Embracing the Discomfort: Skiiing Edition

Monday, May 27, 2024

In February 2021, a friend took us skiing for the first time. In the excitement of the opportunity, I severely under-estimated the difficulty of skiing, especially for someone who had never skated before (on land or ice). We went straight to the lift, up the mountain, and down the slope. And I fell. A lot. But that was also the day I decided I wanted to learn to ski and that I would be back. Someday.

In February 2023, watching adults and kids skiiing in a small town in Austria, as normally as walking, was a reminder of the joys of this winter sport. They were easygoing, relaxed and happy. It was just another Wednesday for them and they were skiing to get to the cafe, to buy groceries and just spend time with each other. It was a reminder of the sport I wanted to learn, and the normalcy of it all. It wasn’t so hard: It just required learning and practice.

And so this past ski season, I decided to take lessons. Finally. The first few lessons were rough. I fell a lot, and I got up each time. But I felt like I was learning. Albeit, slowly (or atleast slower than I’d like). I had to accept not having control directly on my feet, but rely on how my feet in skis felt on the snow. It was a few layers disconnected for me to feel immediately comfortable. Every time on the mountain was a new experience with different skis, snow, weather conditions and people traffic and most of all an evolving skill level; all of which brought its own set of learning. It took patience and strength to embrace the discomfort, while I was mentally drained and physically exhausted, to keep going and try that one more time, do that one extra run and try to fix the one thing I was trying to on any given day.

It took a few weeks to get used to being on the snow, and once I did, the reward of being able to ski while staring at snow-clad granite peaks of the Sierras, around the powdery pines and zig-zagging trails was a rewarding experience to cap off the season. I can’t wait for the 2024-25 ski season to start. I’ll likely fall a bunch, but I know I will get better if I keep at it. Slowly, steadily, eventually.

The Backfire Effect by The Oatmeal

Monday, February 20, 2023

I have always had strongly held beliefs, but over time I have also realized the need to change them as more information is presented to me.

The Backfire Effect, a comic strip from The Oatmeal, describes why we should all keep doing that rather illustratively.

I’m just here to tell you that it’s okay to stop. To listen. To change.

It is okay.

Goodbye Tweetbot

Friday, January 20, 2023

I have been actively using Twitter for years. I joined in late 2009 and have fond memories of using it. From a desktop first, then an iPod Touch using the official Twitter app, and then my old Sony Ericsson K790i by SMS-ing tweets, before switching over to using smartphones and using apps.

I did use the default Twitter app for a bit, but Tweetbot was the first iOS app I bought on the App Store in 2013, and added it immediately onto my dock where it stayed ever since. I have used Tweetbot since then. I continued to use Tweetbot through the years by buying / subscribing to new versions, despite the Twitter API always limiting third-party clients and not supporting all of the features the official apps and websites had.

And I lived with that deficit, because Tweetbot felt like home. Over the years, I have tried using the official app multiple times (and always have the app on my phone), but it has always been terrible. The experience of using Tweetbot was always so much better than the official app. Tweetbot didn’t have ads, only showed me tweets from my (curated) followers list, had a chronological timeline, maintained my point in the app even if I fell behind, was customizable, etc. But most of all: it had a so much better user experience that put me first. It never felt cluttered and made Twitter inviting.

Over the last ~3 years, I had reduced tweeting but I still consumed from it fairly regularly. Twitter was still an enjoyable experience when I wanted it because I had Tweetbot. The negativity since Elon Musk got involved in March 2022, though, has been overpowering, and I removed Tweetbot from my dock in early December 2022.

Tweetbot shutting down after Twitter abruptly disabled its APIs, though, does convince me to wane my use of Twitter even further. Twitter without Tweetbot doesn’t feel right. Trust me, I have tried! Mastodon is interesting, but it isn’t a Twitter replacement. Not yet atleast.

We’ll see where this journey goes, but until then, goodbye Tweetbot 🫡. Thank you for giving me such a pleasant Twitter experience for almost a decade. You will be sorely missed.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Sunday, May 8, 2022

I don’t read much fiction, which makes me a very slow reader.

When I started reading The God of Small Things, I had no idea what to expect. I had read some of Arundhati Roy’s essays, but none of her books. I was prepared to be surprised and stunned, but not this… There was something approachable in this book that kept me going. There was honesty that kept me coming back. Through the last few months, this book was my casual read. And then my sorrow read. And then my intense read.

I’m amazed at the fluidity with which it moved back and forth in time, the simplicity of the language, the layers in the story, and the depth and thoroughness in the details.

Life is in the small things, indeed.

Dum dum.

Eliud Kipchoge's Profile in the Irish Examiner

Saturday, November 13, 2021

I first learnt about marathons when I went to watch the inaugural Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in 2004 with dad. I took the Mumbai local to Churchgate early that morning and walked to the finish line near CST to watch atheles cross the finish line.

I was mind-blown when I saw the route in the Times of India the day before. It took the runners through some of my favorite parts of Bombay: the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the Worli Seaface, the Queen’s necklace. The 10-year-old me could barely understand what the race was or the distance meant, but I could feel that it was a lot. “They run all the way to Bandra from Churchgate? The one I would only travel by train? And back?! How? People could run that distance across Bombay?” I wondered then. I still do.

