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Thu, 02 Jan 2020:

Almost exactly to a year ago the merger between Cloudera and Hortonworks went through.

I've had a fairly inside field view of the process and the rollercoaster has been fun or at least never boring. Along the way, I kept having these four questions.

Four questions which are like an organizational rorschach test. But they all look like butterflies to me.

Do you want to release on schedule or by bug count?: There are fundamentally good reasons to ship software only when its bug count drops below a certain margin, but that usually circles around a single development line and not an entire ecosystem distribution. The customers aren't all the same and they don't care about problems in the same way across the components. Shipping a release with bugs is so much worse when you are planning a big bang release with another six months before the next attempt at fixing the problems. However, there are two assumptions hidden in this - new adopters will wait for a release instead of exploring alternatives during the delay and that the internal bug count is a good proxy for the issues that customers will encounter.

There are immediate organizational downsides to this as well. Any team that meets its bug counts for the expected due date through personal heroics of team members will feel disappointed that either they worked too hard or that they took up tech debt for workarounds they didn't need to. And the team that is currently holding up the release will get pressure from all sides and possibly a bad review in the future.

Of course, there's still no good answer because you can't just ship whatever you have because it is the 2nd Tuesday of the month. There's quite a lot of balancing between hitting the dates and closing all the release blockers. In general, most of the quality of code discussions circle around this particular trade-off point.

If there's an argument, is it better to build or discuss?: Decision making is always full of conflict. Technical discussions tend to be easier to tie-break since measurements are possible without involving external entities, unlike say advertising or marketing ones. That said, often specifications which are left on the table without implementations tend to grow outwards either to add more scope to the project or to tackle specific conditions which are imagined during a meeting. A design discussion is not the right place to shift the scope of a project or to add customer scenarios into the mix, but several arguments are discussed out to expand the implementation routinely. These are easily recognizable when applied to cross-cutting features like authentication or authorization which every teams to gets to provide input on.

The main reason why these arguments end up in discussions rather than arriving at an implementation which can be criticized more constructively is because the discussion happens between non-implementors, either being architects or senior engineers. The people who would be responsible for putting together a prototype are usually never in the meeting and even if they were, they are happier to evade being targeted by the engineers in charge of oversight.

Discussions are useful to clarify disagreement. And in this note Chesterton's fence is very much applicable. The implementation is often surprise-heavy and ends up having to bypass several decisions made in dicussions. Empowering the implementor to communicate disagreement with the designer is the most important communication pathway I've observed.

Do you organize teams by skills or involvement?: Before I get into it, let's talk about specialists versus generalists. For a total team conflict reduction, having specialists is better than generalists, since each person has clear responsibility for their own area of expertise with no involvement with others in the team - either to approve or disagree. Naturally, this results in teams getting fragmented into niche skill specialists and leaves the organization to manage staffing by either over-staffing specialists or under-staffing the team when someone is on vacation or quits. From a skip-level up the ladder, that's where the utility of folks like me come in, since I don't mind being thrown into a problem which requires reskilling (at the expense of some conflict with established patterns with questions like "why do we always do it this way?").

Assuming you have a team of specialists and a single manager, then the immediate problem comes up when any of the specialists has a "career" conversation with you. The next level up is management, at which point the specialist will be tackling a team where they are familiar with a fraction of the skills. Having organizations where specialists occupy their own organization structure and float between projects is a way to bypass that issue, since the size of the project is not related to the location of the specialist in the org chart. But that reduces the involvement of the specialist in the team, where the success of the project is only indirectly tied to the future prospects. There is some middle ground here, but that needs to be found for each growth stage of the organization.

Is it better to have big plans or small plans?: Project planning isn't quite war, but it still holds that the map isn't the same as territory. The size and scale of the ideal plan varies as you move between approval of said plan and the execution of it. Big plans tend to motivate leadership, while they tend to overwhelm the foot soldier who can't quite see the map. However, the difference in software engineering is that a big plan can come from the other direction - engineers wanting to do complete rewrites to improve productivity and implement features faster. Because the rates of distruption over a month remains roughly the same, a big plan therefore is likely to fail, since priorities can change over two quarters more than it does over a single one.

It is easy for organizational panic when objectives can be further away than your plans. The comment about "I don't see how your plan is going to get us there" isn't the end of discussion, it is merely an opportunity to admit that from the hole you are currently in, a better plan can come only after you climb out of it. Again, there isn't a good size for a plan - there are plans within plans and all that. And there are ways to meaningfully go ahead with feature flags and fall back mechanisms where the big plan can roll out in stages, where an unexpected event is merely a pause in the process.

