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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?

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :)

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.

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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

-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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

MotivationTue, 1st Nov '16, 2:20 am::

I find myself at an unexpected place in life. I am used to clawing my way out of problems when things go terribly wrong. I am familiar with waking up stressed every day and striving to stay focused amidst a score of distractions. But I am struggling to motivate myself to accomplish some big but necessary goals because things are already going according to plan.

In mathematical terms, when life's at -1, I know how to push for a +1 to arrive at a comfortable net 0. But now that life's at a chill 0 and I need to push it to +1, I am having a hard time propelling myself. Looking back at how difficult life was at -1, I am thankful that it has been at 0 for such a long stretch. But complacency kills even the mightiest and I am no exception.

We are getting our kitchen remodeled. Juliet and Naveen are healthy and doing well. My sister is days away from delivering her first child. And I have my hands full with work, personal projects, and social events. Literally nothing to complain about. And yet I find it difficult to motivate myself to get to the next level.

I spent some time thinking about the possible root causes but haven't arrived at any eye-opening conclusions yet but I did recall something from my college years that I'm going to try again. When I had to write a long paper but had no motivation to do in-depth research or write detailed arguments, I simply wrote a rough, inexact outline in one quick burst. Seeing an incomplete and potentially erroneous draft frustrated me enough to fix and expand small parts of it, slowly getting me closer to my final goal of a well-researched, comprehensive paper.

When it comes to my work of writing code, I think I'm going to quickly write a basic framework with an unacceptable number of bugs and gradually fix them until the number of bugs is acceptable. It sounds tongue-in-cheek but it's pretty much the motivation behind Exception-Driven Development. Why waste time writing code to avoid bugs that nobody will encounter when instead you can use that time and energy to fix the worst bugs and user issues?

I don't know if I'm going to wake up tomorrow pumped up to hack away at my computer but I do know that picking a better approach could help me concentrate even when my brain says "Eat some snacks and watch another episode on Netflix..." Here's to motivating myself!

DiscoveryTue, 4th Oct '16, 11:45 pm::

As I celebrated my birthday with my family today, I tried to think of something profound about life, growth, and age but couldn't. I was living in the moment and there was nothing deep or touching I could confer with anyone. I can share my political views or opinions on economic policies instantly but I can't dredge up my own feelings and emotions without a lot of contemplation.

It's been like this for a few years now. For a while I thought it was just because I was living on autopilot doing all the routine things like work, chores, and child-care but lately I've realized it is something else - I am no longer a big mystery to myself. A large part of growing up is finding out who we really are. At age 18, I didn't know if I was the kind of person who puts family first or career first. At age 24, I didn't know if I wanted to stay in one place or travel around the world. At age 30, I didn't know if I would give up on my dreams and goals for an easy life or continue to work hard. Today I know the answers to those questions, as boring as they may sound: family-first, stay-in-one-place, and continue-to-work-hard.

I don't think these are choices that one can make; I believe these are innate traits one has to discover for themselves. You can't choose what makes you happy, you can only choose to accept it and be happy or reject it and be miserable. For years, I rejected the fact that I am a homebody and forced myself to travel a lot but it didn't make me as happy as I hoped it would. Only when I accepted that I am someone who likes being at home most of the time and occasionally likes to travel, did I start enjoying both being at home and traveling.

There is still a lot about myself I don't know but most of it is about how I would deal with adversities that I have not yet faced. From dealing with my kid's future teenage angst to health issues I could have later in life, there is much I will have to discover about myself as I age. Until then, I prefer to ponder over the joyous unknowns - how I will react when Naveen writes his first computer program, what will I tell Juliet after she cooks the first meal in our soon-to-be-remodeled kitchen later this year, what will I do when I get the news of my sister's first baby in the next few weeks?

Naveen's first day at schoolWed, 7th Sep '16, 9:00 pm::

Yesterday Naveen had his first day at Saint Paul's in their brand new Early Learning Center. While we were very happy with his old daycare, we loved the infant to middle school education track at Saint Paul's. He is already running around his new classroom making friends and reorganizing the baskets of toys.

We spent the Labor Day weekend in Orlando and Naveen got to visit Disney World for the first time. He's too young to remember it but Juliet and I had fun taking him all over the park. And after all, isn't that what it's all about?

BeliefsMon, 22nd Aug '16, 1:35 am::

I fully expect everything that follows to be a long meandering brain dump of multiple subjects connected by nothing but my mental model of how the world works. Usually when I write about something other than my day-to-day routine, I treat it like a school essay and try to making a point with logical arguments. But what I've noticed is that behind my persuasive arguments is a set of core beliefs that rarely changes. And I'm not the only one. Behind almost everything I've read, heard, or seen are someone's core beliefs making a point. Listing and comparing our beliefs divides us. But discussing how our beliefs work, can help us communicate better.

Before we get to heart of our belief system, let's start with a simple opinion: The world is better/worse today than it was 20* years ago. You can rely on facts, anecdotes, or personal experiences to form an opinion on this statement. Maybe two decades ago you had a great job and cost of living was low. Or maybe you were in a bad relationship and felt stuck in life while today things are great. Your opinion is yours to have, share, defend, and sometimes change. But beneath the facts that bolster opinions or heartwarming experiences that sway them, are beliefs that seldom rely on numbers but predispose which facts and stories we listen to.

Do you believe the average person is good? If I randomly picked just ONE person out of the 7+ billion people on the planet, without seeing their face, would you trust them to return your lost wallet? Don't overthink this. Just ask yourself if you believe that to be true or false in the average case. Now ask yourself what you would do.

Do you believe the average person is lazy and unmotivated? In other words, if they could get just enough money to eat, live in a modest apartment, and afford the bare necessities of modern life, would they accept that life and quit their job or instead continue to work hard to get even further ahead in life? What would you do?

If you believe the average person is honest and hardworking, and feel the same way about yourself, realize that you are living in a world with other people who believe that while the average person (that includes you) is dishonest, lazy, and unmotivated, they themselves are good, industrious, and quite motivated. This isn't a comparison of who is right vs. who is wrong. This isn't about people having different beliefs. This is about people having contradictory beliefs about each other.

There is a famous exercise in Game Theory called the Prisoner's Dilemma (if you don't want to read about it, watch this video). In my mind, our beliefs about the goodness of an average human pits us against each other in a world-wide Prisoner's Dilemma where we all try to guess if everyone else is an honest, productive person and act accordingly. And that I think is what leads us to have differing opinions on whether the world is better or worse off today.

Our beliefs guide us to seek evidence, which helps us form our opinions. From a cold scientific, rational perspective, there is a very strict requirement for what constitutes evidence and so if you take that route, you will arrive at the currently accepted scientific consensus. But what if you believe that the scientists who came up with the conclusion that you find hard to stomach, were funded by organizations that benefit from the very conclusion? Certainly you wouldn't be wrong to believe this because there are countless examples of that. Well, then you find yourself questioning not just scientific research but news media, social media, education systems, governments, corporations, and pretty much every institution with power and means. And you would be in your right to be skeptical! Because if you believe there is corruption and greed at almost every level, you will find ample evidence to support it if you dig deep enough.

The difficulty in trying to comprehend the world today is that it is so big yet feels so small. With so many people, all things good and bad that could happen, happen daily. And with the world being so connected, we can find evidence of almost anything to match our beliefs - logical or not. The world as a whole did not know about the Nanking Massacre or Armenian Genocide for decades. Yet news of a single hero giving up his life to save others spread around the world within hours last year.

There are just too many nuanced and seemingly conflicting facts in every single aspect of our life for us to weed through. So regardless of what scientific, political, and economic theories we study, we tend to believe in some core things that cannot be easily quantified, justified, or articulated. Beliefs about race, gender, and religion are strengthened by events that we experience, which motivates us to seek additional examples to reinforce our beliefs. If you believe that women with same experience and skills are paid less than men for the same jobs, then you can find ample evidence to defend it. You may even support laws to curb the injustice. Or you might believe the wage gap is a myth with evidence to the contrary.

I have friends and family on both sides of almost every issue and what's interesting to me is how rarely does evidence change anyone's opinions. Evidence contrary to our beliefs is either an immaterial exception or further proof that the opposition is grasping at straws to maintain their lie. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Whether you support Clinton, Trump, any of the 3rd party candidates, or none of them, your beliefs are what their campaigns are piggybacking on.

On the economic front, Trump is fueled by the opinions that illegal immigration and Obamacare are the primary cause of hardship for most Americans today. Many in the media mock these openly without trying to understand why people feel this way. Beneath these opinions are the beliefs that people who break the law do not deserve amnesty and that we are better off when we can make the financial and healthcare decisions for ourselves and our families without the Government's mandate. The former is about Government not presently doing its job to stop illegal immigration and the latter is about the Government overstepping its authority. In other words, Government is doing more bad than good. While we can come up with arguments for and against these beliefs, realize that these are not purely academic ideologies we are arguing about but rather what they believe is necessary for the good of their community, country, and world.

Similarly, on the economic front, Bernie was fueled by the opinion that decades of rigged economic policies by the richest of the rich are the primary cause of Americans' hardships. Beneath this opinion is the belief that sound Government policies can curb corporate greed, or in other words, a belief that Government can do good. Clinton is fueled by the opinion that political obstruction preventing Obama from enacting the necessary policies is the primary cause and she is the one who can fix it. This is a mix of both the beliefs - people who believe that Government that can do good being impeded by others who believe that Government cannot do good.

I'd imagine that your belief in Government being capable of doing good or not is partially derived from whether you believe that people are good or not. I say partially because even if you believe the average person is honest, you might believe they don't work in the public sector for long, thereby making Government corrupt by attrition. The reason I keep bringing these types of beliefs up repeatedly is because there is no way to prove them either way - they really are something you have to accept on faith alone. With millions of people working for the Government, you can easily find evidence to prove any stance. So what you rely on is your belief that there are or aren't enough good people in public sector to help steer the country in what you believe is the right direction.

I have avoided listing my own beliefs and opinions because my point wasn't to convince you to see things my way. My point was to show that the world is so noisy, there is no point in blaring more noise at people who disagree with us. But instead, listen to the muted melody lost in the cacophony. Even the person you most vehemently disagree with has core beliefs you can rightly respect if you only cut through the mountain of opinionated drivel.

* I picked 20 years because there is more variability of viewpoints in that. Would be boring to compare today to 2 years ago (not enough time) or 200 years (only for history buffs).

Now and thisTue, 12th Jul '16, 1:30 am::

I don't usually miss the past and rarely do I compare my present to the days bygone as if things are somehow worse now. Growing up, I always wanted to just grow up. Now that I'm done growing up, I think I made the right call. As wonderful as my childhood summer vacations were, I don't pine to go back to simpler days. I like now and this.

I like the present not because of what I possess or have done. I like the present because I no longer have the harrowing urge to prove myself. My entire childhood and youth was driven by the excruciating compulsion to prove my skills and abilities. Whether it be classroom, computers, or even the odd running trail, I felt an obligation to better myself and beat my past performance.

For years, I believed that the only reason I kept improving is because I kept pushing myself constantly. But the last couple of years have led me to believe otherwise. Self-improvement by persistence is not the same thing as self-improvement by pressure. All my life I conflated the two, causing me to accept the negativity of stress, neurosis, and disappointment in myself as natural companion of development. Thankfully, that was only in my mind.

I don't know what freed me from the obsession to prove myself but it couldn't have happened at a better point in my life. I am now learning more about the fields I am interested in than ever before. I am spending more time with my wife and son than I imagined I would before he was born. I am thoroughly enjoying my work and hopefully writing better code than I did in the decades past. And I am not doing this by forcing myself. I am merely doing it by casual repetition without any expectations. I like now and this.

Eye of the stormFri, 24th Jun '16, 12:00 am::

You know that feeling when you've been driving in the rain for what seems like hours and you suddenly pass under a bridge or an overpass and for a brief moment in time, everything seems peaceful? That's how I feel right now with zero emails in my inbox. For the first time in many months, I have no emails that I need to respond to or take action against. This ephemeral feeling of calmness is why I even remembered to share my thoughts here.

This year has been busier than most. In addition to email-replying and toddler-chasing, my waking moments have been consumed by family-tending, friends-attending, and money-extending. During the few hours I have to myself each week, I swim, pet our animals, and watch space videos on YouTube. A hundred years ago we thought our Milky Way Galaxy was all there is. And now we are "listening" to black-holes colliding a billion light-years away in a universe that might as well be infinite.

When my inbox has 27 emails nagging me to code this or submit that, documentaries about our ever-expanding universe help me realize my tiny, trifling place in the universe. Knowing that I am forever caught in this tug-of-war between family, friends, and coworkers who need me to do things and a universe that doesn't care if our sun goes red giant, surprisingly helps me calm down. News about politics and economy ruin my sleep if I start to care too much. So now Britain voted to leave the EU. It will slightly and indirectly affect me, along with the rest of the world. But you know what else could impact me and everyone else even more? Solar flares that can fry all of our satellites and shutdown our electric grid! Suddenly a few unanswered emails don't seem so bad, do they?

I don't think Hubble, Einstein, or Feynman unraveled the mysteries of the universe just so I could lower my stress but it sure works wonders. Maybe I should write a book on how to maintain a good work-life balance: Work hard, play with your kids, and watch videos about the 10 billion trillion trillion carat space diamond and 10 billion billion billion liters of space alcohol.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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 :)

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 :)

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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:

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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 :)

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.

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:

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..."

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.

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.

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.

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?

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!

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. - 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!

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.

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*

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...

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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 :)

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.

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.

Thu, 21st Jul '11, 10:21 am::

"Nobody is dreaming about tomorrow anymore..."

"How much would you pay for the Universe?"

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 :)

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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...

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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*

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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."

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).

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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 :)

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 :)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :)

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.

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!

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. 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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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 low-calories: Let's get this straight. Water has ZERO calories. If water has calories, it's not water - it's either juice, lemonade, or really dirty water. So those Propel ads promising healthier water are as much a load of junk as the spam emails for v1Agr@. Either drink water or drink fresh juice. There is no "healthy" water.
  • Seasonal Marketing: This is one of those absolutely necessary evils because you can't really sell diamonds on Halloween or snow shovels in summer but there is nothing more annoying than seeing one jewelry ad after another, each trying to prove that there is no love without diamonds and gold. Similarly, this being the season for filing taxes, every tax software ad claims that by using their service, I will get a refund check so big my friends will stand by in amazement as if I won a lottery. Stop treating me like I am stupid.
  • Prepaid cards: Paying companies 100% of your own money in advance for a debit card that you or someone else can use in only a select few places, while being subject to transaction fees, monthly fees, and expiration dates is one of the stupidest things you can do with your money. It's not a "gift card." It's an "I don't know what to buy you so instead of giving you cash that you can readily use to buy what you want, I'm going to force you to go to Macy's within next 30 days" card. As if this wasn't stupid enough, the tax preparation companies this year have come out with the "novel" concept of offering you the option to get your tax refund not as a check, bank deposit, or cash but as a debit card issued by them.
  • Non-native accents for local products: If you're selling chocolate made in Switzerland, I can see how a narrator with a European accent would lend credibility to the sales pitch. What I loathe is the use of a British accent to give an aura of elegance to a bottle of shampoo made in Tennessee. Conversely, stop trying to overdo the native accents for local products to show how American your products are. I'm looking at you every-Ford-GM-truck-ad-ever-made.
  • 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." Read the rest of my anti-green-bandwagon diatribe.

Sat, 26th Jan '08, 12:15 pm::

The next James Bond movie is titled "Quantum of Solace." The name is derived from a short story titled the same. This is the excerpt:

    The Governor paused and looked reflectively over at Bond. He said: "You're not married, but I think it's the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn't care if the other is alive or dead, then it's just no good. That particular insult to the ego - worse, to the instinct of self-preservation - can never be forgiven. I've noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I've seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I've seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster - all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I've thought about this and I've invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace."

    Bond said: "That's a splendid name for it. It's certainly impressive enough. And of course I see what you mean. I should say you're absolutely right. Quantum of Solace - the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it's obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You've got to get away to save yourself.

Tue, 15th Jan '08, 9:55 pm::

I just paid my $300 registration fees to University of Tampa for the Masters of Science in Innovation Management program - Fall 2008. Classes start in late August. I'm pretty certain I'll have at least two classes, Mondays/Tuesdays 6-9pm, and probably more. It will be a part-time graduate study lasting about two years and shouldn't interfere with my day job.

Before school starts I have two vacation plans. First one is coming up soon and I'm very excited. March 7-16 in Austin, TX at South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festival with Tay and other cool peeps. We already have a hotel and week long passes. I need to buy my plane tickets and hopefully a decent digital camera as my six year old relic is now broken beyond repair.

Sometime around late summer, a few weeks before school starts I want to resign from my carefree life with one final act of defiant recklessness. I want to go camping, kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing, back-packing, and what-not in the North-West for at least two weeks. My heart truly aches for unspoilt wilderness.

Fri, 11th Jan '08, 8:05 am::

I have so many random little things I want to write about. I don't want to sit on my computer for hours editing and pontificating so here's a summary of what could have been a series of 'blog entries.

I don't multitask. I have a one-track mind and find it way more efficient and productive to do one thing at one time. Multitasking is important for people who manage schedules, projects, and other people. For people that create something new that wasn't before, multitasking hampers concentration.

I don't have writers' block. Even if nothing is happening in my life, I can always find something that interests me enough to write about. Often I organize the thoughts in my head and just as I'm about to start writing, I close the window and go do something else. I don't lack motivation to write but sometimes I can't justify my time being spent sitting on a computer instead of playing with my spiffy new mini toy-helicopter (thanks Tay).

My showers used to take about four minutes. Thanks to Sandra's wonderful Christmas gift pack, now instead of using Head & Shoulders as shampoo/conditioner/body wash, I have three separate bottles from American Crew that do the same independently. It takes about 14 minutes to shower now. Also news to me was the capacity of my hot water heater - 7 minutes when shower is turned on full.

The ERP system at work has been in operation for well over a week now and everything is moving along as smoothly as I could have imagined. I still have lots of work to do but hopefully no more crazy hours.

I'm eating much better lately now that I don't come home at 11pm. I've started cooking every night and hope to do so from now on. I don't eat any meals other than dinner and yes, while that is very unhealthy for most people, it has always worked for me (and my mom). I understand how eating a big meal before you go to sleep doesn't burn all the calories efficiently and blah blah, but I don't care. This whole eating-once-a-day thing works for me well. I feel lazy and tired if I eat 2-3 meals a day.

The way I see it, eating multiple meals a day is a relatively modern norm just like the myth about drinking 8 glasses of water a day. I drink water when I'm thirsty. I drink enough to quench my thirst. Don't make this process any more complex. Early humans ate once a day or at most twice a day. I eat just as many calories, vitamins, and different food groups as I'm supposed to eat - I just eat all of it in one meal. I guess I have my own diet style because I'm pretty sure I have an eating disorder. I know it seems hard to believe but I can almost never tell when I'm hungry or when I'm full. So if I eat 3 meals a day, I usually end up overeating at each meal. Then I'll get busy with something and forget to eat for two days straight. I have actually asked my friends when we went out for dinner because that was the last time I ate. Relying on my stomach to gurgle and burp is not healthy. Now I eat once a day. So far so good.

I'm going to Tay's for the weekend. It's been a while since I had some social time. I'm excited.

Sat, 5th Jan '08, 4:00 pm::

I just saw a surprisingly wonderful movie "The Perfect You" a.k.a. Crazy Little Thing (2002). The storyline is a bit like When Harry Met Sally but without the stereotypical men-vs-women generalizations. I like watching movies without any sort of prior expectations or ideas on how the story is about to develop. That's also a reason I've nearly stopped watching movie trailers or discussing movies before I actually see them. I just want to know that a movie X is good and interesting. I don't want to know the storyline, the cast, the reviews, or that the cinematography is unique and refreshing. Just tell me it's good enough to watch and then I'll let the movie do the storytelling.

Sat, 15th Dec '07, 12:55 pm::

People have out-of-body experiences. Hallucinogenics and spirits give you out-of-mind experiences. I just had an out-of-place experience. As I stood in the parking lot at Toyota, waiting for my car to get the 35,000 mile service, a feeling of unanticipated displacement overtook me. The weather felt like Mumbai whilst the brightness compelled me to believe I was in the snow covered mountains of Utah. The couple from Lebanon bickering over auto-parts expenses reminded me of Premchand's tales from the heart of rural India while the tattooed Asian guy in a tow-truck resembled a frame from a Jet Li flick. I was there, inside my mind and body, but I wasn't sure where "there" was.

Maybe I shouldn't have stayed up late last night; certainly this is due to my uneven sleep schedule. I walked inside the waiting room hoping for the feeling to subside. Instead, I started to notice obvious things to such a detached extent that they became peculiarities to be mused over. An elderly couple exchanged a few words among themselves and the only thing that I could think of was "We used to be two separate individuals minding our own business. One day we decided to hang around each other more often. It felt good so we signed official documents to make sure we hang around each other even more. Now we consult with each other about every single thing regardless of its long-term impact and importance. Sometimes we wish we had picked someone else to hang around with but too bad we signed those documents."

A service rep. walked up to an amusingly rotund woman to let her know that her car was ready for pick-up. He commented that her screaming little boy was so well-behaved. All I heard was "This is the path I have chosen in life. I end up here on a Saturday, telling morbidly corpulent women that their noisy rascals are anything but. Why? Because if I don't get three more A+ service check marks on my customer satisfaction survey forms this month then I will have to find another place to carry on this shtick. I should have been a boat captain."

The voice on the speakers announced "Mr. Mayta, your car is ready." B+ on the pronunciation. I picked up my car and left.

Wed, 21st Nov '07, 9:30 pm::

Laura and I went to some gorgeous places last couple of days. Yesterday afternoon we walked through the Florida Botanical Gardens and spent all of today on Sanibel & Captiva Islands - about four hours walking along the nature trails through J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Tomorrow we're going to Tay's parents' house for Thanksgiving Dinner. It's movie time now.

Wed, 14th Nov '07, 8:15 am::

This week's going to be a lot of fun. Scott and Anthony (of HypeMachine fame) are coming to town. Tay is picking them up from Tampa and they'll probably barge into my work around 4pm tomorrow. I'm pretty excited about the weekend too - my friend from Washington is flying in. Hopefully lots of fun will ensue in the upcoming days.

I don't want to believeSat, 27th Oct '07, 8:15 pm::

People that know me well, know well enough that I am completely devoid of any beliefs, faith, superstitions, and paranormal inclinations. I don't believe in ESP, ghosts, mythical creatures, or UFOs. I don't "believe" in science, rather I have a good foundation in scientific theory and principles with a pretty decent understanding of the universe we live in. I don't claim to know or understand everything and so even if I don't know what caused the Big Bang, I'm perfectly fine with my lack of scientific explanation for it. Regardless of all of this, my entire past week has been pretty damn weird.

I woke up last weekend and sent this to Tay online: "I had a dream that I was vacationing in Gujarat (a state in India) in the Gir Forest lodge house, surrounded by tigers and lions. My family was there, so were you, Anthony..." I didn't get into detail since he was leaving but the dream wasn't about the lions attacking us. They were trying to get inside the lodge to get away from something. Two days later, I came across this tragic article online: "Five Lions electrocuted by poachers in India." I hadn't seen any documentaries about Gir in a long time. I hadn't watched any Animal Planet or Discovery shows about big cats nor read any Nature articles. This was completely out of the blue. Color me spooked.

The rest of the week was full of little coincidences, too many to list. Today turned out to be yet another unusual day. I don't know what's in the air but for some reason, I was treated extremely nicely when I went to the grocery store, deli, and then later at a Chinese food place. I know everyone has days when people seem extra nice (or extra mean) but I'm talking double free food from a fast-food chain run by Pepsi. People were so nice today that I kept wondering if something was wrong with me.

A few minutes ago, I finished my food and started reviewing the stats for Chime.TV. I was about to lament that the growth is not accelerating at the expected pace when I popped open a fortune cookie to find these words: "They will be grateful that you cared enough to make it."

Like I said, I don't believe in anything. I don't believe I am here for a purpose, I don't believe everything happens for a reason. I do know that I have managed to overcome some pretty tough hurdles with support from my loved ones and a ton of luck. Lots of strange things happen in my life that I can't seem to explain. However, the fact that I don't understand why something happens, doesn't mean I am going to believe it happened because of some mystical miraculous reason. Life is just plain weird.

Little stories we tellMon, 22nd Oct '07, 12:25 am::

There doesn't seem to be anything similar between the two movies I watched today, I Heart Huckabees and Reservoir Dogs. Both are awesome movies that I highly recommend watching more than once. One little bit in both films that I never noticed before, caught my attention today - personal anecdotes. "An anecdote is a short tale narrating an interesting or amusing biographical incident."

Personal anecdotes are the little stories we tell others to give them a glimpse into the world as we experience it from our point of view. I would not be the same person today without my teeth-gnashing story about how I nearly lost my opportunity to come to the US in 2000 because I clicked the stupid "Reply" button in an email instead of "Forward." My dad would not be the same person without his story of how he ran away from home in this teens but was caught by an employee at my grandpa's company. We repeat our stories to every new crowd. We talk about that one time we got so drunk in Europe that we had to be taken to a hospital and almost missed our flight. When stories are really embarrassing, we only tell them to four people - one coworker that won't tell others, one friend from school who is already privy to a lot worse, one ex-girlfriend who is still amazed by our antics, and one stranger we're standing next to in a pub because hey, who is he gonna tell?

I blog my stories. I call up people and tell them myself. I wait for the right topic to come up at lunch before I can unleash my harrowing accounts from times begone. I tailor my narrations to best suit each particular audience. When repeating the same story to my mom, the girl with no clothes is nowhere in the tale. When reiterating it to my buddy, she is the center of discussion for a good 30 minutes. Stories change over time and usually get larger than life. The little computer nuisances I caused for my internet provider in 1999 can become incidents of nation-wide system meltdown brought about by yours truly after a drink or two today. I exaggerate and if you think you don't, you're full of crap.

This doesn't mean we're all habitual liars. Life doesn't always happen the way we want it to. That girl didn't give me her number, just her email. That guy didn't tell you that you were the best singer he's ever heard, just that you were pretty good. What we wanted to happen was a little more than what did happen. So my damned stories are going to end with the girl giving me her number and you can tell your grandkids that the guy thought you were an opera singer. Why? Two words: Big Fish. This is the next movie on my list. If you've seen this movie, you'd know the power of good story-telling.

Wed, 17th Oct '07, 12:05 am::

I'm so proud of my partner-in-chime/crime Tay. Here's an interview where he talks about everything from web design to Chime.TV, from his music sites to his idea of the future of the web. It's so weird knowing someone personally with all their little flaws and habits and then seeing how super cool they really are when someone else points it out. Tay recently helped redesign/relaunch the popular music site Hype Machine with the ever-so-brilliant Anthony. Here's a wonderful article about the relaunch. I absolutely love the new design and I did my part by coding up some Flash stuff for it.

I'm definitely biased when I say this but one of the best features about the new Hype Machine is the sidebar video player. If you search for any music artist, say The Beatles on Hype, it loads 50 Beatles videos via Chime.TV. The songs play non-stop in the usual Chime.TV style and you can hit full-screen too. Like I said, I'm biased about this feature because it's my little embedded player getting some love from a wider audience. Overall, I love how wonderfully Hype has integrated so many different music blogs, mp3s, artist pages, and music video search.

It's good to know my buddies made something so useful and beautiful.

Sat, 13th Oct '07, 4:00 pm::

Sometimes I forget how awesome I am. I'm going to sit in my chair all day, recollecting all the wonderful things about me. It's not just me, lots and lots of people I know are really awesome. I think everyone should take some time off from their busy lives and have a little introspection-retrospection session to realize how cool they all are. Go ahead. Take an hour off from whatever you're doing. Sit back and reminisce away.

Top Ten Kickass Things about Growing OlderThu, 4th Oct '07, 12:05 am::

Today I turn 27 years old. Last year when I hit 26, I "hit" 26. I was no longer a young kid and wasn't looking forward to growing old. Now, I turn 27 and I couldn't be more optimistic. What's not to love about growing older anyway? Here's my...

Top Ten Kickass Things about Growing Older

  1. Wine keeps getting finer

  2. Loans to repay keep getting smaller

  3. Hairstyle keeps getting less critical

  4. Music collection keeps getting larger

  5. Embarrassments keep turning into good memories

  6. Good memories keep getting fonder

  7. Bad memories keep fading away

  8. Being cool keeps becoming less important

  9. Weight keeps becoming a useless number

  10. Bonds of love and friendship keep getting stronger

I'm smiling that I'm 27 now. I can't wait till I'm 35.

Sun, 23rd Sep '07, 9:10 pm::

It's 2007 and computer hardware is still the bane of my existence. Like a good little nerd, I spent the entire Friday night and most of Saturday setting up a computer to hook up to my TV. I had the whole setup ready and was about to sit back and watch the latest episode of IT Crowd when the computer crashed. I spent two hours trying to isolate the problem and turns out the motherboard is dead. It's an old server motherboard that can't be replaced for cheap so now I have to find another computer. I love software but I truly hate the hardware it has to run on. It's like loving the brains but being repulsed by the body. Kinda like online dating.

Thu, 20th Sep '07, 12:05 am::

I went to my first ice hockey game tonight with coworkers. Our local team, Tampa Bay Lightning won! I had a great time yelling and screaming. I'm pretty certain I enjoy the cheering more than the game play. I barely know the rules of most games yet love watching games in person and even playing them. What I don't do is keep score and follow games and matches religiously. I love the pumped-up environment more than the life stories of the players. I feel the same with music concerts. I don't care much about the life, history, inspiration of the bands. I just want them to put on a good show so I can rock out.

I'm all rocked out for tonight. I'm going to a baseball game Friday so I need to make some more rock-juice.

