, 12th May '08, 8:30 pm::

I sprained my neck somehow while sleeping and can't turn my head in any direction. I was supposed to go to The Castle in Ybor City with Sandra tonight but we ended up just going for a nice dinner by the beach instead. She's moving back to St. Pete area from Orlando and I'm pretty happy to have a good friend around again.

Work projects are going well and other than horrible pain in my upper back, things are pretty good. I will go see my doctor tomorrow and hopefully he can help. He is a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) and has lots of experience fixing up muscle tensions and sprains. I don't even know how my neck got so bad in a single night. I went to bed fine and woke up miserably in pain. Usually, if I wake up with a stiff neck, the pain goes away by the afternoon but not this time. Oh well, just need to relax a bit more.

Add a Comment

Do you deserve anything?Fri, 9th May '08, 7:35 am::

Lately, I have been mulling over the concepts of deservedness and what is "meant to be" and "ought to be." The reason I give any consideration to this stream of thought is because anytime you are trying to overcome a major event in life, it is your outlook on how the outcomes ought to be, that determines which course of action you take. By deservedness, I mean a lot more than the notion of karma or "as you sow, so shall you reap." Why do we even think that anyone deserves anything, good or bad? Nature doesn't care if you deserve a bigger house or a more caring family. And yet, we all walk around everyday, certain that we deserve better and should get more.

Intricately linked to deservedness is our understanding and acceptance of what is "meant to be." I went to college and worked hard. I am meant to be financially stable and capable of sustaining myself. Since I was a good student, I "ought to" have a high salary. You and your girlfriend have been dating for three years now and despite all the tiffs, you both still love each other. You are meant to be together. We have formulated rules on how we think our future should materialize. Hard science works like that. Take water, add few minutes of heat, and the water is meant to be vaporized. Same way, meet a girl, take her out to dinner, be a wonderful companion, be romantic, and since you deserve a marvelous girlfriend, you both are meant to be in a relationship soon. Errr... not exactly.

If you take care of a person for years and they leave you for someone else, your world will come crashing down. You spent your entire 20's to work hard and make their life better. And now they've left you. YOU DESERVE BETTER! That's what everyone will tell you and that's what you will start to tell yourself. We put in effort, wait for a while, and expect results. When results aren't what we expected, we lose sleep and hope. Why? Because we just can't accept that maybe there is no such thing as deservedness. We can't accept that what is now, is all there is. You don't have complete control over what happens in future. Nobody does, including the richest and most powerful of the men. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The ones who are undaunted by unexpected outcomes are the ones who do not base their happiness on reaching the intended destination, but rather the lessons learnt en route.

If you think life ought to be a certain specific way, you will have a hard time accepting when it does not turn out so. Worked hard, married young, raised kids with love and care, and now the kids don't even call you except when they need money? Life ought to have turned out better, don't you think? I wish it had. In the heat of the moment, I will readily point it out that you deserve more in life. But later, when I sit back and think about it, I don't see why you deserve anything. Nobody does. I don't either.

So if we don't deserve anything in the end, why even bother to put in the effort on long-term goals? Because the experience is usually worth the effort. The outcome is often a random flip of a coin but you can't replace the experience gained with a billion coin flips.

Add a Comment

Sun, 4th May '08, 2:10 pm::

I had a pretty good weekend so far. Went to the beach yesterday, then later to my friend Juliet's birthday party. The weather is beautiful and it's nice just being outside in the sun. My new glasses will arrive on Tuesday (hopefully) so till then, I'm avoiding computers and TV as much as I can. I do have a lot of things I want to write about but the eye-strain is a little too much to bear right now. I am going to go sit in my backyard and just chill for a few hours.

Taylor's coming to town soon and we had some major work stuff to talk about. So let's see how it goes :)

Add a Comment

Thu, 1st May '08, 11:00 am::

Not even five hours since my glasses broke and I'm already causing disasters. In an email sent to all of our senior executives at work, I make a small but horrible typo. Instead of saying "Customer wants us to fill the product soon", I wrote "Customer wants us to kill the product soon." I sent the correction to everyone and thankfully it's not a big deal. But I have to be careful now. Meanwhile, everyone's laughing at me :(

Add a Comment

Thu, 1st May '08, 8:05 am::

My glasses broke. I had a feeling they were going to break so earlier this week I had my eyes tested and ordered a new pair. My last eye exam was almost five years ago and thankfully my eyes haven't got any worse since. My single pair of glasses lasted so long that I forgot that glasses break. However, the new pair of glasses won't be ready till Tuesday. This means I have three full days of work without my glasses. I was kind of hoping that my old glasses would last at least a week longer so when I have the new pair, I could keep swapping them with the old one all day and confuse the hell out of everyone at work. Oh well, time to change all screens from 1280x1024 to 800x600.

Add a Comment

Quit it alreadyThu, 24th Apr '08, 9:30 pm::

I like breakups. I encourage resignations. I highly recommend divorces. I love it when a miserable situation comes to an end. If things are not going well, despite everything you try, there is no shame in saying goodbye amicably and moving on. Almost everyone I know hates all of the above and dreads the uncomfortable feeling of the final, awkward farewell. Be it your job, relationship, or academic career, if you are absolutely certain that things will not change for the better, I will always be the first person to tell you to quit. I will also tell you repeatedly not to burn bridges on your way out.

Quitting is not for losers. Quitting is for those who are pragmatic enough to realize that it is ridiculous to be in a situation where you have no control and have no way to improve your conditions. It is a show of strength to terminate successfully, not a sign of weakness. Quitting amicably is a sign of wisdom and prudence. Hurting the other person should not be the ultimate goal when culminating a sombre saga. Walking away unscathed so you can move on to bigger, better, happier things is what quitting is all about.

