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 ?

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 !

The year that was – 2017

2017 was a year of big changes for me. I had decided that it would be a good move to get back into academia from industry. There is an acknowledged gap between Software Engineering research and industry that I was personally beginning to feel. I decided to apply to some PhD programs in the US and try my luck. I wasn’t too sure about my chances about being accepted since I had reasonably good amount of work experience and it was a while since I had been in school. Consequently, in my statement of purpose I reflected on interesting research problems that stemmed from my work experience. Given, that Software Engineering is an applied field, I think this resonated well with the universities. (If you are a mid career professional looking to apply to a PhD program – do reach out to me, I can perhaps help you in your journey !) I was fortunate to be offered an admission at USC. Fast forward and I am now part of the Software Architecture research group and completed my first semester.

It has been a change of location for me too – I moved from one huge metropolis to another. Bangalore to Los Angeles. 2018 is going to a busy year for me and will hopefully be a productive one.

Happy new year !

J.D. Salinger passes away

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”  – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye is one of my all time favourite books. A literary rite of passage. Highly highly recommended – please pick up a copy if you haven’t read it.

The author, J.D. “famous for being not wanting to be famous” Salinger passed away on January 27th 2010.  God bless his soul.

Donate to Haiti earthquake relief efforts

2010 has gotten off to a bad start with the Haiti earthquake. Claiming close to 200,000 lives, the earthquake is an epic disaster by any standards. Considering Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, donations are crucial. I used Google’s Haiti disaster relief page to make a donation. You could quickly make a donation with a single click here using Google checkout. That’s it, a single click is all it takes.

The page also contains numerous links to other organization’s which are accepting donations for Haiti. Go Donate. Now.

Chennai Heat

I am based in Chennai for some time on work.  I’ve been here for about a month and I’ve painfully realized that the south indian food I like so much is practically uneatable here. Why ? Because it is so goddamn SPICY. I am Indian and I can safely claim that I am used to higher levels of spice than folks from elsewhere, but the food in Chennai is way too hot even for me.

It wasnt like this. I wonder why the spice levels have increased intolerably.  Every freaking thing has extra spice in it, from the plain old sambar to even curd rice with minced green chillies. I mean, seriously, WTF ?!

Where, oh where can I find a decent south indian thali or just about anything in Chennai which is not over-cooked, over-spiced and dripping with grease ?

Grossly unhealthy food – biryani’s and anything fried – are high on the popularity charts here in Chennai. I am not surprised that the city has one of the highest heart attack rates in country.

It seems to me that the days of the stereotypical spartan Tamilian are long gone. Sigh.

Fanatical Support

Of all the corporate slogans that I’ve heard of, I really like the one this company called Rackspace has. It’s called “Backed by Fanatical Support”. Whilst it is not the most clever sounding, with amusing puns etc, the statement is solid and reassuring without being drab or filled with meaningless inanities that so often make slogans.

The level of technical support can make or mar one’s experience with technology products. Technology is wonderful when it works well,but can be extremely frustrating when it does not.  Technology (like women) can be very whimsical. At such times, it is extremely relieving when someone calm, collected and knowledgeable,  hand holds you and gets you through.

Entire companies make their fortunes just through support – point in case, the whole enterprise open source model. Take a free product,  learn it well enough, slice, dice and package it smartly, and charge for committed levels of support.  e.g. Red Hat through Linux.

That’s why I think slogan “Fanatical Support” makes sense, and not only just technology companies, but if every business believes in it,  the world will be a better place.

South East Asian Gender Bender

I was on a vacation to the Philippines last month.  During the course of traveling via Bangkok and spending a week in Manila, I discovered something interesting.  A significant portion of men in South East Asia tend to be er…somewhat effeminate.  Many men – actually look quite feminine – they are lithe, have soft voices, and exhibit a general lack of “male-hairiness”.  Lots of men seem to work in fashion stores in malls hawking perfume and pantyhose.  This leads to assume that such behavior is more or less accepted by South East Asian society . Well, after all Thailand has their legendary lady-boys or Kathoey and Manila is supposedly the gay capital of Asia.  But some Googling reveals that this is perhaps not because of a “liberal” society with a true understanding of LGBT rights,  but rather that South East Asian cultures tend to avoid conflict and value tolerance.

Two words will throw all these theories of south east asian men not being macho enough to the wind – Muay Thai. It is a brutal martial art sports where attacks to every part of the body are allowed except the head. Allied forms of such hard martial arts/kickboxing are wildly popular in South East Asia.  Check this astonishing gender-bending story of Nong Tum, a famous Kathoey Muay Thai boxer. Wow.