Daily Routines

In the past few years or so, there has been the steady rise of “hustle culture”. In essence it refers to the idea of glorifying workaholism. The stock images with motivational quotes, and hashtag based one-liners are at best cringe inducing. Even less said about self-help books – it is after all infinitely easier to tell someone to work hard as opposed to doing the damn thing on your own. While I do my best to stay away from productivity porn, I do want to recommend one unconventional source of this – daily routines of interesting folk. A particularly interesting source for this is the Daily Routines blog. The blog itself is not active now, but is a treasure trove of how famous people went about their day. It ranges from Darwin and Murakami to Benjamin Franklin. Makes for fascinating reading and is perhaps even a tad inspiring !

Of Pickup Trucks

One ubiquitous symbol of American modes of transport are pickup trucks. I’ve always struggled to understand their enduring appeal. The most ridiculous thing of course is the open cargo area. Why the fuck is this a thing ? Any one can reach in and steal your stuff of course. Secondly, no weather protection. No one is bothered by their stuff getting exposed to rain, snow, wind or getting bleached by the sun ? So, of course we have ugly hacks like the covers and caps. Also, I’ve seen plenty of custom fabrication in the form of specialized boxes and storage areas which of course removes any appeal of an open cargo space.

Third, there is so much of wasted passenger space. Are there any advantages to this thing at all ? Perhaps easier cargo loading e.g. a bulky item being loaded vertically from a crane. But I would say the lack of security and weather protection is simply too large of a trade-off. Maybe aesthetics are an important factor with most pickup trucks being used as passenger vehicles. Well, get an SUV equivalent of the truck instead ? The SUV has good road presence and serves as a great hauler and mover. Maybe the pickup truck is a truly cultural mainstream phenomena that its practicality is not called into question.

The Things They Carried – Book Review

Image Credit – mentalfloss.com

Tim O’Brien recounts his experience of the Vietnam war in this book. The focus of the book is on author’s personal journey through the war and how he remembers it. Not only is it a visceral tale of the raw experiences of war, but also a deep look back on his relationships with his fellow soldiers. O’Brien speaks to the power of stories – laying emphasis on how one remembers events somehow blurs the lines between the actual happening and the recollection of it. A powerful, sobering read – highly recommended.

The God of Small Things – Book Review

I’ve been wanting to read this for quite a while and I’m glad that I finally did. The plot in itself is not the stand-out element, but it’s all the other things that revolve around it. For one the angry, visceral rants are some of the best parts. These range from the petty mindedness of society and people to the crass effects of tourism. Beautiful descriptions of Kerala are almost lyrical. If you’ve ever been to Kerala this will be sure to resonate. The description of Kathakali is perhaps among the most powerful pieces of writing in the book. Strong characters, scything commentary and tight writing make this an easy recommendation. I, for the most part read along with the Audible version. The narration has got the pronunciations spot on and greatly enhances the reading experience.

ASMR

I’ve noticed that certain sounds somehow seem to produce an oddly soothing or calming effect. This effect is more pronounced through a medium, e.g. in a video or a recording rather than in real life. For example, the typing sounds of keyboards sound much more satisfying on screen than in real life. I recently discovered that there is a term for this – ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The term itself sounds hokey (and probably is), but serves as a useful search term. E.g. searching for “Keyboard ASMR” on YouTube brings up ,well, hour long videos of typing. There is “Food ASMR” i.e. eating sounds and all kinds of other stuff. (This article does a good job of covering ASMR on YouTube). Interestingly, I think, “ASMR” can also be experienced through books. I’ve found Haruki Murakami’s writing to be a great example of this. There is something about the descriptions of cooking in the kitchen while listening to jazz that is so weirdly calming. On a similar note, Umami is a taste sensation which I’ve experienced but only recently found the term for. Perhaps ASMR is the Umami of feelings ?

Vapidity

I’ve noticed a bizarre phenomenon recently when I’m on flights. Usually folks fiddle with their phones like anywhere else and being in close confines one can sometimes inadvertently get a look at what’s on their screens. Now of course, many flights don’t have WiFi and for the most part you are essentially offline. What do people then do on their phones ? Watch or listen to downloaded movies or podcasts ? No ! It’s mind boggling to see many constantly flipping through their (cached!) content – mostly pics from their social media or going through tired old messages.

