Growing up.

October 26, 2014 1 comment

*Clears Throat* … Hello there… *looks around sheepishly* … Go ahead. Laugh. No really. I mean, after making a big deal about writing more regularly, I disappear for 3 months… It is lol-worthy. I know I would laugh at myself. But anyway.

It’s been an interesting three months…

My folks came to visit me, here in the states.While my father had been to the USA before, it was a first for mom. I saw them after a year, so that was nice. We visited a few places, so that was nice too. I got good homecooked food, which I duly stuffed myself with, and put on all those pounds I shed while I was training for the half-marathon (I think you’re growing old when the deliciousness of mom’s food starts competing with the need to “watch your weight”… Not sure how I feel about that).

We took a trip together, the three of us, and *that* was really nice… I’ve been working for a decade now. I’ve been living independently, by myself, for most of that time. However, all this while, going home, meant going back to a place where there’s someone to take care of you..

This time, though, it really felt the other way round. It felt like I had to take care of my folks. I had to be responsible for them. This is not to say that my parents couldn’t do anything without me, because really, they are more than capable of taking care of themselves. However, it felt like they depended on me for a lot of things.

And honestly, it was a lovely feeling to just be able to take care of the two people who’ve spent more than half their life, taking care of you. I sure as hell wasn’t perfect doing it, and frankly, I think there’s a lot of things I could do better (perhaps a post for another day). But it felt nice to finally be able to repay, even if in an infinitesimally small way, that kindness my parents have showered on me. It felt great to realize that you are someone who is capable and willing enough to do that.

I felt like I had finally grown up.

So, thank you mom, dad, for being who you were and are. I love you. Just so you know, your little boy, is finally growing up..

We all Need the Eggs…

July 27, 2014 Leave a comment

My parent’s have been here for the last couple of weeks. It’s nice to see them after about a year. Not because there is so much to talk about but even in silence, there is a sense of belonging. The house feels like a home…

There’s an interesting Woody Allen quote from Annie Hall, that’s been bouncing around my head for a while now… It’s about relationships, and applies to a whole bunch of them. Anything I say is not going to be as good. So I’m just going to leave that here.

I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.

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The Facebook Experiment

July 16, 2014 Leave a comment

An interesting tidbit about Facebook was in the news recently. Apparently, Facebook played around with newsfeeds to make them more positive / negative. They were trying to determine if mood of the timeline affects the mood of the user. Evidently it does.

Predictably, the pitchforks have come out at the supposed audacity of Facebook to manipulate people like that. I am not completely sure what I feel about it, because I haven’t really given it a whole lot of thought.

But there are a lot of different aspects to this story, that I am not sure how to reconcile… Besides, thinking takes time, which I have limited of. And it’s not like you pay me for high-quality journalism. So, dear reader, I am just going to subject you to a laundry list of the initial unstructured mess that is my brain, on the subject:

  • I am scared… Are we really sheeple, people? Does the mood of a series of posts on Facebook really cause our mood to be changed? Are we THAT easily manipulated? As a corollary, how much misplaced confidence do we have in ourselves, that we walk through life thinking that we are immune to the ways of the world, when all it takes to influence us are a few written words on the screen?
  • How does this help Facebook? Will Facebook try now, to be “your happy place”? Is Facebook’s business model going to be to keep you happy, so that you keep coming back. I wrote a post, earlier, on the  “Like” button. Is that just an extension of the “keep people happy” philosophy?
  • Will this philosophy work for Facebook? Or is it going to backfire for them, spectacularly? At what point will the constant stream of “happiness” attributed to others, start making us jealous and negative instead of happy, as intended, so we “flip the tables” so to speak, and never return to Facebook again?
  • Are we increasingly becoming swathes of data, in the eyes of these companies that have our personal information? At what point is the company obligated (if at all) to view us as human beings, and consider that manipulation of our feelings is not “just another experiment”?
  • On the other hand, what cause do we have for outrage? Facebook never promised that we will see the truth. They provide us one way to view our relationships and they’ve never said it is the truth. Besides, A/B testing is a reality for most internet companies. Isn’t this just another form of A/B testing? Why, then, do we expect to be told about it?
  • If Facebook as a service, has a goal of seeing us happy, then isn’t Facebook within its rights to make changes to it’s “product” to gauge customer reaction? Do we have a right to demand that we be told about it?
  • What is the unwritten set of expectations that Facebook is fulfilling, and that we expect them to fulfil? At what point do the “ethics of humankind” supercede the “nature of Facebook’s business”? Are people just angry because we’re scared of how easily we are manipulated? Do we see this as an invasion of privacy (which I don’t think it is)? Are we just mad at Facebook because we don’t like being guinea pigs without knowing about it?
  • Does it warrant this amount of outrage? We don’t really think of all the ramifications of giving up our personal data and information to services as long as we get some value out of it. Every new shiny feature on Google of Facebook comes at the cost of our information. Privacy, in this day and age, is just dead. Why then, should it matter at all what Facebook does?
  • Is this indicative of the general distrust of Facebook vis-a-vis other large tech companies? I mean, I doubt there would’ve been such a big hue-and-cry if Google had done this…
  • If this is indeed how Facebook can influence us, how much about our relationships is defined by Facebook? If Facebook doesn’t show me status updates by certain people or businesses, how does that impact my actual relationship with them? Do I forget about some people because I never see updates? If so, how much power does Facebook really have over not only individuals, but also groups and indeed, corporations (by dint of wielding this power over individuals)?

