Thursday, December 19, 2013

Writing challenge - 800 words every day

So here’s a challenge that I am throwing at myself for improving my thought process: writing 800 words every day, for the next 10 days.  In all, I will be informally and creatively writing 8000 words.  The topics could be random, ranging from mundane subjects like a bug’s life to something complex as complex as  Quantum thermodynamics; something pleasant like rainbows and shit to something hardcore like 4chan or the holocaust.  These writings will be private to me, unless there’s something worth publishing online.  I am sure there will be a few nuggets that will be impersonal and befitting the online diaspora.
Now why 800 words, you ask?  I read online that someone wrote 750 words a day for a month.  For me, maintaining a streak of 30 days for any activity would be difficult.  Hence, I bumped up the word count and reduced the streak to 10 days, something I feel will be challenging as well as manageable.  Today being the first day, I plan to write about writing.  I plan to choose certain topics for my upcoming WritathonsTM . 
Writing in itself is a pleasurable activity, especially when it’s an extempore sort of writing.  There are no bounds to what can be spewed on a blank canvas.  It’s like painting, just easier and lesser hard work.  The tools required are minimal, a computer with notepad.  It’s sufficient unless you want to add jazzy graphics and trendy fonts.  Even that can be accomplished with Microsoft Word.  I would suggest Google Docs, but then it requires you to be online and that means distractions.  A quiet place with no internet connection and your phone on silent mode is a good atmosphere to practice this.  Traditional pen and paper are good, but then safe disposal is an issue.  Let’s say you jotted down the darkest of your thoughts and due to inefficient disposal ways, someone found it, and that someone happened to be a spouse or child or parents or siblings or best friends.  I can vouch that when luck’s running foul, everything goes wrong.  I am sure the past holds instances of quarrels due to such incidents.  Now digital memoirs are no safe if sufficient care isn’t taken.  First rule; never be online if you wish something to be a secret.  Remember, the best secret is the one that does not exist.  If you think the Google Docs or Blogger posts are secure and private, think again.  The best option is to create a folder and write all your crap in that folder.  Once you are done and wish to safely dispose it, just shred the folder using your anti-virus or disk cleaners.  Remember, computer memory is never cleared unless overwritten. 
This all might sound scary, but remember, never entrust corporations with your personal information.  Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft hold the maximum online data about users.  There have been allegations and punitive actions on them for breaching user privacy rules in spite of their repetitive assurance.  I, for one, don’t trust them.  I would rather keep my private data on my computer and back it up on a USB memory stick and an external hard drive; yes, two backups.  This might sound paranoid to you, but better safe than sorry. 
Coming back to the creative part of writing, I feel it’s like a divine intervention.  I have heard writers say that they unexpectedly are enshrined upon by an idea so obsessive that they have to jot it down, else it’s lost.  It’s like a bout of lightning, if it’s not capture at the right moment, it never will be.  Several artists from all walks of art have complained this at one point or the other in their life that sometimes they are not in a position or condition to exploit the divine idea that struck them because they were driving, swimming, on vacation etc.  This is heart wrenching if the idea is lost.  It could make or break careers; and we all know how mentally hypersensitive artists could get.  One writer advised that an artist should consider their art as an external entity that bestows them with grace unexpectedly.  This would help them overcome the crippling anxiety.  She (the writer was a female) even suggested addressing the entity aloud, something like “Can’t you see I am driving?  Is this a good time to shower your boon? Eh?  Go away and please look for a less inopportune circumstance!”  She said that worked for her!  An artist spending a life in depression is a common thing since the olden times.
It gets really difficult in the last few words of the essay, inching towards 800 words slowly, cheating a bit by quoting crap.  In the last sentence in my essay I will only say that life is complex and no single solution is sufficient.  Peace.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Anatomy of a gossip

Gossip - a: rumor or report of an intimate nature b: a chatty talk c: the subject matter of gossip..

Gossip is the Devil's radio. -- George Harrison

Most of those who say they don't like to gossip are lying. They probably fear to be a subject of gossip themselves. I would like to ascribe goss as the unit of gossip. Now how to define one goss? Well, say, you are watching a gossip show on TV, or reading a magazine, a goss would be defined as the number of people you can get engrossed in a conversation about the topic.  Pretty subjective and crude definition, but that's the best I could come up with.  We will talk more about it towards the end of this post.

There have been Hollywood movies about gossip.  It lies at the very core of the social human being.  It's a study area in psychology.  Studies have found that Gossip isn't just loose talk.  There are virtues and immoralities associated with it.  There's a social stigma and there are social groups tied to it.  In essence, love it or hate it, gossip is here to stay, as it has since the dawn of the Gossip GeneTM. 

Anatomically, gossip consists of a subject or topic and the people preying on it.  Gossiping supposedly releases dopamine in brain, causing reduction in stress and bolstering a feeling of belonging.  In other words, a group of people engrossed in a gossip are likely to be happy and feeling friendly towards each other.  (Can we get India and Pakistan to gossip?!!)  But it's darker side is grotesque.  There's no mercy shown upon the subject, living or dead.  Workplace gossips are perhaps only second worst to household gossip.  Paparazzi build their careers around this native human emotion.