Nobody says give up at the first, second, or even the nineteenth hurdle you stumble upon. Everything worth doing takes a lot of work from all the persons involved. However, at some point, you will know that you have reached your limit. Staying in the situation any longer just means you are losing your chance to try something else. The opportunity cost of being stuck in a rut is incomprehensible until you realize that you consciously chose not to take some simple actions like picking up the phone or writing a short letter, and instead left yourself be subjected to continued stress, turmoil, and the gradual demise of hope.

Certainly, major changes in life take time, effort, and planning. Not everyone can deal with abrupt changes or easily let go of people and places they once loved dearly. But you have to get the ball rolling. I genuinely admire a person who gives her or his very best to make things work but is not afraid to walk away if the situation is verily hopeless. There are some things you can change with persistence and diligence, there are some you cannot. Staying in an abusive marriage is worse than the worst divorce. Working for a manager who contemptuously derides you despite your best efforts is worse than the worst resignations. "I Quit" is the most powerful two-word phrase you can utter when someone is ruthlessly abusing your selflessness.

What I am really saying is that all my friends should quit their jobs, break up with their significant others, sell their domiciles, and move to St. Petersburg, Florida so I have more people to kayak with on weekends :)

Add a Comment

Tue, 22nd Apr '08, 11:20 pm::

I have a new favorite wine, Moscato D'Asti Beviamo. So long Verdi Spumante. It's past 11pm, I have no chores, I'm sipping on sweet bubbly wine, listening to wonderful music on Hype Machine, and reading interesting articles. Life is alright.

Add a Comment

Maturity is for kidsMon, 21st Apr '08, 11:50 pm::

I often like to think that inside me beats the heart of an adventurous young boy, fascinated by the world around him. I don't even realize how much my way of thinking has changed till I cross paths with someone who still sees the world the way I did ten years ago. That's when it hits me that I am not a kid anymore. And fortunately, that's a wonderful feeling. Growing up, I had noticed that most adults were cynical, jaded, and bitter. I never wanted to end up as one of them. So I tried to hold on to my childishness for as long as I could, always careful of not becoming too mature for my own good. Thankfully, over time I have let my fear of maturity go and have gradually changed my point of view to see the world as it is, instead of how I want it to be.

Insecurity was probably my biggest personality flaw for most of my life. I was confident in my abilities but not my personality. I wasn't sure if people really liked me for who I was and so being loved by all was one of my primary concerns at all times. When you're trying to impress every person who walks by you, you rarely get a chance to be yourself. I even dreaded the phrase "be yourself" because I still don't know who myself really is. The difference today is that I am not afraid of trying to be myself, regardless of what people think of me. I don't know when it happened but I simply stopped caring what strangers and infrequent acquaintances thought of me. At the same time, I started noticing people as they were instead of as I wanted them to be.

All of this came about only when I acquired the ability to detach myself from tense situations I would be involved in and analyze the issue as a neutral third-party. Learning not to take anything personally is one of the most difficult things to grasp but once you do, life becomes much easier. If a friend or coworker said something hurtful to me, I would take it to my heart and mull over it for days till I made up my own theory on exactly why the incident took place, unmindful of what the actual cause was. I used to deal with breakups, personal loss, and failure in a similar way - drastically. Now, I just brush it off with nary a frown. I always hoped that someday I would grow up to be stable and staunch in my principles but I never knew how that would actually happen. Turns out, it was really quite simple.

I just had to figure out who I truly wanted to be. Did I want to be the guy who knew all the movers and shakers? Or the guy with six-pack abs? Or the guy who lit up the dinner table with witty remarks? Or the guy who walked into a room and took every girl's breath away? Or the guy who knew the temperature at which Molybdenum boils? I know now that I didn't ever want to be any of these guys but that didn't stop me from trying for all of these roles for well over a decade. I was trying to live someone else's dream. The day I decided to make my own dreams and goals, the image of the person I wanted to be became much clearer. The person I want to be doesn't worry about bad hair days because proper follicle care is pretty low on the priority list. The person I want to be doesn't think life is over because some girl reacted unexpectedly. The person I want to be doesn't worry that someone else is making more money, getting more attention, or receiving more accolades while doing less work. If the person I want to be doesn't care about petty, superficial trivialities, then why should I waste my time on those?

There is a fine but nontrivial distinction between not taking things personally and not giving a damn about what others think of you. I still care about how my actions impact others and try not to be loose with my words. As long as I am honest to the best of my abilities, I have a firm ground to stand on when others judge me. In turn, what this form of disassociation from my own self gives me, is a certain kind of power you only see in martial arts movies from the 1970's, when the old master would stand calmly and just move slightly from side to side while four angry youths jumped all around him, trying their very best but failing to even land a single punch. That's pretty much how I feel around angry, frustrated, stressed out, and disrespectful people now. I no longer have to say anything in retaliation or attempt to prove my righteousness. I simply just move along and leave them to their own dramatic selves.

I feel like I am a work in progress and will be for the rest of my life. It's pretty gratifying to think that despite all my flaws and failures today, as long as I learn something from it, I will be a better person tomorrow. That's the wonderful thing about maturity - you can't lose it. So now when someone tells me that they are worried about their physical appearance in public or how a coworker doesn't act respectfully towards them or how selfish their cousin is, I ask them to think carefully if any of that really, truly matters in the big picture of their lives; is the loss of sleep fretting over minor nuisances really worth the fleeting sense of righteousness? I don't expect anyone to see things the way I do, after all I was caught up in the blame-games myself not too long ago. Yet I hope that they take a little part of what I say and let it soak in. Maturity has a way of slowly creeping up on you unannounced, not unlike dandruff and termites. Alas, there is no remedy for maturity though spreading it around does bring some transient relief.