And then: These questions are important to me, not because they have right or wrong answers, but because your answers tell me what your experiences and perspective on software development are. And then perhaps, more questions to ask me.

“I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.”
         ― Richard Feynman

posted at: 15:11 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 17 Nov 2018:

Often Software (with a capital 'S') is not built, it is grown. And a lot of green digits are involved, not always thumbs.

When I got an education which taught me how to build software, the process emphasized on sitting down in front of my computer, pushing my will upon a barely explicable machine which was built to resemble advanced technology on some days and complete magic on others.

In fact, when I think about it, every part of my computer science education was about imperative commands to a system which, if you give it adequate commands always throws up unsurprising results everytime (and all surprises were bugs). Everything I was taught about this fit that model, where when I had a "Software Management" class it was full of Gantt charts and PERT charts, going over how to schedule time for different engineers to work on the same project in parallel. The recommended reading was The Mythical Man Month and that was hilarious to read, at least. Mostly that class was taught as a way to have an engineer understand what a manager might have to do, not exactly explaining the operational realities.

This post is about the third time I realized I was ill-equipped to deal with the actual demands of being an engineer with the industry. Because none of what I describe works the way I've been taught - at least, when it comes to these skills I'm entirely self-taught.

The first time I figured out that this was all wrong was when I was bumped to a tech lead, one rung below turning full manager. Humans are pretty hard to instruct and they respond to imperative commands by being confused about the goals, slowing down till they understand it and planning around your well laid plans. This was the first time I figured out that breaking down a complex project into a set of sprint tasks, going over burn down charts and in general replacing motivation with process does not actually work for humans. Instead it sets up a bunch of perverse incentives which builds up technical debt and kicks the can on potential problems until one day they can pawn off that problem as "above my pay grade" to a special tiger team which drops in out of nowhere. People don't work like machines, but they do work - and they move much faster when they can take decisions that they can reverse on their own (turns out machines do that too, see SPECTRE).

The second time I figured out that the world where I'm employed doesn't look like my classes is when I started talking to customers. I wrote about my Zynga tenure that what I learned was to persuade people, not direct them. The interaction between a customer and a software engineer is one that is fraught with many traps which primarily rise from tossing bugs over with a blame thrower. Feature discussions are yet another scenario where being a "can do" person brings its own challenges. The crucial requirements for a customer are often expressed as potential solutions, where they ask for something very specific which worked for them in a different generation of tech or just ask for a feature which they read about in a press release by some competitor. Technology persuasion is a gentle process similar to managing reports, more art than science - which only works if you really listen, head back and build what approximates the need, instead of desire.

However, today I'm faced with a slightly different challenge - I'm overflowing out of my current role as a "Principal Engineer - II". That isn't a destination for an engineer as much as it is a reserved parking spot.

There's a slightly different track adjacent to it, which will use most of what I already know, but I'm contemplating what I have to give up to move over to a "Software Architect" in role, if not title. I find that title somewhat archaic, because it implies very strongly that software is designed by someone as a measured blueprint and then put together by bricklayers, overseen by foremen and all that. However, the reality disagrees vehemently, at least from my vantage point.

And I realize it is hard for an executive to look at me through an architect cookie cutter, because I'm already something else. There are literally dozens, DOZENS of us in this industry.

My open source software work is sort of like a slightly overgrown garden. I don't make plans with measurements, I make grids and boundaries for sure. The bugs creep in, but I try to make it easier to debug. The feature branches are trimmed to stay manageable and the features which pop up like weeds need to be taken care of early, before they start to creep over. But most often what I really point to is that the garden just needs time and attention to keep it up, however any week it is always unfinished with a bunch of flower beds yet to bloom or bulbs to repot out of the alpha bed into the beta. Gardeners do get credit though - but in a garden it is obvious that the plants all grow by themselves, but it is still all work of the gardener to fertilize the soil, regularly water and put all the effort into giving it the opportunity to thrive. The significant and hard requirement is being constantly present, to rotate through your skills over the lifecycle of your crop - including calling in & giving up specialized tasks to the right people.

The frustrations are extremely similar too - a drought in the market, needing to redo everything because the plumbers need to dig it up to fix something fundamental with the way the funding irrigation comes in, to literaly turn on the tap. A worker in a garden is not entirely in control of the process, as much as they take responsibility for the plants, there are no miracles they can perform beyond what nature allows them to. And in a round about way, everything that grows in this garden grows up on the dead remains of a previous generation without giving it any credit for laying down all this top-soil. Every few years, literally turning-over old projects to prepare the ground to plant new seeds.

And sometimes we do need to plant a few trees whose shade you will never sit under.