Every workplace has one typical Dilbert's Boss.  His or her subordinates dislike him (Euphemism intended).  In a case, there's one, who's strong on words but lame on actions.  He's not respected, but damn does he give.  I like such people, they care like the passing wind.  So naturally everyone gossips about him/her, as they can't confront him/her.  He/She takes the credit for the work of his/her subordinates, and what do They do?!  Go to the secret underground and gossip!  It releases the frustration.  It's a kind of a punching bag to vent that fury.  There's unity in the group bitching about the boss.  There's a feeling of mutual brotherhood.  I wonder if this is one of the driving forces of Lamarckian Evolution.  If it is, the social fabric and even our existence depends on this factor.  Yes, I am suggesting that gossip is probably as important as social bonding in an evolutionary sense.

Talking about celebrity and political gossip; People spend countless evenings at tea stalls, barber shops etc. discussing the Indian polity.  It's virtually a parliament there.  "We need dictatorship in India" is the most frequent political comment I have heard in such gatherings.  It's funny, lively and sometimes enlightening.  We Indians love movies but hate the guts of actors because they are filthy rich.  Same with cricketers, with the exception of the God, Sachin Tendulkar; He can do no wrong!  

In retrospect of this post, I would assign household gossip around 8 goss, workplace gossip around 4 goss (owing to its risky nature) and political and celebrity gossip greater than 15 goss.  Yes, it's the most satisfying and openly gossiped subject. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mr. Manager, if you think tea-breaks are a waste of time, you don't understand Productivity

A low intensity siren wails every afternoon at 2.30 PM at a factory near where I live.  I didn't know why, until, out of curiosity,  I asked the watchman of the factory one day.  It was supposed to be a break time of 10 minutes.  The workers could have quick tea, snacks, smokes or just relax for 10 minutes.  Not a long enough time in my opinion.  Further, I learnt that the factory was a scrap steel plant and all work was manual.  The laborers toiled hard for 9 hours a day, with a twenty minute lunch break and a 10 minute tea break.

This made me feel grateful of how lucky I am.  I can have a break at any time, and mostly quite a long one; this is in addition to an hour long lunch break.  Perhaps, this is a privilege of knowledge workers.  Although, along with gratitude, I also feel remorse for some of the IT companies and even some of the teams in my place of employment, where breaks were monitored, and sometimes even frowned upon.  I almost cringe at such attitude.  A company for which I have promised myself I will never work with, tracks employees based on how long they are logged in to their machines!  This is not a call center, you fools!

Now that I am over the burst of emotion, I can try and analyze the situation objectively.  What are managers actually scared of?  That his/her subordinates are slacking off? 
Software engineering is an extremely creative and brain intensive task.  Working 12 hours a day programming will only result in poor code and lots of defects later.  This is like studying, because everything we, the programmers do, is something no one has ever done before; it's a whole new thing we are creating.

Productivity science says that in case of tasks requiring the use of intelligence, a longer than bearable period of focus is actually harmful, both to the task at hand and the person doing it.  A break gives the nerves some time to stretch, relax and consolidate ideas and information.  It happens asynchronously.  I have seen many of the tough problems I face being solved during tea breaks or in the solitude of toilet.  It actually happens!  But our managers, whose sole duty is to calculate productivity in terms of person hours, don't understand this.  They pull up employees in meetings for taking breaks.  I have seen this in my humble work experience.  "You are not here to take breaks, but to work", yelled a manager once.  "This is not a labor job.  So my productivity is not a function of time", I responded.  He was irked because he didn't get it.

So Mr. Manager, this is not a FoxConn factory floor where if I put 14 straight hours I will produce more iPhones than others.  This is a place where I create things from my mind, and my mind is not a factory belt.  The person hours in excel sheet includes the term 'person'.  So please go read some productivity lessons and treat intellectual tasks accordingly.

Mr. Manager, if you think tea-breaks are a waste of time, you don't understand Productivity.

Monday, May 13, 2013

On Moonshots and Elon Musk

'Moonshots', the term coined by Google's Larry Page, in reference to its wide and wild adventures in areas of technology, humanities etc., which are no less feats than the humanity's moon landing saga.  Larry used the term emphatically when Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android division stepped down to 'pursue moonshots elsewhere in Google'.  Larry also referred to its Glass Project and the Self-Driving car Project to highlight the importance of moonshots.

What exactly does a 'Moonshot' consist of?  Why not ask Larry himself?  Larry says that he lives by the gospel of 10x.  That is, a 10% improvement in a product is not worth the time and effort.  If you can do it 10x times, it probably is.  What he means is that if you cannot improve upon something by a thousand percent than the competition, then it's not worth Google's moonshot.  He has truly lived by that so far. 

So now having understood the meaning of moonshots, who can we think of doing the best?  Larry Page, the late Steve Jobs,  Mark Zuck?  Who?  If  you ask me, it's none of these.  It's the lesser known Elon Musk.  Where can I start?  The great man started his venture with PayPal.  Heard of it?  I bet you have.  But that was only the beginning.  His current ventures include SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity.  These industries are as wide and disparate as the colors in white.  SpaceX is the world's first private space vehicle launching company.  Tesla Motors has hailed all of us into an era of Electric vehicles, and Solar City is his venture to harness solar power and is the single largest provider of solar power in the US.  He even plans to set up settlements on Mars by 2020, a timeline which even NASA is wary of committing.

In my view he is the true Tony Stark of our generation.  In such a small time, he has brought a new wave of optimism.  He has defined in true sense the meaning of Moonshots.  I often envision myself doing something of his sorts.  That would perhaps make a life count lived.  I salute him and hope to meet him personally one day.