It has been 17 years since that Sunday morning, and I have passively followed the 42km race. It has always felt like a humbling challenge for the human mind and body. And I have serious respect for the people that can run it.

A few years ago, I learnt about Eliud Kipchoge, his achievements and how he was transforming the sport. And ever since, he has been a huge inspiration. It is astounding what he has achieved so far, as a marathoner, yes, but also as an athelete. To me, he is one among the greatest atheletes of their sports of all-time. You know, right there with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, Magnus Carlsen…

One of the (I’d argue the) greatest moments of Kipchoge’s marathon career was him running a sub-2 hour marathon (albeit in a controlled setting) in Vienna in 2019. Take 4 minutes, watch the final kilometer of his run.

I just read this profile on Kipchoge by Cathal Dennehy, and thought it was a beautiful look at his personality, training regime, and principles. It gave me a new perspective on some things, but also let me appreciate him more as a person and admire his achievements a little more. My favorite part from the profile was on the peace he exudes while running (which one can even see in the video):

It’s difficult to find a sportsperson so impossibly suited to his craft, as if his entire reason for being is to coast over the ground at 4:40 per mile, a pace that for most would feel like a sprint.

But when Kipchoge does it, his head has virtually no vertical motion, his face so relaxed that he looks bored. His arms hang loose, swinging casually, his fingers in a gentle tuck, as if holding an invisible stick. His feet don’t so much hit the ground as stroke it, his toes pushing off the road with the elegant, balletic grace of a dancer.

I think Kipchoge will break the world record and run a 2-hour marathon before he retires. I’m rooting for him.

Electricity Disruption

Monday, November 1, 2021

October 20, 2021 was a gloomy day. Gloomy enough that I had turned on the floor lamp by my desk even before I logged in to work. Just before noon, I was in the middle of an important meeting, listening to a colleague answer my question. About halfway through the answer, my lamp flickered, and then went off. Still trying to focus on the answer, which was starting to stutter, I said to myself, “Sigh, will I need to buy a new lamp now?”

It wasn’t a long time before my monitor went off and Zoom kicked me out. And then it struck me: My electricity had gone off. I scrambled to figure out how to get back to the meeting and managed to listen in from my phone. In the background, I was walking around the house checking for burnt smells or blown fuses. It wasn’t. “Was it just me?” I raced to the corridor. It wasn’t. I breathed a sigh of relief, and got back to my meeting.

About 10 minutes later, the meeting ended and I started trying to figure out what was going on. Since this hadn’t happened to me in years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There had been electricity fluctuations leading to loss of power for a couple minutse, but this had been gone for about 15 minutes at this point. So, definitely not just a momentary fluctuation. That brought out an all-out survival mode.

I sent out an update to my team on Slack about me potentially being offline through the rest of the day. The battery on my work laptop has been in poor condition for months, but I haven’t bothered getting it fixed. My phone was at ~70%. My travel power bank wasn’t charged. And that’s when I put my phone in low power mode, which pushed my 5G reception to 4G LTE.

Around that time, my electricity provider sent an update saying the outage was affecting ~4000 customers. One customer corresponds to one house, so this could be affecting about 10000 people. “Damn, that’s a huge outage. Wonder when it’ll be back…?”

With that, I decided to cancel the couple other meetings I had scheduled for later that day. But emails from my phone wouldn’t go. Hmmm… I tried hotspotting from my phone, but my laptop refused to connect. A few minutes later, I gave up, but really didn’t have anything else to do.

“Maybe I should just sit by, wait and drink some coffee? Yeah, I can do that.” I walked to the kitchen only to realize the microwave wouldn’t work. That’s fine, I could brew myself a fresh cup (hey V60!. But wait, how do I heat water for it? My electric kettle. That was a problem. Okay, stove top… Urm, electric induction stove top. “Oops.”

Disappointed, I went back to my laptop. I finally managed to get hotspot working on my laptop. But neither my phone or my laptop would connect to the internet. Ugh. Airplane Mode on. Airplane Mode off. “Ugh.” Rinse and repeat. “Ugh.” As a last resort, I turned off low power mode. Suddenly, internet on my phone and laptop (which was on hotspot) started working.

💡. Remember the 10000 people who had lost electricity? USA has 3 big cellular providers. So, let’s assume 33% of them are using the same provider as me. That meant there was a sudden influx of 3333 (give or take) new connections that were on WiFi, were now using 4G to get work done. Or trying to, in my case. But the 5G spectrum was open. Hurray, my new phone purchase panned out!

I continued working, draining out my laptop battery and phone battery. About an hour and a half later, minutes before my laptop battery warning on low battery would come on, electricity was back. A few minutes later, WiFi was working again.

The outage lasted about 2 hours. Electricity disruption in a remote tech employee’s life was a microcosm, that made the scale of the ongoing global supply chain disruption all too real. Our world is deeply connected.


iPhone 12 Mini

Sunday, August 22, 2021

I walked out of the house this morning without my watch; one of the rare times I have done that in months. I tried to unlock my phone, and it asked me for my passcode because it couldn’t recognize my face. A few minutes later, same thing again. I wasn’t sure why it kept asking me for my passcode over and over. It felt unusual. And then it hit me: I was wearing my mask.