As history of the Santa Clara valley rhymes through the bracero years, I've turned into a gardener of open source software in fertile soil, brought in from a different land, taught again how to do this at an industrial scale, but organically and sustainably.

Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions.
They thrive because someone expended effort on them.

        -- Liberty Hyde Bailey

posted at: 11:26 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 03 Jan 2018:

Money is just misplaced effort.

Most of my waking hours are spent working on things which are not part of my long term goals in life. There is a implied social contract that if I turn my hours into money, there's some way to use it to accomplish those goals much more efficiently than if I worked on the goals on my own in those hours.

I've been thinking about where all I misplace my efforts, but for extremely good reasons.

Some of these are collective efforts - things that only works at scale, like having plumbing, cell phones or traveling over paved roads. Others are purely about an experience encountering a small time period, where I wouldn't learn enough about caring for a new born in the period in which the child remains a new born. Though in some cases, it is entirely unclear where that line is - buying fresh vegetables and cooking them is only a tiny shade more independent than sitting down to eat them at a restaurant. Whether I fix a leaky tap or change a tire, those seem a bit more relevant to my life, but that is certainly at a balance of interdependence - if it takes someone two days to show up to fix either, I'd better know the basics at least.

There are other factors as well - there are skills which I do have, which do not help me towards my direct goals at all. I can sit and reason through probabilities & causalities. This is not a general talent, but something which has been nurtured into life by constant practice. I spend my days debugging badly structured code that already works well enough to keep. Arguably, in a world where that is of little value, I might not be doing this, but that is besides the point.

Sitting and thinking is an activity I can transmute into food, shelter and clothing - without knowing how to grow, build or weave. Getting better at thinking clearly is obviously helping me live better, but there's a certain emptiness is striving to be better at something that is indirectly linked to your life with a giant lag.

Money is necessary to this process, because I don't really interact with a fixed number of people. The people who benefit from my bit-twiddling aren't the same people who will give me food - money is an exchange of value, but one which is meaningful only because of the transaction.

The only true purpose of money is to be spent in return for someone else misplacing their efforts to my benefit. And to spread that across time - to be able to utilize your future effort today by borrowing or to plan for a period of time when you might be incapable of significant effort.

Adam Smith said it much more clearly about the pinmakers, but sometimes you want to do more than just make pins cheaper every year?

The reason I had to write this down is because I'm getting unmotivated about working on these misplaced non-goals in my life, which I have to do just so that I could meet the actual goals, through this long chain of people who are also here for the same reason.

The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold.
                -- Khalil Gibran

posted at: 01:39 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 30 Jan 2017:

We're into the second act, people!

This is a moment of despair, but you know what the second act is. It is a moment of character, where you get to find out if you're part of the narrative or not. Some of you reading are definitely looking away, but this is really for those who are staring out at the world in despair, watching it stare back into you.

Remember what the second act is - it is the rising action. The heroes' attempts to fix the crisis leads to ever worsening situations. And they can't win, because they haven't got the skills to deal with the forces of the other side. They must not only learn how to wield the light saber in attack, but also to believe in the force that flows through.

There's a part of me which wants to unplug the news and go back to where I have a vote. I could've done a runner with a clean conscience, refusing to fund the process with my taxes. But I've got a tiny american with me, who never got to decide what his future looks like. I cannot remain idle in his defence, but I didn't sign up to die trying.

So, I must think of the second act and what it demands.

Bassiano: And I beseech you,
          Wrest once the law to your authority:
          To do a great right, do a little wrong,
          And curb this cruel devil of his will.

Portia: It must not be; there is no power in Venice
        Can alter a decree established:
        'Twill be recorded for a precedent,
        And many an error by the same example
        Will rush into the state: it cannot be.

In this fight for essential liberties, the rule of law is overturned, we are lost. I hear the words of the lovely Portia from the Merchant of Venice. Thus we must look to the lawyers, to ride in like the cavalry. In Shakespeare's words of "The Butcher" in Henry V, lawyers for sure remember the laws and not easily forget that all animals are created equal.

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; 
           all shall eat and drink on my score; 
           and I will apparel them all in one livery, 
           that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK:      The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

The soap box and ballot box have not helped, let's just hope the next box has got enough stopping power. I'd hate to get to the last box, because down that way madness lies. To learn politics and law, so that my children may learn literature and art is no sacrifice, but the last box leaves us without civilization.

I don't know how this will all end. I'm not anxious anymore though, because there's one thing I worried about - that world would turn away in apathy. Because in the end what we will remember most often will not be the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends. Do not imagine all is lost, do not mistake being out of power with being in the minority - there are more of us, when the numbers are in. This plot arc is long and we're just into the second act.

