Monthly Archives: March 2007

Cleaning Up

Another let-me-clear-out-my-drafts post.

Of half-baked notions conceived during periods of unforeseen stupidity, Of iceberg-tip ideas that could have become revolutionary thought pieces, Of extended ramblings that are now reduced to mere twitters,but of course, to to make way for more.

Basically, blog posts I had planned to write but now the events around which these ideas had formed have faded in my memory – so a few words on each (which after having written the post, I realise are not that few).

Rumors:

It is interesting to reflect on how Rumors are the social equivalent of a biological virus. How they spread like there is no tomorrow. How they distort truth to a point where it is often difficult to differentiate what the truth really was – and yet they are often but a reflection of the truth. How they never die out. How a rumor can often destroy the life and reputation of some people – never to be universally redeemed. Perhaps I should read this or something similar some day.

Can an author’s characters convincingly express views contrary to his/her own?

What was I going to write here? I have put God’s Debris as a reference. I didn’t read the entire book, but it is basically a discourse between two people about God. Maybe somewhere I felt that the discussion was futile, because even though the characters are countering each other’s point of view, one of them were stating arguments as if they were meant to be refuted. Thus the author’s point of view prevails, even with a character who is trying to state the opposite – he is but a creation of the author. I might be wrong here. Scott Adams even states in the book’s introduction: “You won’t discover my opinions by reading my fiction” – and I would expect a man with Scott’s intelligence and humor to be capable of creating a completely independent character. Perhaps I need more evidence – or maybe read the entire book.

On Jargon: How it creeps into your worldview and everyday conversation unbeknownst to you. Often you only realise much later that you are using words and phrases which even you don’t fully understand – yet base your decisions upon them.

One of the interesting ones I can remember is ‘ Value Addition’. A colleague from my previous job use to keep mouthing this (so did I, I think) – “I am leaving this job, there is no value addition”. Another favorite – the world over is – Web 2.0. This is worth reading by the way.

When Less is More: Really? I actually thought like that – the endless multitasker? I have mentioned Jharkhand. I had been to Jharkhand in June 2005 for a 5 week long internship at an NGO called Pradan. In the din of city life I have almost forgotten what it was like to be there.

I just remembered how there was a lot less available to do there. No TV, No Internet. One English newspaper (HT) and two-three magazines at most (Businessworld/Outlook). And of course, my market research project at Pradan. But because I had less things to do I did them well.

For the first time in my life, I read newspapers cover to cover every day. From being completely illiterate about Politics, I picked up on a few stories because I followed them everyday. Which made me realise how you make sense of things not from the point go – but incrementally bit-by-bit. To learn something you don’t need to start over (Oh! let me reach back into history and learn all about this before I start with the new stuff) but by plunging into the present process and sticking with it.

I also mentioned Mamta didi – a one woman army with the confidence and audacity to change the world. I must go there again someday. I miss you Saroj da, Nitin, Vikas, Bharat – and I feel sad that I have not kept in touch. I miss Lucky Dhaba. I miss the Papdi Chaat at Chaibasa. I miss my journey’s on rickety buses with Sudoku puzzles for company.

I recently read about the Less is More school of thought here. The article is somewhat half-baked though – not something I expect of Seth Godin. There was an importance difference in Jharkhand though – there was less to do by design and not by choice.

But if you really want to know what it is like – leave everything and elope to some distant village – maybe to work with a grassroots NGO. You will exhibit withdrawal symptoms at first but the trip will be completely worth it.

Technology at the speed of thought.

There times when you think – how cool it would be if a certain electronic gadget existed.

So for example, how cool it would be if I had a phone which could wirelessly send out audio (via bluetooth) and my bluetooth-enabled car stereo would play it for me.

Or how cool it would be if I could make VoIP calls (such as through Skype/Gizmo) over the high speed internet connection on my phone.

Or how cool it would be if, combining the above two I could listen to millions of internet radio stations in my car

Or HCIWB if I had a transparent non-intrusive display on my windscreen which would display news via RSS feeds, song lyrics and more.

‘Technology @ the speed of Thought’ is a concept that basically says this: Now that the whole world is connected through the internet, a simple Google search will reveal that such technology already exists – either someone somewhere is working on it, or it is ready to go mainstream, or someone has already identified the possible issues with such a technology and those are to be resolved. Thus as you have thought about a certain piece technology there is a very high probability that it exists already. For the first one see here, here and here. Also a cool ad for the Rokr E6 here (just in case you haven’t already)

As you can see some ideas which I had wished for about an year back are already mainstream.

Crystallizing Ideas: Basically there are so many things and ideas you think about/know about/have an intuitive sense of – but it become more tangible when someone says it. Sometimes it gives a framework to your thoughts. Sometimes makes you aware of a connetion between notions which you hadn’t thought of. It brings a clarity which you had failed to achieve. The one I can think of is the cowardice and wisdom wala funda which I had read about in Foucault’s Pendulum and had blogged about it earlier.