Add a Comment

Fri, 18th Apr '08, 10:55 pm::

I have an awesome idea in my head right now and not one person I can bounce it off of to ascertain if it worthwhile or not. I feel so frustrated. Why do these ideas get into my head only when nobody's around? Maybe I'll just do it on my own without telling anyone about it.

Add a Comment

Wed, 16th Apr '08, 9:20 pm::

Things have been pretty good lately. On Sunday, I finally got to hold my godson Jackson when I visited Jessica & Andrew in Gainesville. I spent most of the day with Tay and Kaela and played with Jackson in the evening. He's under four-months old but already over 18lbs! Nothing much going on these days but I'm keeping myself busy with lots of little interesting things. I'll write about them as I make good progress.

Add a Comment

Sun, 13th Apr '08, 10:35 am::

I had a pretty good day yesterday in Orlando and then later Gainesville. After a yummy dinner and a great conversation at Sweet Tomatoes (my favorite place ever) with Spring, I drove north a few miles to hang out with Sandra and her three kitties. Around midnight, I drove up to Gainesville and had some Cuban rice and veggies with Taylor. Later a bunch of Taylor's friends came over and we sat out on the picnic table till 3am, wine-glasses in hand. Today, I hope to go see my friend Jessica and her 3 month old baby, Jackson.

In other news, my crazy dreams have returned. And by crazy I mean fusion-powered submarines invented by a mad Russian scientist who wants to steal my sister's necklace and use it for the core of his torpedo guidance system. Umm, yeah. You have a dream like that for three hours, remember every bit of it, and THEN try to have a normal day of interaction with people around you. It's not easy. I'm still weirded out.

Add a Comment

Thu, 10th Apr '08, 12:10 am::

I don't know what it was but I started to feel a bit nostalgic tonight and put on some of my favorite Hindi music. Contrary to the cliched songs involving trees, mountains, and fancy clothes, most of the Indian music I cherish is sombre, soothing, and has beautiful lyrics. I couldn't listen to more than five songs without feeling extremely homesick so I decided to get on reddit and read a funny story or two. As luck would have it, the top story was "At a Loss" by columnist Dan Savage. Instead of his regular hilarious columns on relationships, this one had him say "My mother died on Monday." Forget getting a chuckle or two, I ended up with a stream of tears. And things only got worse when I foolishly clicked on a similar article mentioned by a fellow redditor: Dave Barry's column about his final good-bye with his father.

I could use a hug right about now.

Add a Comment

Sun, 6th Apr '08, 5:50 pm::

I'm in Gainesville at Taylor's place, listening to Kaela and him talk about her work advertisement project.

Add a Comment

Fri, 4th Apr '08, 5:05 pm::

The worst part about being a grownup is that when you're alone in a room with a box full of donuts, you are supposed to control yourself and take only one or two. Screw being a grownup! Donuts for dinner at work :)

Add a Comment

Fri, 4th Apr '08, 12:05 am::

April is going to be awesome for Sched.

Add a Comment

Mon, 31st Mar '08, 7:00 pm::

I presently have the worst headache of my life that I can remember. I used to get headaches as a kid but that stopped long ago and I rarely get them anymore. I think the prescription for my glasses has changed. Guess I need to get my eyes checked now. This also means, sitting on the computer staring at the screen is almost impossible. So I'm gonna go offline and cook myself a nice dinner.

Add a Comment

Sat, 29th Mar '08, 8:55 pm::

All day I had been staring at the logo on my favorite hangout and kept wondering who the dork on the alien's body was. I went to and to see if there were any details but no such luck. I gave up thinking it was probably some weirdo online. Turns out, *I* was that weirdo! The always awesome Alexis put MY head on the reddit alien's body. And despite staring at it all day, I didn't even realize it was me!

Alexis changes the reddit logo often so here is the screenshot with my head on reddit logo and here's the original photo of yours truly on the beach by Taylor. Since early afternoon, Tay had been sending me cryptic messages, as if hinting at something, and only now do I get what he was pointing at! I feel like the most clueless person ever. And here's folks on reddit discussing today's logo.

Add a Comment

Stop trying to save the EarthSat, 29th Mar '08, 6:00 pm::

"Earth Hour" is exactly the kind of feel-good useless environmental activism that makes me want to build a rocket so I can get off this planet. If I wasn't so lazy, I would celebrate Earth Hour by turning on all my four computers, every light and fan in my house, turning on my big-screen TV, setting the microwave, electric oven, and all four gas stoves to high, running the washer/dryer to max-cycles + max-loads, cranking my air-conditioner to highest setting, and putting up Christmas lights for the whole neighborhood to see.

You want to "save the planet?" Give up leisure flying. Don't ever fly to Europe, South America, Nepal, or New Zealand for a vacation. Ever. Only travel when you absolutely have to. Oh, is that too much of a sacrifice? Well, if you don't want to make a real difference because that entails giving up something you want and instead just wish to pretend like you are somehow helping the planet with no major inconvenience to yourself, go ahead, turn off your lights for an hour. I will spend my evening doing things I do every Saturday - cook, watch TV, go online, not participate in meaningless group-think movements, teach my cats to play fetch - you know, the usual.