And though wise men at their end know dark is right, do not go gently into the good night!

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

posted at: 03:00 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 06 Jul 2015:

Here's a short quick set of questions.

Do you work heavily whenever a project causes disappointment, when you are under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone?

Have you built up a tolerance to your life style and developed strategies to cope with lack of sleep when driving?

Have you gone back to work in the morning only to not understand what you were thinking when you wrote some code last night?

When you work in a team, do you find yourself taking up an unfair share of work automatically?

Do you ever feel uncomfortable when you are too far away from work stress, particularly if you've turned off work email?

Are you in a hurry to get some part of your work done, before you have to meet the rest of the team for a standup?

Do you find yourself picking up some work to do, after you make sure your wife and kids are already asleep?

Has a family member or friend complained about you preferring to work instead of going to a social occasion?

Do you ever promise to meet for an event (kid's recital, date night) and missed it because you were caught up in work?

Have you noticed that despite spending more time at work, you get less and less done these days?

Do you eat very little or irregularly, during periods of overworking?

Do you ever feel depressed or anxious during or after periods of heavy working?

Have you tried to change your work habits for several attempts without achieving any real change?

Do you ever find yourself making excuses that this is entirely temporary, while consistently overworking for months?

Do you try to cram in as many lifestyle activites as possible into a single weekend, to make the break from work count?

Do you ever find yourself wondering how other people find time for their hobbies?

Do you motivate yourself with thoughts that when one day you're rich from all this work, you will be able to retire and pursue hobbies?

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious.
Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?
The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd.
But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.
        -- Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

posted at: 21:48 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 17 Jul 2012:

I ain't trying to preach, I believe I can reach
But your mind ain't prepared, I'll c u when u get there.

I'd be a fool to surrender when I know I can be a contender
If everybody's a sinner then everybody can be a winner.

I'ma scuffle and struggle until I'm breathless and weak
I done strived my whole life to make it to the mountain peak.
Always keep reaching sure to grab on to something 
I'll be there when you get there with muted sounds bumping.

We prefer to keep our eyes shut 'til it's right
When there's something involved that we desire.
So hold your head up high if you're poor and righteous 
I know times seem strife and problems seem endless.

But at the times of despair we gotta put ourselves together 
And if you feel you're out of the game.
Then you need to get back in it 
'Cause nothing worse than a quitter.
You gotta face responsibility one day, my brother 
So wrap up your pity and turn it to ambition.
And put your vehicle in 'Drive' and stop by my side.

As we walk down the road of our destiny 
And the time comes to choose which shall it be
The wide and crooked or the straight and narrow. 
We got one voice to give and one life to live.

Stand up for something or lie down in your game.
Listen to the song that we sing.
It's up to you to make it big I guess, 
I'll c u when u see me. 

I'll c u when u get there. 

Lyrics from Coolio's C U When U Get There.

It is not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned.
It is not what we intend but what we do that makes us useful.
And, it is not a few faint wishes but the struggle that makes us valiant.
        --Henry Ward Beecher

posted at: 15:17 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 30 Jun 2012:
Life isn't fair: Justice isn't some inherent property of the universe. Chaos is. And no matter what any batman villain says, a coin toss isn't fair. But it is no reason to complain, because somedays it works in your favour. Good it might be, but fair it isn't.

Nothing is ever perfect: Perfection is a quest, not a goal. Sometimes it feels good to be done with something, put it aside and move onto the next thing on your mind. It might be half-assed, but it is not just a thought anymore, it is out there. Bear in mind, it's also out there for people to criticize - but that's not a thing to fear. Carry on the quest though, but look for it in your life not in others.

There are shortcuts in life: Sure there are shortcuts, they rarely look like one. I'm lazy and that has made me look for these a bit more often than others. It took a great teacher to explain to me that education was what got him out of a hard life. Made the whole process look like liberation instead of the enslavement I used to blame the school bell for.

Rewards are not for effort or patience: You can't argue with results. The only time to talk about the effort is when it goes wasted.

Money is important: I wouldn't blame everything on money, but the lack of money is the root of some evils. Growing up in the wide middle class of Kerala, almost every limit in life I saw was about money. I know it can't buy everything, but removing that limit lets me focus on the things that can't be bought or sold - also known as the important things in life.

Luck is overrated: I think so. But who can really tell?

People die (unfortunately): I thought I knew that, but every year tells me more about it than I ever wanted to know. My only tribute to the dead is to keep on living.