I think I’m a little bemused, and quite a bit scared… What do you think?

Categories: facebook, technology

To Like or Not to Like…

July 10, 2014 1 comment

I’ve been getting back on to social media after a fairly long hiatus. And most social media services have changed a little bit in that time. What hasn’t changed however, is how stuff get’s shared around these places.

Google has +1, Tumblr has “reblogging”, Twitter has “retweet” and Facebook has the “like”… And they rely on these nifty sharing mechanisms to decide what you see.. what bubbles to the top, so to speak.

Out of the four, however, only Facebook has something that is a known word with a known meaning. And that makes things interesting…

Linguistically speaking, liking something is to inherently tag it as “good”. In Facebook’s context therefore, there’s likely to be a cognitive bias towards “liking” only stuff that is actually worth liking. That means, that status update someone made about cancer, or losing a loved one, or losing their dog isn’t going to get “likes” . and is therefore not really going to be on your timeline for a long time.

On other platforms, it’s easier for those kind of things to bubble up, A +1, or a reblog isn’t as “emotional” …

I wonder which is better? Personally, I think a true representation of what your friends are interested in is served by something like +1, or “Share” or “Retweet” or “Reblog” because it doesn’t have a positive or negative connotation attached to it. It just indicates your “support” toward the content. With like, however, you’re likely to not get a balanced picture.

Is this a flaw, then, on Facebook’s part? Did they miss an opportunity to be “truer” to the world? Or is “like” by design and they WANT only other people’s happiness to show through in your timelines, because they know that’s what we want to see? Is Facebook banking on the fact that a lot of us are voyeurs who live through others – either sharing in people’s happiness, or being jealous of it.. which is why we keep coming back to Facebook?

Or is “Like” just such a “brand” in itself now, that changing it to “Share” or “Support” just doesn’t make any sense any more?

Perhaps only Mark Zuckerburg knows..

Categories: facebook, technology

The Power of Stories…

July 1, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been reading The Story Bible by Pearl Buck. It is The Bible, but without (most of) the “religious stuff”. What it does is recount the stories in the Bible in short 10-12 page chapters. And as I read, I realize that as a story, the Bible is quite interesting.

And in that, it is not alone. The Quran, at its heart, is a story. The Bhagawad Gita, is just a small part of an epic called the Mahabharata. And most religions are underpinned stories about key figures and their deeds.

And that says something about the power of stories. Most of what we remember has a good story behind it. A good movie, a good book, an incident you remember in vivid detail – there’s a good story behind it. Want to preach – Tell a story. The best adverts – tell a story. A successful sales proposal – dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that it chronicles a journey, draws a picture, tells a story. Customer satisfaction, brand recognition, are all about stories. Have you ever got tips on how to improve your memory? Chances are you’ve been told to connect disparate elements together with the wackiest story imaginable for the strongest recall.

I don’t know why. Maybe the human brain likes to fill in the blanks between disparate facts. Maybe connections between neurons are analogous to connections between facts. Maybe it’s that and the fact that human brains are the best pattern-recognition machines. If a certain group of “connected pieces” in a story are similar to something that we’ve experienced before, the brain just groups them together and invokes similar feelings to what we’ve previously experienced, making the feeling stronger.