Add a Comment

Interesting peopleSun, 23rd Mar '08, 6:20 pm::

Sometimes when I meet new interesting people, I get this urge to thank them for being themselves. It is a pretty unusual thing to tell someone directly to their face and I've never been able to put it eloquently in a real conversation, but if I ever did, I think it would go something like this:

"I am glad you exist because that gives me hope in humanity. Maybe we're not the best of friends and don't have much chemistry to work, travel, or live together but it warms my heart to know that the world isn't full of hopeless, copycat, materialistic dunces. I know that you are doing your part to keep things weird and interesting for the rest of us folks. Thanks for being yourself and keep it up."

Add a Comment

Sun, 23rd Mar '08, 6:05 pm::

I think all the problems of my life would be solved if human teleportation became a reality. The only thing about my life that isn't awesome is that nearly every person I love and cherish, is far away from me. Some people are a few hours away, some are across the country, and some are across the world. Often I have dreams wherein distances don't matter. So I could be having lunch with my friends in New Jersey and then walk into my room in India to say something to my mom and then walk out to my aunt's backyard in Utah. I woke up yesterday morning, forgetting that SXSW is over, and almost group-texted "Where's everyone, let's get lunch..." Everyone's too damned far.

Add a Comment

Sat, 22nd Mar '08, 6:45 pm::

I think I finally slept enough today to shake off the tiredness from SXSW. I actually woke up at 5am to go kayaking but went back to sleep after I checked the weather online. Cloudy days are no fun for kayaking but perfect for sleeping in. I am now washed and dryer'ed. It's time to hit the town.

Add a Comment

Sun, 16th Mar '08, 7:00 pm::

I'm home from 10 crazy days of SXSW. So very tired.

Add a Comment

Fri, 14th Mar '08, 7:30 pm::

Every day, a new theory pervades my mind and connects all the random musings into a unified outlook on life. After being here in Austin for a full week now, I feel overwhelmed by the number of interesting experiences that I was able to have in such a short span of time. I was able to compress the events of an entire year into seven days and that basically means, I have two 2008's - the regular 2008 and the SXSW 2008. In 2007, I saw about 6-7 movies, went to 3-4 music shows, met 6-7 interesting people, went to 3-4 parties, and got famous 2-3 times. Hmmm, that's less than one week here in Austin! So I already hit my personal entertainment goals for the year 2008. Now I have ten more months to live it up.

Yesterday I went to see musicians Robyn, Sia, Jens Lekman, Islands, and my favorite Asylum Street Spankers. Today I watched part one of the trilogy: Mongol and a documentary series about Punk Rock band NOFX's World Tour. Also saw Lykke Li today and now we're off to dinner!

Add a Comment

Say what you want, do what you shouldThu, 13th Mar '08, 2:20 pm::

I don't know what exactly I was mulling over a few days ago but I concluded that it was all because I say what I want and do what I should. When it comes to expressing myself, I don't try to please the audience by saying what they want to hear but rather what I really think. Words should not be spoken to appease but to communicate. However, when it comes to doing things, actions, I don't do whatever I want. I do what is appropriate and is expected of me morally and sanely. So that means I will tell you that you are a moron for dropping out of school but I will help you pack and move if you have made up your mind. I have noticed that most politicians are the complete opposite of this and which is why I'd never make a good "leader" anywhere. You are expected to SAY what people want to hear but in the end you just do whatever you want and thankfully for you, get away with it.

I think the people I tend to like are also the ones who speak their minds but do what's right. My family and relatives tend to fall into that category, which would explain why despite them saying completely crazy things, I still love them all so much. I don't have much respect for those who say what they should and do what they should because they have no backbones. I have learnt to stay away from those who say what they want and do what they want because their lack of control often ruins the evening. It's not easy to have fun when you get kicked out of every party because your companions are reckless morons.

It's a nice day outside, I'm going to walk around and get some food. Austin, TX is a nice place to walk around.

Add a Comment

Wed, 12th Mar '08, 1:45 pm::

Everything Taylor told me about SXSW has either proven to be exactly true or beyond my wildest expectations. He told me how initially you meet a lot of really neat people and parties get crazier each night. Then you start to lose physical energy, wake up later each day, stay up later each night, till the last day when you can't even get out of bed. He said how friendly everyone is and how carefree the atmosphere is. So far, it's been pretty damn awesome being here. Having people thank and congratulate us for is icing on top of the already sweet cake. The music festival started today and although I didn't get the pass to attend official music events, there are still many unofficial shows I might go to. I'm going to watch a few more films and continue to meet more people, preferably while sober. Quite a few folks are following me on Twitter and I think I finally see the utility of the site. If you want to know what I'm doing during my stay here, sign up for Twitter and click 'follow' on my profile.

Having so much choice in what to do around here has had an interesting impact on the way I see things. Regular life is seeing and working with the same set of people day in, day out. So you get to learn who they are and can react based on how they have acted in the past. Here, I don't know anyone and nobody knows me (at least not on a personal level). The only person I know is me and the more people I meet, the more I hear this 'me' person talking about himself. I'm not on some mission to "find" my true self but my voice is clearly establishing an identity for itself.

I have often wondered where I fall on the introvert/extrovert divide. I can be social and meet 20 new people within an hour any given evening if I so desire. Or I can sit in the lounge (like I am right now), not talking to anyone and just minding my own business. I could be an extrovert and confidently call the girl I met last night without a single misspoken word or I can sit here hoping nervously that she calls me. I am beginning to feel that I am really a typical introvert who simply has a lot of experience faking extrovertedness. Who knows. All I know is that it's just wonderful being here and having the time of my life. And I have my buddy Taylor to thank for all this and more.