Kayaking a MarathonSat, 8th Sep '07, 11:25 pm::

I kayaked a distance of 26.2 miles today on the Suwannee River at Manatee Springs. Add to that five hours of driving and not enough sleep and you'll see why I'm about to pass out. The "not enough sleep" bit was thanks to Tay and his gang for some random drunken swimming pool fun last night in Gainesville. I didn't want to drive over three hours to Manatee Springs early in the morning so I drove to Gainesville last night and stayed over at Tay's. The Springs are a little over an hour west of Gainesville. The source of the Suwannee River is the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and it flows down into the Gulf of Mexico. "Instead of palm-fringed beaches, life here is defined by swamp forests, wetlands, and the clean freshwater of the 197 springs that flow into the Suwannee along its 245 miles journey to the Gulf of Mexico" - Florida Springs.

I still can't believe I kayaked the entire length of a marathon. Took me eight hours of paddling and I stopped in between for another 30 minutes. It was very windy during my up-river trip and that slowed me down considerably. On flat-water without wind, I was doing 4 mph easily on my kayak that is pretty wide and not really meant for speed. Here's a rough map of the river section that I paddled up and back.

My entire body hurts but I'm guessing it's the "good" kind of pain. I have no plans for tomorrow except chilling at home. It's bed time for me now.

On building leak-proof systemsSun, 19th Aug '07, 6:35 am::

I am an ardent follower of world news. Be it politics, science, business, or pop culture, I am keen to hear and understand the situation regardless of the scale or my distance from the incident. I could be reading the tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America, the hostility of environmental groups towards nuclear power stations, or the Chinese threats to liquidate their US currency holdings, I have noticed certain human elements at play in every locale. To name a few, (1) greed, (2) ignorance, (3) inflexibility, and (4) irrationality are commonly at play in the prime issues of local and global conflicts.

As residents of a civilized society that is at most a single crisis away from savagery and barbarism, we have constructed innumerable social systems to keep all of us functional and urbane. As we have a justice system in place to ensure murder and theft is discouraged, we have banking systems to regulate the institutions that promote growth by enabling mass savings and investments, namely banks. Then we have school systems that dictate what a student of age nine should read and which math problems the student should be able to solve by age twelve. Add to that the laws on aviation, the rules of alpine skiing, the regulations on equipment sterilization for medical purposes, the age of consent laws that are different in every geographic region, and the code of ethics for international journalists in war zones, and we come to a very complex world to legally function in. While all of us break a few rules, most of us follow most of the rules. We stick to the rules quite well indeed. After all, who wants to be hauled away to prison, get fired from the job, be disqualified from the race, or be banned from the Saturday morning gardening club? That's the stuff news is made out of.

News is but a glorified portrayal of the leaks in the system. From stories about school shootings in suburban communities to suicide bombings in the Middle East, from stock market crashes in Europe to polar bear habitat loss in the Arctic, the purpose of news is to highlight the cracks in the long-standing systems we have in place, thereby making all of us think "somebody needs to fix this!" Your local station will cover the story of the bottling plant near your house that is dumping industrial waste into your scenic lake. Similarly, the national news networks will break the story of accidents happening across the country as long as a hole in the system can be pinpointed. Story of a bridge collapse is about the breakdown of construction regulation, infrastructure budgeting, and political earmarks. News of a molested child is to decry the deviation from moral conduct, social decency, and parental expectations. Watching the news is like watching a beautiful painting being ripped to shreds, one knife-slash at a time.

The keen observers of news notice that when the news isn't broadcasting the leaks in the system, that in itself is a sign of the larger leak in the system, whereby the fourth estate is found to be in bed with the governing bodies. It doesn't take long before the traditionally free, uncensored media becomes an extension of the ruling party and helps dictate the edicts of the rulers by publicizing propaganda as facts. Regardless of when the common man realizes the system is breaking down, every system we have designed thus far will eventually break down; an overbearing side-effect of the human element at play.

Without getting into personal characteristics of specific individuals, we know that humans are morally sound and unsound, sharing and selfish, considerate and rude, amicable and violent. Depending on the situation, these characteristics could be found in the same individual or entire organizations and even countries. We also know that most people would do whatever is necessary to benefit themselves and their groups. However, doing so often inconveniences other groups and breaks the rules of the system. Keep in mind, the system could be foreign exchange markets or the restaurant tip jar where some people are bound to twist the rules to help themselves while others are compelled to help others by giving up some of their own share.

The study of Game theory discusses possible outcomes of conflicts that occur between different agents. "In strategic games, agents choose strategies which will maximize their return, given the strategies the other agents choose." While each situation needs a specific application of game theory to work well and give appropriate results, there are more underlying assumptions in real-life than the simple "maximize personal return" hypothesis that traditional game theory considers.

If our goal is to design a leak-proof system, we have to know the foundation on which it will be built. Considering that a leak-proof solution to a specific system involving humans could be reduced to any other system involving humans and thus have the ability to eliminate world hunger, poverty, environmental disasters, territorial wars, road rage, and long lines at the grocery store, I presume that the desire to come up with such a solution is global and intimately human. Once we have a list of the human flaws, our eventual goal should be to recreate everything such that the most amount of good comes out, despite everything bad that will certainly happen. In other words, we wish to devise a solution to every problem in the guaranteed presence of Murphy's Law.

The strongest of human characteristics is greed or the desire to maximize personal benefit. We all want good things to happen to us. Be it money, praise, passion, or enlightenment, we want more of what we feel is good. Some of us, very rarely all of us, will break the rules to help ourselves at the expense of others. The harm caused to others, be it publicly visible or remain anonymous, some percentage of the population will abuse the trust put upon their shoulders. A system that expects every person to be completely faithful and trustworthy will thus certainly fail. This is why billions of dollars in monetary aid go missing as soon as they hit African governments' bank accounts. Our entire concept of charity expects the kind, altruistic people to trust strangers in power to help strangers in need. The amount of charity that reaches the ones in need is thus inversely proportional to the amount of human greed. We cannot easily reduce the amount of greed so what we should do, is minimize our reliance on honesty for a system to work.

How would one change a system to reduce dishonesty? Take the example of construction contract bids, i.e. tenders. If a local government wants a bridge built and wants to maximize public benefit, it can appear to do so by asking for anonymous bids from construction companies and selecting the bid with the lowest cost. However, that will not maximize public benefit as a construction company can drastically undercut their asking price by using inferior material that can cause the entire bridge to fail in years. So a better solution is to stipulate that the contract will be awarded to the second lowest bid. Now the company cannot quote a price so low that they will assuredly win, thus encouraging all the bidders to give more realistic cost estimates. There is certainly a loophole in this system too, as a company can simply put in a very low bid as before and have another sister company bid even lower. Thus they can ensure the lowest bid and the second lowest bid. The real-life solution to this has been mired in volumes of government regulations preventing this exact scenario, along with millions of possible underhanded tricks. Nevertheless, this entire system is built upon the citizens entrusting the local government to trust a construction company, and thus is subject to every single bit of greed faced by the aforementioned charity donations by altruistic individuals to African nations. The true solution is to minimize the reliance on greed. For the local government, it might be in the best public interest, even though more expensive, to award the contract to the median bidder as that value is much more difficult to game. To help the developing nations, developed nations can make larger contributions in the form of education, access to better healthcare, enabling free trade, and building infrastructure instead of simply wiring billions to unmonitored bank accounts.

This brings us to another powerful human lacking, inadequate knowledge. Call it ignorance, lack of education, or just plain stupidity, a system will succumb to idiocy without relent. Thus any system that expects all parties to be educated and fully understand the consequences of their actions, will be prone to failure. Information Economics deals with information asymmetry where one party has more information than the other and tries to devise "fair" solutions to such problems. However, there are numerous problems where having more information is not always as large of a benefit as one might assume. Take driving on the highways for instance. If people would just stop driving like idiots, there would be far fewer fatalities. In spite of the many experienced drivers, the few poor drivers can ruin it for every single driver on the road in a matter of seconds. To minimize fatalities, we have numerous laws in place to minimize idiocy - from limits on alcohol content within the blood stream to minimum age rules for various driving privileges. Note that while all attempts are made to discourage bad drivers from driving, the system still relies on people being good drivers and hence prone to accidents. A futuristic solution to this problem could be automated driving where you would punch in your destination and the car would drive itself. What amazes me is that such a system, which can cost a lot initially but completely eliminate accidents by inebriated or inexperienced drivers, is possible to put into place in the near future yet very few care about it. Though the automated driving software itself would never be perfect, it would improve with time, as most automated systems do. Put in a backup system with fail-safe mechanism and personal transportation can be a thousand-fold safer. So why is it not in place yet? That's the third deep-seated human defect, aversion to change or inflexibility.

Most working systems are designed with the foresight that they are not immune to abuse and hence expect timely changes to be incorporated to ensure consistent functioning. A good example is the US Constitution that was adopted over two hundred years ago and has had twenty-seven amendments to date. Even though constitutional amendments seek to maximize public benefit and limit abuse of power, nearly every amendment was met with vehement opposition, be it the 13th amendment that abolished slavery or the 19th amendment that gave equal voting rights to women - people just don't want things to change, even if it is for the greater good. While such an important set of rules supported by a strong central government can indeed work, it is nevertheless difficult to bring about changes because various segments of population have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. The ones in power strive to remain in power. Any system that requires new rules to be created in order to prevent abuse will fail when the new rules have to be approved and enforced by the same bodies that are abusing the system or benefiting from the underlying asymmetries. The US Constitution thus defined three branches, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, each of which had specific and limited powers. The system would work as long as all the branches worked independently of each other and maintained a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch abused its powers. The entire system will be prone to failure if the executive branch manages to incapacitate the judicial branch by planting personnel in key positions who refuse to prosecute members of the executive branch under any circumstances, especially if at least half the legislative branch is under the influence of executive branch. Alas, I can offer no instantaneous solution to such a dilemma, primarily because of the tremendously powerful vested interests that are averse to any changes away from the status quo.

In addition to greed, lack of information, and aversion to change, in almost all clashes, there are ingrained human emotions at play, often irrational at face-value and based more on belief and less on logic. How do you create a better healthcare system if religious beliefs dictate surgery is immoral and therefore to be avoided? While this may seem like a minor, inconsequential blemish in the human psyche, a system that requires everyone to make rational decisions will indeed fail when a considerable percentage of the population does not make the rational decision. The fundamental basis of microeconomics, political science, as well as sociology is rational choice theory, which assumes that "individuals choose the best action according to stable preference functions and constraints facing them," that is, people will weigh the different options and pick the ones that they can afford to derive the most benefit from. While "proponents of rational choice models do not claim that a model's assumptions are a full description of reality," when trying to construct and deploy actual systems in real life, we need the assumption to be true, otherwise the system that relies on rational choices, will fail. In theory, rational choice is easier to describe. If I get a less strenuous job with more pay and higher level of job satisfaction, it would be a rational choice for me to switch, unless I had other reasons to stay in my current position, like better scope of advancement in the future. Irrationality can also be rationalized in this sense by noting that if the new job was in Colorado and I love all states that begin with the letter C and end with the letter O, I can derive a higher level of satisfaction by moving there. Realistically speaking, that's a pretty irrational reason to move, but it can still be supported by a loose application of rational choice theory. In practice though, the very definition of rational is subject to debate. What is rational and obvious to one set of people may seem irrational and delirious to another. Who are we to legislate whether someone's belief in surgery being immoral is rational or not, they certainly think it's rational.

Think of any problem in your life, family, company, community, society, country, or even the entire world. Our solution to solve problems has always been to put carefully crafted systems in place. Remember that all systems will be met with (1) human greed, (2) ignorance, (3) inflexibility, and (4) irrationality. Now try to solve your problem WITHOUT requiring any of these four human conditions to be solved first. The perfect solution would be one that bypasses these limitations i.e. does not rely on solving any of them first. The scale of the problem is inconsequential for I believe that if you can solve the problem of neighbors with loud, booming speakers without giving them anything in exchange, without educating them on the virtues of silence, without providing them with headphones, or without making them truly understand how their careless behavior is affecting your emotional well-being, I can expand your solution to bring about world peace. Calling the cops on them won't be a good solution as they are already aware of their loudness and ignore it, thereby proving they are selfish and ignorant of others' concerns. It is possible to bring about world peace by enriching the needy, educating the masses, encouraging development growth and change, and eliminating aspects of fundamentalism and irrationality from the human personality. We can reduce and minimize pollution the same way, by discouraging corporate greed that favors cheaper dumping methods instead of costlier waste-management, explaining the long-term ill-effects of pollution, replacing fossil-fuels by renewable sources of energy, and minimizing the spread of extravagantly polluting devices like oversized vehicles for personal use.

The bright side to this dismal discourse is that not every problem requires all four aspects of human condition to be solved. Bringing about gender and racial equality required changes to social norms and eradication of irrational intolerance but barely had anything to do with human greed. Consequently, even if we can't eliminate human greed or educate every person, we can still solve a lot of problems. Education in itself is a problem, and the education system can be improved by social changes that promote intellectualism instead of wealth or power. Problems in education cannot be fixed by trying to provide more rigorous education or making promises of monetary or political grandeur.

If you see a problem, identify which of the four human deficiencies you are up against and try to tackle each of them individually, instead of calling for a patchwork of remedies that is akin to putting a bandage on an organ failure. If you ever feel ambitious and philosophical enough, go ahead and try to come up with a leak-proof system for resolving human struggles that does not rely on any of the four human shortcomings to be solved first. A Nobel peace prize would be the least you would deserve.

Tue, 7th Aug '07, 3:55 pm::

I hope my 'blog text is now easier to read because lately I've been itching to write a lot more. All these years I tried to have a unique design, often at the expense of readability. I guess that was because I considered my 'blog to be the best piece of my work for so long and I felt no qualms about taking any amount of artistic freedom as long as it looked pretty. Well, there's something prettier now so I feel more comfortable taking my 'blog into a more functional and readable stream, even if it doesn't look as colorful as I want it to.

I showed Derek a preview before I finalized the design and he remarked that it's quite a neutral site. I'm glad it is. I want my words to bring out the true colors of my being instead of a bunch of jpegs.

Chase your own dreamsSun, 5th Aug '07, 1:20 am::

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my low-consumption lifestyle i.e. I rarely buy something unless I actually need it (food, shelter) or it actually improves the quality of my life (kayak, night out with friends). I feel vindicated that New York Times just published an article titled "In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich." It begins with the story of a couple living in the fabled Silicon Valley (where we went/won) and have a net worth of $3.5m yet feel they are not well off enough. Their house is worth $1.3m but just because they are surrounded by people much wealthier than them (it's California after all), they feel poor. And people ask me why I don't move to the Valley.

Here's my favorite quote from the article: "I ask myself all the time," Ms. Baranski confessed, "why I do this." They go on to explain "that she must stick with it if they are to continue to live the life they enjoy here." On the surface, it's so easy to diagnose the problem here as greed, keeping up with the neighbors, or just mere pride and ostentation. But these are not stupid people we're talking about. These are self-made entrepreneurs, hard-working middle and upper management types with a Masters degree and contacts in every industry. These are the smart kids of 70's and early 80's who left their little homes in the country and moved to California for a bright future. Therein lies the problem.

They're no longer chasing their own dreams. They're just trudging along the path they're told leads to the American Dream. The desire to make it big and having the drive to do whatever it takes, is indeed the prerequisite for living the American Dream. I have nothing but praise for creative individuals who'll take a big risk to make something wonderful. However, there's a difference between "try try till you succeed" and eking a miserable living till some day you luckily hit it big.

To me, these once-promising people are just the more hard-working version of the lottery addicts who buy a $10 ticket every single day hoping to hit that $65m jackpot. I guess when I see things this way, I don't feel so bad for them. It's hard to. They're 20-50-100x wealthier than me and yet they whine and worry about whether $5m will be enough money for them to retire. It will be enough if they decide to move to Cape Coral, Florida and buy a $1m house right on the beach with their own dock. It won't be enough if they find out that their neighbor's house is worth $2m. And it will never be enough if they think that another $5m on top of their $5m is what will make them truly secure financially.

Buy less stuffWed, 25th Jul '07, 12:15 am::

I'm not a big fan of productivity advice and lifestyle tips so when I casually glanced at the headline "The seven habits of highly subversive people" on reddit, I expected nothing more than a rehash of every other "Work Smart" Top 10 list. I imagine it was my disdain for this genre of articles that caused me to misread "subversive" as "productive." Now that I read the article without any preconceived notions, I can't help but pontificate about my own personal and lifestyle habits.

I'm not certain how this change came about in my personality but over the last couple of years, I have stopped buying things unless I absolutely need them. I don't go "shopping" anymore and don't order t-shirts, gifts, or cool gadgets online. I have no new collectible items to adorn my showcase and the only products I buy regularly are food and household items. I haven't even bought new clothes in years (sadly, it's starting to show.)

However, I realize now that contrary to my claim just half a year ago, I am not a bad consumer; I just spend my money differently. I've minimized buying things and maximized buying experiences. Instead of $250 to get a better cellphone, I got $150 wind-surfing lessons. Rather than spend $600 on a bigger TV, I'm spending $50/month so I can chat with my family in India every day on my drive to work for 25 minutes. The only major purchase I've made this year is a $2500 server/workstation to code Chime.TV on but that's strictly a development decision and given the expected four-year life of the PC, quite economical in the long run.

I remember asking my dad to take me to Fancy Market in Kolkata, India so he could buy cool wristwatches for me. It was a lot of fun to find a unique designs before others discovered them. Since then, a significant change in my thought process has occurred. You know how you love that one shirt or that book or that wristwatch or your lovely car? I don't. I barely care about objects anymore. My car is a mechanical device with a simple purpose to transport me around and requires regular maintenance. My computer is replaceable as long as the backups are current and my wristwatch costs $9. Stuff is merely stuff. And I refuse to allow my purchases to represent my inner-self.

I know this sounds pretty Fight-Club-esque and maybe I am going through the same disconnect with reality, after already having procured every minor item I thought would make me happier and not finding the satisfaction. It might also be that I have realized I don't have what it takes to afford a $12m house with heated pools and tennis courts and hence have opted to get out of the rat race altogether. Or my minimalism somehow makes me feel superior to the mass consumers out there and is just an elitist act to maintain my smugness. Or maybe I've woken up one morning to a fire in my apartment and realized that in times of life and death, the stuff you so gleefully bought is what gets in your way as you try to save your loved ones.

I often get caught up in long debates with my environmentally-conscious friends who think that I am single-handedly killing the planet because I am vehemently against most methods of recycling, use paper plates instead of washing dishes, and think purchasing carbon offsets is completely idiotic. While I can defend my position at length on all those issues, I would much rather explain that the best way to be green, save the planet, and be environmentally conscious, is to BUY LESS STUFF. Live in a smaller house with a bigger yard. Drive the smallest car you can manage with. Don't throw away things unless they break - upgrading for the sake of upgrading is sickeningly wasteful.

Learn to manage with less. Instead of a $600 GPS, buy a $15 Atlas. I did, and discovered that Okefenokee was only four hours away. You don't need a 650 DVD movie collection. You don't need a 32-piece set of steak knives. And despite your intellectual ambitions, you don't need a 3,200 book library. Manage with less, manage with alternatives, and manage with compromises. And with the money you saved by not buying the entire audio CD collection of Songs from the 80's, take Salsa & Merengue lessons.

I'm not the first person to say all of this either. Eradicating materialism has been the tenet of many a religion like Buddhism and Jainism. However, it's pretty difficult to give up all the things you're used to and care about. I can't give up computers and I rather fancy my kayak. Loving your pair of black shoes isn't going to destroy Earth so keep on dancing. All I'm saying is don't get in the cycle of desiring more objects, getting a more strenuous job to afford those objects, and then realizing you need more objects because your new peers have them, and working 70 hour weeks to afford these objects that you didn't even know you needed, only to find out that while you're working and buying and working and spending, you imprisoned yourself in a cage of debt, stress, and complete lack of direction.

So I say be less productive, less materialistic, and less successful and be more adventurous, more leisurely, and more content.

Sun, 22nd Jul '07, 11:25 am::

Earlier this week Tay and I went to Silicon Valley, California to participate in Mashup Camp 4 (pics here). A mashup is a website or application that combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.

We showed off Chime.TV (as a video mashup that combines top 10 video websites) and people loved it so much, we were voted the Best Mashup and won 1st prize (wearing my reddit t-shirt)! Here's ZDNet interviewing Taylor to show off our mashup entry (video here). Our kickass webhost for Chime.TV, SingleHop also interviewed us earlier this week. Highly recommend them for the great 24/7 dedicated support and an awesome performance/price ratio.

It was a great experience to visit Silicon Valley for my first time ever and meet so many brilliant people. I met some pretty smart folks from the development teams of AOL, Google, HP, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, and more. My super-crazy-smart college buddy Tim dropped by too. I had a lot of fun hanging out with Tay's friends at eventful - Chris & Nate and also John & Liz.

I haven't been online much after we got back. Yesterday I went to Busch Gardens with my friend Heather and her roomie Bonnie. We saw a lot of cool birds and animals but it rained soooo hard that all rides were canceled. We ended up returning home early and just watched a couple of movies instead. Good thing about Busch Gardens is that Florida residents can come in multiple times for free once they buy an annual pass for just $5 more that of course I did.

It's my lazy Sunday afternoon now and I'm just relaxing and unwinding after a pretty exciting week. Time to sit back and just enjoy Chime.TV now.

Tue, 3rd Jul '07, 11:30 pm::

On the way home from work today, I stopped by Michaels (arts & crafts store) and bought about $55 worth of small wooden boxes, black and white pebbles, wood finish spray paint, sandpaper, and some black and white markers. Took me a while to find it all but I think I'm now ready to build my own set of Go board game. Originally I had planned to create the set from scratch but I found just the right-sized wooden box for me to turn into the Go board with minimal effort.

While watching Falling Down starring Michael Douglas, I sanded down the rough edges of all the wooden boxes and have it primed for spray painting tomorrow. I highly recommend the movie and sanding things down before you apply varnish. A Go set similar to what I'm making costs over $200. With just a few lazy hours of work, I can soon start learning this ancient Asian game.

As faster computers repeatedly beat humans at Chess, two games where even novice level humans still win over the fastest computers are Bridge (card game) and Go (board game). The game play of Go is very deep and the number of possible moves far exceeds those of chess, Scrabble, and Othello. The same brute-force and systematic methods that work for computer chess, disastrously fail at Go. Go requires the player to look at patterns and understand what they mean and how they can relate to each other, as opposed to simply running through 4 billion possible moves within seconds. In Go, there are trillions of quadrillions of possible moves and we won't be getting computers that fast any time soon.

The study of Pattern recognition is of particular interest to me because I think that's pretty much what human intelligence is - the ability to recognize a pattern and make judgments based on them. The day computers can learn to recognize patterns on their own without being fed everything directly, is the day we'll have truly intelligent computers. If you're interested in what the game is about, you can learn it here just like me.

Sun, 1st Jul '07, 6:15 pm::

I just got back from over three hours of windsurfing or just sailing as everyone calls it. It is definitely one of the most exciting things I've ever done. I was already going faster than 10mph today and the wind hadn't even picked up. Here's a good picture of what windsurfing is in case you don't recall. I can't believe how quickly I picked it up and how comfortable I already feel. Thanks to John & Britt at North Beach Windsurfing, I went from the beginner board and 4 (meter-square) sail to intermediate board and 5.5 sail. I'll probably rent out a few more times and then save some money so I can buy my own gear. I hope to get up to 6.5 sail. The larger the sail, the faster you can go on it, but it also gets difficult to handle.

I still have to learn how to get in the harness and to tack (complete rotation) in high winds. I don't think I can go next weekend because of my oral-surgery (wisdom teeth removal) but I'm hoping to go soon after. I'm so excited about sailing!

Sat, 30th Jun '07, 2:30 pm::

I just got back from my friend Jessica's wedding reception lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, definitely one of my most favorite places to eat. One of her younger cousins, a fifteen year old kid, sat next to me and upon realizing that I coded up Chime, started asking me about different things like video games, hacking, programming. I forgot how great it was to talk to someone genuinely interested in a subject and tell them the things you've learnt over the year. I should talk to more kids and students. Maybe someday I will give some informal lectures.

In other news, my bottom-right jaw hurts like hell; see the x-ray for the scary details. So this Thursday, July 5th, I'm going to an oral surgeon to get all four of my wisdom teeth removed and probably get a root canal on a 5th adjoining tooth. This pretty much ruins the 4th of July weekend for me.

I doubt I'll get to windsurf tomorrow as the weather's supposed to be crappy. I gotta do laundry now and later hang out with my friend Nathaniel and go to his company party. Life's ok, except for the whole pain-in-my-mouth part.

Quote for the weekend: "I think the greatest feeling in the world is putting my leg down from my desk and landing on a furry kitty's back as it purrs and then clings to my foot and starts rubbing it's head all over it." - Chirag

Nostalgia is overratedSat, 23rd Jun '07, 11:55 pm::

It amuses me to no end when people talk about the good ol' days as if they once bore witness to a bygone Utopian era when the neighbors were friendly, the music was heavenly, and every evening families huddled around a mulberry bush to sing hymns. These days the kids are rude, the music is filthy, the news is horrible, and of course, the world is going down the tubes. The topics of comparison are generalized and static - family, society, youth, culture, entertainment, politics, business, and so on. Since the day humans could carve stone tablets, they've written about the same exact good things and the same set of bad deeds, from love, peace, and harmony to war, hatred, and murder. It may seem that technology has made us much more efficient in the bad-deeds department but it has had a bigger impact in helping us do more good for more people.

As the world population grows, the total count of crimes and selfish acts naturally increases. But what is it that the kids do today that didn't exist 10, 100, or even 1000 years ago? The Romans and Greeks had the same problem with the youth disrespecting their elders as people complain about today. The music was just as filthy in Shakespeare's time as it is now with Hip-Hop.

Three thousand years ago, entire civilizations were slaughtered by foreign invaders. A thousand years ago, religious crusaders killed millions. A hundred years ago, entire nations were enslaved. And in the good ol' days of your grandpa, they dropped the bomb and got frisky swing dancing. You can write four-hundred page novels decrying the grind dance that kids these days are into and compare it with the clean-cut rock and roll of your days, but in reality, nothing has really changed. Instead of school shootings, there were armed robberies and pillaging of entire villages. Instead of politicians stealing public funds, there were monarchs that seized the peasants' crops. Where you have selfish, ignorant, lazy youths today, you had selfish, ignorant, lazy youths yesterday but you didn't know that because you just called them "friends." Your parents did call them selfish, ignorant, and lazy but what did they know!

I don't know what people hope to accomplish by playing the good ol' days card in the face of every bad news. The youth of today didn't invent violence, debauchery, obscenity, or corruption. They're just learning it from those that walked the same path before them - you, your friends, your parents, their parents, and so on. So lay off the incessantly vague whining and go live a little. Go sin a little.

Chime.TV is bornWed, 13th Jun '07, 12:15 am::

I'm very excited to finally talk about the big project that I've been working on with Tay for 6 months now! It's called Chime.TV and it has replaced the old site I used to have at Chime.TV is a website where you can watch non-stop videos for hours with almost no effort, pretty much like cable TV. We have made tons of channels and you can make the videos full-screen, adjust color/brightness, make your own channel, send videos to your friends, and search all the big video sites. It's a lot of fun so give it a whirl. Be sure to check out Tay's girlfriend Kaela's sweet Welcome-to-Chime.TV video.

We released mere days ago and the hits have started rolling in. After a spotlight on Mefi courtesy of Nathaniel, turns out TechCrunch finally picked up Tay's email and ran a little feature on us. Now I get to see if my servers hold up and how long before I have to upgrade.

You complete meThu, 7th Jun '07, 10:55 pm::

I often hear people saying "Why do you care what others think of you?" Usually, they are just trying to console someone who recently faced public embarrassment or has a moral dilemma that may not be well accepted by their family, friends, or even coworkers. However, more often than not, that question is merely a disguised insult to make the person feel self-conscious and even more vulnerable. So the next time someone asks why you care what your friends and family will think of your decision to quit your job, move out of state, change your official name, and get a sex-change operation, here's a handy reply by yours truly:

I am not perfect. My thoughts, ideas, and emotions are not permanent. My opinions and views change over time as I learn and grow. I've learnt that in general, what others think of me is directly related to how I think and thus act. Sometimes, it teaches me to stand by my words strongly for I'm certain that my ideas, though novel, are worthy. Other times it shows me that I was wrong and would benefit from taking a look at things from a different perspective.

I am not cocooned and disconnected from the rest of the world and have much to gain by caring about what others think of me and why. Reading someone's productivity tips isn't self-improvement. Self-improvement is welcoming criticism with an open-mind and a good anti-troll filter.

Things are changing, I can feel itMon, 4th Jun '07, 8:15 pm::

The first time I sat in a canoe and tried to steer it across a river, I nearly ran aground. I wanted to go straight but I kept over-correcting and so instead of slight left, I'd turn the canoe 90-degrees to the left. It was difficult for me because a kayak, while more strenuous than a canoe, is much easier to keep straight. It was only after much exasperation did I realize the simple Newtonian physics in play here - the bigger the boat, the longer it takes to turn, but once it begins to turn, it's much more difficult to change direction. If you may pardon the pun, nothing really "ground"-breaking here.

The problem is that it takes about 4-5 seconds for the canoe to change direction once you start paddling. If all you needed were two or three strokes to straighten the canoe but seeing nothing happen for 4-5 seconds, you kept paddling harder, the canoe will not only turn, it will turn much more than you intended. And now seeing it turn too much, you start paddling on the other side and keep paddling till you can see the canoe turn. Too late, now it's going to swing all the way in the opposite direction. You just can't seem to keep it going straight.

Often when I'm reading news stories, I notice how much this simple rule of momentum applies to the world in general. Most people want things to go straight and steady with only a few misguided outliers that want everything to go either far left or far right. Yet we see everywhere people trying to skew things too much to one side or the other. Why can't people realize that if they keep moving to one side, they will indeed end up at an extremity that nobody really wants? Same reason I kept running the canoe aground - I couldn't feel the slight nudges and kept thrashing till I could actually see the canoe turn. Too late.