Whatever be the reason – Plain simple facts are forgotten. A story endures.

And the best stories reinforce already existing emotional structures, enhance experiences. They need an “investment” from the consumer of the story, so they feel a part of it.

But as we move towards a world with limited attention spans and overload of stimuli, the window of this “investment” becomes shorter and shorter. What we end up with is a world of instant gratification – one that does not allow time to build “connections”, the one that isn’t built to endure. I wonder if the world seems a lot more ephemeral, the pace of change so fast, BECAUSE there is no time to stop and listen to stories. I wonder if life seems “incomplete” because we’re not part of a story or narrative – living life instead, as a series of transactions. I wonder if the lack of stories is what has caused this to happen.

Perhaps, what the world needs, is more connections, in more ways than one.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Here We Go… Again

June 18, 2014 6 comments

So, I have decided that I’ll start writing again.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows how fits-and-starts my writing is (and has always been). You perhaps have already rolled your eyes, and decided to wait for this to fizzle out again. And you might be right. But, hear me out, dear readers (yes both of you (look at me trying to pretend like I actually have two readers)). This is going to be different (I think).

I’ve never taken writing seriously. To me, it was just an outlet of thoughts that sometimes stick around long enough, or are forceful enough to make me want to write. Most of my posts have been “vomited” out in less time than it takes to fire up my laptop. Mainly because I don’t spend a lot of time formulating blogposts. Things just come together in my head, and those are the ones that come out on paper. Until the point when that perfect post is formed in my head, it is not coming out.

However, on reflection, I have come to believe I’ve got this backwards. Writing isn’t about putting fully-formed thoughts on paper, or even putting my thoughts out there for everyone to see. What is important, is the process of writing itself. The process of forming and formulating the random half-formed thoughts into something that is much more meaningful. Of connecting the multitude of “dots” that already exist from the everyday life, to create a picture.

And isn’t that what creativity is? Creativity is just the ability to smash two already known ideas together. So, in effect, by waiting for “inspiration to strike”, I am relying on the sporadic twitches of my “creativity muscle” to produce something good, instead of forcing myself to make those connections, working the muscle, making it stronger.

And really, I find that not writing consistently takes away my capacity to reflect, structure and connect everything in my head. Ergo, not writing is possibly only serving to atrophy the creativity which is already in short supply. And by writing more, I hope to be able to reverse this phenomenon.

Now, I recognize that this is probably going to be painful for the readers, in that, the quality (lol?) of this blog will go down. There’ll be some days that will be atrocious, incoherent and random… But if my theory is right, the atrocious and random should decrease over time, and we should see interesting juxtaposition of ideas in later posts. And if not, it’ll be an interesting study of how my interests and writing evolve over time. (And maybe I can finally give up on thinking I write quite well. Which by itself, makes this an endeavour worth undertaking).

And so, I’m going to write. I’m going to write at least twice a week, perhaps more. About technology, about football. About life, the universe and everything. I’m going to write, like no one’s readin.. oh, wait.

FIRST Things First

July 26, 2013 2 comments

Readers of this blog (yes, all three of you), already know that this (former?) lazy ass has caught the running bug. Yes, I’ve been running fairly regularly over the last year or so. I’ve done a couple of 10k races, and a half marathon. I run slow by most standards, but I can run far, and I enjoy it.

If you’ve not been in touch lately and are right now arching your eyebrows up as far as they will go, surprised about my foray into (and enjoyment of) physical activity, you’re not alone. Every time I think about the fact that after a year of running, I still enjoy it, my eyebrows do the same elaborate dance yours are doing at the moment. What can I say? Miracles do happen.

After my first half, when I just ran 3 times a week, by feel, increasing the distance I ran each week, I decided to follow a more structured approach to training. I tried to follow Hal Higdon’s intermediate training plan for my next half marathon, which was supposed to be on 7th July 2013.

True to tradition which I established with my first half, I woke up late this time too. Only this time, I did one better and woke up so late, so as to make it impossible to get to the start in time. So I did not run the race. One day, a kindly soul will have mercy on me, and organize a race in the evening. Surely, I am not the only evening person who runs?! Anyway, that tradition and its discussion is for later. This is more about the training plan.

