Sunday, August 18, 2019

tipping the scales

i turned 36 a few days ago. it was about as low-key as turning 35 was last year: i went to work, got home, cut a cake. and just like last year, i didn't really feel like bringing in the birthday at midnight, although i did make it past 12.

guess the biggest difference was the company: mom and dad this year, as opposed to a couchsurfer from france last year. also, we went to church this year, breaking a streak of not sure how many years. mainly because they have evening mass on feast days in ireland (in mumbai, i'd never be sober enough to attend morning mass - that's how things used to be before i turned 35!)

and ironically, it was in church that it struck me that my birthday marked the point in my life that i've spent more time as an adult than i have as a child.

childhood doesn't seem very far away - especially the years leading to my turning 18. but in all honesty, the first half of my life does seem to be fading out of my memories. these days, it's hard to tell the actual memories apart from the "memories" conjured up by photos, conversations, and sometimes pure imagination.

just like i used to have these "lost years" of my childhood which were just a blur of reading, cycling, playing with my brother and neighbours, birthdays at home with family, summers at the beach, etc., i'm now conscious that i have these lost years of my adult life: drinking at dive bars, weekends at the beach with college buddies, goa trips every long weekend/year end/whatever have you, drinking myself silly every birthday (and usually writing unintelligible blog posts at the end of them). riding my bike for ever-increasing distances, camping at beaches when weather permitted, and in between, commuting to work, trying to find variety in the mundane, new ways to keep myself entertained.

the lost days (or months) when i lost my sanity, lost my grip on what i need to do and what i shouldn't. my love-hate relationship with sustainable, healthy living. the years spent in the long-fruitless pursuit of true, lasting love.

the only difference is, they aren't exactly lost. they're all saved for posterity. blogs, tweets, facebook, texts, email, photo archives. i'm not sure if orkut still exists, but i'm sure my "scraps" are saved in an archive somewhere. i have archives saved in formats that I don't have programs to open. i even have yellowing diaries with random pages scrawled on (since i could never maintain one with regularity) and obviously, i don't have the time to read through any of it.

at some point, memories become pointless. the highlights are nice, but i've come to terms with the fact that i'm a product of my past, and history is just fluff.

and so, here i am.

i have a long way to go.

i'm going to leave my trail.

but i have no idea where i'm going, and (obviously) how/when it's gonna end.

in a sense, i probably don't care anymore. i've ditched my compass and started following my whims.

i wonder if i'll find this post 36 years from now. and if i do, i wonder if i'll care.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

one year in belfast

(yes, this post is long overdue!)

it's been a year since we moved to Belfast. in hindsight, we took even less time to settle here than we did in the home we rented after we got married, in Mumbai. Going through my memories on facebook, it seems that in just a month we went from eating supermarket ready-to-eat stuff in an airbnb to cooking our favourite foods in our kitchen, with pots and pans we purchased the day we moved in, getting our daily fix of youtube on the chromecast hooked up to our tv, which is ever-so-slightly bigger than the one we had in India.

so... what did we do in the remaining 11 months?

we got our social groove on.

we resumed traveling (not the same pace as we used to in Mumbai, but we'll get there soon!)

we got our own bicycles, tent, and other outdoor stuff.

we got a turntable, amp and speakers. transported some of my old records here, and also purchased a few more.

i got my lego here. oh yeah!

we also resumed collecting souvenirs.

i tried my hand at gardening, and gave up when i realized i didn't enjoy it much.

i'm in the process of learning to drive, and also in the process of getting my motorcycle license. and eagerly waiting for the day i can get my own two wheels!

it's hard to put my finger on the exact time i could say our move was complete, but i can definitely say that when we visited india for a vacation in december, it felt like we were leaving home.

i guess it'll take a long while for Belfast to feel as familiar as Mumbai does (did?), but that's just a matter of exploring the city and its surroundings. i could still say that i know this city as well as i knew mumbai after my first 18 or so years in mumbai!

it's very interesting to see how quickly we settled in, mainly because it seems like moving seems easier to us now.