There are countless ridiculously easy ways in which to consume offline content on phones – movies, music, reading materials, games etc. Or you could pack a fucking paper book or read the damn in-flight magazine right in front of you! Are you not entertained ? What is this a symptom of ? A total capitulation of the senses that one continues to mindlessly mimic online behavior when offline ? Note this behavior is not restricted to someone who’s “grown up” with smartphones, but is across generations. I guess this is indicative of a general lack of curiosity beyond their closed worlds. This is somewhat depressing, but hey when flights soon get that cheap Wifi…

The Dolphins

This old world may never change
The way it’s been
And all the ways of war
Can’t change it back again


I’ve been searchin’
For the dolphins in the sea
And sometimes I wonder
Do you ever think of me ?

— Fred Neil, ‘The Dolphins’

Not skimping on the everyday

A valuable piece of advice I remember reading from an AskReddit thread was about buying items “When it comes to things that you use everyday – always try and get a high quality item”.  Its incredible how often we try and save a few bucks on everyday items. I think the tendency is natural because the items are usually replaceable. But the sub-par experience from a poor quality product really gets amplified. On the other hand, the joy of regularly using something well-made is subtly satisfying.  So for example, get a premium pillow that doesn’t get lumpy or lose its firmness after a month.  Same goes for a kitchen knife – nothing is more annoying than trying to saw through tomatoes with a blunt knife. Get a good quality chair – you get the drift !

ICSE 2019 – Reflections

I attended the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) 2019 edition hosted in Montreal, Canada. For someone who attended the conference for the first time, here are my thoughts. In software engineering academic circles, ICSE is considered a top-tier/premier conference and is generally regarded as a sort of holy grail publication venue. My expectations were therefore suitably high. My overall feeling can be summed up in one word: underwhelming.

ICSE 2019 had about 100 papers accepted in the main technical track. I tried to attend a variety of talks that I was interested in. (The talks happen in parallel sessions). This was somewhat disappointing. Most of the talks were quite mechanical boiling down to a rereading of the paper. I dont blame the presenters – most of them were students and the primary intention is not to dazzle, but to invite the audience to read the actual paper later. This is where I feel the purpose of a conference can be questioned. There was zero value in one being physically present to hear a talk. I found it much more convenient – to glance at the proceedings, pick papers of interest by looking at the abstract and then doing a deep dive if interested. If any questions arise – the authors are but an email away. This can be done entirely offline ! What about live interaction you ask ? At the conference, the 20 minutes timeslot is quite small to sink ones teeth into any topic anyway, so most of the post-talk questions can only be superficial.  I also had a paper of my own which I presented in a workshop.  Given the smaller nature of a workshop, I thought that this could result in some engaging discussion, but time constraints seemed to have gained the better hand.

Well anyway, coming back to the actual content in ICSE – there were few “interesting” topics. But nothing really that got me excited. For a few papers – I want to channel Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park – “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should ! However, I will be charitable and attribute this to the general nature of research.  One always hopes that some of these ideas will somehow germinate into something meaningful later.

The other much touted aspect of any conference is the chance to “network”. This I must frankly say is bullshit. Most of the ice-breaker/mixer events devolve into two minute conversations about ones work and perhaps some polite small talk. I highly doubt if any sort of meaningful connection can be made in a crowd of 1000’s where most of the folks were worried about trying to find food. The amount of time and money I spent – applying for visas, organizing travel and accommodation and actually traveling was absolutely not worth it. Not to mention the staggering carbon costs incurred by a ton of people flying in and out. Watching slickly produced videos online would have made life much easier for everyone. I think it’s time for the research community to seriously rethink conferences.

Accents

Language is a huge component of self identity. How about accents though ? I’ve seen a lot of Indians having acquired somewhat of an American accent while speaking English in the US. This is somewhat interesting to observe. The accent mainly crops up during communication with non-Indians (although to be fair I have seen some who don’t distinguish). The accent itself is somewhat bizarre – neither here nor there. Some rolling of the r’s and e.g. saying “tack” instead of “talk” ?!  Well anyway it’s fucking annoying. Adopting an accent makes one sound stilted and unnatural – if one is able to communicate clearly, then why the need to change pronunciation style ?  I can speculate – the need to be better understood or perhaps the feeling of not standing out. For the record – I’ve never seen non-Indians adopting an Indian English accent while in India.  I would argue that an  accent is also a strong component of identity – try not to lose it !