For my second HM, I had in mind a goal time of 2:00 hours. Listening to popular wisdom, I decided I’d have to run often and more, to get faster. Higdon’s plan called for running 4 times a week. One day of the week was dedicated to “speedwork” – 400m intervals, or 30-45minute tempos. This was an aspect wholly abent from my earlier training. There were some “pace-days”, which called for running upto 8 kilometers at the pace I wanted to run in the race. I also incorporated (tried to anyway) some strength training into my routine.

However, the training was a bit hit and miss. Partly because of unforeseen commitments, laziness, work and also because I don’t think the plan worked for me, the way it was structured. Here were my grouses:

  1. Speed-work wasn’t enough, I thought. It led up to 10 laps of 400m or up to 45 minutes of tempo. The tempo run required you to hold 10k pace for only a few minutes. Considering that I was gunning for a lot more improvement, I am not sure how much it would’ve helped.
  2. While I ran more through the week, the individual runs were short. 5-8 kilometer runs every day didn’t really do it for me, except make me comfortable running that distance. I felt wholly unprepared for the long runs.
  3. In fact, my long runs became slower, and more difficult. They were slower than when I was training for my first half, and I didn’t feel ready enough to be able to complete it. A long run of 16kms when you’ve been running (mostly slow-medium pace) 8-10km at max through the other runs of the week, seemed impossible to do, and I had to give up and walk home a couple of times (oh the shame).
  4. This was compounded by the fact that the run of “sustained HM pace” was followed immediately by long-runs. So, in effect, the hardest workout of the week was followed by the longest. Did not get the logic, me.
  5. Higdon’s guidance on pace, is limited. Most runs are done @ slow / easy pace. How long to stick to tempo pace isn’t specified, and so on. Overall, I think “run slower, get slower” is what I suffered from.
  6. Time was a factor. 4-5 times a week seemed a little much. A lot of workouts were missed, because work, lethargy, other commitments. I frequently didn’t feel the urge to run, as opposed to earlier, when I really wanted to run. And given that I was running almost all week, a missed workout was a missed workout – There was no way of compensating. In the end, that affected the training.

So, in summary, Higdon’s intermediate plan was perhaps not right for me. While I had started out with a goal of 2 hours for the half, I wasn’t hopeful of doing any better than 2:15:00 – 2:20:00 at best, and realistically, I was looking at a time of 2:30:00. We’ll of course, never know, given that I didn’t do the half I registered for.

Anyway, I was looking at something else to try, for my next half, whenever that is. And I stumbled upon the FIRST half marathon plan.

What appealed to me was:

  1. There are only 3 days of running, with each workout being a quality, key workout, targeting a specific aspect of running – intervals for speed, tempos for lactate threshold, and (relatively) quick long runs for endurance. This means, limited outlay of time, which combats laziness, helps with recovery, prevents injury and accumulated fatigue (more rest time), and more importantly, because I run in the evenings, allows me to get my workout in during the week.
  2. Intervals are not just 400m intervals, but span a variety of distances (400, 600, 800, 1000 etc). This allows the body to get used to running quickly over a variety of distances
  3. The guidance on pace is very good, and based on your 10k pace. Even tempo runs are broken down into short and medium tempo paces. The paces are challenging, and there are no “easy miles”. Each workout is challenging and pushes you.
  4. Distances you run in each run, are longer, thus conditioning the body to go longer, and faster. This also works now that I have a year’s worth of running long distances under my belt. I don’t need to BUILD UP to the half-marathon distance, and I can focus on getting better.
  5. My shoes. When you spend ~8k ($150) on shoes, you want them to not die in 6 months. And I am not going to buy 2 pairs of shoes to alternate, given the cost. Running thrice a week, means the shoes get time to “recover” too, and (hopefully) they’ll last longer.

I’ve done this for a couple of weeks, and I like it so far. The workouts have been challenging and have kicked my backside. The interval workouts leave me feeling like roadkill, without damaging my desire to run fast. I look forward to running again, and that itself is half the battle.

There are of course concerns I have about, “not enough mileage” and reliance on cross training – which, frankly, I loathe – and I have no clue how not doing it religiously is going to change how the plan behaves (Because I don’t see myself doing it). As it stands, the plan puts my HM finishing time at 2:10. I’m going to aim for 2:05. If I can get to 2:05, I’ll consider this plan a success.

I’ll report progress. Hopefully, my laziness is going to prove helpful this time 🙂

* Starts looking for a half-marathon to sign-up for*