Add a Comment on front-page of WiredMon, 10th Mar '08, 12:35 pm::

Wonderful article about As of right now, we're the front-page story.

Yesterday, I met the guy who made one of my favorite pieces of coder-libraries, jQuery. Then the insanely cool Alexis from reddit bought us dinner. The entire group chilled at the Gawker party. Tay and I ended up on frontpage. We also met Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook party. I saw only one movie, Beautiful Losers, and it didn't disappoint. I don't know what I can do today to top all of that off. I'll try to watch some more movies and attend a few more panels. I'm so hungry.

Add a Comment

Sun, 9th Mar '08, 11:30 am::

Austin has been non-stop fun so far. During the day I watch movies and attend interactive panels and after the sun sets, we go to parties where I lose my inhibitions. The daytime-me is a calm, collected individual who loves documentaries and engaging discussions. The nighttime-me has drinks in both his hands and dances with any girl he fancies. Of course, the morning-me is a tired, worn-out fellow cursing at nighttime-me for partying too much.

In other news, our little website has 2,000 users! People are recognizing me through the website and coming up to me to thank me for making it. Taylor and I got interviewed by Wired about - let's see if they write something neat. A lot of the panelists and industry leaders are using and promoting themselves. The site was mentioned in both the 'How to Rock at SXSW' panels and Taylor even got a big hand from everyone at one of them.

I have a lot of cool things to watch today so it's time to shower and get ready. This is day 3/10. I am so excited to see what happens next.

Add a Comment

Fri, 7th Mar '08, 4:55 pm::

I'm in the Austin airport, waiting for the rest of the crew to get here so we can go to the hotel. So excited!

Add a Comment

Fri, 7th Mar '08, 9:05 am::

I'm leaving my house in a few minutes for Austin, TX.

Add a Comment

Living as if tomorrow is your last day?Sun, 2nd Mar '08, 12:35 am::

It always bothers me when people say you have to live your life as if tomorrow is your last day. That's because if tomorrow is my last day, there are many things I will do that I would certainly regret if I'm alive on the day after tomorrow. Given just twenty-four hours to live, most people including yours truly, will just party non-stop for as long as they can and then retreat into delirious seclusion because of the immediate threat of death. Living your life as if you're going to be dead before the next mortgage payment comes up is pretty irresponsible and not a good motto to live by. On the flip side, living as if you have all the time in the world to do everything you want just makes you lazy and procrastinate without ever accomplishing anything.

People are bad at making 5-10-15 year life-plans and except for a very few people (like med-school students and retirees), nobody knows where they'll be in a couple of years. What made me think about the appropriate length of the ticking-death-clock is a mention of Prof. Randy Pausch online. About six months ago I watched his moving "Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon" online. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006 and given three to six months to live. His last lecture was in September 2007 and thankfully, he is still vigorous and active till date. Here's a brilliant, energetic family man who has lived the last 18 months thinking he'll die within the next three months. And to top it off, he has went on to accomplish his childhood dreams (like practicing with his favorite sports team and getting a talking role in the next Star Trek movie) as well as ensuring his wife and kids have wonderful memories of him.

In a span of three to six months, you can do a lot. Travel across a continent, write a book, build a swimming pool for the kids, and go on a long road trip with your best friend. You can live each day to the fullest while not driving the people you leave behind crazy. This is quite achievable and exciting if you think about it. Today is March 2nd. If everything you ever wanted to do, had to be done by September 2nd, what would you do and when? No, you can't wait till Christmas. You can't put off going skiing till November. You don't have infinite money and your savings aren't enough to support six months of bills on top of all the fun you want to have. That means, you have to keep your job, you have to continue to pay auto insurance, and you have to be responsible about your actions. All this, while the six-month clock is ticking.

I can't imagine what Prof. Pausch is going through, especially with the chemotherapy treatments and tremendous media exposure, but I know it in my heart that whenever he hugs his wife and kids, he does it like a man who has three months to live and wants to make every moment of it memorable for the ones he leaves behind.

Add a Comment

Working as a teamFri, 29th Feb '08, 11:55 pm::

Last Sunday when I woke up lazily around noon after a long kayaking trip the previous day, my partner-in-chime-and-crime, Tay showed me a new site he was working on. He has been going to the South-by-South-West (SXSW) Music & Film festival in Austin, Texas for a number of years now and has managed to make a name for himself by making easy-to-use-and-print calendars for the event. SXSW features over three thousand music shows and hundreds of film premiers, along with hundreds of interactive conferences and panels over the span of ten short days. For the twenty-five thousand people that go to SXSW each year, deciding where to go is a hectic process because so many interesting events are taking place at the same time in downtown Austin. The last thing you want to do is miss your favorite band or a book-reading by your favorite author because you were stuck at a boring party and didn't know what else was going on just around the block.

This year, I'm going to SXSW with Tay - March 7th - 16th. I saw the new design for his schedule and immediately wanted to help turn it into a wonderful, easy-to-use, auto-updating event-planner. Thus was born. Every evening after work this past week, Tay and I worked on refining the design, layout, features, and content of We launched the site early this morning and already have over 200 users signed up for 4000 events. Frankly, all we wanted to do was make a neat way to find what events (films, music shows, discussion panels, and parties) were worth going to. So it's pretty amusing that not even 12 hours after launch, we're being considered among the SXSW Breakout App of 2008 contenders and getting some props.