Anytime you see something in the news about citizen's rights being abused, journalists silenced, or failed economic and academic policies being implemented and wonder why everyone can't see where this is going, it's because the system is too big to instantly react and gives no immediate visual feedback to the one's manning the rudder. By the time the system actually reacts, people are already jumping overboard. We think the world today moves at dizzying speeds and sure, in most communication-oriented aspects, it does. However, society, economy, education, politics, and all things global take years to truly show their new direction. The key is to finely hone your feelers and sense when things are brimming under the surface.

Take for instance the gradual devaluation of the dollar. Nobody I interact with on a daily basis, cares one bit about it. After all, except for gasoline, things still cost nearly the same as they did five years ago and inflation rate is within the traditional bounds. Nothing has changed. Right? In 2002, I sent about $500 to my family in India. That was nearly Indian Rs. 25,000. Recently I sent $600 and it was less than Rs. 24,500. You may say the 16% devaluation in US currency over the last five years doesn't mean much to anyone, except for a few people like me.

Brimming under the surface, is the slowly increasing US debt to the rest of the world. Nobody cares about the debt because nobody sees any direct effects. By the time you see the effects though, it would be too late. If things don't start changing soon, then within the next two decades the Euro will have replaced USD as the preferred international currency of trade, the USD will be devalued to the point where imports cost drastically more, import shortages will create underground markets for knock-offs and counterfeits, insufficient supply will cause surge in prices bringing in 1930's era scarcity in this land of plenty, lack of international faith in US stocks will "correct" the stock market resulting in massive layoffs, and economic recession will finally solve the pesky immigration problem.

This above is, of course, just far-fetched fear-mongering from yours truly and I'm hoping it never happens. However, my feelers have yet to sense the boat change course and get on the path straight ahead. Most people though, are blissfully unaware and apathetic. It's ok. They have the luxury to be apathetic. For now.

Things are gonna change, I can feel itSun, 3rd Jun '07, 9:20 pm::

After nearly six sleepless months, fourteen-hundred finger-crunching hours, and countless arguments (that always ended in mutual agreements) with Tay, earlier today I typed up the final few lines of code to bring our big awesome pet project to Version 0.99 RC (release candidate). We're hoping to launch sometime within the next few weeks, once all the little tweaks are made. The cake is baked, the icing already on, it's time for the little cherry on top.

Without disclosing the details of the project, it's hard to talk about it but I'll try. I don't think I can ever explain what today's milestone means. Everything I've thought of for months is finally done and ready for the world to see and use. I can't speak for Tay but I'm hoping for a gradual, steady adoption rate as opposed to going big in one day. I'd rather have slow, predictable growth than crash and burn within the first 6 hours of launch. Here's hoping!

I know nobody will believe me for saying this but we're not doing this for fortune and fame. We're doing this because it needs to be done and because nobody has even come close to doing it right. It won't be long before my words are proven right or wrong.

Now that my mind is clear, I finally did something today that I've been wanting to do for well, six months - clean my damn house! Took me about 3 hours but I have a pretty clean house now and am doing laundry as I write this.

I don't think people can understand HOW eager I am to stop programming every night and weekend and get back to entertaining you with my dirty laundry details, kayaking shoots, and photos of cats :)

Tue, 29th May '07, 8:35 am::

My pet project is very close to completion and merely weeks away from release. I'm pretty excited about it. I had a pretty productive weekend working on it and now I'm all pumped up to get back to work so I can continue working on the big ERP project.

Sun, 29th Apr '07, 7:25 pm::

We often get so caught up by the daily rut 'n rigmarole that we forget to relish life's little pleasures. Here's a few little things that make me smile.

Turning on the TV to unexpectedly catch the happy-ending of an underrated movie. Getting that little piece of pop-corn finally out of your gums. Having your fingernails grow just the right length to peel off a sticker but not too long to make typing difficult. Finding an extra slice of cheese in the fridge. Not having a single junk email make it into in your inbox. Realizing that in case you run out of toothpaste, there's an extra tube in the linen cabinet. Hearing the air-conditioner automatically kick-in the moment you feel a little warm but are too lazy to get up to lower the temperature yourself. Getting rid of the little piece of pebble caught inside your shoe. Coming across a word years after you last saw it in print - minstrels. Finishing item #10 on your little To Do list just in time for ice-cream. Making item #11 on your To Do list "eat ice-cream" no matter what the list is about.

Lament not, fellow IndianWed, 25th Apr '07, 12:35 pm::

I am at work right now, on hold with Dell, trying to renew the warranty on some servers we purchased last year. I can easily whine about how awful the overall support nightmare is, having talked to over twelve people in the last two hours. But right now, I want to sadly talk about something that has been bugging me for years now - the pitiful tone and the lamenting language of the average Indian call center employee.

Having lived in India for the first twenty years of me life, I am well-aware of the social constructs, language barriers, and job market woes. So I have nothing but utter respect for the hundreds of thousands of hard-working, honest call center employees. I have a few friends in Delhi that work for outsourcing firms and many of these kids are brilliant. I am hurt every time I hear anyone stereotyping and insulting them online and offline, just for being different and hard to comprehend. I had a strong Indian-accent when I first came here and I still have problems being understood sometimes. Being packed in a cubicle with 3 others, stuck on a phone with irate customers for ten hours a day is not an easy way to feed your kids. So I understand how difficult things can be.

However, what drives me crazy is the pathetic "Sorry Sir," "Thank you very much Sir," "Please wait Sir" language that these folks are forced to use. It makes me ashamed to think that my people, even after sixty years of Independence from the British, still have to portray a public image of servitude, inferiority, and desperation when interacting with non-Indians.

The blame lies not with the workers. It lies with the management, often-times Indian, that enforces these scripted rituals of verbal enslavement. The employees maybe humble yet proud Indians but since their paycheck relies on them using these "Sir, Sorry Sir, Please Sir" interjections, they have to behave like dismal Third-World outcasts. What angers me the most is that these are well-educated, highly-skilled, respected people forced to behave like servants for some mythical foreigner 8,000 miles away. When I interact with people here in US, this is they behavior they expect of me. I'm sorry but if anyone expects me to be a sorry little Indian boy, you can bet they'll be my personal dartboard for a long, long time.

If you have ever called customer support and have been frustrated because it is hard to understand the person at the other end, realize that they have the same problem understanding you. All I can say is speak clearly and respectfully. It's not their fault your cellphone battery doesn't charge. What right do you have to insult a complete stranger solely because they sound different? You certainly wouldn't pull that on a cop with a different accent, so why are these hard-working individuals fair game for insolence? If you truly want to retaliate against the company, stop buying their crappy phones.

Now if this message ever reaches a call center employee, I have just one single request for you. Please Sir/Ma'am, be proud of yourself Sir, and boldly refuse to use the Sorry lines that your Respected Boss Sir Kindly Requested you to use Sir, Thank You Sir.

Thu, 12th Apr '07, 8:25 am::

I'm pretty certain I'm having a writer's itch, the opposite of a writer's block. This morning before I woke up, I dreamt about writing something from the bottom of my heart and debating it with friends. Then I woke up and realized Kurt Vonnegut passed away last night. I have a sinking feeling in my heart just thinking about it. Hope he enjoys his stay in the big Slaughterhouse above. Hi ho.

I win, so I am better than youThu, 8th Mar '07, 8:15 am::

A funny contradiction has been happening to me over time and only now am I starting to realize it. I find that the older I get, the more time I feel I have. One would think that as you grow older, you have less and less time to achieve what you want, yet I feel quite the opposite. When I was fifteen, I was always running out of time. Everything had to happen NOW. There was no time to waste. It's now or never! At twenty-six, other than committed deadlines, time doesn't really bother me. There are so many things I want to do and I feel I'm on the right path. I've found some sort of balance between impatience and procrastination. Even when I wrote about patience, I did not know how that came about, other than inheriting my mother's patient attitude.

While reading The Future of Leisure That Never Arrived, I realized what is missing from my life today that overwhelmed my being ten years ago - competition. I don't compete. There is absolutely no competition in my life. At age fifteen, I competed in more activities than I can remember, from soccer, volleyball, athletics, to violin, theater, and aero-modeling (that's making model planes that can fly, not mile-high modeling). Today, I create. I sit back, take my time, and make whatever I want. I build things I want and at my pace. Nobody else is doing what I'm doing any more. There are no standards to measure my worth by.

The void of competition is not some happenstance. It is completely intentional, albeit indirect. I have chosen to not involve myself in activities where the sole purpose is to win by being better than others. While competition in kids fosters development and personal growth, I find that competition among adults simply regresses communal advancement. I learnt a lot about my strengths and weaknesses when I practiced months on end for music competitions as a teenager. However, by spending three hours a day on my yard to make my lawn greener than my neighbor's, I'd pretty much be wasting my time. My time would be better spent making new things instead of proving I AM BETTER!

What makes the world a better place: A bunch of adults that study for months to get the highest score in mySAP-ERP certification so the winner gets a new laptop and a bonus, or the bunch of them working together or on their own projects to actually make software that help others? Having decided that I'd rather build things than run rat-races, my life has become quite different. I know many people that are winning their selective rat-races, and not just eking out a living. Yet they find their lives miserable and often whine about having no leisure. I know many folks that instead build things and they are generally the most interesting people because despite having twenty-six ongoing projects, they are always interested in learning new things and figuring out how to make something else.

Exceptions to the competition rule is when competing professionally is all you do, i.e. sports professionals, athletes, and the ilk. These are the people that, by doing their very best, actually push the human boundaries on what can be done. If I could run a mile under 3:50, I would and my respect goes to those that can. However, this kind of competition is different from forcing your daughter to get better grades than your brother-in-law's kid. People think that by pushing kids to compete non-stop, the kids will learn to win in life. No, they will learn to win in competitions. Then they will compete for that promotion and then that client account. Next thing they know, they have no time for anything, except of course, pushing their own kids to be the best basketball player and the best pianist in their class.

Thankfully, I competed out of my own volition and not parental or peer pressure. Consequently, I found it easy to get out of the competitions without a loss of self-worth. I never measured how good I am by how many people I'm better than. I do measure how good I am by what I make and how does it make the world slightly better.

Of course, everything has side-effects and my lack of competitiveness has its own repercussions. The fact that I refuse to compete in anything seeps into my private life, especially dating habits. I simply won't compete with other guys for a girl's attention. I won't. I don't care how great you are but if you expect me to prove myself better than the four other guys you're eying, have a nice day and a good life. I'm pretty sure if I wanted to compete and win, I could. But I won't. I'd rather be valued on my absolute merits than some relative edge I might gain over others momentarily.

So who's up for a little kayaking this weekend? I'll race you across the Bay to Tampa and back!

Sat, 3rd Mar '07, 11:05 pm::

I haven't been writing regularly lately because I'm pretty much putting every minute I have into my new pet project. We're still about a month or two away from releasing it and I don't want to promise anything yet but I'm getting some confidence that this is going to be good. I guess only time will tell. I can't wait till the project goes live so I can talk about my experiences with the whole thing. Till then, it's life as usual.

Oh here's something neat I put up: Weather Map. I didn't make the map, just put it on my site so I can check out the local weather instantly from anywhere.

Who in the where said what now?Sat, 17th Feb '07, 7:40 pm::

One of the things I love about a kayaking trip is the long drive to and from the water. I often pick a single real-life incident and slowly generalize the matter, as if back-tracking to its source. On my drive to the Oscar Scherer Park in Osprey, Florida to kayak earlier today, I wondered why a close friend of mine gets offended whenever I ask her how some plan will work out. It was irritating me because she loves to answer why something happened yet doesn't like it when I ask how something will function. It occurred to me that depending on your personality, you fit into one or maybe two of the following types:

  • Why Personality: The Why people want to know the reason for every incident and everyone's action. These are the psychologists and philosophers. They love to delve deep into the root cause of events to determine whether there exist logical bases for the same. Generally smart and inquisitive by nature.
  • How Personality: The How's are the engineers, the scientists, the mechanics of the world. They could care less WHY the Universe exists, all they want to know is how did the Big Bang happen? And how does white light break into the colors of rainbow when it passes through a prism. You may think that many of the scientific questions are Why's, like "Why does an apple fall down and not up?" instead of How's. However, for a scientist, "Why" doesn't really say anything unless you can describe "How." We know "Why" the apple falls down: Due to Gravity. But till date, we don't know "How" gravity works and hence this area of Physics still has ample room for discovery. The How's are just as smart as the Why's and much more practical in nature.
  • What/Where/When Personality: These are the folks that are living it up. They don't care Why or How, and instead just want to know what's going on, where's it going on, and when do they show up with a 6-pack of beer. The world is full of them and it's a good thing - they live in the moment and get things done. Most of the people you know fit into this personality. Next time you hang out with them, don't try to talk philosophy or calculus. Just raise the glass and have a drink.
  • Who Personality: Of all the people I despise, I'd say the one thing most of them have in common is that they are always looking to put the blame on someone else. Who ate my cake? Who stole my ideas? Who told you that you can use my computer? If you know someone that begins half of their questions with "Who," I'd advice you to stay away from them. "Who" knows how they'll get you in trouble some day.

I'm mostly "How" and a little bit of "Why." I become the "What/Where/When" type every now and then though I do my best to never become a "Who." I'm pretty certain my friend is "Why" and hence loves to explain "Why" something happened. However, she just doesn't understand that other people may want to know specifically "How" she intends to make her plans work. I think that now that I've realized this, it will be easier now for me to deal with persons of different types.

So which one are you?

Wait for itSun, 28th Jan '07, 3:35 pm::

Often I look into myself and try to pick apart my personality for flaws and issues. While talking to a friend today I realized that I have one very good characteristic that very few people I know have, patience. Of all the people I know, my mother is probably the only one more patient than me, so I'm pretty sure that's where I got it from.

Why care about patience when you have instantaneous alerts on latest sports events via text-messaging? If everything is immediate in this world today, isn't asking for patience just showing that you cannot deliver smoothly? When it comes to systems, projects, products, services, and technology, yes, everything should indeed be immediate and instant. There is no reason your check-deposit should take 45 days. However, when it comes to people, personality, emotions, and society, patience is a virtue.

I want my bank-transfer to happen NOW but I will wait two months while a friend sorts out their job situation before calling me. I want to watch the latest news NOW but I will wait a year before I ask my sister about her future plans. I will also wait three years for my Masters and six years for my Post-Graduate degree some day. I am also in no hurry to get rich enough to buy some mansion on the beach or kayak down the Amazon.

This doesn't mean I'm giving up on whatever goals I have in life. I'm just enjoying today while preparing for a better tomorrow, instead of stressing out today with the hope that tomorrow might be marginally better. Patience is realizing that not everything will happen immediately, especially things that you have absolutely no control over. Once a week my family asks me the same question and my reply is "at least five-six years." If there is nothing you can do to speed things up, why waste your time wondering when it will finally happen?

One thing people have to learn about patience is that you need patience to learn. We don't have fancy DVD-to-Brain devices like the Matrix so we pretty much have to slowly learn things over time. I didn't learn programming in one night and you didn't learn playing piano in a week. Why shouldn't I wait a year before I can play a musical instrument well and why can't you wait four months before you get used to that new computer software?

Somewhere among all the rapid global communications via Transatlantic cables and real-time GPS-based shipment tracking information sent directly to your Palm Pilot and Blackberry, the lesson of "slow and steady wins the race" is being forgotten.

Wall Street Journal article on my Tag CloudTue, 23rd Jan '07, 12:35 am::

Last week I received an email from journalist Aaron Rutkoff at The Wall Street Journal Online for a phone interview to discuss my US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud app. We had a good chat over the weekend and for a limited-time, you can read his article about my work at: Web Site Tracks a History Of Presidential Buzzwords. If the link doesn't work anymore (since WSJ is a subscription-site), let me know.

I'm quite pleased at how clearly and sincerely Aaron wrote about this project and my motivation for developing it. Having had a few "interesting" experiences with media folks in the past, I honestly have so much respect for the WSJ because of how friendly and genuinely interested in my work he was. I think I showed off a bit too much about my kayaking while we chatted, him being in the freezing New York City and me living in sunny Florida :)

It's way past my bed-time now but here's hoping the link stays up free for a few days so my family and friends can read it all, since it's not available in print.

Sat, 20th Jan '07, 10:45 am::

After almost four years of daily use, I finally decided to replace my ConAir electric-shaver. I wanted an electric-shaver that was affordable, easy to clean, and cordless yet worked with a cord when not charged. The last part was the most important because I don't want to wait for 20 minutes while the shaver charges up before I can shave, especially when I'm in a hurry. I found Braun 1775 on Amazon for only $30 with shipping! I just shaved with it and wow, I'm sold for life. The shaver is light-weight and does not hurt your skin regardless of how roughly you use it. I just got the smoothest shave in years and now feel like I should be dressing up for a formal dinner at the Governor's House while a tall hot chick in black dress brushes the back of her hand against my smooth-smooth cheek and smiles coyly.

Man, I should be paid for that free advertising! The fact is, despite being a "computer guy," I'm not a big fan of gadgets and gizmos. I don't replace my toaster or cellphone till it drowns in water or catches fire, respectively. I guess I'm old-school in the sense that, if it's not broken, I don't replace it. My old shaver is in my linen-closet now, in case the new one breaks or has problems. My main computer is about four years old too and works pretty well. I'm just hoping I don't have to replace it anytime soon. I even bought my car hoping I'll be able to drive it for a decade at least.

I'm bad for the economy.

Indian SplendorSun, 24th Dec '06, 11:50 pm::

I took a break from my holiday coding session tonight and watched a surprisingly delightful film, American Splendor. It's a biography of an underground comic book writer (not artist) Harvey Pekar, an everyman super hero. Says Harvey, "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," and it's not difficult to agree with him on that. What was difficult for me was to realize that the movie is fact and not fiction. We're so accustomed to seeing larger than life characters in films that we become immune to their charms. Then when a real life character comes along, it's hard to suspend belief and play along, after all, THIS character can't be real! He's too real to be real.

One aspect of the film that enticed me was Harvey Pekar's 25-year long autobiographical comic book series that lends its name to the film, American Splendor. While I loved comic books as a kid, my interest slowly waned as I discovered that real life is more raw than kryptonite and adamantium claws. When I started writing my comic strip Calm Down! a few months ago, I had a general idea of what it was going to be about - me and my splendorous* life. At that time, I didn't know why I decided to do that but I think I do now.

Towards the end of the movie, Harvey's wife asked him to write a comic book about his struggle with lymphoma/cancer, saying once he makes himself a character in yet another comic book, he'll be detached from his illness and thus from his own life and problems. It was more than slightly unnerving to grasp that I probably did the same. Well, no point in stopping now. More Calm Down's coming up in the months and hopefully years ahead.

* Of course there is fine print.

Baby, don't hurt meFri, 15th Dec '06, 8:15 am::

I think my favorite aspect of keeping this personal 'blog entirely public, is that often I have to say how I feel without disclosing the precise details. I don't say "XYZ bad things happened and it's ABC's fault so I'm doing 123 things to fix it." Specific issues, advice, and words are short-lived and don't apply to others beyond myself. Hence I generalize and try to look at how and why things happen instead of trying to figure out what exactly to do in this one instance. I have my friends and family for that; how unfortunate of them.

When faced with problems beyond our control, each of us reacts and deals with them in our own unique ways. How we confront a negative force depends on our personality and understanding of the world. While it is very difficult to change our innate personalities, it is relatively easy to adapt our philosophical views over time to help us deal with life better. Regardless of how aware we are of our own views on life, everything in this world is shaped by what we think about abstract terms like good, right, justice, karma, greed, equality, success, friendship, and love.

A person's notion of success might make their views on greed benign. That is to say, in order to achieve success, that person will not consider greed as a strongly negative trait. We have people that take solace in karma and think that good things will happen to good people. We have people that think justice is only what they themselves agree with. I know people that equate friendship with networking for potential personal gain. How you think of these few words is what you think of the world. What you think of the world is how you will act and react throughout your life. Some think that what is good is right and some believe equality should have limits.

It is the difference between our personal understandings of these words that causes all the problems in the world. If we had a standard definition for abstract terms like this, life would be quite easy. Socrates questioned what justice was and everyone from cheesy POP musicians to scientists ask what love is.

It is not possible for us to agree on what something is but it's quite easy to agree on what it isn't. Love isn't selfish, abusive, or conditional. Justice doesn't necessarily have to make every side happy. Right doesn't mean that it must feel good. We all make mistakes and we all make short-sighted decisions. True test of your abilities is how you recover from your failures. For some, it's as simple as fessing up and saying "Oops! I screwed up." And for others, it is unleashing yet another round of lies upon lies to cover up past acts of deceit. You can't waste your time on them; their definition of love, greed, and good is completely screwed up.

Mon, 11th Dec '06, 9:25 pm::

Sometimes coincidences freak me out. I was just checking my email while watching a video on Chinese history. I got a confirmation email about something and as I read the phrase "Powered by Movable Type" within it, the narrator on the show said "and by that time, Movable Type was invented in China." My heart literally thumped and it's been beating really fast for the last three minutes. Freaky.

Cats out of the cradleFri, 8th Dec '06, 6:00 pm::

As it often goes, I was talking to a good friend of mine online and she mentioned how her mother kept expecting too much out of her and despite whatever my friend did, it was never enough for the mother. The parental pressure was not just infuriating my friend but also slowly depressing her. About a year ago when she was living with her parents and going through similar situations while selecting a graduate school, I suggested that she pick a school outside of her hometown and learn to live on her own. And she did.

So far, she's loved the freedom it has brought to her after 27 years of being told exactly what to do every single moment. I never expected her mom to stop nagging after she moved out. But I did hope that my friend wouldn't feel so emotionally tortured. That hasn't happened. It hasn't happened to my buddy who moved to Colorado and still hasn't happened to my friend who got married and moved with her husband to Boston two years ago. Yet, it happened to me. Despite being very close to parents who expect the world out of me, I don't feel emotionally tense anymore because of what they say or think of me. It took years for me to figure out why and how.

I want my parents' love, not their approval. I love my parents more than anyone else in the world but I have learnt that what I should be seeking in return is their love, not their agreement with everything I do. Moreover, not wanting approval doesn't mean I don't care about their opinion or that I don't care when I hurt them. I'm just saying, when I do something that I think is right but they don't, I understand it is a difference of opinions and carry on.

Oddly enough, it was my mom that taught me this lesson. Like every good son, for two decades I did everything I could, to get my dad's approval. Many times I succeeded but more often than not, I failed. Part of me knows that my dad held back many well-deserved congratulations so I would try even harder and go further. He wanted me to be a true winner. However, after seemingly failing over and over again, I would feel dejected and go to my mom asking for advice. She said simple things like "don't worry" and "just try harder."

I don't know when it struck me but one fine day, I stopped craving for my dad's approval. Everything changed instantly. I'm no longer living my life hoping he'll rubber-stamp my big ticket purchases, career path, new friends, or potential soul mates. I no longer expect my parents to like everything I like or appreciate the things I care for. I feel wonderful when they tell me they love me and my decisions but I'm not hurt or disappointed when they express their disdain for my unorthodox ways.

This is not a criticism of my parents but rather of my past self. Parents seldom change. But the kids can. And have to. I would love it if both my parents approve of everything I do but the world is not perfect and I would be foolish to expect the same. My dad and I can't agree on the same sport to watch together (cricket vs. soccer) yet for twenty years I hoped he would approve of every new friend I made. He is perfectly right in his mind to judge, like, and dislike whoever he wants in the same way that I have the right to talk, befriend, and love whomever I want. He does his best to prevent me from destroying my life and I do my best to explain the reasons behind my choices. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we agree to disagree. In the end, we remain close without any bottled up frustrations; at least I try my best to.

The day I realized I want my parents to love me and not wholeheartedly approve of me, is the day I truly became an "adult." Since then, I've expanded this rule to encompass my family, relatives, friends, and even coworkers. I'm glad if you appreciate what I do and am thankful that you care to offer criticism but if someone tells me I HAVE TO DO things their way without sufficient logical reasoning, that'll be the last day I talk to them.

So let goMon, 20th Nov '06, 7:15 pm::

Casually talking to a friend today I realized how one of the personality traits that I've acquired over time has changed my life so drastically and mostly for the better - the ability to let go. Letting go of someone or something is different than forgiving or giving up. I mean let go in the same sense as Chuck Palahniuk's Narrator in Fight Club remarked, "The ability to let, that which does not matter, truly slide."

For a species that is free to move around, we are remarkably predisposed to hanging on. As toddlers, we hold on to our blankets and teddy bears. As kids we latch on to our toys and mommies. In youth, we hold on to our music and friends. And as we grow older, we cling to our families, jobs, cars, houses, and every person that we've ever cared for. We just can't seem to let go of anything. Hanging on is what we do!

It is not a secret that people change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The friend that cared about you so much last year doesn't even think about you anymore. The little boy down the street you liked saying hello to, doesn't seem all that respectful anymore. When a person changes, we all notice it. You knew it the moment your cousin got married that she turned into a whole new person. When a person changes, we also know if they changed for the better or worse. Your friend for the worse and your cousin for the better.

The problem is that we ourselves aren't willing to incorporate this change into our world view. We don't want to admit that now that this person has changed and is suddenly treating us like crap, that we should just let go of them. We keep trying to get their attention, to show them that we are still worthy of their affection. We need to let go. You need to let go. The relationship is over. The friendship is over. Just let go.

Letting go doesn't mean you stop talking to family or friends when they're in trouble and are more work for you to put up with. Letting go means when someone clearly no longer wants to include you in the next episode of their life, you gracefully accept that your character was killed off and go back to starring in the remaining forty-seven other shows. If that's not enough, find new people and become a guest star in their lives.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that many people no longer want me to be an active part of their life; some very close friends in the years bygone. Often I blamed myself for the turn of events, thinking I must have done something to push them away. Turns out, it wasn't me or anyone else. It wasn't even them sometimes. Life changed them. They moved on and were hoping I would too; the sooner the better.

When it takes more effort to maintain a connection with someone than the mutual benefit and support we obtain, it is not worth trying to make things work anymore. While we shared some good times in the past, if you don't have enough time for me anymore, it is in my best interest to let go and find someone else. The longer we hang on to after the bond's broken, the more it hurts when we finally let go.

Letting go doesn't have to be painful or sad. It can be a wonderful culmination of good times had. I let go of my angel after she helped me finish my first marathon. I said bye, smiled, and never looked back. I still think fondly about her and I'm certain it's because I let go of her before she started ignoring my phone calls and emails. If someone is meant to come back to your life, they will. Otherwise, just let go.

Girls don't have cootiesFri, 17th Nov '06, 6:15 pm::

Common sense would dictate that when one is heavily medicated on pain-relief drugs, making public statements is the last thing they should do. Since I've been known to lack common sense, I'm gonna go ahead and say what I truly feel right now. Bear in mind that while my fingers are able to correctly hit the keyboard, I'm still overwhelmed by and under the control of the emotions welled up by 10mg of Hydrocodone tablets taken every four hours as prescribed by my doctor. Don't worry, it's nothing to worry about. So I'll make the best of this blissful state by shamelessly showing my heartfelt gratitude to the ones that truly deserve it the most - the beautiful members of the fairer sex who have made my life so much more meaningful.

Weird as it sounds, at this moment I want to thank every girl and woman that I've ever encountered. Starting of course with my dear mother and then my loving sister. Equally loving are my grandma, my aunts, and my sweet little cousins. I would be but a heartless machine without the lessons in humanity, kindness, and morality that they've inculcated into my personality. I cannot even begin to thank my wonderful pretty female friends that have helped me overcome some of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in my personal and social life. While most of the time, my guy friends - the buddies are all I need for company and adventure, I cannot deny how much of a difference my friends like Megan, Tamara, Teresa, Becky, Lanie, Jen, Avani, Michele, Laura, Halley, Amy, Heather, Elyse, Kelly, Kellie, and so many others have made in my life.

I would never say that my social life has been a bed of roses with only happy, wonderful memories. I've faced more rejections and heartbreaks than most people can survive without complete psychological breakdowns. Throughout the good days and especially the bad, the wonderful girls in my life supported me with encouraging words and lots of hugs. Without them, I might have ended up a jaded despicable male-chauvinistic misogynist. But because of them, I love, respect, and value the wonderment that is the human female.

If you're wondering what made me say all this, it's probably the pain killers. Or rather, the loss of inhibition brought about by them that's giving me the strength to let the world know how much I love each and every woman that I've met. This 'blog entry isn't about women's liberation or praise of their physical beauty. It is my deepest thank you to them for being the wonderful neurotic yet emotionally intelligent persons they are. I love you, girl. All of you. No matter where you are.

Say something newSat, 11th Nov '06, 6:40 pm::

On an average day, I read about 10-12 personal blogs of people I know and read news, articles, and journals on anywhere from 50 to 200 websites I find linked online. While there is much to be said about online news media outlets and commercial blogs, my gripe is with personal blogs. Regardless of how easy it is to start a free online journal and how many people sign up for new ones everyday, the problem lies not with the technology or the low barrier to entry, but rather with the utter lack of fresh content.

While this would be a good opportunity for me to make a list of the "Top 10 things I don't want to read on your blog," I'd rather spend the time elaborating on what I DO want to read. Admittedly, I'm not above my own criticism either as I've written many a word in the last five years that nobody including me wants to read anymore. However, with time, I've learnt what people do want to read and what they usually skip over.

All I want you to do is to say something new. Tell me something that I didn't know about - you, your life, your friends, your job, your love, your passion, your dirty secrets, and most importantly, your thoughts. I've already read everything newsworthy on all the meta news sites. So you don't have to tell me that some new movie is in the theaters now. What you do have to tell me is that you have started playing the violin or are practicing public speaking. Tell me why you think people should be married before age 23 or how one should go about organizing their personal schedules. I don't care if you're right or wrong, convincing or contriving, I just want to read something I couldn't have on any other website except yours. Be fresh!

You don't necessarily have to write about your personal life a la "What-I-had-for-lunch-today." In fact, writing about your personal life without being severely sleep-inducing is one of the most difficult things. While I started with writing about my cool programming scripts, I've slowly moved away from day-to-day activity logs (that I'm sure my family still cares more about) to more persistent topics that might be somewhat interesting four years after the weather has changed. Event descriptions are momentary, ideas are timeless.