Just over 3 months ago, I switched to an iPhone 12 Mini (despite saying I wouldn’t) and I absolutely, thoroughly enjoy it. There’s a few reasons that I adore it.

  1. Face ID Unlock with Apple Watch: A few months ago, I said:

    the only thing I miss from the X-class phones is Face ID (which is not really a bane in these mask-totting days)

    which was indeed what happened to me earlier today. I bought the 12 Mini after iOS 14.5 released, which meant I have been unlocking my phone with my watch, when I was wearing my mask, all the time I’ve owned it. I cannot over-state just how incredible a feature this is. I got frustrated without it in a 5-minute walk this morning!

  2. Perfect One-Handed Size: My first iPhone was the iPhone 5. That size balanced one-handed use and screen size for 2012. The 12 Mini feels tiny compared to my gigantic 7 Plus, but it is almost the same size as my 5 (they share a design language, too!). I didn’t realize how much I missed using my phone with one hand until I could do it again.

  3. Not a top-of-the-line phone: I bought the cheapest iPhone from the flagship line with mid-range storage. That’s unusual for me, but that has made me freer about my phone. I use it case-less and do not worry about damaging my phone anymore. I feel less materialistic. My phone feels more utalitarian than a precious object. It is just a phone and I happily use it without a case. (To contrast, I didn’t use my 7 Plus without a cover for a single day even after 4 years of use.)

Despite everything that I like about the 12 Mini, there is one thing that I really miss from my 7 Plus (and the 12 Pro line-up): the 2x telephoto lens. My ideal phone is one of the 12 Mini’s size but Pro’s camera system (or a 12 Mini Pro, in John Gruber’s words) with all 3 lenses: macro, normal and telephoto.

Here’s to dreaming about an iPhone Mini Pro, and in the meanwhile, enjoying the 12 Mini :).

Following the Science of COVID-19

Saturday, April 10, 2021

For all that has happened over the last year, the pace at which science (and more specifically, biomedical science) has progressed has been awe inducing.

  • We went from having no tests to genome sequences shared with scientists and labs across the world to countries before the virus reached their shores.
  • We watched as epidemiologists (and other experts) figured out how the spread occurs, and what can be done to contain it.
  • We have followed doctors as they discovered various details about COVID-19, its effect on people, and found treatments that work and ones that don’t.
  • In less than a year since WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, we have 6+ different vaccines in circulation and being shot in people’s arms! The previous fastest? 4 years.

It wasn’t always right, it wasn’t always simple. But it was always backed in data, observations and rigor. It has been a humbling, perseverance-filled, ground-breaking year for science. And this article highlights just how the global scientific community came together, measured as a factor of publications about COVID-19 in various journals. Fascinating.

The challenges that we need science to help overcome over this lifetime are far from over. But the progress that I’ve seen as a bystander over the last year fills me with hope for what’s to come.

The Three Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling

Monday, March 29, 2021

Now that I think about it, it is not at all surprising that I picked up and read this book.

  • I have been intrigued by language (so much so that getting machines to understand language is my day job!) for as long as I can remember.
  • Observations that change how I see the world intrigue me.
  • How people perceive, understand, decipher and involve themselves in politics has fascinated me over the years. (Go read any of my posts from yesteryears.)
  • For the last few years, the breakdown of communication between myself and my family and friends who hold contradictory political ideologies has bothered me.

‘The Three Languages of Politics’ is a short book that I got through in under 2 hours. However, it is an insightful book. Within the first few pages, Arnold King introduces a rather simple framework for interpreting any political argument around you, and boiling it down to a probable set of bases that the person making it is coming from.

In the couple days between when I read the first half and the second half, I started breaking down opinions I saw floating on Twitter, in email newsletters, on blogs and in articles, into not just the ideologies of the person, but in a way that helped me make better sense of what was being conveyed.

Buy it, read it. There isn’t much to lose, but a lot to gain. I’ll leave you with a precious quote:

The only person you are qualified to pronounce unreasonable is yourself. You are qualified to tell other people that they are wrong. You are just not qualified to tell other people that they are unreasonable.

P.S.: I listen to Amit Varma’s The Seen and the Unseen voraciously and this has been recommended across multiple episodes.

‘Hey Jude’ at 50: Celebrating the Beatles’ Most Open-Hearted Masterpiece

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

If you ask me my favorite Beatles song, I’m going to choke. But I do know ‘Hey Jude’ is in my top 3. It has to be.

I just read this story in the Rolling Stone by Rob Sheffield from a couple years ago, describing the background in which ‘Hey Jude’ came to be, and how it became a signature Beatles song. It truly is one of their greatest.

“Hey Jude” remains a source of sustenance in difficult times — a moment when four longtime comrades, clear-eyed adults by now, take a look around at everything that’s broken around them. Yet they still join together to take a sad song and make it better.

Indeed. Now more than ever, let’s take a sad song and make it better.

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