Never let fear stop you & never let greed drive you: I'm not exceptionally brave. But I've maintained the little inner strength I have by trying to reflect on my motives. And in cutting down the knee-jerk reactions to fear & greed, I've torn out the insecurities that fed my self doubt. No, I'm not afraid she will leave me and I'm not waiting for my next raise - I care that she's happy and I need the money, but I'm here to kick ass & chew gum. And I'm all out of gum.

Sometimes the right thing to do is to walk away: You don't have to win every fight. Trust me, you don't have the time to fight every loser who steps out. So don't start a fight you don't want to finish. And when it comes to true confrontation, be as Teddy "Bear" Roosevelt said, speak softly & carry a big stick. Whack him good.

You've been wrong before & you'll be wrong again: This bears repeating - being wrong is important. Just one advice - eating your own words is painful. Even more reason to make them sweet in the first place.

When you're wrong, change your opinion: What's the alternative?

Don't be a rebel, change something instead: I probably had my teenage rebellion way late. And it went about this by turning my world upside down and shaking it till everything that wasn't nailed down fell out. I thought I was watching the world fall down on me, but something else happened. And I came out of it armoured with purpose.

Intelligence and skill doesn't scale: Eventually there's just 24 hours in everybody's day. And I'm not going to put in all 16 hours into work - I have a life. But more importantly, I've learnt to work away from my loner approach to doing things (instilled by the student-beat-student education system) into doing things together. Cooperation scales way better and more easily. I wouldn't say this if I was Roger Federer, but I'm not.

You can't be anything you want: Nothing's stopping you from being all you can be. It'll take a while to figure out what limits we see are real and which ones are self imposed. Ambition will let you find that out, but that's when you need to take a reality check & cash it.

Everything's harder than you realize: Our society respects people who are "brilliant". In honesty, I can't really blame society for it when there's an easier target out there - The Karate Kid. Anyway, effortless was another word for brilliant. And I wanted some of that - so I tried to get that tag for myself. But in the process I learnt something, the things I love are easier for me. The sacrifices are easier and time just flies when I'm having fun.

Failure is OK, Defeat isn't: Sometimes you give up. Life's going to keep bringing up this topic, but the day I can't get up when life knocks me down, I'll be truly defeated. I plan to get out of this life undefeated.

Do not live in the present - tomorrow does come: It's a hellish momentary existence to live in the present forever. Hopes and dreams do not have a place in it, because there is no tomorrow. I've nearly killed myself to escape it & swore never to return there. I forever live in the boundary between days, sometimes wallowing in the past and sometimes pushing towards the future. Today is merely tomorrow turning into yesterday.

May not be much, but this took 10,000 days to come into being. And perhaps, just perhaps, I'm writing this down to read someday later.

22,000 days,
22,000 days, it's not a lot,
it's all you've got
22,000 days
      -- Moody Blues

posted at: 23:27 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 08 Oct 2011:

The last time I drove my bike fast was in June.

No, that's not true. I drove it fast today. Too fast, perhaps. But that leads me to another question, how fast is too fast? I'm not talking about the speed limits or the consequences of speeding. I find that my sense of speed is completely off depending on what I'm driving - I've hit 65 on a bicycle downhill, on a 75cc two wheeler, on a 350cc cruiser and of course, in various cars. The sensation is very different, but in reality the speed is the same. So, in a rather objective sense, can I tell my brain what my driving speeds really mean?

I've always been wary of heights - though not exactly when I've been climbing. I've jumped off enough tall things to have a sense of how it feels. Maybe that's the way I can explain this. Let's take 3 different speeds and work out how they feel - in "jumping out of the window" terms.

The calculations are rather trivial.

def height(v):
    g = 9.80665 # m/s^2
    # convert to m/s
    # v^2 = u^2 + 2as 
    s = (vm*vm)/(2*g)
    print "Height to fall from (for %d kmph) = %d metres" % (v,s)

height(40) # = 6 m
height(60) # = 14 m
height(80) # = 25 m

Now, the numbers clearly indicate the height goes up to the square of the speed you're driving in, rather than than linearly (duh, kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity). But what does scare me is what I've added for perspective is an olympic high dive, which sort of looks like this. Not to mention, you aren't going to be hitting a nice deep pool of water.

And I still drive fast.

It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off.
    -- Woody Allen

posted at: 15:15 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 08 Mar 2010:

You & I both know there's no We here.

As I write down blog entry after the other, I've come to realize that there's only one person I can talk about with any sort of clarity - me. I can't speak for anyone else. Everything is as I observe, as I experience and as I feel - all mixed up into a general pile of nothing. To draw out a clear & coherent thread of thought out of that requires me to unravel a bit of myself in the process.