Creating new content requires time and effort, thankfully rarely any money. It is very easy to say "Movie X sucked" or "OMG! Check out this site!" It is not so easy to spend an hour putting your ideas in words and telling the world how you think you can make something better, faster, smaller, bigger, easier, cheaper, funnier. You don't have to be a fantastic writer but it helps. And once you stop saying "I hate event X, object Y, and person Z" and instead write about how the little children that you talk to everyday finally have come to terms with the truth about Santa Claus, you'll notice your writing skills improve. Tell me something I don't know.

I'm pretty neutral about personal blogs that consist solely of links to other interesting sites. To me, that says nothing really about you. So you found a cool link that you want to share with anyone that might end up on your blog. Big deal. Sometimes the links are interesting and sometimes they're crap. Thanks but I want more.

Tell me about the new project you're working on or your retirement plans. What are you going to do next month? How can first-time homeowners get equity loans? Why do you think people should drop out of college and start your own companies? I don't care if what you're thinking of is smart or stupid, spill the beans already.

I hope next time you click 'New Entry', you'll say something I couldn't find on, Google News, or

Fri, 10th Nov '06, 8:15 am::

Things not to do when you're in India: List of faux pas. I'm smiling while reading the list because it never occurred to me how much of this is so embedded in me that I do it without realizing. Nobody's allowed to enter my house with their shoes on. If my feet ever touch books or money, I stop for a second as if apologizing to the gods above. I still open all the gifts I get in private. I feel VERY odd opening them up in front of the person that just gave it to me. However, since I'm left-hand I usually don't think twice about any of the left-handed faux pas. Here's two I can think of:

  • The appropriate response to "Thank You" is not "You're welcome" but rather "Mention Not." Similarly, it is perfectly normal to respond to "How are you?" with "I'm fine" unlike in the Western Countries where "I'm fine" is usually said sarcastically.
  • Use of subtle sarcasm should be avoided initially since the barriers of language and cultural differences often make the humor harder to detect and your host may end up interpreting the words as displeasure or even insult.

I recommend that if you're going to visit India anytime soon and have never been there before, you read the entire list.

Sun, 5th Nov '06, 9:25 pm::

I can't even begin to express how tired I am from the looooong day of kayaking today. I went down to Pine Island near Fort Myers and kayaked over 13 miles in EXTREMELY windy weather to Cape Haze. The waves started at two and three feet but after about four hours, they rose to nearly five feet! My kayak floats 8 inches above the water and my head stands barely three feet high when I'm paddling. I had to look UP two feet as the crazy waves crashed into me one after another. This wasn't a typical ocean kayaking trip - this was as close to whitewater kayaking as I can experience in Florida. I had to continuously negotiate the waves in order to stay afloat and not be drenched.

All in all, one of the best kayaking days ever. I don't think I can take this much physical stress regularly but once in a while, I'd love to be in waters this rough. Hopefully not for six-seven hours non-stop like today. Oh and here are the Pine Island - Cape Haze kayaking pictures.

Calm Down!Tue, 24th Oct '06, 9:00 pm::

It's finally getting cold here in Florida. I went to Myakka River on Saturday and here's my pics from a nice 4-hour morning paddle.

On Sunday I started an online web-comic: Calm Down! I'd always wanted to write my own comic strip but never felt talented or funny enough. I always thought it's really difficult and needs a lot of creativity and artistic effort to get started. Having been a fan of xkcd for a few months now, I figured if he can do it, so can I! Though in reality, I just wanted to do something for myself. It doesn't really matter to me if most people don't find my stuff funny or give a damn about it. For me it's just a learning process. Maybe if I keep at it, it might actually become funnier and poignant.

The Calm Down! comic strip has a male and female character and the layout/format is pretty much fixed, with only the title and captions for the three frames changing. I drew the initial stick-figure characters and later my friend Tony drew me two very cute characters. The language is quite informal and the subject matter is just about anything that pops into my head - from stupid boy-girl jokes to linguistic paradoxes. I think the comic's audience is pretty limited and definitely doesn't have a mass family-values-type appeal. Even some of my good friends don't find it funny so I'm aware of it's niche appeal.

I'd say the male is bookish-smart yet childish while the female is matured, rational, and grounded in reality. I will probably write a new strip every other day and as time goes by, I hope to develop the characters into ones you could relate to and somewhat take a liking to. It will be a slow but hopefully fun journey.

Monday night, I went to The Castle in Ybor City, Tampa to chill with Sandra. I wasn't prepared to dance and neither was I dressed in the night-club-black, but she coaxed me into dancing for almost three hours! I got home, went to bed, worked all day, and here I am finally turning on the heater in my house.

Imagination SchmaginationSun, 15th Oct '06, 7:55 pm::

If you know me personally, you could use the adjectives 'practical' and 'realistic' to describe me. I'm not shy about the fact that I have my feet solidly grounded in reality with a near-absolute lack of fantasy in my life. Every thought in my head has something to do with things I've done, things I want to do, and things I want to understand. It can be math problems, computer algorithms, process-flow diagrams, kayak trips, how-to-build-X guides, or even socio-political disagreements. Every single thought is based on something real and concrete. In my life, there are no video games, no role-playing, no fiction novels, no drawings, no story-telling, no fantasy, and certainly no imagination-beyond-what-is-actually-possible.

Yet that doesn't mean I don't have ideas or creative thoughts. I do. Tons of them! But every idea is about something that I can do realistically. Every creative thought is about something I can make possible given my skill set and abilities. Over the course of years, I have become so practical that there is no room for flying llamas and unachievable goals in my life. Now, despite shaking my head at Anne McCaffrey readers for so long, I'm beginning to think my way of thinking is just not right.

While each person has those "special and different" qualities in themselves, I think most people have a unique blend of realistic and idealistic tendencies i.e. to say, some people are more grounded in their acts and thoughts while some others are just "out there." Like everything else in life, balance is the key. Just a decade ago I used to love reading fiction. I loved making up my own stories or rather, extending the ones my dad so enchantingly spun. My earliest memories of playing with my toys consist of kingdoms and wonderlands I had imagined. Gradually though, I migrated towards function, away from form. Who cares about a magical land with funny-looking creatures anymore? I have to build something that's actually useful! And I did. Lots of little useful things I built up.

Then one day I could build no more. I don't know why but my true desire to create just vanished. Nevertheless, out of sheer habit I kept going on, a piffle made here and a trifle made there; always wondering whatever happened to that fire in my belly that had forever made me stay up late at nights working on something fantastic. I had some idea but couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't until I was spellbound by the 2005 film Mirror Mask earlier today that I realized the true span of my impasse. I have forgotten how to imagine the extraordinary.

The emphasis on the extraordinary points to the crux of the matter. My imagination engine is working fine, it's just not working right. I can imagine a pretty backyard and greener grass. I can imagine a week long vacation driving through the curvy cliff-hanging roads of Washington and Oregon in Fall. I can imagine performing Eskimo rolls while white-water kayaking in Colorado. My imagination engine is allowed to imagine this because my Reality-Sentry has analyzed the activities and approved them based on their high probability of success. What I haven't imagined is curing cancer. What I haven't imagined is becoming a Best-Seller author. What I haven't imagined is inventing the Anti-gravity shield. I haven't thought of these things because, come on, what's the chance of me actually doing any of that?

Big deal. I don't think of what is almost certainly impossible. What's the problem there? The problem is that with time, the Reality-Sentry becomes stricter and stricter. It starts with classifying world peace and flying flip-flops as impossible and then slowly starts to include robotic vacuum cleaners and online video-publishing websites into the impossible-to-do list. After all, I don't know much about robots to make an automatic vacuum cleaner and where am I gonna get the bandwidth, time, and publicity to actually make my own video-publishing website worthwhile?

What you just witnessed was my brain putting anti-gravity shields of science fiction and video-sharing websites of reality into the same impossible-to-do category simply because it tried to answer "what's the chances of ME doing THAT?" without actually letting my imagination and hands have a shot at it. While this certainly saves me from wasting my time and energy on every foolish idea, in the end the ideas that I'm left with are so dull and easy to accomplish that I don't even feel motivated enough get started with them. The other day when I was sick of tailgaters, I wanted to make a device that measures the distance between your car and the one behind you and flashes a warning when get too close. A practical idea indeed. Certainly not impossible to do with some proximity sensor chips, a MIPS processor, and a few LED lights. It's so simple a fool could do it! Which is precisely why I didn't.

This is not to say that every simple idea is worthless. The world definitely needs more Ron Popeils to make our lives easier. But for me, easy and possible just doesn't do it. If I'm embarking on a personal project, it has to be something outrageous enough for me to get excited over. However, with such a starved imagination engine, I'll never really get much fodder to be excited over.

Of the few things I'm proud of myself about, the willingness to find my own flaws and make amends under any circumstances is something I truly feel good about. I may suck but at least I fess up to it and do something about it. I need to dream again. And dream big. Not for success, not for fame, and not for fortunes glorious. But for myself; to help me create that which is truly fantastic.

My worst enemyThu, 12th Oct '06, 10:45 pm::

I've noticed that I am at my clearest when I'm the most confused. I fear.

On days when everything makes sense and scheduled events transpire with clockwork precision, a part of me isn't even awake. It happens every now and then. You wake up one morning after a good night's sleep, your clothes fit well, your hair looks presentable, the drive to work isn't bad, lots of little things align just in place so as to make your afternoon go by smoothly, and the evening ends with a relaxed sense of pride at your own accomplishments, however minor. Wonderful as such a day sounds, I might as well be in a deep slumber dreaming of perfect little citadels of blissful existence, oblivious to the discord that is real life. Ergo, I patiently await the hours when I feel alive, prickled by the dilemmas faced by many a person as I; nervous, for the outcomes shall determine the banal course of actions that I must undertake over the consequent fortnight. Anguish is such sweet sentiment.

Crisis is but the true test of one's mettle. My youth was adorned with hypothetical advice on overcoming life's predicaments from persons grayer than me, sadly, mostly on the outside. But I was trained well. I learnt which battles to pick, when to hold my ground, and whom to kindly forgive. I was warned of hurdles I might face and how I would have to conquer every obstacle life threw at me. They told me everything I needed to know about dealing with life's adversities, sadly, mostly on the outside.

Today my mortgage is paid, my car's filled, my bills are dealt with, and I have food on my plate. I achieved everything I was told would be difficult to achieve and I'm only twenty-six. I still don't feel like I'm done. Now what? More meaningless goals that need to be accomplished in the outside world so as to somehow satisfy my mind? That's not going to help much.

It took a while but I've finally realized what they didn't tell me growing up - I am but my fiercest foe. Nobody intimated me on the disagreements I would vehemently vent against myself betwixt my own ears. I grew up under the misguided impression that as long as I was strong and courageous, I could sail straight through the rough seas of life's tumultuous ocean. How naive was I to presume that my most crushing challenges lay without me. Unsurprisingly, being unmindful of the confusion that lay within me, I attributed my gut discontent to fabricated external failures, unfounded as they might have been.

I stand now at the union of confusion and clarity. Here the stream of inner conundrum that pulled me down, mocking my flailing hands, meets the river of clarity that lifts me up and carries me on towards a destiny I have yet to make. My eyes glow in the light of understanding, knowing slightly more about myself today than I did yesterday. Yesterday when everything was perfect and I was asleep. And today when perfection is a bankrupt tale and my eyes are wide open.

I've noticed that I am at my clearest when I'm the most confused. I smile.

Wed, 4th Oct '06, 7:30 am::

I got tons of phone calls, emails, and e-cards already from so many people that wuv me!!! How does half the world know that it's my b'day today? My 'blog doesn't even have the old 'this day last year' feature anymore. Hehe. Thanks everyone!

I guess I've developed some sort of a party-image because everyone keeps asking where I'm gonna party tonight. Honestly, twenty-six is a no-milestone-zone and comes with absolutely no age-related benefits. At 18 you become an adult, 21 you get to drink (in US), 25 you get a big discount on your car insurance, 30 you can finally get started with a mid-life crisis and buy a sportscar and leather pants. But at 26? You find out your wee-little cousins are 17 years old and that's about it! Creepy :)

Anyways, I'm off to work in a few.

On writing formal lettersSun, 1st Oct '06, 1:40 pm::

One of the most underappreciated things in our litigation-happy casual-khakis modern existence, is a strongly-worded letter. Over the last few generations, with trained lawyers purporting to do all the "dirty" work, the practice of regular people writing formal letters for their personal objectives has become nearly obsolete. Did some company do something terribly wrong to you? Find a lawyer & sue them! What? No lawyer wants to take your case because it's not really worth over $1,000? Well, then stop whining! Suck it up and move on.

Often in our daily lives, we come across instances where we feel wronged and defenseless though not legally victimized. We give up, thinking if it's not worth a lawsuit then we should forget about it. When in fact, we do have a recourse. A little determination and a few hours of text-editing can do what weeks and months of complaints and nagging via phone calls and meetings cannot.

Last year, I had a lot of problems at my old apartment complex before I moved to my new house. So many little things had been going wrong that I just wanted to say screw you to the apartment people and get out as fast as I could. However, I had signed a letter earlier saying I'll clean up the entire apartment before I leave, failing which, they'll charge me ridiculous amounts of cash for pesky little things - $25 for failing to defrost the fridge, $2 per bag of trash I leave. With a new house that still needed setting up and lots of cleaning, I was in no mood to clean an old apartment after I had tons of problems with it. So I did what any text-loving person would do. Wrote them a strongly-worded letter and asked for stamped confirmation of their receipt of the letter and their signed & time-stamped follow-up decision.

In the end, I didn't have to go back and spend 10-12 hours cleaning the apartment. They didn't charge me anything for cleanup or maintenance. Cost me less than 2 hours of my idle-time sitting on a computer and typing away like I do anyway. If you're curious and not afraid of the dreaded PDF format, here's the ass-kicking letter to my apartment complex, the real name replaced with [Del Boca Vista]: Letter to Del Boca Vista.

In case you're wondering, I exaggerated a LOT in the letter. Things weren't half as bad as I claimed they were. But hey, I didn't wanna clean up! And I shouldn't have had to after going through all of that!

Fri, 29th Sep '06, 7:50 pm::

Just got back from an hour of kayaking at Lake Seminole, about a three minute drive from my house. I figure I could go to places around my house 2-3 times a week for quick workouts and check out the pretty places across Florida 2-3 times a month for my little nature adventure trips. One hour of stringent paddling every other day will improve my technique. Longer trips I take across the state will help boost my stamina and let me take pretty pictures.

Now, I cook something up and relax. Not going anywhere tomorrow or day after. This is my stay-at-home-and-do-chores weekend. Lots of little things to do - laundry, lawn mowing, cleaning etc.

In other news, I got a replacement cellphone and everything is working again. I lost only a handful of contact numbers and it's not really a big deal.

Sat, 23rd Sep '06, 10:05 pm::

I went to Wekiwa River today for what was supposed to be a relaxing kayaking trip after my intense 10mile one last week. Long story short, I ended up kayaking over 11 miles today and the trail was not easy at all, mostly due to the tons of trees that blocked the path downstream. In numerous instances, I had to get out of the kayak, climp atop a log, carry/pull the kayak over the log, then get back in without overturning the kayak. Not a walk in the park by any means. Divine, nevertheless.

Wekiwa was definitely the wildest trail I've been to so far, I guess mostly because nature had truly taken over most of the trail. Unless the path is cleared, I don't think I want to go there again. It's just not much fun trying to cross over dead trees. I got a few minor cuts & bruises too. But I finally got someone to take a picture of me in my kayak :)

For today's adventure, I woke up at 4.45am, left home by 5.45am, got into the water at King's Landing (in Kelly's Park, Apopka, Florida) by 8.15am, got out at 2.15pm after 11 miles, and reached home around 6.45pm. So about six hours of driving and six hours of kayaking - I got more exercise today than the day I ran my marathon. That makes for a very tired Chirag. If I go out next week, I really want it to be relaxing and not as physically intensive.

My IQ is -i^infinitySun, 17th Sep '06, 7:55 pm::

While talking to a friend, the topic of games and intellect came up. She asked if I'd played Brain Age, an edutainment video game that boosts your IQ. I've never really been a gamer and unless it's a boardgame involving other people and lots of words, I'm generally not interested. I don't even know what games my cellphone comes with.

However the issue of boosting IQ is something I've previously given some thought to. Despite the numerous arguments by IQ elitists, IQ basically measures your ability to think fast. With a high IQ and good memory, you too can win a million dollars on one of those TV game shows. Problem is, that kind of intelligence isn't really benefitial to anyone other than you. People with high IQ's and decent social skills can get great jobs and impress everyone around them. But they don't prove conjectures or spend seven years solving theorems. Or researching cures. Or explaining causes of economic slumps and methods to minimize the severity.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule, but the kind of intelligence that really benefits humanity and the world as a whole, is something that just cannot be measured by correctly identifying the pattern of shapes that comes next in the series. Personally, when I last measured my own IQ upon a friend's nagging, I was surprised to see it was higher than I expected. However, that is something I just don't care about. So big deal that I knew whether two of the following numbers added up to 13 or not: 1, 6, 3, 5, 11. Not. Does my ability to think fast and add a few numbers off the top of my head really help me "understand" complex schemata that describe the inner workings of network protocols at the lowest level? No. For that, I have to spend hours reading, analyzing, and understanding.

I cannot claim that having a high IQ doesn't help me. It does. Personally. When it comes to understanding how to undo void transactions from past periods in a double-entry accounting system, it's great to be able to think quick and learn just enough to get the job done and done well. But it doesn't give me any tools to make a difference to one other person. I've yet to invent a programming language that changes the lives of millions. It's not that I seek some sort of fame and glory. It's just that IQ is not the tool to measure the positive impact a person can have on the society by the virtue of their brainpower.

If more people stopped worshipping the high IQ folks while doing everything under the sun to become "smarter" and instead realized that dedication and selflessness is what's truly needed to make this world a better place, the world indeed would be a better place.

Sat, 16th Sep '06, 9:35 pm::

Here's the pics from my kayak trip today to Silver River - Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida. I woke up this morning at 5am, left house by 6.10am, got to the kayak launch around 8.10am, kayaked 10 miles from 8.30am - 1.30pm, drove back to my town by 3.45pm, bought some groceries, went to Home Depot to buy grass seeds, got home around 5.15pm, cleaned & rinsed my carport, washed my kayak, washed my car, cleaned my backporch, showered at around 7.45pm, folded my laundry, uploaded and captioned the pics from today's trip, had dinner, and here I am posting this 'blog entry. I can't even begin to explain how tired I am right now. I have so much to say about today, but no energy. In short, this was the most beautiful nature trip I've ever taken. Hopefully more details tomorrow when I regain some strength.

Mon, 4th Sep '06, 10:55 pm::

Since my arms were kinda sore from kayaking for 5 hours yesterday, I figured I could use a little more stretching to feel better. So I decided to check out Caladesi Island today. Caladesi was voted #1 Most Beautiful Natural Beach in Continental US for Year 2006 and is about 15 miles from my house. The island is not connected to the mainland by bridges so the only way to get there is by boats or kayaks. Fortunately, I happen to have a kayak. Here's the pics of Caladesi Island Sunset trip I took this evening.

I just wanted to go for a short, two-hour ride so Caladesi was a perfect choice. As you can see from the gallery, there were tons of birds as usual and the weather was perfect. It had cooled down and there was a slight breeze from the ocean. The water was very shallow, less than two feet deep in many places. It's actually much harder to kayak in shallow waters because you cannot get a complete stroke and have to be careful not to get your oar caught in the sea weeds and corals. Good thing about shallow waters is that you get to see a lot of birds up-close because there are no big dangerous creatures lurking below.

All in all, this is a trail I want to explore more, especially since it's so close to me. I didn't even go around the island completely so there's a lot of things I can see. The fact that it's very beautiful and so quiet almost makes me want to go there again.

Lucky daddy for sureSat, 26th Aug '06, 4:10 pm::

While talking to Lanie about her visit to an animal shelter today, I recollected the day I got my little kitties. I guess I'm just lucky as hell.

I remember walking into the first animal shelter I've ever seen. I went into the first room on my left that had some animals, saw two little black kittens in the first cage right in front of me. For a second I thought, "hmm black cats..." The lady picked up Giga and handed him to me. Giga purred. Tera was purring in my friend's arms. I said "Alright, let's get the paperwork done..." and the lady was surprised, "Already? You sure?"

I couldn't control my smile when I said "Yes, I am." And I still am. And I'm still smiling.

Sun, 20th Aug '06, 12:05 pm::

I got back home from my 2 hour kayaking trip to Weedon Island. It's about 25 minutes away from my house and so I left at around 6:30am. I was in the water by 7:15am and here's my Weedon Island kayaking pictures. It was simply gorgeous. There was a triathlon (run, cycle, kayak) scheduled around 8am so I wanted to get out of the water by 9:30am. I kayaked the 4-mile trail in just over 2 hours. Of course I wasn't doing it for speed but for the photographs and natural beauty. I did practice rowing fast to see how well my kayak handles - beautifully. I can't wait till I explore more places like this. Next week or weekend after - Crystal River :)

Sat, 19th Aug '06, 10:35 pm::

It's been a pretty relaxing weekend so far. Last night I took an unspecting Brian to see Snakes on a Plane movie party in Channelside, Tampa organized by Tampa Bay Farkers. If you don't know much about a movie, here's a brief summary without any spoilers. Basically, it's a very VERY cheesy B-grade movie starring Samuel L. Jackson stuck on a plane with thousands and thousands of snakes! The reason why this movie became a cult-classic with a huge fan-following even before it was released was because the movie accepted the fact that it was a really bad movie and didn't attempt to pretend like it was Jurassic Park or something. I like honesty. Sitting in the movie theater with tons of other screaming and cheering fans made me feel like I was watching a Rajnikanth movie in Calcutta. I absolutely enjoyed it.

Today, I've been just chilling around the house. I cooked dinner and worked on some computer-ish. Here's some pics I took of my kitties being lazy as usual. They love just sleeping at my feet when I'm on the computer.

I'm pretty excited about tomorrow. I hope to wake up real early and take my kayak out for it's maiden voyage on a 4-mile long kayak trail in the Weedon Island, about 15 miles from my house. I tested my kayak earlier this week to see the balance, speed etc. but it was only for 10 minutes. So tomorrow's gonna be real fun, especially since the island is known for some beautiful wildlife views, historic Native American settlement, and a 50-ft high lookout tower. Around 7am when I get into the water, the tide's going to be slowly rising. It's supposed to be best around high tide while will happen around noon. I'm hoping to take my camera with me. Let's see if I capture anything pretty.

Different parameters of relationshipsFri, 18th Aug '06, 12:25 am::

On the surface, this has been a relatively normal week for me, with the usual deal of work, bills, home, chores etc. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Well almost nothing. The two read-but-unreplied emails waiting in my mailbox, sent by the two strongest humans I personally know - my dad and my uncle, keep staring at me every time I check my email, as if mutely yelling at me to hit 'reply' and type away something beautiful and worthy of their dignity. Alas, it's not easy.

My dad sent me an email last week telling me he missed me. It was so loving and sincere that when I showed it to a friend of mine, she wanted him to adopt her. Few days later, his brother, my Paresh uncle, emailed me to tell me how my cousin Keval is slowly getting better. While mentioning that he was pleased to read my views about life on my 'blog, my uncle wrote about his thoughts on life, knowledge, and relationships. It didn't occur to me until now that while millions of people live their entire lives without even saying "hello" to their parents and elders, I take for granted all the support and love in the world that I get from my family without even asking for it once. And then when someone tells me they love me or miss me, I find it extremely difficult to respond to them. Woody Allen's America does that to you.

I wouldn't even have begun writing this 'blog entry tonight had I not clicked on this video of father & son unknowingly. Team Hoyt is a father-son team of Dick & Rick Hoyt, "from Massachusetts who together compete just about continuously in marathon races. And if they're not in a marathon they are in a triathlon - that daunting, almost superhuman, combination of 26.2 miles of running, 112 miles of bicycling, and 2.4 miles of swimming. Together they have climbed mountains, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America." It sounds like typical father-son adventurous duo till you realize the son, Rick, can't walk or talk. The father pushes, carries, lifts, and pulls him from the start till the end. Every year at the Boston Marathon, this team gets the loudest, most-cheerful standing ovation. I know this particular video has some typical-cheesy music but that didn't stop me from sobbing for 4 minutes and 14 seconds, and then again for 4:14 when I hit replay. Last time I was in India, Google Videos weren't accessible from there. I think it's a good thing because I don't think either my dad or uncle will be able to control their tears if they saw this video. I mean it made me so weak in the knees that I decided to shed my fake outer-shell of "I'm so awesome and my life is so great" and admit that I sobbed and cried uncontrollably when I saw the video.

Like my dad always says, I rarely propose concrete well thought-out arguments on my 'blog entries, and usually ramble aimlessly. Today is no different. Yet, almost always, I have underlying themes. I guess tonight, it's the latent energy to persevere. By latent energy, I mean the hidden strength that these two stalwarts in my family seem to possess since birth. Ever since I was a kid, they were the two strong brothers I could always look up to for help, advice, and guidance. To me, they were and are now more than ever, the resolute pillars of persistence. In my eyes, nothing has changed, rather they both have shown time and again that they're getting wiser and more down-to-Earth by the day.

But in their eyes, something has changed. They now think of me as a mature grown-up man that they can share their views with, as equals, instead of just teaching me like I'm a student and they're teachers. That is something new to me. Suddenly, I'm seeing them in light I've never expected, as real humans with strengths AND weaknesses. While my dad and his elder brother have always tried to be my best friends, I'm new to this aspect of theirs - the side in which they stop being perfect figures of authority and become my friends with unhindered emotions and honest feelings - no pretense of being the bigger man.

But I'm so used to them being the head, the father-figure, the authority, that this closeness is leaving me speechless. The weirdness is of course that I feel completely comfortable in writing about it here in public, I guess, because I am so used to being honest and open here. Writing becomes difficult as soon as I have a specific audience.

On my 'blog, I write for everyone and no one. I write for me and for you. But in an email or phone conversation, I have to talk direct with one person and then depending on who that person is, it's either casual or formal, easy or difficult. For now, it's a new experience for me to get to know my dad and uncle on a man-to-man level. It sounds so generic and mundane when it happens to other people but like my uncle said, "as you go in deeper into life, you will open new horizons of knowledge and see different parameters of relationships."

Tue, 8th Aug '06, 11:10 pm::

Just got back home from watching Talladega Nights with my buddy Brian. It's about Nascar and most people probably won't like it but it was hilarious.

Oh and I got the kitties a box for their birthday. Here's Giga-in-a-box livin' it up. And here's both of them wondering what mysteries it holds.

Sun, 6th Aug '06, 5:00 pm::

Everyone has heard the phrase "living on the edge," mostly used to denote a risky, adventurous lifestyle. There are so many sayings like that we use on a daily basis but rarely think twice about their origins. Living on the edge is used to describe the animals that feed and graze on the fringes or outlines of a large herd. In a herd of a million zebras or a shoal of billion sardines, the creatures that live on the edge get the best food and cleanest water. They also get eaten first. Living on the edge is a natural example of the risks vs rewards principle that we're all familiar with - the higher the risk, the greater the rewards. I always knew what living on the edge meant, just never realized where it came from. I just presumed it meant something along the lines of living by the sword or the edge of knife. Animal Planet opened my eyes.

Thu, 13th Jul '06, 11:45 pm::

Nominative Determinism or Aptonyms are "apt names" of people because of their occupation. Like Raymond Strike, the President of the National Health and Welfare Worker's Union in Canada. Or Robin Banks, who specializes in handling internet fraud for British Telecom. My dirty favorite: Dr. Alden G. Cockburn, a Urologist in Tampa, FL - about a 30 minute drive from me. If you like these, here's more.

This 'blog entry SUCKSSun, 9th Jul '06, 10:05 pm::

I have come to the sad realization that I apparently have the worst choice in everything. Every single thing. Ever. If I like it, then it sucks. It can be anything - music, movies, actors, actresses, sports, books, or food. If I so much as mention it to my friends that "Hey! This 'x' is good..." it is met with the juggernaut punch of "Ewwwwww! 'X' SUCKS!"

The list of things that I like and for some reason the people I know don't, is pretty damn long. From Jon Stewart and Johnny Depp to Scarlett Johansson and Uma Thurman, from Annie Hall and 007 series to Zoolander and Sin City, from Aerosmith and Cake to Queen and Coldplay. It does not matter whether Annie Hall is Woody Allen's greatest cinematic achievement till date, the very fact that I casually mentioned it a friend online, means it stinks. Who cares if Sin City is quite possibly the best rendition of a comic to a movie that still maintains the comic-book aura, the mere fact that Chirag Mehta in Florida, USA uttered the phrase "Wow! Sin City is superb!" means people have to absolutely bring it down.

The statistical odds of me unknowingly liking everything that is critically "bad" are very very low. If indeed I can like the suckiest of the sucky out there, I can make a lot of money by immediately betting on my dislikes. No. I don't think I have a case of bad taste in all there is to be. The problem is you. Yes, you. You pretend to hate every single thing that's popular because it's so much easier to say "'X' is an over-rated hack' and "'X' is too long and boring." It's ok though. Not your fault completely. Here's what really happened.

As a society, we've been trained well to listen to the view of the elite few and shape our views and likings according to theirs. So when Roger Ebert praises a film, we walk in expecting it to be good. Nothing wrong so far. His film reviews are unbiased and quite accurate and his words are in fact worth their weight in gold. The problem is not whether Ebert does and does not like something. The problem is our innate desire to be elite. After all, our society has been structured to respect and revere the elite.

It so happens unfortunately, our peers identify us by the choices we make, not why we make them. Consequently, if we want our fellow beings to respect us and be in awe of our choices, it is paramount that we pick everything that a commoner wouldn't. It is cool to be different. Corollary, it is uncool to choose like a plebeian. Instead of doing what the elite do to become an elite ourselves, we start liking things that we think the real elites like. We form a mirage of what the elites might like and start liking those things. You know, that raw-sounding underground band that only you know of? Oh and that foreign film with blue blood instead of red?