The way I see it, I hopped on to (I picked the name by the way - go me!) was to accomplish two things. First, make sure my ten days in Austin will be exciting and memorable (here's my incomplete sxsw schedule). Second, and more importantly, get in the groove of working in a fast-paced project development mode with Tay. I've worked on many projects online with a lot of people but over the last four years, my professional rapport with Tay has continued to improve and strengthen like no other. It's not all bunnies and butterflies because we disagree on a lot of fundamental design and business points of view. However, the fact that we always come to an agreement that actually works better than our own personal choices, is why it's always a pleasure to work with him. Simply put, I want red and he wants green. We yell at each other for 10 minutes and in the end one of us picks yellow and we both immediately say "That's perfect!"

Just like Chime.TV, our newer projects aren't about making yet-another-typical-website. Both of us are too lazy to make something that already exists, even if it's not free. Consequently, it doesn't matter to me personally whether every tiny app we build goes gold and garners publicity, though positive feedback is always wonderful. What does matter is that in the end, we feel proud of what we made and manage to help a bunch of people in tiny little ways. Here's to and a hundred more creative deviances in the future!

Add a Comment

Sun, 24th Feb '08, 12:55 pm::

Last night at 11:30pm, I got home from a superb kayaking trip with 60 paddlers down in the Florida Everglades. I found out about the trip on the Green Wave forum and immediately decided I'm going. Friday evening after work, I got home, strapped my kayak on to my car, packed some food and clothes, and headed South. I never have to pack anything other than food and clothes because everything I could never need for camping and kayaking is already in my car at all times - US/Florida Atlas, tent, sleeping bag, pillow, beach chairs, beach umbrella (eh eh eh), kayak paddle, seat, straps, paper towels, and a plastic bucket for wet clothes and trash.

I passed Everglades City at about 11pm and found my camping site in a few minutes. I setup my tent and went to sleep. I could hear frogs croaking all night in the wilderness. I woke up at around 6:20am and drove over to the Everglades Park Range Station kayak ramp near the south tip of Everglades City and met a bunch of people putting in at the same time. We paddled about 6 miles to Indian Key out in the Gulf. We meandered to many a coves along the way, catching glimpses of porpoises, herons, and ospreys. Linzy, Lindsay, and I walked around the island and saw an amazing number of whelks, conchs, tulip shells, and dried corals. There was a big lunch grill but I don't like to eat much during long hauls. After lunch, we paddled for a few miles, found a small strip of sand on a mangrove island, and shored our kayaks. A quick dip in the water cooled us three down for the rest of the paddle. We got back to the put-in at about 3:30pm. I went back to my camping site, showered, checked out, and headed back to Triad's in Everglades City for dinner.

It was pretty neat talking to a bunch of young and old kayakers about their favorites places to paddle to. I sat across from a retired captain and his daughter Jen. Many of the older kayakers are into paddle-fishing and while that's something I don't do, it was still interesting to hear them talk passionately about it. I met a few guys that actually designed these kayaks and write articles for kayak magazines. The funny thing was that I've been to more places than many of the seasoned pros mainly because I like going to a new place every time. Oh and the old captain paid for my dinner and I didn't even know or got a chance to thank him! They left early so later when I asked for my check, the waitress said "oh you're paid for."

I drove home, threw the trash, hung out the wet clothes to dry, and went to bed. Today will be yet another lazy Sunday.

Add a Comment

Mon, 18th Feb '08, 12:05 am::

My first HD video is finally online after hours of editing: Kayaking down the Chassahowitzka River. Click on the 'Full' button for the highest resolution. I'd say even after just one video, I have learnt a lot of things that will make my next video better.

Ten things I learnt after my first nature/documentary-style video:

  1. Dont talk about useless stuff i.e. keep mumbling to a minimum.
  2. Take slow, long shots. Preferably move instead of just panning.
  3. Don't zoom. Instead, take a clip, stop, zoom, take another clip.
  4. If you said something wrong, retake entire clip.
  5. Make sure there are no annoying noises in the background. Dubbing takes a lot more effort.
  6. Feel free to take multiple shots of the same thing.
  7. Don't even bother to shoot scenes you will edit out anyway, like four blurry minutes of sea gulls flying around.
  8. Don't turn 180 degrees unless it is shaded in all directions because the sun will mess with the lighting.
  9. Dont make girly motions with hands no matter how secure you are in your manliness.
  10. Speak more clearly, slowly, and do not start EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE with "So..."

I'd say my next video will definitely be more interesting. I am more than satisfied with the quality and performance of my new $200 Kodak Z812IS. I believe in upgrading my equipment when I truly outgrow it. For now, there is no camera in the world that can improve my video editing skills. Nor will any video editing software help me with impromptu dialog delivery. I used a trial version of Sony Vegas to edit the 70+ Quicktime H.264 movie clips that my camera shoots to natively and if my next video editing session goes well, I will certainly buy the software. Video editing is fun!

Add a Comment

Sat, 16th Feb '08, 7:20 pm::

I swam with four Manatees in the wild today at Chassahowitzka River while kayaking. Here are my Chassahowitzka River photos, though none of me and the manatees - yet. A nice lady kayaking nearby saw me in the water and took some snaps. She said she'll email them to me by Monday. I have my fingers crossed.

I knew manatees were friendly but I had grossly underestimated their cuteness. Without me doing anything, one of the manatees approached me and started sniffing my legs underwater with his snout. Then he held my left hand between both his flippers and started nuzzling my hand! Another one came up and put his neck over my hand so I could pet it and then turned over so I could rub his belly. I swam around in the water for almost twenty minutes and one of them kept following me wherever I went. He was like a huge kitty just looking for some cuddles. I've heard of people swimming with captive manatees at places like Sea World but today when I put in my kayak at 7:45am, I had no clue I would get to swim with these gigantic lovable creatures out in the wild. Their skin feels just like an elephant's and they have a soft snout that they lift just an inch above the water surface to breathe.