Self reflection leaves its own smudges in my thoughts. The searchlight of my mind leaves shadows, of contrasts & comparisons with itself. The similarities just merge into the backdrop, the differences stick out like a sore thumb. The edges & cracks appear, just like on a lake in winter, when the fluidity of thought is frozen into something solid.

And the words, like charcoal rubbing on paper, merely picks up what stands out. Everything in black & white, clearly marked out. Makes for a pretty picture, but is hardly what really exists.

Frame it up, hang it up and sign my name. And call it a blog.

My mind not only wanders, sometimes it leaves completely.

posted at: 03:32 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 26 Oct 2009:

People don't make decisions. Decisions make people.

That can't be true. I know to the exact dot, dash and every crossed tee to why I made the decision to write this blog. Or am I just writing out a rational framework as an after-thought to a pithy cliche? Maybe it's because I picked up an Orwell book and read Shooting an Elephant again?

I will never know. Not for sure. The sequence of thoughts that precede and follow an action are often so mixed up in retrospect. They get even more muddled up when I introspect deeper. I can't use my mind to understand itself. Going third-person collective on this stuff!

We strive to maintain a certain rational self-integrity as a survival trait. In some sense, our self images involve a picture of a conscious, self-evolved and rational person. We cling to it, however transparently false it might be to everyone else around. We are proud of it.

Impulsive decisions prompt a certain cognitive dissonance in deep dark of your sub-conscious. You know you aren't that kind of a person, but the act is behind you and there's no rewriting your actions. But perhaps there's other things you can change to make it all fit. Most of us fight it by becoming a new self, to whom the actions are a natural consequence of who they are. I understand, even have grown to respect that it's inevitable. But rather than admit that the change of heart was after the action, we'd rather revise our history a bit to recover a bit of internal coherence. Because in the disordered and confused world they live in, the coherence of self is perhaps the only thing they've got left to hold onto.

You've become a different person and it surprises everyone around you. The most convenient lie to trot out to mask all this internal turmoil is the ever cliched "I've always been like this, you didn't know me well enough!". I can't really read minds, but I've learnt to read people. Observing people will themselves into believing this - that they haven't changed due to their decisions and that causality flowed the other way around - has brought me some insight into the ways change has creeped into me.

I've come to embrace it. My decisions have changed me, some for better & some for worse. I'm a product of my decisions, not of my dreams or desires - of my decisions & actions. I live out my own punctuated equilibrium of personal evolution. And not everything that changed me came from within. I'm not taking anything away from myself with that admission. It's the truth.

But I've come to despise the impulsive pretenders of later rationality.

Perhaps despise is too strong a word. But it'll do for now.

One could laugh at the world better if it didn't mix tender kindliness with its brutality.
          -- D. H. Lawrence

posted at: 06:01 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 06 Oct 2009:

Occasionally, as I flip back the pages of my life, I find myself in conversation with a younger me from a much older time. As if caught in a flipbook time machine, I see myself change, grow and in some sense, stay the same. Once in a while though, I turn up a page with which I disagree with enough to need revisiting.

In the mid-summer of 2007, out of my frustrations with work was born an unadulterated rant of pure cynicism.

There's some sort of misplaced humility that is injected into us by our educational system. Or maybe it is some sort social stigma attached to the braggart or overacheiver. Must've been what was going through Lennon's mind as he penned down "they'll hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool". Eventually, the struggle to stand out and the pressures to blend in, find some sort of balance in your inner selves. You'll be happy to be the best at something everybody is doing. And even if you aren't, it's somewhat a partially ordered set. Life makes sense and the years roll on.

So you are the real deal, the bee's knees. To start off your career, you dive in and start pulling your weight. Even a moron in a hurry can see that what you're doing valuable, nay essential to the company. Your management wants to know that, it's exactly the kind of information they crave. When it's handed to them in a platter, they love it. But, you keep working, in your little corner. Nobody notices anything and if they do, it's when you fail. You complain about not being noticed to your peers, you write out long rants on your blog about how your life sucks.

Most people at this point in their careers blame the management for everything that's wrong at their job. And treat every peer who chooses to move into management as a blood traitor. I'm not denying that there are bad managers, just the same as there are bad people. But most managers promoted out of rank & file end up being good people with a job which looks like herding cats, except without any catnip. The people working under ordinary managers go passive agressive in their rebellion, complicating the situation further. Eventhough 'tis a betrayal every which way, it happens because nobody trusts anybody.