Now that you have wedged yourself between the layers of unique-taste and appreciating-the-underrated, it's time to start defending your high and mighty position. A friend mentions Sin City is great and you have to mention that Frank Miller doesn't know how to bring life to his characters, "They're so two-dimensional." Well no sheetrock Sherlock, it's a comic on paper! While I understand that everyone has the right to critique everything that they know nothing about, that doesn't mean you start hating anything that doesn't meet your precise definition of what might be good.

Having read a million online profiles and met tons of people, I've come to the conclusion that while everyone is different and has different tastes, once they fit in with a certain clique or stereotype, they choose pretty much just like everyone else in the group. In their view, the stereotype they're trying to fit into is the coolest, the most elite. So they have to like what other people with that stereotype like. Even the people that do not want to fit into a stereotype have similar choices. Odds are, if you like Fight Club, you also like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you like Futurama, you also like Amelie. Odds, not certainly. Odds are fairly good that if you hate They Might Be Giants, you also hate Monty Python.

I don't need to hear your excuse for hating anything. I doubt Monty Python will get any funnier because you have a different idea of how they should have acted out their skits. Truth is, most people hate things because it is cool to hate them. And what's cooler to hate than the popular? If it's popular, it means the commoners like it. If the stupid common people like it, you certainly don't want anything to do with it.

Try mentioning to anyone with even a slight pride, that you listen to the Billboard Top 40 songs and they'll frown upon you. "Ewww! How can you listen to that crap?! I only listen to the classic Beatles songs." Guess what? Beatles topped all those Top charts. You may or may not have better taste than me, but you certainly are trying hard to pretend like you do.

I doubt that I'm ever going to get people to appreciate the genius of Peter Sellers or the wonders of Tom Waits, so I'm going to do the only thing I can to avenge the insults I bore. From now on, everything anyone says is good, I'm gonna hate it. For absolutely no reason other than the fact that YOU like it. Once I've made it clear I hate it, I'll make up intelligent-sounding bourgeoisie-denigrating reasons to prove my point. You may now walk away in awe of me and leave me plum full of my elitist self.

The Top 5 Myths about the Life of Chir.agWed, 28th Jun '06, 7:55 am::

A lot of people read my 'blog and I am thankful for that. Now it is a known fact that everyone that reads my 'blog is awesome but what isn't known is that there are some that read it with more than a few misconceptions on their mind. There's not much I can do to make people see the reality except, I guess, explicitly write it out as one last attempt. So let's get right ahead to it.

The Top 5 Myths about the Life of

  1. You're just too lucky: No, I am not. I've actually been pretty unlucky in the last year or so. Who else do you know that contracted Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, Pulmonary Pneumonia, Conjunctivitis (twice!), ruptured Condyloid ligaments, multiple radial socket damage, and Scabies in just one year?! Trust me, it sucks to be me. You just don't hear me whine about it much anymore.
  2. You exaggerate (a lot): Coming from the other end of the spectrum are people that think I make up stuff or turn a mole into a supermole with frickin' laser beams on its frickin' head. Well, a lot of the stuff I can prove with pictures. Anything beyond that, you have a choice to believe my words or not. I don't lie though sometimes I do follow the Mahabharata tactic of "Narova Kunjarova" - hiding the truth. Sometimes I don't want people to know why/when/if I do things. I don't lie; I just never mention it. Call it selective canting but this being a very public 'blog, there are things I'd rather not write here. Give me a call if you think there's more to a story and want more details. I'll probably spend 3 hours whining to you, especially if you're paying for the phone call :)
  3. You've changed/lost-your-mind/become-selfish etc.: One-sided criticisms. You read something on this 'blog and you decide Chirag is now a useless drunk. You read something else and decide Chirag no longer cares about the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever. You read something else I wrote and sigh that Chirag is never going back to college. What can I say to that? You've made up your mind to judge who I am based on the words I consciously choose to write on here. I am well aware of what I'm writing and how people can take it. If it's something I don't want people to read and judge, I won't write it. So the fact that you noticed I party a lot or work too much, is probably true but also just as apparent to myself. Big deal. I'm a human with desires, expectations, and imperfections just like everyone else, including you.
  4. You're amazing/perfect/great/smart: Praise, most of it putting me up high on a pedastal as if I am some larger-than-life symbol of hope, adventure, and gravitas combined into one hot-looking package of 100% Indian-goodness. Of course, I love the priase and the kind words. But come on, I'm a human. I screw up things small and big. I win and lose. People are people. And I'm the most peoplest of all peoples. So don't expect me to be some sort of beacon of righteousness or emblem of goodwill. It won't take me too long to shatter your vision of this perfect moral boy next time I do bodyshots off a dead hooker (just kiddin!).
  5. You're hiding the real you: This is by far the most troubling response I get and is especially worrisome when the person knows me in real life. As mentioned above, I sometimes hide stories/news about me that I don't want everyone to know. Plus do you REALLY want to read about the disgusting nightmare that is scabies? However, that doesn't mean I'm pretending to be someone else all the time. I know at least one person that thinks I'm actually a sad little puppy and am playing opposite-day everyday on this 'blog. Sometimes a Chirag's just a Chirag! While every person has their skeleton-in-the-closet issues, that doesn't mean they are being pretentious all the time. I am like this in person when you meet me (probably a little more dorky and hopefully much less serious). I am what I am. And I like it that way.

Wed, 28th Jun '06, 6:45 am::

Yet another weekend I spent having too much fun. Went to camp out on the Carolina Beach with my cousin Priya and a bunch of her friends. Lots of little stories and many more memorable incidents. On the drive back, I stopped by the historic city of Savannah, Georgia and had dinner with my friend Vu, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years. He still looks exactly 19 years old though he's closer to 25. Thanks for the dinner!

The drive was pretty long and that's what this 'blog entry today is about. No, not long automotive drives, but "drive" - the drive to do what you always wanted. To me, it is more of an ongoing realization than an instantaneous epiphany. I've learnt over time that the cheesy Nike slogan is really true, "Just do it." No matter what it is, don't overthink, don't overanalyze. If it looks fun and interesting, go for it. Yes, everything has its fair share of positives and negatives. You can spend an entire lifetime meticulously weighing-in whether Grad School A is better than Grad School B or Grad School C (just for future reference, C is better, ALWAYS.) At the end of it all, it doesn't really matter a big deal.

Take a cosmic look at it. There are black holes, quasars, white dwarfs, spiral galaxies, and planetary nebulae. There are asteroids hurtling down space at a hundred thousand miles an hour. There are thunderstorms on Jupiter large than the entire Earth. There's the Andromeda galaxy slowly (relatively speaking (no pun intended)) entwining with the Milky Way. And then there's you, wondering if you should pretend to work for two more hours instead of going to see the standup comedian you always wanted to see. I speak from personal experience here. I don't know or care anymore which exam I was really studying for but I know I gave away tickets to Dave Chapelle's standup at my college back in Jersey. The worst experience in life is the one you didn't have.

I wouldn't say that I'm an active participant in the cult of Hedonism but I've learnt over the course of years that I cannot give up on the things I've always wanted to do just because "real" life is getting in the way. I have to make time. I have to give up some of my future to ensure my past continues to be free of regrets. Like they say, on the death-bed, nobody wishes they had spent more time at their desk job. We will wish that we had "lived" a little more. The unit of measurement of life is "This one time in...", not years.

With that desire in mind, earlier this summer I planned that I wanted to visit Taylor in Gainesville, Megan in Philly, Priya in North Carolina, Vu in Savannah, Chris in Tennessee, and Becky + Laura in Seattle. I'm over half way done, having had more than a few drinks with Taylor, dancing more than a mongoose with Megan, driving more than a trucker to see Priya, and talking more than a wacky morning DJ with Vu. Due to some change of plans, I'm not sure if I'm going to see Chris this year or whether Seattle is possible this summer, but you can bet your house on the fact that if there is even a slight chance, I'll take it. I'll take it and I'll write about it.

Sat, 10th Jun '06, 10:30 pm::

It's good to be a beach bum. I wallowed in the ocean for over an hour today, warm water, gentle breeze, and good company. Chilled with my friend Gem who drove up from Manatee County. We laid out in the sun (technically in the shade under my beach umbrella) for a while, drinking soda, and talking about different things. I love talking to people that actually have something to say beyond what People and Cosmo tell them to. Gem moved to Florida from New Orleans last year after Hurricane Katrina. While I talked about Katrina as a national disaster last year, I never thought I'd actually meet someone directly affected by it.

It was human nature and common sense for me to think that every single person who went through Katrina would be deeply affected by it. It was, however, a big mistake on my part to automatically assume that every single person affected, would be devastated by it. She moved here while every single person she knew scattered all over the country. It's hard enough losing a friend or two, so one would think that a change this big would destroy a person's sanity. I don't recall her exact words but she said something along the lines of "Change is not a big deal when everything changes."

In a twisted way, that is so true. If you have a strict routine and even a minor step changes, you get disturbed and have to undo the change or try hard to adapt to it. Yet when the routine no longer exists or changes to drastically you cannot change it, you have to create a new routine or evolve to embrace the new. In a way, my move from India to New Jersey and then from NJ to Florida is kinda like that. Things changed so drastically I barely had time to realize how much impact the new surroundings were having on me.

Well, for dinner, we had some Pad Thai at Thai AM-2 restaurant on the beach, though I missed the taste of Siam Garden in downtown St. Pete. I can't wait to go there again sometime. Just relaxing now watching Comedy Central with Giga passed out on my lap.

New - Music & PeopleWed, 31st May '06, 10:45 pm::

Yesterday evening my new friend Teresa came over to chill with me. She introduced me to Violent Femmes. Been a while since I found a new band that I liked. I'm very apprehensive about listening to new music. I don't know why but I don't like it when people burn CD's for me and tell me to listen to them. It's not any odd music though. It's complete works of a particular singer/band. Now I feel like I have to sit through every song some guy ever sang and pick out the ones I might like. Since I don't really care how great the band is and am only interested in particular songs, I have to listen to 14 crappy ones to get to the two good songs. Only rarely do I find bands like Cake that have a lot of good songs that I like. From the last few songs I've heard, VF appears to be the same. One distinction here is mixed CD's. Since mixed CD's mostly have tons of songs by different artists, if I don't like someone's voice, I still have 9 other songs to pick from :)

Unlike new music, I am very open to meet new people. Be it coworkers, friends-of-friends, or people I've been talking to online, meeting someone you've never met before can range from a dull boring chore to thrilling experience. The thrill to me lies not only in how exciting the person is by themselves, but also how unexpected their being there is. Most of the times, you already know the kinda person you will meet in a given situation. If I go to association meetings from work, I already know that I'll probably meet people who're into X/Y/Z. And then someone stands out from it all, a peculiarly unique person with different way of looking at things. You didn't expect this guy or girl to come up with such a non-traditional way to look at the mundane, like the economist from Freakonomics. Otherwise, I already know 53 girls who like to "have fun" and want to "have a good time!" *choke* So once in a while, it's refreshing to meet new people with more personality than a sheet of paper.

Sat, 27th May '06, 7:25 pm::

Yesterday evening with Lanie was absolutely awesome. We went down to Gulfport and walked around for hours. I had pasta cooked in white wine! We drew colorful designs with chalk on the sidewalk just like the tens of kids with their parents. Of course, we had a "few" spirits during the course of the evening (Bailey's, some sorta white wine, Tequila, Goldschlager, and best of all Frozen Pina Colada with Attitude & Jello shots). Later we went to see X-Men 3 - The Last Stand. The movie kicked ass and I liked it so much, I went to see it today with my friend Brian from work.

Anyways, I'm just sitting here relaxing. Don't have any plans this weekend other than reading a book my boss gave me: Freakonomics. I've heard about it so many times online that I am totally excited to finally read it.

Mama Cass makes an appearanceWed, 24th May '06, 11:15 pm::

Since I don't have any form of commenting on my 'blog, I get a good number of emails each week, many anonymous. Most of them write for/against about my 'blog entries. Yet every once in a while, I get something interesting. Presenting tonight's chilling poem sent to me by someone with an evidently eerie sense of humor and a wanton disconnect with restraint:

"You look better when you're wet.
Body bloated by water, floating out to sea.
Fish food, sleeping under worms, rotting in into the sun...
" - Mama Cass

Mama Cass was a famous blues singer and I'm pretty sure she's not back from the grave emailing me. Interesting pseudonym nevertheless. Creepy as it sounds, I like the flow of words. From lifeless to neverending, from eventuality to oblivion. A mere handful of words convey the message of balance, of settlement, and of the final dissipation of everything we were and are into the primodial soup whence we came from. Beautiful.

Megan's Wedding in PhillyMon, 22nd May '06, 12:20 am::

Just got back from my friend Megan's wedding in Pennsylvania! CONGRATS MEGS AND CHRIS!!!!! Such an eventful and packed weekend that I am still not over the excitement. First of all, this was my first time ever seeing Megan in person and yet we felt like we'd been friends forever. Well, technically we have; known her online via for over five years now. Chris turned out to be even cooler and much more fun than I thought. I mean I didn't know much about him to expect anything. I kept thinking he reminded me very strongly of someone famous and then it hit me... Abhishek Bachchan - famous Indian actor. I mean it's weird to be reminded of movie stars when you meet real people but the resemblance, especially the walk and body language, was uncanny. Megan was definitely the life of the entire party... laughing and dancing every other minute.

The party for me started at the Tampa Airport on Friday afternoon. Having gone to work early on Friday and leaving early, I was already tired by the time I passed through the dreadded airport security. I sit down at this Mexican food place and ask the waiter for the biggest margarita and the biggest bowl of nachos they have. Next thing I know I'm in Philadelphia. I freshened up at my hotel (which did NOT look as polished as the picture makes it out to be) and decided to take a walk around Center City, Philadelphia. I took a few pictures and just kept noticing the little unique identity marks of the city. I noticed rows of houses sharing common walls, kinda like San Fran, but with buckets of flowers hanging from the front windows.

At 9:30pm, I finally got to meet Megan! First time I see her in person and she's looking gorgeous in a bridal dress. It's kinda cooler than meeting someone at Walmart. Also met her friend Wade & Lisa, and of course, the groom Chris. We had wine and vodka, talked for a few hours, and parted ways. Next morning, i.e. Saturday, I had some continental breakfast, Meg/Chris picked me up, and we drove to Chris' Aunt Kathy's house in the middle of the beautiful rolling hills of Pennsylvania Country. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful landscaping I've ever seen in my life with waterfall, and all sorts of trees and plants, which of course is easily explained by the fact that Chris' uncle, Tom, runs a landscaping business. Oh and their neighbors had ostriches. Yes, OSTRICHES!

I met their families as they slowly arrived and we started setting up the tables under the big (30ft x 60ft) tent in the backyard. Good thing everything was pretty much setup by the time we got there and all we had to do was put up the lights and set up the bar. Gee, I wonder who took it upon himself to make sure the bar was setup right :-P Around 4pm, the guests started pouring in. The most relaxing aspect of this party was the attire - casual - jeans 'n shirt! It was more like a big bar-b-que party than some formal wedding occasion. As the sun set, it started getting cold, and Tom got his son Luke to build a HUGE campfire. I think the fire lasted from 8pm to 3am! And I made sure it kept me warm - I mean I've so gotten used to the warm Florida weather now...

As the evening progressed, most of the older guests left, leaving us kids behind. The music was on, the fire was warm, and the drinksa' floweth. I made my special California Sunset mixed drink for Chris and got two more orders for it. As I tell everyone, I'm a computer guy by mind but a bartender by heart. Around midnight, we setup our tents under the big tent - to keep us warm and protected from the harsh winds. Oh yeah, I took a tent on the plane! It was hilarious because the airport people kept looking at me funny when they saw I'm getting on a plane so I can camp out.

Sunday morning was the familiar post-party lazy-wake up chore. Got up, folded my tent, and showed all my mad sleeping-bag folding trickzzz to Megan & Chris. We had some pancakes for breakfast, packed up our stuff, said good-bye to the twenty new people I met, and drove to Chris' grandfather's house. And that is where I think I saw the most memorable country-side - in the little town of Embreeville Mill near the historic Brandywine River. I don't know much about American history but from what I learnt, every other house in this area was built sometime in 1700's and Chris' ancestors owned acres and acres of land. They were one of the first few canners in the country - canned the mushrooms that rural Pennsylvania is so famous for. It kinda reminds me of my ancestors in India because my grandparents and their parents grew up in the same family house in the village that their parents did. It doesn't matter where in the world you were three hundred years ago, life wasn't too different.

As I walked around Chris' grandpa's house, I noticed the exterior walls were TWO FEET THICK! Chris' dad (harbor-master of Longboat Key Marina in Sarasota, FL and the only other Floridian) said it took four years to actually build this house sometime in 1770's. The construction was rock-solid and the design was rustic yet timeless. The cold-as-ice wine-cellar was probably my favorite part of the house. We saw wild goats right outside their front-door and I was told by everyone to NEVER mess with a male goat - as if that was on my list of 50-things I wanna do or something :)

One of the guests at the wedding was Richard Chalfont, a famous painter. I talked to him at the party and later learnt his gift to the newly-wed couple was a beautiful painting of houses previously owned by Chris' family. Pretty amazing stuff.

After about an hour or so, we left to drop me off at a nearby train-station so I could get to the airport on time. Neat thing how the Philly airport is so well-connected to the local trains. Didn't have a problem at all. But man... the good-bye to Meg & Chris was sad... I told them normally this is the moment I say "alright guys, see you next weekend..." or "give me a call if you wanna hang out sometime..." but I doubt that's possible. It's amazing how close I felt to them as friends, even though it was my first time seeing both of them. Anyways, my train arrived on time, I got to the airport on time, and landed at Tampa after two flights, almost on time. I won't say the return trip was uneventful because there were far too many annoying people, unbearable noises, and frustrating incidents for it to be uneventful. However, I'm home now, safe and sound, and more excited than ever to get back to work tomorrow after my mini-weekend-get-away-to-Philly.

Sun, 14th May '06, 10:45 pm::

I had a kickass time with Taylor this weekend. We went to eat at random places, went to bars, played pool, went to Univ. of Florida campus, chilled all Saturday at a coffee place playing Scrabble, watched Greg the Bunny episodes for hours, drove around the city of Gainesville stopping at junk yards and antique places, and also did some brainstorming about computers and technology. The drive to Gainesville from St. Pete and back was gorgeous too. The weather's beautiful, and I-75 is actually nice for an Interstate Highway. Takes only about two hours each way.

When I got home, Tera jumped into my lap and rubbed her head all over my face and neck. Then Giga walked over from my livin room, put his head on my foot, and started purring. All in all a great weekend. And next weekend's gonna be amazingly fun too - going to visit my soon-to-be-married-friend Megan in Philly! Can't wait!

So far this year, I've been to India (for my sister's wedding), Houston - Texas, Plant City - Florida Strawberry Festival, kayaking in Fort De Soto, camping in Lake Okeechobee, and now Gainesville. On my plate for the upcoming months is Philadelphia - Pennsylvania, Raleigh - North Carolina, Savannah - Georgia, Chattanooga - Tennessee, and Seattle - Washington. Let's see which ones I get to actually visit.

I also want to drive down to beaches in South Florida. Only problem is that I don't know anyone down there. I guess it's time I made some new friends :)

Sun, 7th May '06, 1:35 am::

Just got back from the St Pete/Tampa Fark Party at Derby Lane! Met a lot of cool people, including THE MAN: Drew Curtis himself! Drew's the guy who made Fark and still runs it. Here's a pic of both of us: Chirag & Drew (more pics). Met a couple of people my age and had some food later with them. It was Nathaniel, Melissa, Nathan, and Jasmine. They live about an hour or two away from my house so I don't know how often I can go up to chill with them. Seemed like a buncha cool people - both Daniel and Nathan are into computers too. Their poor girlfriends! Haha... Aynways, g'nite for now.

Mon, 1st May '06, 9:25 pm::

I found a good electrician last month and finally this weekend, he came over to complete all the projects I had for him. Initially, he was going to charge $350 for just a few things, primarily a new circuit to power my computers, fixing of my backyard lights, and fixing my old water pump. During this past Saturday, Sunday, and tonight, he spent about 15-hours inside and outside my house, as it usually happens, fixing a lot more things than originally planned.

In the end, for a grand-total of $700 I got a new 4-point circuit with its own breaker to my PCs, a pump with pressure gauge, pressure tank, pressure cut-off switch and main switch connected to my underground well, two twin-halogen 90w motion-sensing lights in my backyard, 2-point outlet in the backyard to plug tools into, a lightening arrestor to protect the electric devices inside my house in case of a direct lightening hit, a fresh new ground/Earth line for the main circuit, and pretty much all the wires on the main board reattached. It just feels so "clean" now that my main computer is connected to a strong 20-amp line with decent grounding instead of multiple UPSs split from one tiny plug without ground.

Now that my roof and electric circuits are done, I can get the 4-point inspection my insurance company wants me to get - roof, electric, plumbing, heating/airconditioning. Hopefully there's not going to be any issues with the latter two. Cost of inspection is probably about $300. In these three months, I've spent about $5,000 to fix up the house. Of course, a house almost exactly similar to mine down the street is selling for $185,000 - I bought mine last year for less than $150,000. So it'll be worth every penny spent when it's time to sell. But till then, it makes for some tight financial planning.

I'm also thinking of getting a sprinkler system installed before my lawn is fixed up. It's much better to dig trenches and install the pipes on barren land. It all depends on how much money I can save up for these projects.

Nature and meSun, 23rd Apr '06, 8:15 pm::

Nature elicits the deepest, most innate thoughts in my mind. Beautiful ideas, primal awareness. Sitting five minutes on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, peering into the restless flora sprouting from 'neath ethereal freshwater, I realized my place in the world. I was at one with my environment. I was breathing, living, being. An earth-shaking wave of overconfidence swept me off my feet when I thought I figured out the answer to a question that has plagued and challenged mankind for eons: "Why are we here?" My answer: "To embrace nature." Took me a few minutes to consider that there must have been tons of people before me that thought the same. Turns out Einstein said, among other things, "... to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Hmmm, he said embrace too. I wonder if he ever went to Lake O.

We drove down to the Okeechobee KOA early Saturday morning. While it didn't faze my friends, to me, it seemed the drive was beautiful. I guess my senses heighten whenever I am outside my daily routine. Things just seem more alive. We setup the tents and that's when we met our camp-neighbors and their big cuddly Wolf! Yup, a real-life pet wolf, not in the least bit wild - perfectly tame. He stood up on his hind legs, put his paws on my shoulders, and licked my face when his owner told him to 'kissy.' I know my dad isn't into dogs, so I figure someday I can get a wolf instead. Right? Hehe. Apparently it's a tough job to take care of wolves. Nevertheless, I think I'm up to the challenge; probably 10-15 years from now when I have half-an-acre of chain-fenced enclosure to keep my canines in safely.

While there were a lot of fun activities to do within Koa grounds, I was more interested in driving around the big lake. I took a some pics during my 2.5 hour drive around the lake. It was definitely the most scenic drive I've ever taken. This whole area has some pretty interesting names for roads and places. Hooker Highway, a town called FrostProof, Lake Buffom, and many more. I drove counter-clockwise around the lake and saw a lot of farms full of cows and horses. Since I was driving full-speed, I could only take pics when I stopped. Passing through miles and miles of orange groves, I heartily breathed in the fresh air of the lovely countryside.

As I was crossing over the neverending concrete expressway through downtown Tampa towards St. Petersburg on my drive back home, I couldn't help but be amazed at how I was so close to the rural life just a few hours ago and how stiff and obstinate these tall buildings look compared to throngs swinging palm trees that line the big lake. I know my thoughts weren't too enlightening and neither were they revolutionary or brilliant. What made me smile was the fact that I was thinking about things other than materialistic goals. During the whole weekend, I didn't think about anything that I think of on a daily basis - no computers, no systems, no processes, no TV, no bars, no Home Depot. Just nature and me. And it felt good.

I think next time I want to take a diary and jot my thoughts down. Like I remember, I wanted to make a list of things that we think are really necessary, and then try to narrow down the list as much as we can. Say, if you were asked what all do you need this whole month, what would the list look like? What are the things you absolutely need during a typical month, without which you cannot survive? In addition to food, water, clothing, and shelter, I bet cellphones, cars, computers, and cable TV channels are on most people's list. Let's not forget toothbrush & paste, soap/shampoo, wallet full of cash, and above all, other people. What if it was just a week? Could you live without your money? How about a few days without soap or seeing any other human? What if you have 24-hours and absolutely nobody around and nothing other than water and the clothes you wear? No food, no car, no phone, no people. Just you and 86,400 seconds in which you try to keep your sanity. And what's the longest you can go like this? A few days? A week? Forever?!

Sometimes it's refreshing to think about these things instead of how many miles my car will go before I need to fill the tank again. Or how many people will show up at the next party I throw. Who cares if 100 people show up at your party if you can't even live without a toothbrush for a day?! Nature makes everyone feel so insignificant that they realize their true worth is not determined by petty measures of money, status, or beauty, but rather by their ability to survive and embrace nature.

Unsurprisingly, I do not have much respect for people who are incapable of enjoying nature in its most serene form. It's quite easy to be in awe of and be entertained by nature at its wildest, but if you cannot appreciate life just sitting idly by the beach or walking through a little trail between thick bushes, you're not my kinda person. I don't want to be a hermit in the Himalayas but I do know I want to spend a lot more time outside than inside as I grow older.

Sometimes that means fixing my lawn and other times it means going to the beach, skiing down a slope, or kayaking up a creek. If I'm lucky, it'll mean going to more places like Lake O in the near future. For now, the hum-drum of daily life beckons - the dryer is ready for the next load of laundry. I'll do that, you check out my Lake Okeechobee photos.

Sat, 22nd Apr '06, 5:15 am::

Hellooo Okeechobee! I'm going to Lake O with some friends (Liz, Dave...) We'll camp out for a day and a half somewhere near it. It's about a 4-hr drive and will officially be the longest drive for me (i.e. me driving with passengers, instead of me being the passenger). So I'm pretty excited. Someday I'll sail down the O Waterway. Coincidentally today is Earth Day. Ironically, I'll do more damage to the Earth today (driving 4-hrs + camping etc.) than I do on a daily basis. Time to head out for the Big O. See ya!

Inspiration SchmispirationWed, 12th Apr '06, 11:20 pm::

While chatting online today, Tay mentioned something about inspiration. A lot of people love to be inspired. After all, nothing pumps more energy into your youthful ambitious bloodstream than the words of a "successful" achiever in your field. You can see what the pro has accomplished and as a rising star you want to get there faster and shine brighter. Or maybe you're not the alpha-male type. You just want to encapsulate yourself in the glowing warmth of inspiration and ascend towards the apex with a Buddhist sense of omniscient calm. After all, if they did it, so can you! And they said that repeatedly in their hour long self-realization speeches.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I don't like to be inspired. I'm not saying inspiration is good or bad, just saying if given the choice, I prefer not to be inspired. Just like wealth, hardwork, and genius, inspiration appears to be a very good measure of the potentiality of success. Clearly a person inspired to change the world has more chance of achieving that than someone who cares not one bit and has no inspiration to leave a mark on the planet. Just like how everyone who is rich is successful, how every person who works hard always wins, and how every genius is recognized for his or her intellect by the masses. Right? No, you say? I guess then inspiration isn't that good of a barometer either, is it?

Other than a momentary appreciation of self-worth and an inflated sense of personal capabilities, inspiration doesn't really do much, especially in the long term. Great, so you just watched an amazing play or read a touching autobiography. Or you went to see a famous CEO talk about how he grew his company from his garage to over 100 countries in under five years. Wow! Nobody can deny that such growth is anything short of impressive. But is it inspirational? Will you go home and realize "if he can do it, so can I?!"

Like this sarcastic Despair poster says, "If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon." Inspiration is just motivation to dream big. Shame on you if you did not automatically think you could turn your 5-person company to a 500-people multi-national and instead needed some guy to come in for an hour and teach you how to dream.

If going to a 30-minute seminar on financial planning inspires me to change my lifestyle entirely, I'd say I'm ashamed of how I was spending and planning money before. I should've realized it on my own that I was bad with finances instead of having someone tell me I've been wrong all my life in just half-an-hour. What I AM in favor of, is of course, education. If going to this financial planning seminar taught me how to better plan my retirement, more power to me. But if I need to go to a "Retirement-Planning Info-Meet" to realize that hey, someday I'm going to be 65 and I just might need money for food, then well, I'm a pretty stupid person to begin with.

Most people get inspired from momentary experiences. A speech, a book, a movie, a play. While I love change and always welcome something small changing my entire outlook on everything, I think if an intro-book about bio-genetics is all I need to inspire me to give up computers forever and take up bio-genetics as my new career path, then wow, where was I last ten years while the Human Genome Project sequenced the DNA?

Maybe, people will not feel the need to be inspired if they just keep their eyes open and see what's happening every single day. In today's world, you only get inspired if [a] some amazingly major breakthrough occurs (very very rarely) or [b] you have been living in a cave for years (most probably) and just realized that you can draw pictures on back of business cards and actually make money selling them!

I guess I feel the need to not be inspired for two reasons. Firstly, as I hinted above, the state of being inspired isn't very productive. There is a state of feeling excited and ambitious that IS indeed productive. If I realize I can connect my old and new database systems using a simple tool, I am not inspired, I'm simply excited and well, feeling quite ambitious about accurate data migration, because now I know I can. When I was inspired, I wanted to make the world a better place by writing an email client that worked in different Indian languages; currently nobody I know uses this software that took me months to code. When I was not-inspired, but rather just indifferent and in need of a small simple music player, I wrote one within days that well, just played music; over 2 million downloads in last six years and counting. Inspiration, big dreams, and castles in the sky haven't made me famous yet. Creating tools that make others' lives easy, help me though.

Secondly, and primarily, I like to dream my own dreams and I like to dream big. You cannot quite possibly insert your dreams into my head and somehow show me that I didn't dream big enough. That is just not possible. I've already thought of every single thing that I can quite possibly do as a human, rather as a super human. I've calculated what I need physically, mentally, and financially to climb Mt. Everest and definitely looked into forming my own Antarctic sub-station. I've thought about giving up everything I have so I can save the baby seals and I've considered spending my life travelling throug the villages of India teaching young and old about computers, math, and science. However, I'm not rushing to start work on my online digital-life-management suite or take up International Relationships to get a seat on a UN sub-committee for Economic Development of South-East Asia.