Amused Apathy: I have mentioned these: Bombing in Sarojini Nagar, Riots in Gujarat, Earthquake in J&K. Perhaps I should add the death of an IITD professor at IISc. Tragedies happens all the time. So what’s new?

What they often talk about alongside tragedies is Courage – how people put their grief behind and moved on. I often wonder what it really is, especially for the bystanders like you and me: Is is relief – that it didn’t happen to us?, is it apathy – just shrug/nod and go back to work? Or is it some demented sadistic pleasure manifested as mild amusement?

Also see Schadenfreude. Alok Rai – I am fortunate to have been taught by you – I think I learnt this word in your Modern Fiction class. And the Wikipedia entry reminds me – I must do a post on words which have no English equivalent yet represent a significant emotion/feeling – kinda feeds back into the Crystallizing Ideas sub-post. Also highlights the importance of names.

If you actually got down to the end of this post – I must say I am extremely grateful – my fundas are not valued everywhere.

All Ideas are good ideas …

… there are just factors around them which make them worth pursuing or not worth pursuing.

Just a thought I wanted to jot down – will elaborate some more later maybe.

I love Synchronicity

Synchoronicity is the “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events”.

In my understanding (admittedly I am using the definition loosely): Something happens. Then something else happens which reminds you of that earlier occurence either in context or in content, but the two seem completely unrelated.

The most uncanny occurence of synchronicity which I have experienced lately is when I was reading the Satanic Verses, while Bluffmaster was playing on TV in the background. The scene came, where Abhishek Bachchan learns that he is going to die, and Boman Irani is trying to tell him that he should live his life to the fullest in the short time he has. He tells him about him being a kid – learning to ride a bicycle – his dad holding the bike coz the kid’s scared that he might fall – but then the father suddenly lets go of the bike without the kid realising and voila! he has learned how to ride a bike. Exactly five minutes later I read this in the Satanic verses (one of the two main characters Saladin Chamcha is reflecting on the suffering that has been caused to him by the things he loved the most. One of them – the dream of a child he never had):

“..In the sylvan secrecy, Saladin saw himself, accompanied by a small boy of about five, whom he was teaching how to ride a bicycle. The boy, wobbling alarmingly at first, made heroic efforts to gain and maintain his balance, with the ferocity of one who wished his father to be proud of him. The dream-Chamcha ran along behind the imagined son, holding the bike upright by gripping the parcelrack over the rear wheel. Then he released it and the boy (not knowing himself to be unsupported) kept going: balance came like a gift of flight, and the two of them were gliding down the avenue, Chamcha running, the boy pedalling harder and harder. ‘You did it!’ Saladin rejoiced, and the equally elated child shouted back: ‘Look at me! See how quickly I learned! Aren’t you pleased with me? Aren’t you pleased?’ It was a dream to weep at; for when he awoke there was no bicycle and no child.”

The thing about synchronicity is that a) It’s thrilling – the fact that something like it happened is mysterious and exciting b) It often makes you think about things a little more deeply – often shedding new light on what you knew or believed.

A couple of days back I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about what leads to success. His point was that talent is inherent – It is genetic and thus you can never really compete with a person in areas where he or she is born talented. Also, he said a lot of people end up picking the wrong domain and thus end up as failures.

The next day this nugget came in through my RSS feeds. Guy Kawasaki redirects us to this piece, which everyone must read. Guy sums it up as:

The article postulates that people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are “set” as either good or bad. The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.

Dr. Dweck calls the fixed mindset the performance mindset – where someone who has to be “officially good” at something – often plays safe – as he can’t  be seen as bad, and also fails to work on complex things where some initial hard work is needed (as he is already supposed to be good at it).

So at the end of the day it is not so much about why inherently talented people succeed, but about why some talented people DON’T succeed – and that is where the balance of power is shifted. Thus the argument I would give back to my friend is that a growth mindset person can often overcome a talented but fixed mindset person.

Unfortunately – I think I belong to the latter. I am too embarrassed to be seen as “bad” at something – which has resulted in me not doing so many things – one of my biggest regrets is Sports. Another recent example is Salsa. I joined Salsa classes more than an year back but I still suck at it. Part of which can be attributed to the fact that I have been called a good dancer so many times now that it has now become an inherent belief. (Sumedha Garg where are you? I need you to talk me down a bit). Perhaps all along when I have been learning Salsa – I have basically believed that I am inherently good and all other are largely suckers.

Damn! I need a growth mindset. Pronto. And I have a lot of work to do to get there.

The Male Stereotype

Found this T-Shirt lying around in my wardrobe. I think I had bought this sometime in third year of college.

What a way to reinforce the male stereotype.

Oh, and just in case you are wondering – no it didn’t help :)

Someone stole my Orkut "About me" !

They say imitation is the best form of flattery – but I have no clue what this is. I occasionally search Orkut for “itasveer”, just to see if people are putting their Shared Photo Pages on itasveer under their “my webpage” section.