One thing to always remember is that because of the Endangered Species Act, you are not allowed to touch manatees with both your hands at the same time and neither are you allowed to chase after them. The best thing to do is just stand in one place like I did initially and let them come to you. Then after a while you can move about slowly and let them chase you if they are interested. While inside my head I was extremely excited about the experience, when I was in the water, I did my best to be gentle and calm. Nature isn't like a staged show with trained dolphins jumping around. Wild manatees cannot become too tame or else they will suffer out in the ocean so human contact should be minimal and infrequent for their own sake.

Last time I kayaked was in September - 26 miles on the Suwannee - and when I went back into the water today, I really wasn't expecting much. I was hoping to take some good pictures and maybe a couple of short videos in HD. But the whole swimming-with-manatees experience was completely out of this world. I've kayaked and surfed with dolphins before but today's swim tops all of that. Now I'm going to try to edit the 73 HD clips (almost 45 minutes) I filmed today into one short video.

Add a Comment

Sun, 10th Feb '08, 6:20 pm::

Me yesterday. Me today. Also my new Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS camera just arrived yesterday. It's an 8 megapixel camera with 12x Optical Zoom and shoots HD video in 1280x720 resolution. I'm still waiting for the 8 GB SD Card so I can actually start using it to its full potential. Right now on the default 32mb internal memory, I can barely get it to take a few pictures. The camera and SD card including shipping & handling were under $250. Beat that!

Also notice the top bar above where I added a new button: my videos - click it anytime to see all the videos I shoot on my new camera. Yes, finally in 2008 I have managed to figure out how to upload videos online so others can see. So far I've upload two videos of my kitties with really bad background music and one ten-minute long video of me indoor-skydiving. Hey, I never claimed to be the next Kurosawa. It's kitty and kayaking videos from now till the end of time as far as I'm concerned.

Add a Comment

Anti-Green BandwagonSat, 9th Feb '08, 1:25 am::

Green-Green-Green: Who doesn't like saving the environment? We humans have the audacity to pretend like we can "save" a planet with mass of 6 trillion-trillion kgs (that is six followed by twenty-four zeros) while we cannot even figure out an affordable way to harness solar power. Yet every company is now trying to be green. When a company goes "green" what they are really saying is that "from now on, as we continue to plunder the natural resources of a geological area like we have been for the past two centuries, we will print lots of pamphlets and brochures to show you exactly what used to be here so you can feel less guilty about buying our products."

Behind the brilliant feel-good marketing strategy is the plain and simple truth that production of any kind requires resources and despite every attempt to use renewable resources, in the end the environment is worse off. The only way to absolutely not harm the environment is to not live in a civilized society and wander around in small herds picking berries and hunting wild boars. I tried that once and while I would not recommend it, it was still better than my trip to Disney. So where is the happy, sustainable medium between blowing up the coral reefs and foraging for wild fruits? It is somewhere nobody wants to be. It is the no-electricity, no-Internet, no-running-water, no-healthcare, no-mass-production world that over half the population of the world wants to rise up from. The drought-ridden populace of Africa is sustainable, the flourishing Scandinavian or Latin American world is not, let alone United States, Australia, and continental Europe. As long as every single person in the planet strives to achieve a decent standard of living, there is absolutely no way to save the environment.

When the dear old grandma in the heartland of China wants to get running water, someone has to make the water pipes, tap, electric pump, power lines, and a billing system to measure how much water she uses. No matter how green each of the companies that produce these items are, they are magnitudes away from an earthen-pot filled with water from the nearby stream. Nobody wants elderly women to break their backs and suffer due to the lack of clean water but that is the cost of actually going green.

Driving bicycles instead of monster trucks is a good start but it still requires metal foundries, plastic fabricators, heavy machineries, and electricity and fuel to drive it all. Add to this the physical buildings that employees work in and the entire construction industry that built it all up. You can go from a truck to a cycle but you cannot go from consumption to no-consumption. If the companies truly want to go green, they should say "stop buying out products, and if you do, use them for as long as you can even if that kills our growth."

Despite every attempt to save the environment for the children of the 6.5 billion people on this planet today, we cannot do so while promising everyone a good standard of living. Even if we magically get a free never-ending renewable source of energy tomorrow, we will still have to dig up mountains and cut-down forests to supply the entire world with rocks, minerals, metals, wood, and habitable lands. That was fine when there were 10 million people on the planet but for 1000 times that population, there will be no green way out. There is no green solution to this problem because civilization and nature by their very definition are completely opposite. If we go too far in favor of civilization, we ruin nature. If we go too far towards saving nature, we ruin people's lives.

Pretending like we can achieve a healthy balance, which is what most companies going green seem to claim, is like saying "despite every single thing we do that inadvertently ruins the environment, let us cut back marginally in some instances and thump our chests loudly, proclaiming that it is a big deal." The entire movement of going green is a band-aid to the systemic cancer that is central to this whole issue - too many people wanting too many things. If every single means of production today went perfectly green, it would not achieve even a small percentage of what a moderate decrease in demand would.

So without running off into the wild, what can an environmentally-friend person do? Firstly, realize that no matter what you do, you are absolutely positively harming the environment by simply existing. The very fact that you breathe out carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, adds a tiny tiny bit to the problem of global warming. Secondly, accept that since you are part of the environment and have chosen to live a civilized life, there is no point in pretending that you can in any way, save the environment. No, don't even think about it. You are killing it just like I am, so please stop acting like you are in any way better than an SUV driver who eats baby pandas for breakfast. You and he use magnitudes more resources than the dear old lady in China as you both drive on the same roads, live in houses made of same materials, and shop in the same kind of big box grocery stores.