I guess you can call me uninspired and unmotivated. After all, I could potentially be doing any of the above yet I'm spending my spare time filling a big hole in my backyard every day so it stops looking like the surface of Mars. Lack of inspiration alright. I believe short of a few physical/mental limitations, pretty much anyone can do anything. Inspiration is basically you realizing that "HEY! I can do it too!" Well guess what? I've already realized that I can do anything I have my mind set on. And so can you! The sooner you realize that, the better it is. Inspiration is just a stage you have to go through to come to the best part of your life - actually doing things that you really want to do! Creating, molding, finishing. Above all, choosing. I choose to fix my backyard myself instead of helping cute little kitties at the pet shelter get their vaccines and medicines.

Right now, you too could be doing any particular thing from a selection of thousands of things that you have been inspired to do - writing songs, sketching meadows and hills, planning marketing campaigns to overthrow your competition, or joining a sports club. But instead, you chose to be here and read my blog. Why? Not because you've never had the inspiration to do something bigger, better, and nobler. But rather because given your particular situation in life, reading this 'blog entry is something you want to do. Inspiration can only tell you what you can potentially do. Freewill and choice is what actually determines what you do in life.

None of these inspiration-arousing speakers were talking about being inspired when they were struggling like you and I. They did not do whatever they did solely because someone inspired them or because they wanted to change the world. They did it and then realized, "Hey, maybe I can help inspire others to change the world like I did." I'm not the one to doubt anyone's intentions but it's like saying, "Hey! Now that I have completed this one particular crossword, let me give you all the words that I used so you can try to jam them into your own unique crossword puzzle and see if you can solve it." Then you go home all inspired because now you have words like seamlessness, fluidity, and ideation that you try to jam into every open row and column. Not gonna work. Get a dictionary and you'll have every word. The only way to win is to figure out which words you need, not which word you can force in.

In short, don't do something because you're blindly inspired to do it. Do it because that is the thing you want to do the most out of a list of million other things you can potentially do. And if that leads to success, more power to you. If it doesn't lead to success, at least you did something you wanted to do of your own volition.

On maintaining 'blogsMon, 10th Apr '06, 12:05 am::

I often ask my friends if they have a 'blog that they update regularly. I love reading people's journals/online-diaries on my own spare time. A lot of people just say "well, just ask me what you want to know about me." The point isn't that I have unanswered questions about someone. But rather I want to know your thoughts, without me having to pick a topic for you to talk about.

When I ask you a question, I only find out about the question. Great, so now I know about your favorite movies & music, and that you don't like something the government is doing. But how will I ever know you think college is a waste of time or that Jelly-monster Aliens from Sepoocha Nebula invaded Earth and mated with the Tibetians to give rise to strong war-hungry Mongolians?

By having a 'blog that other people can read, you tell a lot about yourself to the world, without them having to ask for it specifically. Sure, a lot of people don't like to talk about themselves or attract unnecessary attention. However, it's still a great way to get your thoughts out - no matter how weird, confusing, or dull they are - trust me, some of my posts on this 'blog are merely polluting the Internet. Yet, I love to write whenever I can. Not because someone asked me to write but because I feel like sharing part of me. I guess it's a very personal thing and not many people are comfortable doing it. I still encourage everyone to do it though! It's awesome to go back in time and see how you looked at things just a few months or years ago.

Sat, 1st Apr '06, 12:05 am::

Welcome to the redecorated 'blog! Last month I installed some pretty intelligent UI-Phase Analysis software on this 'blog that was meant to show me statistics about the type of people that read my blog - which country they are from, which brand of toothpaste they prefer, and how many times they wear a pair of socks before they wash them. One thing that surprised me was finding that the 'blog readers are predominately male in gender with a male-to-female ratio of 98%! To correct this unbalance and to attract readers of the feminine persuasion, I've decided that I need to take major action to attract more female visitors like some famous sites are already doing it. As a first step, I'm changing the colors of this site to shades of pink. The whole site is pretty much totally pink and includes a cute-as-a-button main image! Enjoy.

Sun, 19th Mar '06, 8:35 pm::

Today has been a pretty lazy day for me. Sundays I like to sit around the house or yard and do nothing. Last night we went to a Greek Night Club with Natalia & Lanie that we've been to before. It was pretty awesome and got pretty wild. Lanie bit my back! After the club I took Natalia to the St. Pete Diner on Route 19 that I always go to whenever I stay out late. Dropped her off around 4 am and passed out soon after.

Woke up this morning around noon, went into my backyard with a pillow and laid down on my new bench. Talked to my parents and a few friends as I relaxed. Saw my neighbor Mike and talked to him for a while about stuff. Around 5pm, got inside, watched a little TV, had some breakfast, and passed out on my loveseat. I just woke up. I got all the sleep I needed.

Sat, 18th Mar '06, 7:55 pm::

Wow... what a day. Woke up at 8:30 and went straight into my backyard. Cleaned up the plant beds and did some digging for about three hours. Also trimmed a few plants in the frontyard. I sat on my back porch for a short break and felt kinda unaccomplished. No matter what I do, this whole backyard project is so big, I barely see any progress. So I decided I need a mini-project that's gonna make me happy and proud.

So presenting... the Log Lounge Bench! I found a picture of this lounge chair and decided I wanted to make something like that without the back-rest. I had the perfect place for it too - under my tree. Took me two trips to the Home Depot, $50 of wood & screws, and four hours from start to finish to complete the project.

First I had to cut-to-size the two large, roundish logs that form the main body. I used the extra wood as legs. The flat planks that form the top also had to be cut from two 12-foot planks. Once I screwed the legs into the two logs, I knew this was gonna come out sweet. Of course it wasn't as easy as it sounds because I had to first drill 3 holes for each leg into the big logs, then widen each hole upto half the depth, then use another drill-bit to drill through the big log to the leg, and then finally push in the screw into the leg using another bit. I love automatic screw guns.

Once I firmly attached two flat planks to the far ends of the logs, it was pretty much cakewalk after that. I used countersink to make sure the screws don't pop out from the planks. After all the flat planks were screwed on the top, I turned the bench over and attached the side-tray for holding my drinks :) Took about 2.5 hours to get it all together.

Now since the wood had a lot of splinters, I wanted to smoothen it. Sandpapering the edges is easy and cheap but it's a very slow process, so I ended up getting me a nice electric sander in addition to the wood & screws. Other than that, I had pretty much all the tools. Took about 1.5 hours to smoothen out every little edge and surface. I ran my hand over pretty much the entire bench - inch-by-inch - to make sure that there are no sharp edges or splinters that'll hurt me or someone else tomorrow. It looks very smooth now.

Now 4 hours and $50 later, I have a kickass log lounge bench that can easily seat 3 people comfortably or one person VERY happily and proudly. Altogether, I spent about 10 hours outside today! I'm kinda tired from all the hard work and pretty hungry too. Also, looks like I might be going out with friends later tonight.

Tomorrow is my day of relaxation. And laundry.

Paddle like your kayak's on fireThu, 16th Mar '06, 8:40 pm::

Today is a special evening for me. For the first time in my life, I've cooked a meal that I can't stop eating. I made some veggie biryani using my own recipe and it turned out so good I'm jealous of my own cooking skills. I got chick peas, green beans, green peas, jalapenos, mushrooms, corn, tomatoes, onion, and garlic mixed in rice with lots of different spices, from cinnamon to Indian masalas. I'm glad I made enough to last me for two more days :)

Anyways, so OMG! Tuesday night kayaking camping trip was AWESOME!!! I don't remember ever having THAT much fun within such a short amount of time. I left from work at around 4:30pm on Tuesday and drove down to Univ. of South Florida in downtown St. Pete. Including me, there were 11 people (6 guys/ 5 girls) and the only one I knew was Mike. The folks at USF Marina already had the kayaks and camping gear loaded on to Mike's truck. Night before, I had my car packed for the camping - two sleeping bags, extra pair of clothes, lots of supplies, Pop Tarts, and Robitussin 151 ;-) We drove down to this point right above Fort De Soto, parked our vehicles, and unloaded the kayaks. We loaded the kayaks with camping stuff and pushed the kayaks into the ocean around sunset. And that was just the beginning of the good times.

It got dark in a matter of minutes and behind us we saw the full moon rising up in the sky, almost yellow like turmeric. The water was pretty shallow and pretty calm. Imagine being in the middle of nowhere, pitch dark, save for the glow of the moon, leaving behind a trail of wispy moonbeams in your wake, as you gently paddle towards invisible shores. And then getting stuck in a sandbar! OUCH! Pretty much all of us hit the sandbars about 1.5 miles into the ocean. We got out of our kayaks and dragged them for well over a hundred yards till the water was 18 inches deep again. If you want to feel the pain, try dragging your sofa from one corner of the room to the other. Now do it a hundred times over, in darkness, in the middle of the ocean, with seaweeds wrapping around your legs, uphill, both ways. Yeah.

So we finally got to the island and man was I tired. Two miles is a far enough distance to row in itself, let alone on a weeknight when you worked all day, had almost no sleep the night before due to the excitement from the anticipation of the trip, and had no clue where you were going. Once on the shore, we unpacked, set up the tents, and Mike lit a bonfire :) Pretty soon there were smores, burnt Pop Tarts, and lots of spirits going around. I tell you, ten shots of 151 can really hit you like a rock. I've forgotten more crazy things I've done after inebriating myself than most people can even remember doing. Next up, were dirty camp-fire games. Let's say I was cow, some girl was TT, Mike was ex, some other girl was [censored], this cool guy Chris was sloppy, and more [censored] [censored] [censored]. A few more games later we sat around the fire just talking and doing stupid stuff. I think I kinda remember pushing Mike and some girl (?) into the ocean and thereby drenching myself completely (no wonder I woke up next morning missing my t-shirt.) I sat by the fire discussing random stuff with Chris and a few others then went into my tent, which I had to share with some cute girl whose name I can't remember and who kept kicking me allllll night.

Well not all night because I'd only been asleep for four hours when I heard the bastardly spawns of Satan circling over our tents. Apparently the birds on the beach love food and will shriek noisily till they scavenge off every last little morsel of leftovers strewed about on the beach by drunk kids the night before. Basically, I couldn't sleep anymore because they were too loud and it got too bright too soon. Oh yeah, the best part - a cold front moved in from the ocean at around 1am, so it got really cold really fast - cold and windy. Joy joy. We remained huddled in our tents till about 7am when I finally got out and started hunting for all my stuff missing from the night before - like my t-shirt and garden shovel (which by the way was very helpful for fishing out food from the fire, thank you very much Ms. Teresa.)

We packed the tents, loaded the kayaks up and sailed into the ocean, only this time, against winds gusting at over 30mph. The only thing on our side was light, so we could actually see where we were going. What took a mere 45mins the night before, took well over an hour because the wind kept turning around the kayaks as we (or at least I) paddled into it. One neat thing that Mike screamed at me from over in his kayak was that if I rode directly in the direction of the wind, it would turn my kayak around less. Makes sense too. Except I had to keep paddling 3x as more with my right hand; me being unsymmetrically lefty strength-wise. I got the workout I'd been needing for the past year and a half.

I had trouble believeing it but we actually made it to the shore, though a quarter of a mile away from where we parked our cars, as I didn't have the time nor the energy to kayak further. Mike and I went to get our cars, leaving Chris and Natalia in-charge of the kayaks with all our stuff on it. And like stupid boys usually do stupid things, Mike and I decided to sprint the last hundred or so yards up to the car, on wild grass, barefoot. It was only later in the day that we both independently noticed the damage done to our soles. Anyways, loading the kayaks up was another chore and we had to drive down to Fort De Soto to pick up camping stuff from another guy with us who kayaked to a different beach. Finally, Teresa, Zach, and I were on the way back to civilization!

I dropped them off at USF, cleaned up and changed there, spotted Mike on the road, and drove up to my work. Yeah, what did you think? I was gonna take a day off? Hell no! Real men do ALL of the above after eight straight hours of work and then get back to another eight straight hours of finger-breaking manual labor of pushing buttons, on an empty stomach no less. Oddly enough, since I wasn't tired mentally despite being dead physically, I actually managed to complete the final section of a new system I was building at work. I had been toiling away at this one piece of programming puzzle for well over three and a half days because no matter what I tried, I couldn't come up with a simple and easy way to show what I wanted. Turns out ten-shots of 151 later, I think like Buddha.

In the book of my life, this trip is definitely under the "Painfully Fun" chapter. I lost 2lbs in one night and feel so much more back in shape. My muscles hurt, my upper-body feels raw, and I've never felt this optimistic about finally acquiring some chiseled abs. Oh yeah, that was my New Year's resolution - gotta get me some abs! I do good things when I drink. That night I was sitting in some shady parking lot downtown with Tay, Kaela, and friends, gulping Champagne from a plastic cup. We asked each other what our NY resolutions were. Everyone said something deep and meaningful like "I want to see the world" or "I want to be more spontaneous," whereas I said "Abs! I want abs. This year, before December 31. I need some of those abs everyone's showing off." Everyone laughed and said "Ha! Good goal. Best of luck."

I've lost 11lbs since then, mostly from my spare-tire. My goal is to lose the tire entirely by end of June. Then come six months of freestyle exercises of all sorts - my revolutionary workout system: SH Ovelling, ab workouts, kayaking, and probably swimming. As long as I can spend 5-6 hours a week outside, I think I'll be good. Oh I know, too many plans, not enough time and energy.

I have a lot of time though, mostly past sundown. Those I spend relaxing around the house, torturing my evil kids, cooking up yummy biryani dishes. And with that I conclude this unnecessarily lengthy prattle of nothingness that pours heaps of salty drivel atop the sweet Chocolate Souffle of scintillating knowledge that is the Internet.

Sun, 12th Mar '06, 8:50 am::

Happy B'day Vishal! I'm pretty sure I called him last night all wasted and don't remember much other than the shouting and Lanie saying something too... Hmm. So, this weekend's been great so far. Friday night Liz, Dave, Vance, and Rodrick came over. We watched Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and just chilled. Early Saturday morning, Liz and I went to Perkins for some good ol' hearty American breakfast. We picked up Vance from the Super WalMart parking lot and drove up to Plant City for the Florida Strawberry Festival. It's basically a big fair with rides, games, food, and music.

Instead of $9 entrance fees, we all donated blood and got in for free. I donate blood normally anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. I'm just one more donation away from becoming a Gallon Donor! That's 3.78 liters! Now once inside the fair, we started going on different rides. After getting on what was quite possibly the scariest ride of my life, I ended up drinking a LOT of root beer and got a mad sugar rush. I got home around 3pm and passed out till about 7pm.

Mike called me around 8pm and said he's coming over. He brought over his computer so I could install a bigger hard drive on it. Meanwhile Lanie called and we told her to get some food on her way to my house. An hour later, we were baking veggie pizza and making iced-drinks in my kitchen. While consuming lots of yummy drinks, we watched what's quite possibly the most messed up math movie ever, Pi - story of a paranoid mathematician who sees patterns in the world, is chased by stockbrokers and religious leaders, and ends up resorting to Trepanation by drilling a hole in his head. Yeah.

I woke up early this morning and Mike & Lanie left a little while ago. I just mentioned to my friend that after donating blood, getting into crazy rides, imbibing lots of sugar, followed by copious amounts of liquor, "I think there's some blood in my alcohol stream." Good times. Now, I rest for a little while before I hope to go Kayaking with Mike & Lanie.

Sun, 19th Feb '06, 9:55 am::

Yesterday totally kicked ass. My friend Avni picked me up at around 11am and we went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We watched an hour-long IMax documentary titled "The Mystery of the Nile" (or was it the Monsters of the Nile?). The film was about a group of researchers who, for the first time in the world, successfully sailed from the source of the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean Sea in about 114 days.

Next up was the butterfly/rainforest display where you could walk through three levels of indoors rainforest environment, surrounded by the most colorful butterflies you've ever seen. One even landed on me! I think there's pictures but who cares about pictures when you're having a good time. We got a little hungry after that so she took me to Maggiano's in The Galleria area for lunch. We drove through downtown (and saw the Enron buildings!) then back to the museum for another IMax movie - Roar, story of wild Kalahari lions. After that we hung around the museum and saw a lot of interesting collections.

I had dinner with my cousin/uncle Rajan Bhai and his wife. We just chilled and talked about India and later called my dad and mom too. Went to bed around midnight and just woke up a bit ago. It is pretty damn cold here. I can't wait till it gets nice and warm in Florida, so I can finally go out into the ocean.

Wed, 15th Feb '06, 4:10 am::

The Valentine's Day party at my house just ended with Lanie and Natalia being the final guests. You know the party is fun when it starts at 6 pm and lasts till 4am! Here's a few clean pics :) There's a LOT of pics that I doubt will ever be made public. Let's just say it was one hell of a Valentine's Day celebration. I'd say a total of eleven guests including me - Liz, Dave, Jess, Kelly, Carlos, Mike, Roderick, Vance, Lanie, Natalia, and myself. I didn't catch everyone in the pics but most are in a few pics at least. I'm very tired right now but I feel so refreshed in a way, knowing that I have once again managed to make a enough friends who're with me during my good times and bad. It's not easy making good friends but time and again, I run into awesome people that make life wonderful. And the best part about the parties now? I'm the host and it's fun to be one. Liz is very good at organizing everything so she helps a lot.

On balancing work & playSat, 11th Feb '06, 1:20 am::

Almost a week since I posted. Turns out there were some big issues with my cable Internet at home and as a result, I wasn't able to get online for most of this week. Everything's fixed, for now.

On Sunday Feb 5th, I went up to Orlando to see my friends Jeff and Wes. Chilled with them all day and watched the Superbowl in the evening. While I'm not a big sports fan I love chilling with people and eating/drinking for free :) Orlando's about a 2.5hour drive for me. Disney is about two hours.

Wednesday night I to see standup comedian Chris "Boom Boom" Johnson at the Tampa Improv with Lanie, Natalie, and Mike. I laughed so hard my head was hurting. Literally. Had some good food too, courtesy of Lanie & friends.

Work's going great and I'm excited about the projects I'm working on right now. Things are definitely getting busy for me and as I spend more time in my office, I'm also consciously making sure that I don't end up becoming a workaholic with no social life. It's too easy to concentrate only on one thing in life at the cost of everything else. I know too many people who never learnt the quote "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It's hard to believe that some of my friends who are much older don't know how to balance work and fun. Sure, if you love your job even half as much as I do, work IS fun. But nevertheless, you still need time off from everything and let your mind relax.

I have a lot of friends in college who don't go out to party/movies/relax because they have so much homework to do and so many projects to complete. Sure, I understand, I went through that, in fact, much MUCH more just a few years ago. However, every time they decide to give up on the fun activities in order to study, they sit at home and do EVERYTHING except study. How can they concentrate anyway?! They're fatigued and stressed because they haven't had a laugh and a good night's sleep in weeks & months.

Here's what I used to do and it worked great for me: When I had three exams & two projects due, and only one weekend to study, I'd map out the work hours and the fun hours. If I had 60 hours before chaos broke out, I'd decide, ok, I'll sleep for a total of 20 hours in 3-4 naps, and of the 40 waking hours, I'll devote 30 to study and 10 to relaxation. Then I'd begin by using some of my 10-hours by watching a movie. Having just spent some time partaking in guilt-free fun gave me the energy and motivation to actually study honestly without any distractions. Once I studied for 5 hours, I'd take a well-deserved break and then get back to studies. Rinse repeat for 60 hours with short but adequate periods of sleep.

What everyone does is instead of sleeping 20 out of 60 hours, they sleep less than 10. Now that you're lacking sleep, you can barely study well during the remaining 50 hours. Of the 50 hours, you spend 20 wondering if college is REALLY what you want to do in life, whether this is the purpose of your existence, and if there is anyone whose life is harder than yours. Of the remaining 30 hours, another 20 are spent pretty much staring at books and notes while you wait for friends to sign on AIM or call you so that you can tell them how stressed you are and how badly you want to go to some house party but can't because of studies. Another five hours are spent looking for food, coffee, pills, and whatever it's gonna take to keep yourself awake like a zombie. And I guess if you try really hard, you can manage to study something in the final 5 hours. Of course, then once you've been through a weekend like this, you realize that even 60 hours aren't enough so you start acting like this 90 hours before the deadlines.

I know I'm being extremely judgemental and critical but the sad truth is, I haven't made any of this up. I actually know people who do exactly what I mentioned above and no matter how hard I try to explain, they never learn. What people don't realize is that motivation isn't always inherent - you have to actively reward yourself and keep monitoring your progress if you want to gather the energy to reach your goals. Unless you have serious external reasons to do something (need money for kid's operation) it's very hard to motivate yourself in the long-term. That's where discipline comes in. You decide beforehand how you want to split your work/study and fun times and stick to that. It's all about discipline. True disciprine... come from within.

Anyways, I have a lot of little chores to complete before I can start doing the things I really want to do, like visit national/state parks, go on road trips, take up a few more hobbies. I'm waiting for the weather to get warmer so that I can start fixing my backyard. I have so many plans for it. I want to go to the beach more often too. I went to the Treasure Island beach today after work to watch the sunset. It's so soothing. One of these days I'm going to drive five hours across the state to the East Coast just to watch the sunrise. I miss those.

Fri, 3rd Feb '06, 6:35 pm::

Hurricane season isn't here yet but that doesn't mean the rains will stop. It rained in my city so bad today that the roof of a major store caved in with many people under it. Good thing nobody got seriously hurt. I was very anxious about my home as the roof above my Florida room (sun room) needs fixing. I got home and discovered that it leaked a little but nothing major. I received my new mailbox but I doubt the rain's gonna clear by tomorrow for me to set it up. I'm so excited about it though - it's my first slightly big project in my house!

At work we kept getting major power fluctuations and I had to turn off all the computers and electronic devices. So I didn't get much computer work done today and instead used the time to organize my office. After we moved in early January, my priority was to get everyone else up and running. Then right afterwards, I went to India for two weeks so my office was still unorganized. Finally today I set things straight, opened all the boxes, located all my computer stuff, and put them in my desk/shelves/drawers. Anyways, the joke of the day is that I've never been so tired by NOT working all day :)

Tue, 31st Jan '06, 8:05 pm::

Late last year I realized I was gaining weight and decided to do something about it. So starting November 1, 2005 I gave up pizza, cheese, all fatty foods, excess bread, and started eating only healthy foods like vegetables, fruits etc. Today at exactly the end of 3 months, I have gone from 187lbs to 167lbs - 20lbs lost in 3 months with bare minimum exercising/running! I'd say I lost 90% of the weight due to eating right and the rest because of life-style changes (walk/run more, prefer manual labor over machines) I'm sure my metabolism is fast enough for me to lose this much weight this easily but I still think anyone can do what I did as long as they stick to their diet.

I'm not starving myself under any conditions. I eat a lot more than anyone I know. But I only eat a balanced meal - I take 100% of my daily requirement of calories, vitamins, proteins, fat, carbs, sugar etc. and get most of that from vegetables, fruits, milk, wheat bread, dry fruits & nuts etc. I don't snack on junk food anymore and I rarely eat foods that taste great but make you fat (cakes etc.) I know, it sounds like my life's not worth living now that I only eat grass and shoots but seriously, this is absolutely the easiest way for anyone to get back in good health. Now I'll start running on the beach more once the weather gets better.

Sun, 29th Jan '06, 10:05 pm::

My friends came over tonight. First, Lanie came over and instantly both my kitties ran up to her, after all she took care of them for two weeks. She is absolutely the nicest "kitty-sitter" I could've ever found. She even left me a cute little 'welcome-home' greeting card with drawings of my kitties along with an X-mas sock with the phrase "I love my cat..." We sat down for about an hour and I showed all the pictures and videos I shot in India during my sister's wedding. An hour after Lanie left, my friend Liz came over with Dave, Josh, and Jessie. We chilled for a few and I showed Liz the pics & videos too. Now they all just left and I'm gonna relax for a few before going to bed.

Tomorrow, work starts. And I couldn't be more impatient - I want to get back to work so much :)

Sat, 28th Jan '06, 3:45 pm::

I was dusting my baker's rack when I heard a loud noise. I looked outside my window but didn't see anything. Five minutes later a guy rings my doorbell and tells me that he ran over my mailbox with his pickup truck! He's willing to pay for it all so at least it's not a hit-and-run. He lives just a few houses down so once I buy and install a new mailbox, I'm gonna hit him with the bill. I could've been mad at him and he totally expected it but he's a neighbor and an honest one at that. So I just smiled and said, "No probs man. Thanks for being honest. I'll get a similar mailbox soon and give you the bill." Since mailboxes similar to mine run about $75-100 I can't let him go for free. Anyways, I'm afraid I got a little termite problem with my roof too. That's gonna be a big expense if it's true. Ahhhh the joys of homeownership.

Sat, 21st Jan '06, 9:05 pm::

My dad, his brother Paresh Uncle, Rita Aunty, my grandma, and I were up till 3:30am in my room just talking about things. These are the things I miss the most. We were talking about everything, from how my uncle envies my dad because his loving & faithful friends will give my dad all the time and energy in the world, to how handsome my grandpa looked during the Quiz Show in his cream suit with dark red shirt. He was quite a looker in his day.

Not having slept much tonight, I'm still kinda groggy but there's something else too. This morning my mom didn't sit by my side for half-an-hour to slowly wake me up. Nor did my dad snap his fingers twice to ensure I went from Dead-Asleep to Wide-Awake instantneously. The last two times I came to visit my family, I was the center of attention. Now, I'm just another guest in the wedding among hundreds of guests. My dad is quite possibly the most just person I've ever met and true to his nature, he is providing exactly the necessary amount of attention to everyone; no partiality. He has a lot to organize and plan, so barely has any free time. Also my mom is busy. From dawn till midnight, she is arranging food & refreshments for guests and making my sister looks pretty, so I haven't had much time to sit down and talk to her either.

Last night was funny. Around midnight while many of the guests were still in our rental flat #107, my mom called me to her room because she wanted to talk. I was sitting next to her and in 30 seconds she was sleeping. I stood up to leave but she held my hand and told me not to go because she wanted to talk. 15 seconds later, she's asleep. Rinse-repeat 5 times :) I waited 5 minutes to make sure she was definitely asleep before I joined my dad/uncle etc. in my room where we talked till past 3am.

Today is the Mehendi Rasam Ceremony - application of Henna. Imma get a temp tattoo! Tonight is the Disco Nite at Cloud 9 :-P Imma get my groove on!

Fri, 20th Jan '06, 11:35 pm::

Event 1 of 4 successful! Tonight was the Zara Hat Ke Quiz Show at The Regency Terrace and went on without a single flaw. The show was hosted by Shobhit Desai, invited specially from Mumbai, and the computer aspect of it was designed and presented by my sister. My sis controlled a little laptop and the image was projected on a 15ft silk screen. The Quiz Show consisted of eight unique rounds, mostly based on Indian Movies or our family pictures. E.g. Round 1 was "Jodi #1" (meaning Couple #1). Kinda like the game of 3-cups, you would see pictures of four members of my family (grandparens, uncle, aunt) on the screen, then they'd be covered with small discs, and after the discs move around all over the screen, the audience members would guess which two discs hid which couples - quite an interactive exercise. That was just round 1. There were 7 other rounds, each more engaging than the other - all designed by my sister with my dad's suggestions. Here's a cute pic of my mom & sis after the show.

About thirty more guests from around the country came in today and we had over three hundred guests tonight at the show. I was supposed to pick up a few guests myself but I wasn't feeling too well early in the morning. The change of weather has had some effect on me so I'm taking things easy - there's three more days of non-stop activities.

My buddy Vishal came in from Gujarat today. It's been over three years since I saw him. Glad to see that he's still the same. I'm very tired so I'm gonna go relax now.

Thu, 19th Jan '06, 12:25 pm::

Word of the day: Hectic! Fifteen more guests flew in today. The guest houses are now being occupied and we have twenty or so guests coming in tomorrow by train. My dad has tabulated the arrival dates, room allocation etc. for all the guests so it's quite well organized. My Alpesh Mama (mom's cousin) will be coming in too! It's been years since I saw him.

Yesterday we didn't do much except go out for dinner to a Rajasthani Restaurant: Teej. The decoration was simply unbelievable. All the walls and ceilings were finely hand-painted - took them six months to complete the paint job! The food was exactly what I was craving for - tasty, spicy, and very filling! It was so heavy that today I'm not gonna eat anything, maybe fruits at most.

Tomorrow is the first official day of ceremonies - Grah-Shanti in the morning and Zara Hat Ke Quiz Show & Dance Floor in the evening. My dad's working so hard it makes me wonder where he's getting all his energy from. As for me, it's very different than what I was once used to. He had trained me to organize activities & events, deal with different types of guests, salesmen, workers, and of course put forth the best show possible. Now though, I feel quite incapable of executing everything up to his standards. I think the synchronicity of event planning and execution between him and myself peaked about six years ago when we organized the Yagna. Ever since I moved to US, I've slowly lost my people-skills, I guess because I'm no longer working daily in the market face-to-face with all sorts of people.

Ok back to present. My dad & cousin are setting aside the gifts for tomorrow. Every time a guest arrives from outside the city of Kolkata, they get presented with real leather wallets and purses with their names etched in golden ink. The initial few guests also received flower bouquets. As my dad is getting the gifts ready, I'm making multiple copies of the important phone numbers list - from the cell#s of all the six chauffeurs to the contact numbers for the five venues, guest houses etc. I didn't really expect my little sister's wedding to be on such a huge scale. So it's quite overwhelming.

One thing I realized amongst all this chaos (especially when you sleep in a different bed every night and shower in a different bathroom each morning) is that little things you never thought much about previously, now make you feel at "home." Like the Woody's HeadWax Web that I've been using for months now (no, this isn't paid product placement, I just LOVE it that much). Or the familiar menu system of any Nokia cellphone that I use in US, also extremely popular here in India. Little things like this, make me feel comfortable when so many unfamiliar things happen at the same time.