Here’s something I found: A guy has tapoed my “about me” and put it practically verbatim on his profile. Initially I thought it was some Orkut bug, but then when I looked carefully – I noticed he had put the right number of his friends in the description. Seriously weird!. Funny thing is he didn’t even care to remove the link to MY blog in HIS profile! What was he thinking?

Me:

Some weirdo:

WTF?

HOW TO: Use the internet

Yeah, yeah – go ahead – call me a pretentious prick.

Truth is, most of us don’t really ‘use’ the internet. We all check mail, IM/Orkut and Google when we are looking for a piece of information, but for most that is where the use of the internet ends.

In my case internet is a chronic condition now – fortunately or unfortunately. I probably spend atleast 50% of my time on the internet.

So from a diseased man – here’s a bunch of top-of-the-mind things which can be useful to everyone – both to be more productive through the internet and to use the internet more productively. Long post – apologies.

1. RSS Feeds: Ever noticed these icons on a lot of sites? Or maybe these: . Wondered what they were? Until I had used RSS feeds, I found these intimidating at worst and intriguing at best. A preliminary investigation would not reveal much except that they stood for ‘Really Simple Syndication’ (Wha?)

All that changed when I hit upon a nifty website called Netvibes, where I really saw how RSS feeds work. To understand RSS consider Google News: If you break it down, it has some content (headlines + corresponding news stories) and some formatting (the Google logo and the colors). What RSS does is that it helps you separate content from design and in turn makes that content portable – thus I can access the content (as a Google news RSS feed) from a different platform (typically a feed reader like Netvibes).

As an example, look at this page from my Netvibes account. Some blogs which I otherwise used to read on their respective URLs – now appear all in place – always updated – and allowing me greater choice and flexibility.

Netvibes Page

So, while they may look a little geeky to the uninitiated, trust me RSS Feeds are the most amazing way to get content and information you consume from a wide variety of sources in the most efficient way.

[ A thought: There are reasons why RSS has not hit the mainstream – a) RSS links break the traditional weblink behaviour. When I click on a link I expect to be “taken” somewhere – not reach a rather intimidating page which looks like this . This is changing with ‘Subscribe’ links which redirect to a bunch of readers – but still exist on a fairly large number of sites b) No easy way of embedding an RSS feed onto my blog or website – like the way I would with a YouTube video. I think that would be quite cool.]

2. Google Cache: You googled for a page. It exists in the search results but you get a ‘Page Not Found’ error upon clicking the link. Did you ever notice the Cached link at the bottom of a search result? That is where Google will give you a snapshot of the page when it indexed it.

I remember using it to find Thomas Cook contact details in Delhi when the site was down.

Search the Cache specifically by doing cache:URL (Remember you can only search website URLs though – not keywords.)

3. Use Firefox: Firefox is a browser which can truly help you use the internet more productively. I love Firefox for three main reasons: a) Tabbed browsing: It decreases clutter on the taskbar and keeps things organised b)The Search Box: An easily extensible search box which lets me search Google, Wikipedia, IMdB, Dictionary.com (and anything else you want) without actually going to the websites. c) Extensions: Small tools which extend the utility of your web browser. If you know about them > please recommend some cool ones to me, if you don’t, trust me once you have started using them, there is no way you will ever think twice about using Firefox. Two of my favorites are the Down Them All! – a download manager and Screengrab – a useful alternative to Print Screen.

[Bonus: Keyboard Shortcuts for Firefox. “Ctrl + Left-Click”: Opens a link in a new tab; “Ctrl+Tab” and “Ctrl + Shift + Tab”: Move between different tabs; “Ctrl + L”: Go to the address bar; “Alt + Down Arrow” in the search box: Lists all available search engines.]

[On IE7: By the way IE7 has copiously copied from Firefox – so for those who have moved to IE7 you pretty much have all of the above. The Extensions are called Add-Ons but for some reason don’t work as well. I couldn’t get the IE web developer toolbar to work and FlashGet – a download manager -doesn’t work very well either.]

4. Use Wikipedia Better: You’re sniggering aren’t you? Who doesn’t use Wikipedia?
Everyone does, but there is a lot of concern over the autheticity of the information – and it is quite valid. There are several incidents to support this concern. Then you have school kids referring to Wikipedia for practically everything – which can be a bad trend especially if they don’t realise that some of that information might be incorrect.

So, what do you do? Read intelligently and read critically. a) Let Wikipedia be your first port of call, get a primer and then check out the associated links on Wikipedia or Google b) A quick look at the Discussion page often tells you what’s going on with an article.

5. Amazon Search Inside!: There are so many books I wish to read – but that will never come true, because of a) too little time and b) limited availability. For those of you who don’t know this, you can read book excerpts for tons of books on Amazon – a good 5-10 pages for most books. Makes it easy for you to separate the wheat from the chaff and get a “quickie” for books you probably won’t be able to read. Here’s an excerpt from Fooled by Randomness – an absolute must-read.

That’s it for now.