Even if you consume one-third of the fuel an average person uses, that is still infinitely more than not using any resources at all. Moreover, the fuel and resources you use may not be directly visible to you. For instance, the pain-relief medication you take that the SUV driver does not have to, was brought to mass-production at a cost of over a billion dollars, millions of which were spent on manufacturing equipment, printer paper for documentation and promotional purposes, a decade of clinical trials combined with laboratory testing on cute fuzzy lab rats, and intensive medical, quality, and safety training for all personnel involved in the entire chain. So stop trying to think that you are saving the environment while not doing anything substantially different from any other around you. Third, and this is the only one you have some control over, stop buying things you do not need and can live without. Replace real-life versions with online-versions. Loading a web-page of a news-article uses less resources than the same article in a printed magazine. Be careful here as this is the part that exemplifies the primary trade-offs between civilized and hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Should you read books printed on paper or idle away all night watching the stars? Should you stay at home and brush your hair all day or travel 1400 miles away to attend a film festival? A well-traveled, well-read, well-dressed person is bad for the environment by the very acts that defines them. So pick wisely. And most importantly, stop buying the "we love the bunnies and rainbows" marketing spiels by every company that is just trying to raise their quarterly sales figures.

Say a company sells 100 widgets at a cost of five dead penguins to the environment. Now they go green with 40% improvements in efficiency and only choke three penguins for the 100 widgets. If their green marketing strategy works and sales double from 100 to 200 widgets, they are now offing six penguins as opposed to five before. It does not matter if percentage-wise they are doing much better - environment works in absolute terms. They have one additional dead penguin AFTER going green because of a rise in the demand for their product. If they stole business from other non-green companies that desecrated seven penguins for each 100 widgets, it is indeed a net absolute-gain for the penguin population however, with a marginal rise in demand for their widgets over time as a result of their effective sales campaigns, they will be back to the old pre-green dead penguin total. The only thing going green can do is slow down the damage for a very short term. And that is basically what everything from the carbon-offsetting scam to food-as-fuel is all about - making negligible environmentally-friendly advances in the near-term so as to downplay the inherent crisis of incessant resource abuse that is paramount to our way of life outside self-sustaining hamlets.

Cities like those in Europe can plan better public transportation systems and encourage bicycle use but they cannot promote negative growth. No municipality organization wants people to move out of their city to go live in villages because that would mean lower tax-revenues and negative local GDP. Every public or private planning commission in-charge of saving the local flora-fauna has the primary goal of infusing growth while ensuring minimal direct damage to the natural landscape. That is akin to a doctor who rubs alcohol on a death-row inmate before emptying a syringe full of lethal chemicals. There is no balance that can be achieved in the long-term if the axiomatic goal is to favor the destructive course of action over the non-destructive one.

The brightest, most-compassionate minds of today are striving to achieve this balance between standard of living and preventing environmental abuse. Try as they might, the only real solution will come about naturally and at a tremendous cost to humanity sometime in the future. Recurring episodes of the traditional Malthusian Catastrophe have forever ensured that whenever the population grows beyond their own ability to feed and fend for themselves, there is a sharp rises in mortality rates that in the end, bring down the numbers to sustainable levels. Bluntly put, nature takes care of over-population by killing a large number of people. It could be the starving kids in Sudan or an infectious pandemic in a densely populated metropolis; advances in technology can go far in delaying this eventual catastrophe but they can never prevent it forever.

Prof. Albert Bartlett, a modern-day Malthusian or in other words a cynical, practical economist like me, often explains how the term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. He is the true genius that famously stated one of my favorite quotes of all time, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." I wrote all of the above before reading his thoughts on long-term energy supplies (pdf). From the very beginning, I was quite careful about what I wrote as the last thing I want to do is sound like a pessimistic doomsday fearmongerer. But having read his article now, I feel oddly vindicated that my line of thinking was pretty much similar to his - too many people needing too many resources. He has a garnered lot of criticism, especially for voicing that over-population is to blame for depletion of resources. I usually try to stay away from the same claim mainly because the moment you mention "population control," people think of communist regimes mandating abortions on women with more than one child.

On the two sides of every debate, is a realist and an idealist. The realist sees how things are and calls a spade, a spade. The idealist reads the numbers and has a gut feeling that things are wonderful and will get better regardless of all the glaringly obvious problems. Idealists are great for leading daring expeditions in uncharted waters. Realists are great for making policies that minimize the gap between the number of single males and the number of single females in a country, so as not to cause a major uprising by the male denizens who cannot find a wife. Similarly, people can observe the status of the world as it is today, exponentially growing population with an arithmetically growing energy supply, and come to their own conclusions as to what will eventually happen. Will the go-green fad actually prove its effectiveness or will we continue down the road of oil wars and deforestation-related droughts and famines? You are welcome to let me know what you think.

Add a Comment

Advertising AnnoyancesFri, 8th Feb '08, 10:20 pm::

There are a lot of things about advertising that annoy me but usually I shrug them off as necessary evils in a consumption-centric society. Advertising increases sales, ramps up production volumes, helps industries benefit from economies of scale, and usually raises the standard of living for everyone involved in the supply chain. However, there are more than a few products and marketing shticks that solely exist to insult and infuriate me and every person smarter than a potato. The fact that people actually buy these products in droves only reinforces my pet theory that humans evolved from dodos. Here are a few of my advertising annoyances, with my biggest one at the last:

  • Water with