In addition to all the fun things, a lot of things obviously happen that make me go what the $^$#%?! For instance, I don't know or remember many of the guests that are arriving because I probably met them when I was 12, but they know everything about me. So of course, they force me to play the guess-game. You know, they come up to me in front of five people and asked "Guess who am I?" And I stare at the 70-yr old grandma point-blank and do my best to not say "Laquisha?" It's tough holding back sarcasm and substituting it with respect when you know for sure that they know you're not gonna recognize them and are doing it just to make you feel embarrassed in public. Of course, it's just harmless fun but sometimes I really want to speak my mind. But then I have to stop myself because I'm not in Florida right now. And in India, you NEVER speak your mind to elders, especially if they're older than your parents.

Lunch time now, fruits for me. I really can't eat any more Indian food. I want milk and cereal!

Tue, 17th Jan '06, 9:40 am::

I'm being called. It's like people actually love me here and WANT to talk to me in person instead of online or on the phone. I'm so not used to this much attention. Rather, I was used to this much attention but over the course of 5-6 years, totally forgot how much everyone cares about everyone else.

Tue, 17th Jan '06, 8:45 am::

After a heavy lunch yesterday, my dad decided to show us all the venues & guest houses. I'm pretty sure that he had already planned the tour 2 months earlier, as with everything else during this entire wedding event. The initial marriage ceremonies have just started; the marriage is on 22nd. Here is what we saw yesterday:

  1. Rabindra Guest House: This one is a stone-throw's away from our house and all the elderly guests and close family will be staying here. In addition to our own apartment (Flat #204) and an additional vacant apartment (#107) in our own building, we have two floors in this guest house. All the meals are prepared by the Maharaj (Chef-on-hire) and served in Flat #107 at least four times a day.
  2. Fanindra Guest House: This one has three times more rooms than Rabindra Guest House and our extended family and out-of-station friends will stay here. It is closer to the event venues than our house, which makes sense because most relatives & friends will just join us at the events than our house.
  3. The Regency Terrace - 20th Jan, Evening: The 'Zara Hat Ke' (Something Different) programme will be conducted here. It's the 30th and the last quiz show that my sister has designed and will present as a Mehta. I'm sure she will continue to create and present more shows in her new married life too. With a capacity of about 250 guests, the venue is a beautiful garden constructed above the 5th floor of The Regency building, which real trees, grass, and even a waterfall fountain. You gotta have fountains! In all honesty, the only way I can do justice to the breath-taking beauty of this location and others, is by showing the pictures of our ceremonies when they are held there. That'll have to wait till I get the entire wedding-site up.
  4. Rangoli Banquet Hall - 21st Jan, Morning: The Mehendi (Henna) ceremony will take place here. There's space for about 300 guests in this beautiful marble hall. The hall will be decorated Rajasthani-style with Chunris & Dupattas (silk-thin shawls worn by Indian females).
  5. The Cloud 9 Nite Club at Astor - 21st Jan, Evening: We drove past this and didn't see it from the inside. My dad said it's a pretty decent nite club with the same DJ/music/dance-floor setup that everyone is familiar with. The Disco Nite guests will be served by full-time bartenders.
  6. Maharaja Banquet Hall - 22nd Jan, all day: Here be the marriage. I've been told that instead of the traditional square-block design, the mandap (traditional marriage booth/stall) will have a curved top, kinda like a dome. The bride, groom, parents/siblings, and the priest will sit inside the mandap for the 3 hour long wedding ritual. Hopefully I will not be required to sit down with my legs folded yoga-style for the entire time. I think this hall seats about 500 people.
  7. Moksh Banquet Halls - 23rd Jan, Evening: The reception venue with three connected halls, can hold about 700-800 at most. The theme for the decorations is floral design and ice-sculptures. We have arranged for a mocktail bar in an adjacent hall with the dinner being served in another hall. This is the last function of the wedding; the first one that my sister will attend as a Sheth.

How to Dress Appropriately by a Straight GuySun, 8th Jan '06, 3:00 pm::

How to Dress Appropriately by a Straight Guy:

I've noticed that a lot of my buddies don't really know how to dress appropriately for different occasions. It's not that they're too dumb to dress well; it's just that every single fashion tip that comes out of any reputable media concentrates on turning straight guys into castrated metrosexuals. There is something weird about a guy that spends over $250/month on nasal-care products. However, that doesn't mean straight guys shouldn't take care of how they look. Instead of specific fashion tips, here's a few general things that every guy should know:

  1. Dress for the occasion: Sounds simple but way too many guys chose to ignore it. I know you're an elite hacker but please, unless you own the company, put on at least business casual (ironed shirt & khakis) for occasions that demand formal attire. If you don't own a pair of khakis because you're always in an informal environment, perfectly fine. But if you are going to be interacting in formal business atmospheres, buy yourself a pair or two. Next, don't wear a suit to a fishing trip. Wear jeans to friends' house parties but not to their weddings. And if there's going to be photographs, shave. If you don't know what to wear for a formal occasion, don't feel embarassed. Just call the organizers up and ask for the proper 'Dress Code' for the event.
  2. Dress for the looks: Yes, wearing good clothes will not suddenly make you more smart, responsible, handsome, or trustworthy than you really are. But "it's not a sin for a guy to want to look good or wear nice clothes" says SMH. Wearing nice clothes is not vanity and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
  3. Dress for the weather: Dark clothes in winter and light clothes in summer. Pretty simple. Don't get drenched in rain if you're going to be at an indoors event for long. Exception to light clothes in summer: Late night events.
  4. Late night events: Once again, if you don't know what to wear, call the night club up and ask for the proper dress code. Don't be shy or hesitant. It would REALLY suck if the bouncers don't let you in because you wore sneakers. A dark full-sleeves shirt, light beige khakis, and matching leather/suede shoes will work pretty much anywhere. If it's a country music club, jeans it is. If you like to be the center of attention, nothing wrong with being slightly gaudy. Wear that Hawaiian shirt as long as you're not going to be kicked out.
  5. Proper Grooming: Very basic stuff you should stick to whether you're going to be around people or not: Make sure your breath doesn't stink. If going to a formal event, shower, wash your hair. Wear deodorant no matter what. If you sweat profusely, try stronger deodorants. Use cologne if you're going to be indoors. Wear a good wrist watch if you can.
  6. Matching Clothes: This is a tricky one and any random girl is better at this than the most sophisticated guys. From my experience, stick to similar shades. Beige/khakis/browns go well with white and black. Blue, white, and gray go well together. Red/yellow/orange go well with blue. Avoid pink unless you can carry it off confidently.
  7. Dress in layers: If it's not too warm, wear a jacket or shirt over your t-shirt. It's like getting a second LCD - tremendous performance boost with minimal input.
  8. Cross-Cultural Dressing: No, not CROSS-DRESSING but rather wearing clothes from different cultures. This is an important one and very rarely discussed. If you're an American, trying on Indian Dhoti for the first time will be quite an experience. If you've never tried on a Japanese Haori, it'll feel quite different from shorts and tees. First you have to decide whether or not to even wear them for occasions that demand it. In most cases you do have a choice and if you aren't comfortable, feel free to pass on the golden opportunity to accidentally expose yourself to the entire wedding party. However, if you don't have a choice (you're the groom or very close to the couple), take hints from other guys. Let a pretty lady dress you up but ask the guys on how to carry yourself. Sitting, especially on the floor, will take some practice. And most probably there's no easy to unzip fly. Take a few minutes and learn how to walk, sit, stand-up, and of course, unzip - however that might be. Remember: By dressing up in the customary attire, you are in a way, showing your respect for the culture. Exception: Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, Mr. Bean, and anybody catastrophically clumsy.
  9. Don't be fabulous: Last but not the least, don't overdo it. Know your limits and learn what you can 'carry off'. The key to dressing well is not just buying and wearing good clothes but also feeling and looking comfortable in them. If you can't be comfortable in a tie, don't wear one. For guys, dressing up has ALWAYS been about being comfortable. Corsets were for Medieval Damsels. Khakis with stretchable waistbands for Modern Men.

Sand grains keep falling on my serverFri, 30th Dec '05, 10:50 pm::

The Falling Sand Game I am hosting on my server is attracting over 30,000 different people each day to my website. Kinda interesting. Till Dec 25, about 200 people a day visited different pages of "". Now in just 4 days I've had over 9,000 people check out my maps and over 25,000 people check out this page (my blog). The good news though is that my server's able to handle all this amazing amount of traffic without showing any signs of slowing down. After being linked on Digg, Reddit, Delicious, MSNBC and tons of other popular websites, I'm kinda proud of my little server holding up just fine. Head over to my /tech blog to read more about Little Servers, Big Performance.

Thu, 22nd Dec '05, 5:00 pm::

I am glad that I'm not flying Air India when I go to my sister's wedding in January. These people had a 45-hour delay and it's all over the news. Earlier this year I had to endure pretty much the same situation with over 48-hour delay on my flight back to Tampa.As one passenger joked about this recent debacle, "Air India is going to give out infrequent flier miles."

Futurama: See you on some other 'blogSat, 17th Dec '05, 4:00 am::

The first DVD series that I put on my rental queue the minute I signed up for NetFlix was the entire collection of Futurama. Futurama is an animated cartoon series about a pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry, accidentally frozen in a cryogenic facility for a thousand years and revived in 2999. Signing on with Planet Express, a space courier service, he befriends a one-eyed mutant, Leela, an alcohol-powered robot, Bender, office manager Hermes Conrad and Dr Zoidberg (my favorite character), a lobster-like alien.

While it seems like any other children's cartoon show, I've always known that Futurama is much more... it's humorous and clever on the surface but beneath the nerdy jokes are all sorts of weird characters and creatures that have one thing in common - they embody the innate human emotions, beliefs, and flaws, no matter how much titanium and dark matter they are composed of. In addition to the spontaneous bouts of random craziness, there's a distinct level of timelessless to the entire series, clearly evident from the numerous underrated nuggets of profound wisdom like: "When you do something right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." - God Nebula

Of course, everytime I mentioned that Futurama is more than some funny cartoon about aliens and future, everyone would just stare at me as if I'm an 8-year old awestruck by an escalator. So I felt vindicated when I found this article tonight about the creators of Futurama, Matt Groening (also created The Simpsons) and David Cohen.

In the article, Cohen says, they hoped to "incorporate all the craziest ideas from science fiction, but we also wanted to have a point and reflect on life today." Groening says. "We had this show that looked goofy, with robots and aliens, but was actually very sophisticated. Having people overcome the hurdle of taking us seriously was something we didn't anticipate... What I love about the reaction to Futurama these days is that people who did give it a chance and fell in love with it are still ardent fans." Both Futurama and The Simpsons, Groening says, share an ambition to tell timeless jokes. "Both shows are trying to do something which will knock people out the first time they watch it, but will also hold up years later," he says. "Jokes that make sense now, and will also make sense 10 or 20 years from now."

It's refreshing to hear that the creators of the show share the exact same thoughts as I do as a regular viewer. I mentioned the timelessness of Futurama to my friend Art just the other day but wasn't really able to back up my views with better explanations as to why. When I mentioned how moving some episodes of Futurama to my coworkers I got a mere chuckle. While I understand that South Park and Family Guy are not everyone's cup of tea, I don't see why Futurama is so undervalued and ignored by everyone except the hardcore-fans.

All I can say is that if you're not in tears by the end of Episode 4-07: Jurassic Bark then you don't have this little thing called a "heart." Or try Episode 4-12: The Sting. Or Episode 4-03: Love and Rocket. Or Episode 3-01: Parasites Lost. I can go on but I got a few more episodes to watch now before I go to bed. G'morning!

A Tribute to my Kandivali DadaSun, 27th Nov '05, 12:05 am::

A Tribute to my Kandivali Dada: I just received the unfortunate news that my mom's father, Navnitlal Modi (Kandivali Dada) passed away earlier today. He was over 74yrs old and had been of weak health for a while. Lately it had gotten worse and he was admitted to the hospital a few days ago. However, before he passed away, he blessed my cousin Khushboo and her new groom Nirav on the occasion of their marriage ceremony. And he was present when my cousin Kunal was engaged to be married. His four sons and one daughter (my mom) loved him dearly and had been with him throughout his long, eventful life.

I remember my summer vacation days as a naughty little scoundrel causing trouble every moment when I stayed with my mother's side of the family in the Kandivali suburbs of Mumbai, India. After his wife (my mom's mom) passed away due to cancer in early 1990's, I saw Dadaji as the quintessential Indian Sage. With his decades and decades of experiences living around the Indian sub-continent, Dadaji could discuss and debate on just about every topic one could imagine, from politics to science, from religion to mysticism. While I loved him as a kid, I began to fully appreciate his wisdom as I turned into a confused teenager.

It would be wrong of me to say that just one person influenced me primarily as I was growing up. Whatever I am today is a result of many many people who love me and still want to bring out the best in me by doing their little bit. I consider my Kandivali Dada to be among the respected few that I had the honor of learning from, in addition to of course, my parents. I have learnt so many things about life, so many little lessons that make me who I am, that I cannot thank my family enough. And add to that list my friends, my dad's friends (seriously! all of his awesome friends & their families), my boss Eric & his entire family, my past and current coworkers, and the numerous school teachers (like Mr. Sesh from RKC) that I had the fortune of learning from in the past two and a half decades.

The odd thing about learning lessons of life is that you don't always learn what people are trying to teach you. Kandivali Dadaji tried to teach me about astrology, alternative health/medicines, and ancient Vedic texts. I never learnt anything about that. Frankly, being a student of science, I couldn't swallow half the theories that astrology is based on. So inadvertently he taught me, one of my strongest skill today: critical analysis. Many times I would feel bad that I just spent four hours debating with him the ridiculousness of non-conventional forms of treatments like Electropathy. He would patiently explain his theories to me and give me a chance to counter them with my arguments. As a 15-yr old kid it was great because here I was, learning about the world, but in my own way. I was being given a chance to learn and believe what I wanted to.

It doesn't matter which part of the world you're in, most of the kids are forced to accept staunch orthodox beliefs and live up to pre-conceived notions of what's right and what's not, with no valid explanations or a chance to argue otherwise. If your parents think you need religion, you have no choice but to believe in God, Allah, or Krishna. If your grandparents think caste-system or racism is perfectly acceptable, you will grow up to be proud to hate others not like you. If everyone else around you tells you that men should go out and earn money while women stay at home and bear children, that's what you end up believing in. It doesn't even have to be this extreme. If the people you respect and look up to as a teenager tell you that lying every now and then to save your own face is perfectly normal, then guess what, you're gonna have issues with being honest. While I realize that every person is free to choose whatever they want to believe it, most of the kids just stick to trusting whatever they're taught during the early years of their life. Of course, exceptions exist but the norm is that you don't get much choice to pick your own beliefs.

Thankfully, I was given the chance to be an exception. And my Kandivali Dadaji was one of the few who supported my criticism and encouraged my curiousity. It would be so much easier to pay tribute to the man had he been a simple one-dimensional personality. I wish I could just say that "he was great fun to be with and brought my lots of candy." But I can't. For like the saying goes, he didn't just give me a free meal, he taught me how to fish. No matter how hard I try to remember him as the awesome grandpa who gave me free-stuff, I can't. My earliest memories of him have been overwritten by the long debates we had sitting cross-legged on the floor, in front of a little mandir and his wife's photo. With some people, you remember the hundreds of little incidents. But with some people, it's just one clear memory, so strong that, that is pretty much how you're going to remember them forever.

It's very easy to talk about someone that helped you at a bad time. In fact it feels so comforting to pay homage to someone who took direct actions to improve your immediate life situtation. However, it's not as easy to thank someone when the words they spoke six years ago suddenly impact the way you think of life today.

He was a very kind and disciplined man. He loved his children and grandchildren. I can't even imagine what my little cousins Ria & Yashika in Kandivali must feel right now. During the last few years of his life, I know both the kids had become very fond of him. And today I feel lucky and privileged to have known him not just as a loved-kid but more so as a growing up teenager who had too many unanswered questions.

I'm really out of words right now as his death didn't really come as a surprise to anyone in our family. We all knew his health was failing and it was only a matter of time before he left us. I guess I myself had come to a closure this April when I visited him. I was sad that I didn't spend more than a few hours with him but seeing how weak he was, I couldn't really expect him to talk for more than an hour or two anyway. Not knowing when I would be back in India, I pretty much bid my last adieu. I was kinda hoping that I would see him once more when I go back to India in January '06 but oh well...

He had a long, fruitful life. While I want to mourn his death, I also want to celebrate his life. Good bye Dadaji. Farewell.

Sat, 26th Nov '05, 3:40 pm::

The chores for the day are done. Change kitty litter, wash car, look hot :) In fact, this is the first time I washed my car myself since I got it in June '04. I got it washed once early this year when I got it serviced. Since I mostly drive on paved roads and it rains to much in Florida, my car gets nature-washes quite often. Been a while since it rained heavily here so it was about time I cleaned it. It was kinda cool. Washing my car on my own driveway. It's a special type of feeling.

And now for some R&R.

Thu, 24th Nov '05, 11:45 pm::

Ok I'm done with my database stuff now. Basically, I just made an automated tag cloud for my site. A tag cloud shows you the most frequently used words. The more a word is used, the larger its font size, the less it is used, the smaller its size. Just see it for yourself to get an idea of what I'm talking about. With just one glance, it gives you a pretty good overview of what things I often mention on my 'blog, or in turn, what matters to me. Just look at my friend Tay's tag cloud for a contrast. It doesn't take a genius to notice the "music" is quite important to him and "computer" is just as important to me.

Wed, 23rd Nov '05, 11:15 am::

As part of the management team of a local social club, one of my dad's friends often said a quote that I find myself saying very often these days: "All suggestions are welcome as long as accompanied by a check." It's pretty brilliant when you think about it. Everyone wants you to do things without giving any thought to resources required to accomplish it. "How about we get 10 new computers and set up a sales team?" "Wow Harry, that sounds great! Did you come up with all of that yourself?"

Big Picture vs. Small PictureWed, 16th Nov '05, 8:00 pm::

Disclaimer: It saddens me to write this 'blog entry because I know my family will read it and won't like many parts of it. Sorry but you won't be able to use this 'blog entry to show off my success to everyone. I haven't run a marathon today and I haven't written any software this week that'll change the Internet. But it makes me happy to write this because I think it's time for a reality check for myself and for everyone that I love.

The Game: It's a little game I call Big Picture vs. Small Picture. This is not about truth vs. false. In this game everything is true for only true facts are admissible. I can testify that nothing in the following statements is even remotely false. So let's get started.

The Small Picture: Even though I have a great job in US, I hardly have any savings. I can't send any monetary gifts back home to India for my only sister's wedding in January 2006, even though my cousin in UK pretty much paid for his sister's wedding and more. In fact, I spend more money on my cats than I send back to India. Any time my relatives in US ask me to come visit them for holidays, I decline saying I'm saving up to buy tickets to India for my sister's wedding. I admit to them that if I don't save each month, I won't be able to pay for the India trip. Whenever someone suggests that I get arranged married like my sister, one of my first excuses is that I can't afford to marry. Word gets around and now, I'm officially broke in the eyes of my family & relatives.

I wasn't always "broke". In fact, three years ago back in college, I was supposed to be doing pretty well with my high-paying student job. Just earlier this year when I went to India I was even seen as what you might say... "rich!" But for some reason, not anymore.

Immediate Analysis: If you just look at the small picture, and it is in fact quite true, clearly then it would seem that I must be bad at managing money and/or I don't care enough about my family in India to chip in for even a small part of my loving sister's wedding expenses. Somewhere in the last few months I went from being pretty "well off" to living "paycheck to paycheck" and since I am in full control of my fiscal habits, I'm the one to blame. Thankfully, my parents are very understanding and have never demanded anything from me. Never ever. For this and more, I love them more than any son can. Nevertheless, it appears to all that I'm reckless and failing. Hmm. Let's look at this scenario from a different altitude.

The Big Picture: In this round, we forget all the pesky details of day-to-day life and think BIG. A little over five years ago I came to US with a dream... the ever-so-romanticized American Dream. After years of reluctance, my dad finally, at the behest of my lovely sis, told me to go forth and conquer the world. I'm sure he didn't expect me to wage military wars on the entire world, but instead wished me best of luck to achieve everything I wanted in my life. I flew in to the magical land of the United States of America all cheery-eyed and dreamy. My mom and grandma were glad that their kid was finally going to get good higher education - after all who doesn't want an esteemed PhD dork in their family?

I spent four years in Rutgers New Jersey, half of them living with my aunt and uncle who still do their best to support me whenever they can. Two bachelor degrees with highest honors later, I moved to sunny Florida for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to head the IT department of a small-but-rapidly-growing company. Now that I was finally living on my own, I could do things I've always wanted! A three-pc home-network? Check. True bachelor-style bean bags? Check. Cute little pets that my sister and I have wanted since childhood? Check! Everything's great. I go to India in April '05 and everyone is happy for me. I'm a success!

I notice real-estate prices in my area go through the roof, especially the properties near the Gulf. It's either buy now or be priced out of the housing market for decades. Having realized that without physical assets, creditors in US don't care about you at all, I pooled all my resources together for the big buy. In two short months, I bought a cute little house near the beach. Now next year when I try to consolidate my three variable-interest (eeek) student loans, banks will not reject me outright because I shall be in possession of the revered home equity.

Immediate Analysis: Big dreams necessitate disciplined efforts and uncompromising patience. It took some time but it appears to anyone that I've managed to fulfill quite a number of academic, economic, and personal goals. Overall, things are great if you ask me. No bad marriage, no expulsion from college, no criminal charges, no pending lawsuits, no housing troubles, no bad debts, no employment issues, and no chronic illnesses. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping things stay just as good. I'm one lucky son of a gun. So... if everything is this peachy, what's with the pesky details I mentioned in the small picture above? It's all about the proper focus.

a. Focus - Adjustable: You need a telescope to look at distant planets. You need an electron microscope to research how to better fabricate the carbon-nanotube fibers that strengthen the structure of the spacecraft that will get you to these distant planets. Notice the complexities between the two sentences. Dreaming, big-picture satellite viewing is simple. Even though it requires planning, experience, and wisdom, it won't get your hands messy. On the other hand, doing it, living in the nitty-gritties of actually implementing something is a dirty job. We dream in big screen but alas we live in the small picture. And the day you stop adjusting your focus is when you're stuck living a life you cannot take control of.

Very often, people, including yours truly, get so entrenched in one view, that they fail to see things for what they really are. While immediate events have immediate consequences, they also have long-term effects. How we handle situations in the short term impacts what will happen in the long term. My dad once told me that intelligence is the measure of how long does it take a person to walk into a room and understand everything that went on, is going on, and will go on. I propose a corollary that intelligence is the measure of how long it takes a person to switch from small picture to big picture and vice versa. What does this have to do with me you ask? Let's see.

b. Focus - Sticky: The problem with changing focus is that it doesn't want to change. We don't like to see things differently than we already do. It goes outside our comfort zone. You can get a new pair of running shoes today but it's so much more comfortable to spend that money on junk food and sit back & watch TV all evening instead of months of persistent training for a marathon. Notwithstanding my trifling excuses, I can buy a plane ticket to anywhere in the US today and have a great time with my family & relatives. It is so much better than putting $150/month extra towards the principal on my home mortgage. I used to be so free with my money; back in college when my primary goal was getting a degree. But I have to constantly get into the big picture view and remind myself that now I'm in the hardwork and struggle phase of life - these are the years I need to be saving up for the next phase of my life - graduate studies.

Selective Sacrifices: Nobody's saying that I need to give up on enjoying my life in order to maybe some day achieve my ambitions. If you saw me at the BBQ party at my house this weekend, you'd very well know I'm not giving up on any fun. However, I have given up on the extravagant lifestyle that I so lavishly savored during my pre-mortgage era. No more $500 impulse shopping bills and no more $100 on martinis. Just like no more cheese and pizzas till my health is back to my doctor's approved standards.

You cannot sacrifice today for tomorrow and you cannot spend everything today and have nothing for tomorrow. It's a delicate balance between the two and the sooner a person realizes this, the better. For me, a house is an investment. I was more than happy living in the 100 sq.ft. bunker in New Jersey. I don't need a mansion to keep me happy. To me, my house means that instead of spending and giving away like the young grasshoppa, I'm saving like the ant. Adhering to ancient wisdom is a GOOD™ thing.

Consequences for me: It's great that I have a house because when I decide to go for my PhD years from now and devote 5-6 years of my life to science, I will have a pool of savings I can rely on, without having to worry about food and next month's rent. Many people pursue PhDs right after their Bachelors, mostly living like poor college students throughout the course. I didn't want to. I wanted a break between BSc and PhD. I want real-world experience. I want to know that some day my research and inventions will actually make a difference. Hence, I'm glad to have a job where I face production scenarios every single day that demand novel theoretical solutions.

I've said this over a hundred times already that if I cared about money, I'd be selling plastic granules in Kolkata right now. It is a very respectful trade and many people I know back home live happily every after with their families by engaging in wholesale businesses. However, it is just... NOT ME. I'm a student of science, always was, always will be. Till the day I died I would regret the 8-10 hours a day I spent trading because that is not what I wanted to do. My problem is that while I can remind myself this on a regular basis, everyone around me forgets it. Then I get compared to my cousin in UK, whom I love dearly, but have entirely different ambitions in life from. His noble ambition, from my personal knowledge, was to provide the best standard of living for his family. He woke up each day knowing that he needs to make ends meet for his family and that it is up to him now. He is my personal hero because on an absolute scale, what he does requires a lot more dedication and perseverance than what I do.

Consequences for my family: If my parents wanted the same thing from me as my cousin, they would have made it very clear from day one that my aim in life should be to send $x to India every single month. But they didn't. They told me to get the best education I could and fulfill all of my dreams. They supported me throughout and I'm happy that they did. Yet, every now and then, people question if they did the right thing, if I am doing the right thing, if I still love my own family, if Brazil is going to win the next World Cup Soccer. People question, people talk, people raise unfounded doubts, and above all, people make mountains out of mole hills. That's what people do. And that is when things go sour. And that is why I feel so compelled to write a pretty revealing personal 'blog entry like this one to make things perfectly clear.

I feel like I've always been lucid and honest to my family and relatives, in fact, to pretty much everyone that asks me a question upfront. I never lie about serious issues though I may lie about how many girls I've kissed ;)

Honest Ramblings: I feel excited to tell my family every other day that OMG I LOVE YOU. There is nobody else in the world I love more than you guys. If something unfortunate happened tomorrow and my family needed anything, I would take the next flight to India to help out (after notifying my work of course; not gonna run away boss man! Don't worry). But I wonder, since when did I become a BAD son? I thought I was doing everything right in life - in the big picture sense. I never said I was perfect and I was pretty much pathetic during the months of August-October this year when I was down with god knows every illness known to pirates in the 1700s.

Penultimate Moanings & Whinings: It's no surprise that a single person living alone, far away from all family and friends, will get pretty down and depressive when faced with prolonged chronic illnesses that prohibit all forms of social interactions. In English, that means hell ya, I was sick, alone, and did I mention sick?! Of course, I was sad and weak. I couldn't even hang out with my friends! I'd have to be pretty crazy in the head to actually enjoy any of that. Worst of all, I spent all my savings on medical bills and ended up breaking my promise to my sister that I'll do my best to send her a small gift soon. I'm sad that I broke a promise but I'm crushed that people treat me like it's my fault that I had all these medical expenses. Ok... so I don't have an extra $1000 lying around anymore. Does that mean I'm a loser or a weak person altogether and need support from every person who walks by just to hold myself together in life? HELL NO!

The Winner: Life's a game. It's a balancing act - between truth and false, good and evil, right and wrong, big picture and small picture. Who's the winner in the match Big Picture vs. Small Picture? Neither side exactly. Only the ones who can juggle the two fluently will "win" the so-called game of life.

Sometimes, people stop juggling. If the people who love me the most, don't stand back and take a look but instead suspect my intentions, capabilities, and strength, it's gonna be an uphill climb. I can never stop loving them but I'm kind of disheartened that the ones closest to me assumed that I've somehow forgotten what's important. I don't think at this age and stage in life I have to give any explanations on why I spent $300 treating my cat's bleeding foot. I don't expect anyone to understand WHY I like my cats, but I do expect them to not to criticize me for the day to day decisions I make in my life.

It comes down to the classic "I'm old enough" debate now. I'm old enough to know what I'm doing so please stop judging, taunting, and sneaking in remarks about what I do or not do. If I'm about to make a major decision, I will always ask the people I look up to. For instance, I had a long chat with my dad late last year about buying a house. Taking his advice, I didn't buy a house then. However, I revisited the issue a few months later when my situation had changed and ended up buying a house that I realize is an even better fit for me. I'm not saying I made absolutely the most perfect decision ever (man... my roof still needs repairs). I just like to think that I made the most sensible decision given the circumstances and stood firmly by it after weighing in the positive and negative consequences. The positive consequences being that I'll build equity that will help me later in life and the negative being that I won't have lot of free money lying around every month anymore.

If you've read this far then it's only natural that I thank you for paying attention and listening to what I had to say. Know in your heart that I love you more than anything in the world and that I will do anything possible when the need be. But if there is no crisis, then why not let me pursue my dreams and have some fun on the way? And for flying spaghetti monster's sake, stop worrying about me! I'm doing pretty damn well.

PS: Please send me money. I've been eating cat food for two weeks and have no money to feed myself or my cats now.

PPS: Just kidding about the cat food. I'm still a vegetarian :)

PPPS: Don't forget the money!

Mon, 31st Oct '05, 10:05 pm::

Tonight was fun. I had so many kids come to my house for trick-or-treating. It was awesome. I still have a lot of candy left over, but I did give away a hell lot of candy too. And I gave the nice expensive stuff so the kids were like 'ooooooo this is good candy!' I even had a glowing pumpkin sitting on the tree stumps outside my Florida room so everyone could see I had candy. I think about 35-40 kids came over trick-or-treating between 7pm and 9pm. Fun stuff. Anyways, time to hit the sack.