You are doing something very important and valuable to the company. Then why don't they trust you? Because they have had people work under them in past who were poor communicators because they weren't getting anything done. They even had good people work under them who secretly didn't like the plans, but kept their traps shut and worked towards a fait accompli. So if you communicate poorly, they are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. No matter how many poor communicators actually end up getting work done, the managers will always remember the times they've been burned.

You don't need to be a 'Yes Man' or a atrocious sychophant to get your manager to treat you well. All you need to do is to make his job easier ... after all, managing you is pretty hard work. Though, there's such a thing as overdoing it. But that's yet another story altogether.

Watching your future with much interest,
  — future me.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
           -- George Bernard Shaw

posted at: 22:01 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 14 Mar 2009:

She's perhaps the most important person in your life - and you'll never acknowledge it.

Perhaps the only constant relationship you maintain over the years, without realizing it. It won't be hard - You'll do nothing more for each other than just listen - hear each other out. And it'll be enough, in fact it'll be more than enough.

She's a friend - a friend you never reached out to. A friendship born out of coincidence and chance. Not someone you want or desire, but someone who's always seemed to be just background to your life. All that makes her special is that your soul is naked to her - she's the one with whom you have never put up on your pretensions. She's the one who's never judged you for it. She's just this girl in your life, never platonic with a hint of impossibility to it. She's just there, somewhere.

But, when shit happens; She's the first one you go to.

All my friends and I are crazy. That's the only thing that keeps us sane.

posted at: 01:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Thu, 19 Feb 2009:

The word intellectual has been hijacked. That epithet was reserved for those who held views of their own on this world. For those who used their intellect and abilities to percieve the world in their own light. For the renegades of thought, not restricted by the dogmas of their time and life.

Somewhere along the way, it became impossible to distinguish between the true leaders of ideas from those who have squandered their potential as independent thinkers. It's not like the fundamental roots of philosophy have changed over the years, but the world of print is seducing those that wish to futher their development onto the beaten paths of the last century. I do not deny that on shoulders of giants we should stand, but not on their toes.

I meet people like that all the time. I in fact, enjoy the crossfire of ideas that results in. I'm growing, I'm learning without being taught. But I often feel like what I've wandered into is not the melting pot of ideas, the half-bakery of them - but the McDonalds of ideas. Ingredients sourced from all over the world, made with a recipe, packed and tastes the same all over the world. There's a pervading sense of sameness about it - the names dropped, the vocabulary and the people I meet.

The ends remain the same, but the means have lost their meaning. Existential angst is the source of all my philosophy. The contemplation of suicide is perhaps the only source of truth for me - to veer off that path, I've looked far and wide for meaning in my life, till I realized that ironically, that very same quest is the fundamental meaning of sentient existence. To find an answer would be a death unto itself - cogito ergo sum. There's only one certainty and depressing as it might be, the evasion of which is what's so uplifting about every day lived.

I'm not an intellectual. But I like to pretend to be one, because of the social acceptance it provides for my quirks. But beyond that, I'm merely a student of human nature - mine first and everybody's later. And that's just my arrogance claiming how unique I am.

The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience.
            -- Lyman Bryson

posted at: 17:31 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 05 Aug 2008:

Money is what money does.

Living in the suburbs with an economic major for a dad, I was subjected to long drives filled with words like Price, Cost, Wealth and Money. Slightly different, shadow images of the same thing - Value. Transactions, hoards and transformations there-of. But this system of Value, has no absolutes - it's a general theory of economic relativity. The essential backbone of which is the equation of effort to value and in some essence has been as revolutionary to me as Einstein's has been to 19th century physics.

$$$: Money is worth what it buys you. The only reason it exists is because other people accept it and provide you services/goods. That'd be why it is infact called currency, because that is the most important property for money. But the exchange of money look like a zero-sum game - you gain only as much as I give. But transactions of value have to be a non-zero sum game. For a stable economic system, the buyer & seller should both go home with more than what they started with.

!Zero: The nonzero sum aspect of trade, is what set that juggernaut rolling in the first place. But to acquire more value than the other gives up, requires for an inequity of value in exchange of money. What I give up in return for money is more valuable to the person paying for it than what she pays for it. And thus the ship sails into the next port.

The Pin: The pin maker is a skilled man. All day long, he makes pins. It would take you an entire day's work to make a pin. He makes ten pins a day. If he demanded half-a-day's worth to make a pin for you, would you pay? I assume you would, after cribbing a lot about the rising cost of living, how they don't make them like they used to and how your children no longer behave. But you'd pay, take the pin & spend the rest of the day doing something fun.