Housing-bubble and real-estateSun, 30th Oct '05, 12:25 pm::

Anyone who cares whether or not there is a Housing Bubble in the US real-estate market right now should read The Fool. There's a big discussion over at Fark with many saying there is no bubble outside of a few places and many saying it is nation-wide.

A housing-bubble is when everyone is buying homes at prices higher than what they're really worth. Now obviously, the physical price of construction a house is pretty much the same anywhere in a large country like US except in remote locations like mountains because shipping and construction is more expensive there. So if a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house in middle of Kansas is $50,000 then it should be the same in New York, California, and Florida. Of course it is not, mostly because of the L-word - location, location, location. The location the house is built in, determines how expensive the house will be and if the location happens to be in a rich-neighborhood in Hamptons or Beverly Hills, even a moderate 6,000 sq. ft. house will be close to millions. The same house in rural Indiana would be way below, and with probably ten times more acreage.

I bought my house in June for around $150k on a 30-year fixed mortgage. This means that for the next 30-years, I will pay a fixed monthly amount to the bank and at the end of 30-years, I will own this house fully and won't have to pay anything to live here, other than taxes etc. Now suppose I pay $1,000 a month in mortgage in year 2005. That means even in year 2015 when my salary will be hopefully much higher because of inflation and job promotion, I will still be paying a fixed $1,000 per month. Due to the fixed nature of monthly mortgage payment and rising salary, paying monthly mortgage should become easier and easier every year. This happens when you get a 30-year fixed mortgage. Of course, I could still sell the house anytime and move to a different neighborhood and choose to rent or own property again. But if nothing changes, I pay a fixed mortgage a month and gradually build equity.

Equity is my share of the house mortgage that I've paid up, added to the increase in house value since I bought it. Suppose I bought a house 10 years ago for $100,000 and have paid $40,000 towards the mortgage principal. Now suppose I can sell the same house today for $250,000. Then my equity is $40,000 + ($250,000 - $100,000) = $190,000.

Notice how I said "mortgage principal" and not "mortgage." There's a difference. These fixed x-year loan mortgages work on an amortization basis. Amortization is when you borrow some money (called principal) and instead of just paying interest each month/year, you also pay part of the original principal. So suppose you borrow $100,000 from a bank to buy a house at fixed 6% annual interest, then each month, you have to pay $100,000 x 6% / 12 = $500 interest. This is just the interest. If you pay $600 each month, then the $100 above your $500 interest goes towards paying off your principal. So if after the first month, you paid $600, then $500 goes towards interest on $100,000, while the $100 goes towards reducing $100,000 to $99,900. Now in the second month, you only have to pay interest on the principal of $99,900. This means if you still pay $600, your interest will be LESS than $500 and your payment towards the principal will be MORE than $100. Each month you will be paying less interest and more principal. Your last payment will go 100% towards the principal and no more interest. Then you will have paid off the loan.

However, if each month you only pay $500, that is your exact interest, then you still owe the bank exactly $100,000 at the end of every month, year, or decade. And when your loan term ends, you have to somehow find $100,000 to return to the bank! And THAT is the mistake everyone is making right now, buying expensive houses on short-term interest-only loans.

Interest-only loans are great if you KNOW what the hell you're doing with every last penny you have. If you are a common person who is better at welding cast-iron or programming in PHP, you most probably aren't too good with making the most out of your interest-only loan. However, the problem is that when you were thinking of buying a house and realized that every house you want is out of your price-range, your mortgage-lender/bank suggested that you go with interest-only loans. At that time, you wanted a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house in a nice neighborhood but could only afford $1200 a month. Since every house was $200,000 or above, your monthly mortgage on 30-year fixed would be over $2,000. However, if you went with interest-only loans, then you could in fact pay just the interest on $200,000 and live in your dream house! The mortgage broker said "Don't worry! After 3/5/10 years when you have to pay the full principal of $200,000 in ONE day, you can just sell this house for way over $200,000 and buy another one that's even bigger with the extra money you make. Or you can just refinance when the interest-rate falls lower and get an even better deal."

Except that, interest rates right now are about the lowest they're gonna get unless US economy changes drastically. And that you will only be able to pay off the interest-only loan if in fact your house will be worth more than $200,000 after 3/5/10 years. So what happens if three years after you bought the house on a variable interest-only ARM 3/1 loan, the real-estate market crashes and the interest rates shoot up? You get totally screwed. And that is what everyone is afraid of right now.

If there is in fact a housing bubble, then at some point in the near future, it will pop. When the housing bubble pops, nobody will be able to sell a house for a profit. Normally, that would be fine because if you don't make a profit, you don't get screwed - you just don't get the extra money you were hoping to get. However, if you were RELYING on that profit to not be screwed, because you had an interest-only loan, then well, when there's no profit, you are royally screwed. Bankruptcy and foreclosures will abound. And that's what everyone is afraid of. The realtors selling houses will try to maintain face, saying there is no bubble. They say it is localized to only specific places and not nation-wide.

I honestly hope they are right. Because if they're not, many people are going to be, literally, homeless.

Wed, 26th Oct '05, 11:55 pm::

Dave & Liz came over for dinner and made some tasty beans 'n rice :) Even though I can't cook for my life, I have friends who can, so it all works out. Plus I have all the kitchen utensils, spices, and the food stuff. Watched some Comedy Central after that and just about to go to bed. Things are getting chilly here in Florida. It's all good :)

Sun, 16th Oct '05, 8:15 pm::

When I came here five years ago, I had to learn the "American" word for pretty much everything. Mostly it was something trivial like it's called a "Trash Can" here and not a "Dust Bin."

One phrase that got me a lot of weird looks was "Long Distance." Everytime I wanted to make a Long Distance phone call on someone's phone/cellphone, and asked them about it, they would give me some VERY WEIRD LOOKS! Most just said "WHAT THE #$%#" and went back to doing whatever they were doing.

I remember this one incident back in Jersey when I was on the campus bus and needed to make an urgent Long Distance call to a family member in Texas. I asked the girl sitting next to me if I could borrow her cell and she smiled and said "Sure" as she handed it to me. I politely asked her if she has Long Distance and she said "WHAT THE HELL YOU FREAK?!!!" and snatched back the phone. It was a long bus ride that day.

Of course, I wasn't really using the exact phrase "Long Distance" but another substitute that I thought meant "Long Distance." You see, in India, for "Long Distance" phone calls, we use the term "Subscriber Trunk Dialling," or the acronym STD. Incidentally, STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease in US. Oops!

No wonder the girl snatched back her cell when I asked her "Do you have STD?"

Sat, 8th Oct '05, 7:00 pm::

I just found out that the one of the two lime trees in my backyard is orange! I think the one is key-lime but my friend Lynn says it's tangerine. Wikipedia says, "Lime is actually an ambiguous term in the context of fruit, referring to a number of different citruses with typically round, green to yellow fruits.. generally containing sour pulp, and frequently associated with the lemon." The fruits are not ripe yet but once they are, I'll pick them and probably make something good with them. Who knows, maybe Key Lime Pie!

I think I have a pretty interesting set of vegetation around my house - three Mexican Fan Palm Trees, Orange Tree, Key-Lime/Tangerine Tree, Aloe Vera, and a few other trees I don't know much about. I need to start taking more care of the yard. Now that my health's getting better, I will be able to. Plus soon it's going to get cooler and much more pleasant. Here's to another Florida "Fall" and "Winter."

Sat, 1st Oct '05, 8:05 pm::

I'm feeling soooo much better it's amazing. Since Thursday, I have been on a new antibiotic Ketek that is different from other antibacterial agents and since 6pm yesterday I've been feeling so much better. I had a good night's sleep and since I woke up, I've only coughed once about every 20-25 minutes. Compare this to just Wednesday when I was coughing non-stop for 30-60 seconds once every 2-3 minutes. I totally feel like this medicine is fixing whatever respiratory bacteria I had and hopefully in a few days I might get better. Of course, minor coughing will still last for a few weeks but I already feel like a new man.

Wed, 28th Sep '05, 8:10 pm::

The doctor called me today and said my blood test came clean with absolutely no sign of any common disease. While I have all the symptoms of Whooping Cough, the Pertussis bacteria isn't showing up on the tests. This means either I have a very nasty case of whooping cough or I have something similar which they can't identify. It's funny that the doctor said that just looking at my blood test results, anyone would give me a clean bill of health. But of course, the coughing is totally ruining my work and personal life for past few months.

Oh and last week I tried the whole "say screw it to sickness and go run a mile" thing. It didn't work. I ended up coughing for over an hour after running just two blocks. I can't believe just one year ago I was preparing to run the marathon and now I can't even run two blocks.

I think that I've been very strong ever since I got sick and have done my best to stay strong to get better. But now I'm really losing my strength and patience. I don't care about anything anymore. I'm so sick of being sick. I'm gonna rest a lot in the next few days and most probably won't be on my computer much, unless I have to.

Sat, 24th Sep '05, 6:35 pm::

Wow today turned out much better than I thought it would. Despite feeling sick as hell, I took a shower, cleaned up, and went all the way to Sweet Tomatoes in Tampa to have lunch with my new friend Jenny. It was awesome. I love the food there (and trust me it felt good to eat something healthy) and I just had a great time with Jen. Hopefully I'll be seeing her more often. It just sucks that I still cough so much and I can't really do much about it. She was so nice about it and didn't care much that I was coughing like a steam engine. Anyways, I'm really tired right now and need some rest.

Fri, 23rd Sep '05, 9:20 pm::

Beware: Another boring blog entry on my health ahead. Proceed at your own peril.

I never thought in my life that I would ever use the word "hacking" to refer to anything else other than breaking into computers. On the phone with a buddy today, I caught myself saying "I have hacking cough and it's so bad that my head feels like exploding every time I get into a bout of coughing." This morning I went to the doctor again and he joked how I've become his best customer. I know, funny but not really. I gave some blood for lab tests so hopefully I'll soon know what's the matter with me. He said he's got some suspicion that it might be Pertussis - a highly contagious bacteria, more commonly known as... hold your breath (pun intended)... Whooping Cough!

Now Whooping Cough is a disease that mostly infects children but lately cases of new strain of Pertussis bacteria have been found worldwide, especially in US. People who have been infected by Pertussis in the past or have been vaccinated against it are relatively safe but of course I never had any shots for that. Talking to the doctor about my health in the last 7 weeks, I think I've a good idea of what happened.

During my plane trip back from Utah in July end, I got infected with two different strains of bacteria - Streptococcus and Pertussis. The strain of strep I infected my inner-ear and caused fever, dizziness, and a rash. This combination is more commonly called Scarlet Fever or Scarlatina. It takes about 24-48 hours for the strep bacteria to cause full blown Scarlet Fever symptoms. I was on the plane on Sunday and I first felt sick on Tuesday. No coughing. Just dizzy, slightly feverish, and a bit weak. Went to the doctor the same week and got some antibiotics to treat the strep bacteria.

It was after about 10 days since my plane ride that I started coughing. It started slow but gradually intensified. I thought it was just a side-effect of Scarlet Fever and didn't put much thought into it. About a week later, the coughing hadn't subsided and I knew something was up. Went back to the doctor and it turns out, my inner-ear strep infection is worse than ever, as the antibiotics hadn't worked fully. I continue on the antibiotics to treat the strep and the doctor prescribed me some cough suppressants. He told me the coughing could be the result of something other than Scarlet Fever, like Whooping Cough.

The coughing didn't stop and got worse. Went to the doctor this morning again and he said it looks more and more like Pertussis i.e. Whooping Cough now. The problem with the Pertussis bacteria is that it is very difficult to detect. The cough is very dry and there is absolutely no other symptom. Another problem with Whooping Cough is that while antibiotics work, they work very slowly. The doctor said I should be prepared to be sick for another 6-8 weeks, although things will get better in a few weeks.

So now here's the deal. I've been sick for 7 weeks now and there's just as long to go before I feel healthy. I can't run, work-out, kayak, or even climb up the stairs without breaking out into bouts of coughing. I can't talk for more than two minutes without coughing and I can't sit still for five minutes without coughing. The only times I don't cough is when I'm eating or drinking and sadly, I've been doing a lot of eating in the last two months. I've tried to eat healthy but just eating so much without any form of exercise is bad but I can't help it.

Hopefully once I get better, I will exercise and get back in shape again but till then, I feel so lazy and lethargic. I'm trying hard to keep my spirits up but it's hard when there's nothing you can do about it. When I used to feel sad, I would go running or jetskiing or just go catch a movie with a friend, none of which I can do. It's bad enough that I disrupt all the meetings at my work and I don't think strangers in a movie theater or restaurant will bear with me.

I swear I'm going to have some sort of a social anxiety disorder if this keeps up for long. I'm so ashamed of going into public places anymore because everyone looks at me like I have some contagious disease like tuberculosis. I went to Walmart and people walked away from me as I started coughing, even though I was covering my mouth. If something like this happens for a week or two, it's ok. But I've been going through this for a month and I don't know how I'll be able to bear this for two more.

The only thing I can do is sit at home and watch TV while eating - NOT at all a healthy thing to do. But right now, it's the only thing that feels good. I tried reading but I just don't feel like it anymore. I don't know... this really really sucks.

Wed, 21st Sep '05, 12:05 pm::

Just taking a little break from work now. Too many things happening today - some very good and some very bad. It's amazing how some days absolutely nothing happens and some days, everything happens at the same time. Today's not a good day if I look at the short-term implications, but whatever happened today will benefit me in the long-term. You know, just one of those days that sets the course for the rest of your life. We don't actively make decisions everyday that affect the rest of our lives. Most days we just worry about small things like groceries and haircuts. Today is definitely not one of those.

I love being all indirect :)

Sat, 17th Sep '05, 6:55 pm::

Had an eventful day so far. Woke up at 11, went to Walmart to get my meds, food, gas, and a nice haircut. Got home, ate some food, and now just chilling. I just took my new anti-biotics and my head's spinning like crazy. I hope it's temporary.

Oh another weird thing I found out yesterday when I went to the doctor. Apparently I have a Deviated Septum, which could've been the result of a childhood fight/fall or something. Basically, my nose is broken on the inside even though it's not visible from the outside. This could be why I often suffer from blocked nose etc.

I'm not at all a hypochondriac, in fact I'm the opposite most of the times, thinking I'm perfectly healthy. And yet I'm finding random stuff about my health lately. Well at least the water in my diaphragm was temporary and is gone now. I know, I sound like an anatomy book.

Fri, 9th Sep '05, 10:55 am::

Just taking 2-mins from work to inform my family about my recent sickness. As you probably know, I had Scarlet Fever about a month ago and took medications to cure it. All the symptoms went away after three weeks except minor coughing. Now it seems the coughing has resumed and it is worse than ever. I went to the doctor and turns out my middle-ear has some major infection. I don't have any dizziness or pain but the doctor said if untreated, this could damage part of my hearing so I'm gonna make sure it's treated. Hopefully the anti-biotics will fix everything this time; they didn't fully work last time. Scarlet Fever with all its numerous symptoms was a result of this ear-infection. I don't have any visible symptoms right now other than some pretty bad coughing. I had my chest x-rayed this morning and from the initial preview it looks like my diaphragm has some fluid build-up. I guess the doctor will tell me what that's about.

All I know is that I can't talk at all without breaking into bouts of non-stop coughing. Things haven't been that great lately and coughing has just made everything worse. A part of the treatment is covered by my insurance but there's stuff not covered, so I guess lotsa medical expenses coming my way soon. The doctor said it'll probably go away by itself in 45-60 days, whether I take medicine or not. I am gonna continue some medication but it's just gonna suck for a long time.

I don't feel like calling up my family or friends anymore simply because my coughing makes everyone feel bad about me. Even talking to coworkers is tough but I gotta do that no matter what.

Good thing I'm not contagious.

Mon, 5th Sep '05, 11:55 am::

I read about 10-12 blogs of different friends regularly and it just amazes me that people who are so much like me, have such different lives and lifestyle. Here are some random excerpts from my friends' blogs, just to show how different their lives are compared to mine. I hope none of my friends mind me putting these on here as they are all publicly available on their blogs anyway. Also, I'd love to read what friends/family of my friends write on their blogs, just to get a different perspective.


WRX with some nice mods. I HAD to go from a dig with him 0-120mph. He got owned. 5.0 mustang. Roll and Dig. Roll he was owned. On the dig I remembered how to drive the first time. Second time I forgot how to drive so he took the kill. LT1 TA with a few mods. We were a dead even match till top end. Then I wanted to walk... but he always cut out before giving me that change. We ran a few times just for fun. 1g DSM with a Super 16g was 3+ cars behind.


As a late college graduation gift, my mother and I will be traveling to a few great cities over the next 2 weeks. Here is my approximate schedule: ... I will be seeing most of the touristy stuff, catching a few concerts (the BBC Proms!!), and taking in some overpriced dining.


I'm definitely on the search for an engagement ring--of course i'm not planning on getting married, but if i'm going to have to freakin lie every single day about my marital status, then i might as well rock the ice just for the fun of it I haven't decided if i really want to drop some big money for a nice one, or just buy a really cheap one off of ebay....okay, so the practical side of me is saying to go cheap, but that wont stop me from looking at Tiffany's website, hehehehehe. It's really bizarre, too, my infatuation with engagement rings. I kinda wish they didnt carry the meaning that they do, cuz i would really like a simple diamond ring for my birthday--hell, let's be honest, for ANY day, do i really need a holiday to justify it?


Currently, the FIA has rules in place to actually give inferior tire performance, although aerodynamic considerations are much more flexible. Current tires have a mandatory high profile and have four channels cut into the tread to reduce grip and increase slip angles. Aerodynamics helps increase the mechanical grip otherwise possible with a static tire load. For the rules changes, the FIA hopes to increase mechanical tire performance while reducing aerodynamic effects.


There's shooting outside, and one of the new volunteers looks nervous, but we tell her it's "happy shooting". That means the gunfire from a wedding or a high school graduation party- celebratory. It's an ironic phrase, and we say it with a twist in our mouths, but it's the best way to explain. There's been more random shooting during the day in Nablus, since perhaps the past month. We don't really know what it's from, but this is a new volunteer, fresh and a bit impressionable, so we might as well say that it's happy. Let's be happy.


pop (grandpa) passed away quite suddenly on wednesday. he was 85. he was one of my favorite people in the whole entire world. i just can't believe he's gone and i'll never see him again. every single memory i have of him is a fond one. when i was born, my parents lived in an old farmhouse - my grandparents on one side and my parents on the other. apparently i would wake up at around 2am every night. pop would get up and take me out of the crib and walk around with me and talk to me until i fell asleep. he was the only one who could get me to stop crying. he was my bud when i was growing up. we'd take long walks in the woods, he'd fix whatever i needed fixing, he'd come to my basketball games, he'd give me lots of hugs and "great to see ya, hun"'s. every holiday dinner, gram would ask me what vegetable i wanted, and i'd always say 'carrots', because i have an abnormal love of carrots. well, pop HATED carrots, and when dinnertime would come, i would tell him to pass his plate, and i'd load them up with carrots, and he'd laugh and put half of them back and then the rest of them on my plate. i'm making carrots for dinner tonight. i miss him so much already.


Long veils are beautiful to photograph, but torture for the bride.


I have to be honest, if I were in LA, I would be looting too. I would steal food and shoes and clothing, dog food, water, and if I had a child, diapers and formula for my child. The fact that the governor of LA has enforced a "shoot to kill" policy is sickening. When someone is taking diapers or food, basic NECESSATIES, they should NOT be shot to death. This is ludicrous. And I must say something about the civilians who are shooting at the "help" - this is what happens when people panic. When people panic, it creates chaos. Who wants to be in such disastrous conditions? No one...

Sat, 3rd Sep '05, 1:30 am::

Pictures of Katrina's Aftermath.

Talking to random people online and offline in last few days I've realized that are there are lot of people who say "Oh I'm not watchin the TV or any news because it's too depressing." What they really mean is that "I am burying my head in the sand to ignore what's going on in this country because I am a coward." I think if something like this, i.e. the largest natural disaster in almost a century, doesn't move you, then you are a heartless monster. This is a time to help, to donate whatever you can, to show support - NOT to ignore and hope that this goes away and the news media can finally go back to reporting important things, like missing white teenage girls on Springbreak-Islands.

These same people today who are blocking all news and instead watching re-runs of "Everybody loves Raymond on TV are the ones who were glued to their TV-sets on Sept 11, 2001. Why? Because what if the terrorists attacked their little town in the middle of nowhere?! So they studied the news, read everything there was to know about Osama Bin Laden, and after extensive research miraculously concluded that waging a war on Iraq would stop all future acts of terrorism on the American soil. I'm sorry but the sheer stupidity of the common man is something that always amazes me.

Everyone was so up-in-arms about everything going on after 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, the "War" on Iraq. And now? Nobody cares! Why? Because well, we don't get hurricanes in Maine. Or Wisconsin. Or wherever these people happen to be. It is a sad day when apathy rules. From the common man to the Federal Govt.

The disaster that was KatrinaThu, 1st Sep '05, 8:20 pm::

Exactly a week ago I casually mentioned that there was another hurricane on the horizon and wondered how it would shape up. Not even in my worst nightmares could I have witnessed the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has caused in the last five days. It was a Category Four hurricane when it hit the coast of the state of Louisiana on the gulf coast above the Gulf of Mexico.

Before it hit Louisiana, it passed through South-Eastern Florida as a Category One hurricane and it slowly gained strength sitting above the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexco. By last Thursday, everyone knew this was going to be a major hurricane with wind speeds of above 150 mph. My friend Kathleen called it the classic book case - the perfect example of a storm - something students decades from now will be learning in classrooms, on how it formed, how it gained strength, how it moved with tremendous force, and finally, how is destroyed every shred of civilization on half the gulf coast.

As many are already saying, this is going to effect pretty much every person in the US in a very short period of time. Katrina was not a typical storm or minor hurricane that ruined a few neighborhoods and took a few lives. Katrina is absolutely one of the largest natural disasters US has ever faced and the aftermath of this on society, politics, and the economy will be very horrendous.

Let's begin with the area most affected by Katrina - the City of New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). Majority of the city of NOLA lies about ten feet below sea-level. And as you can see in this map, NOLA is bordered by two major lakes, a river, and the Gulf of Mexico. On top of it, the city is literally shaped like a bowl. It was no surprise to anyone that if the city was hit by a major hurricane, the bowl would fill up with water and there would be no way of draining the water because the sea-level is actually higher than the city.

And then it happened. Katrina hit slightly east of NOLA, barely missing the city, but the damage was done. The levees and barriers that block the river, lake, and sea-waters from flooding the city neighborhoods broke from the sheer water pressure. When a hurricane makes landfall, the ocean swells upwards and sea-water rushes inland. This is different from the kind of tsunami that hit South East-Asia late last year. Tsunamis travel very very fast, hundreds of mile an hour, and shock the coast with their impact, kinda like slapping someone really hard, sometimes multiple times, but then pulling away instantly. Storm surge is when the sea-water floods inland because of the suction created by winds on the water-body, as a result of which, the water does not recede back into the ocean as long as the winds persist. A storm surge is like sitting on someone's chest and gradually applying more and more pressure till their ribs burst and getting up slowly afterwards. Of course, both are just as ravaging to human livelihood.

So now you have a bowl-shaped city of over 1.3 million (13 lac) residents that got filled with water. There just isn't any way out other than physically pumping all the water back into the ocean and lakes - a process which will take months and months. For the first time since the San Fransisco Earthquake & Fire of 1906 has a major city been absolutely ruined like this. Eighty-percent of NOLA is still underwater and it will continue to remain so.

NOLA isn't the only city affected by Katrina. Hundreds of cities and small towns were affected. From the looks of it, Waveland, Mississippi, located north-east of NOLA was affected the worst as pretty much every house in the town is levelled. The town is no more. There are no houses or buildings standing, no electric poles upright, the trees have been uprooted or snapped into pieces, and for all intensive purposes, zipcode 39576 is non-existant henceforth. And this is but one of the hundreds of towns directly affected. WalMart has closed 123 stores and UPS has suspended shipment to 900 zipcodes indefinitely. This is about three to four percent of the entire country of US.

The immediate economic impact is something people always feared - rising price of gasoline - petrol & diesel. I purchased gas at $2.599/gallon yesterday and it's above $3/gallon today in my city. Elsewhere, people are paying upgrades of $5/gallon and many small towns in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and even Wisconsin have run out of gas. It is no secret that the entire economy of US relies very heavily on gas and rising prices could mean economic depression. The Port of Southern Louisiana is the largest port in the US, fifth-largest in the world.

Here is something that has blown my wits away. Back in June of this year, FX Network aired a mock-umentary titled "Oil Storm" (thanks Eric!) The synopsis of the story is that sometime around the Labor Day weekend (that is the coming weekend), a Category 6 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico slams into Louisiana, crushing the city of New Orleans and crippling the vital pipleline for refined oil that is Port Fourchon (more details). The movie "examines the ripple effect of that event and the ensuing cascade of disasters associated with it..." Basically, the first part of the movie about the hurricane has already come true and the next part, about oil prices is already coming true. You can read the synopsis yourself to see how the story unfolds and ends, but the scary thing is, back when the movie aired, everyone was mocking, insulting, and criticizing it. Now, not so much. Nobody believed that a hurricane could drown NOLA, cut off the nation's oil pipeline, or set the oil rigs afloat. Yet that is what happened. This time truth is eerily exactly like fiction.

The damage to public and private infrastructure is only overshadowed by the utter senseless degradation of human lives. Right now, hundreds of thousands of people in NOLA area are thirsty, hungry, have no shelter, and are being terrorized by street gangs. Reporter Anya Kamenetz writes, "the city of New Orleans has a 34 percent poverty rate, triple the national average. It's about 70 percent black. White flight, first to Jefferson Parish and then across Lake Pontchartrain, to the North Shore, has accomplished the desired aim of de facto segregation in the public schools, which are 93 percent black in Orleans Parish and some of the worst in the country." Now, the aftermath of the hurricane is not only a humanitarian issue but also a racial one. Right-and-left people are debating whether the US Federal Govt. is doing enough or not, whether the National Guard would have been moved to NOLA for support any faster if there was a higher percentage of white citizens.

Yahoo! has managed to stir up some controvery regarding two pictures captioned slightly differently. They even issued a public statement and removed one of the pictures. Apparently, the caption under the very dark skinned person said " A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans" while a picture of two light skinned persons was captioned, "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store..." So dark people "loot" while fair people "find" right? The photographer of the second picture disagrees but for now, the issue has raised many a question.

Since eighty-percent of NOLA is currently underwater, some places as deep as twenty-feet, the only pictures and videos available of most areas are from helicopters. While thousands of people are being bussed from the drier areas in NOLA to nearby cities like Houston, Texas, there are thousands of people still stuck in their houses. Hundreds of dead bodies are floating on the streets and rescue workers can't do anything because they first have to help the victims who are still alive.

Any attempt to compare Katrina with the tsunami of 2004 is looked down upon right now because there was a tremendous loss of life in the latter. Additionally, tsunami was unpredictable while the weather channels along with the National Hurricane Center were blasting warnings for days before Katrina made landfall, giving people enough time to evacuate. Moreover, damages from tsunamis were not preventable while majority of the infrastructure destruction of Katrina could have been prevented as everyone knew the geography of NOLA and the nearby regions. And yet, I think there is a similarity despite what people say. The similarity is that poor people suffered. While they all knew about Katrina, there was little most of them could do. Many of the inner-city poor renters didn't have a car and the city of NOLA failed to provide public transporation to evacuate. So for no fault of their own, they were stuck. Sure, many of them might have intentionally chosen to hunker down and stay at home instead of going away, but now, they're all homeless.

NOLA has had near-hits many-a-time but this was the final blow. There is no City of New Orleans, Louisiana anymore. They will have to rebuild, almost from scratch. And so will the hundreds of towns with millions of people. It's hard to imagine that over a million people now have no homes, no jobs, no schools, and no life whatsoever. Everything will have to start from scratch. For the young it's not impossible but for people who have worked their entire lives to finally own a house, it's all gone. Sure, insurance will pay but what about the neighborhood. It's not there anymore. I'd love to see NOLA back on it's feet again but I highly doubt the Mardi Gras celebrations in 2006 (if at all) will be as carefree as this year's.

(I had written about seven more detailed paragraphs after this but due to a stupid mistake, I lost everything below this, hence rewriting it major parts of it. It always bums me out when I'm writing a long 'blog entry and lose part of it. I will fix the blog to not do this tomorrow but for now, I have to live with it. And since I'm too tired to rewrite everything, here's a summary of what I had written before.)

The political aspect of this entire disaster is no less complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had to halt all rescue operations in NOLA because of the danger to the lives of the rescuers. Violence has erupted in parts of the city with random acts of looting, rape, street-shooting, and sniper attacks. It's hard to believe but this is US and it seems like the Dark Ages. FEMA is not without controversy itself with two inexperienced directors, demotion from cabinet status, and refusal of funds to NOLA to strengthen the levees.

Louisiana is also holds half the world's supply of zinc and is a major manufacturer of industrial chemicals. There will be inflation in the short-term and dollar will fall in the ForEx markets. Oil will continue to rise for some time and a big part of US trade will be impacted, as LA is the primary port for US. Things aren't going to be pretty for the next few months and rebuilding will take a lot of time. People are dying on the streets, children are waddling through chest-high water, covered in feces, and dead bodies are floating everywhere. The biggest fear is the possibility of a pandemic of water-borne diseases.

I'm sure if anyone wants to learn more about the disaster there are a million places online to read from and hundreds of TV shows to watch. This was just a review of what I've heard, remotely seen, and learnt about Katrina and its aftermath. And here's hoping I never have to write such an entry again, though I think that's impossible. Nature is wild and very very powerful.

Life's like an analog clockSun, 28th Aug '05, 9:45 pm::

I don't 'blog everyday, not because I'm too busy or have nothing to say, but rather I like saving up the energy to write slightly longer posts and to say things I normally don't in course of everyday life. In everyday life, people just execute their daily duties. You wake up, go to school and/or office, get home, do the chores, entertain yourself a bit, and go to bed. Next day, lather, rinse