And here's where the inequity of effort and value kick in. It is an equation, for sure, but one of the multipliers in it is skill at a task. The price you pay is fair for something if it takes more effort to do it yourself - DIY solutions excepted. The foundation is laid for the segregation of society into guilds, based on skill & strata based on the multiplier of effort to value. Productivity is no longer a measure of effort, but a combination of various other things.

The world we see around us is the effect of such a run-away economic chain reaction - where all's fair in the price war. There's nothing you'd buy at a loss, whether you profit in fluid currency is another matter altogether. You're built to be a winner at the game of value, but transmuting it into gold is another skill altogether. But you still got what you paid for.

On the other hand, there's probably one born every minute, who hasn't.

PS: this entry initially was penned in my notebook, when people protested about Apple dropping the iPhone price

The use of money is all the advantage there is to having money.
                -- B. Franklin

posted at: 09:12 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 30 Jul 2008:

Everyone has one story to tell.

But blessed are those who have the ability to articulate it in words. For the struggle of a mind to tell all and reveal; It's to its detriment perhaps, to give up a bit of itself. But perhaps it is the escape of a mind from the confines of a body, of thoughts from a mind. And of course, ideas from the thought behind them. This is perhaps the greatest leap ideas have ever taken - from mind to mind, over time and distance.

Free to move between the minds of others, the thoughts have transcended the original boundaries of man, to enter the realm of the plural. Man became men, me became we, you becomes us. No longer does it have a single pale shade of white, but the tinges of grey that everyone's dirty fingers have added to the paperback. Context & perspective, shift and shear the words' import and the meaning escapes the control of the author.

My story becomes yours to repeat, if not to experience. Or perhaps not. The true magic of the written word was never in its production, but in the re-production of emotions that such pithy squiggles can carry within them. The imaginative machinings involved in reading, as mundane as it may seem, is no less a daily miracle.

And the rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

The trouble with telling a good story is that it invariably reminds the other of a dull one.

posted at: 18:06 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sun, 22 Jul 2007:

I thought I'd invented this term. I'd thought it was my small bit of original jargon to contribute. I even had about seven pages of scribbled over notepaper dedicated to the topic - several hours worth of cogitation on the topic from airport lounges, cramped airplane seats and other places of extreme boredom. Pages and pages of attempts to distill out the idea from an amorphous concept, which the two words which by themselves cannot contain.

But everything that's worth saying has already been said. Despite being original, I discovered, to my surprise, that I'm not the first one to use "honorary guy". Well, rather than waste effort explaining how I feel, let me point you to this this cartoon (oh, the irony). But before I rain on my own parade, let me try to unload my mental baggage.

Being the new kid on the block isn't easy. Especially when you are entering an insular psuedo-meritocracy. And by psuedo-meritocracy, I mean that the pecking order is regulated by assumptions of your merit before you get to prove yourself. Somehow anybody testing such waters is likely to find it cold and assume a rather defensive toe-in first approach to exploring the community. And that makes for uncomfortable beginnings everywhere - and beginnings are such delicate times.

People who are thrown into such situations broadcast very strong vibes, which are there for any intelligent human to pick up easily. Perhaps this is my personal bias, but the strongest of those vibes is that of a girl entering a primarily male dominated community, feeling defensive and wary. The message sent is probably a very tentative "Hi, here I am", but due to an outgroup homogeneity bias, the message comes across as a self-entitled demand to adapt to the presence of the newcomer.

Being the nice guy that I am, I usually comply. The effects aren't pretty. Instead of being myself, I revert to some fallback stereotype male persona. This ranges from the shy guy, the shuffler or the patronizing alpha male. The first two finds me as a stoic blinker (oh, yeah ... smile at me) and those girls who are relieved to find me the latter are generally marginalized to footnotes in my eyes. And those who actually hate me for patronizing them actually fills me with sadness & hope at the same time.

And then there's the minority who do not broadcast these messages, the ones who are comfortable being themselves and in turn just "let me be", without ignoring me altogether. These are people I generally treasure as friends - men and women, both. These are people whose opinion I take for face value, for that's not driven by any facade I present to them. And due to a lack of vocabulary, I picked "honorary guy" to refer to women of this group.

But rather than stereotype these people into a new bracket, what the term "honorary guy" really does is to suspend judgement based on stereotypes I've accumulated over the years. Sort of short-circuit out the homogeneity biases and treat them like the individuals they are. I guess I need a better word.

And as for the rest of them, I'm just being as little of myself as I can. Shut up, shuffle or condescend - pick one. After all, you asked for it.

PS: Umm... Dorothea had mentioned it on her blog, last year. Same arguments, different conclusion ... .

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike
than those who think differently.
                                                   -- Nietzsche

posted at: 07:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,