i'd go as far as saying that we could probably pick a spot that appeals to us on a map, and if circumstances were right for us, we'd settle there happily.

this one year seems to have changed us in ways we never imagined it would.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

dreams and cynicism

i haven't blogged my dreams for a while. but this isn't the first such hiatus. this time, though, the reasons are quite different. i'd usually not blog dreams if i'm either facing sleep problems (ie not having lucid dreams), or having way too many of them, and it's getting overwhelming to note all of them - i usually don't have time to blog my dreams on the very day, so i'd make notes and keep them for later, but if i have too many dreams, this system falls apart.

this time though, i've been having interesting dreams, with a non-overwhelming frequency, but i still haven't been making notes (so obviously cannot eventually blog them either).

i noticed this happen a while ago, but haven't really thought about why, until today.

i had a nice dream last night. when i woke up, i described it to shruti. she liked it, asking me for details, which i narrated to the best of my memory. but i didn't even once think about blogging it. i've considered other recent dreams to friends who happened to be in them, but not blogging them.

so... why don't i want to blog them?

the easiest answer springs to mind: i have too much high-priority stuff on tight timelines to keep myself busy, and let's face it, blogging is not anywhere near my top priority.

but i do find the time to do pointless stuff. stuff that probably shouldn't be a priority at all. so why not blog my dreams?

the answer seems weird, even to myself.

blogging dreams is now too easy for me.

when i started off, there was an excitement. i loved the twists and turns and fantastic imagery my dreams brought to me. i loved being able to express them here, knowing that nothing i conjured with my normally rational mind could match up. but with time, i dare say, i've gotten better at it, and it's no longer exciting. and eventually, it's even stopped being fun.

also, i've started to "see through" my dreams, in a sense. in a large number of cases, i can actually attribute various features of my dreams to other things. the web of fantasy is beginning to unravel into a boring juxtaposition of influences.

would i resume blogging my dreams? maybe. but i'd have to find other reasons (or a change of priorities) for doing so.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

earth hour

last night, we observed "earth hour" - but went beyond the bare minimum: we didn't just switch off the lights, we switched off all our electrical devices (except the fridge of course). we lit one solitary candle in the living room, and sat on the couch. switched off our phones (after i clicked the mandatory photo) and set them aside.

and then thought about what earth hour means to us.

how our lives are no longer centred around the basics: physical work, food, family/in person time, rest. things that don't really have much of a carbon footprint/environmental impact beyond the basics. instead, we have desk-based work, quick-fix food, screen time, weird sleep hours.

belfast is a bit of an improvement over mumbai, as all our travel is on foot/cycle (i haven't sat in a bus for local travel in months!), but our carbon footprint has probably increased anyway: while our non-recyclable-trash bin fills up only once a month, our recyclable trash seems to fill up even faster! and recycling is not the "get out of environmental jail free" card it seems to be: while less damaging, it still costs energy, and is not sustainable in the long term. also, interestingly, our electricity is partly generated by "clean" natural gas, which is not as clean as it sounds - and coal!

also, in mumbai, we were consuming 30 units of electricity per month. in belfast, we're consuming a whopping 150 units! we're still very conservative electricity users - most people consume more in a month than we do in a quarter (our last quarterly bill came to barely 53 pounds)! and then, we use gas for a lot more here: warm water, in addition to cooking (yes, we have officially survived the winter without room heating!). a proper comparision, even with back of the envelope calculations for gas are complicated, but we were billed as much for gas in a month in belfast as were were for a year in mumbai!

and so, i can honestly say that while we feel better about our carbon footprint here, we've actually doing far worse. and we're still doing better than average.

so, what's the solution?

it's hard to say.

on one hand, we're almost at the limit of how low we can go, under our present circumstances.

on the other hand, we're surrounded by people who barely care - for varied reasons.

and then again, as the environmental crisis worsens, we may just have some sort of forced change of circumstances. but given how insulated we are from the effects of the crisis, it may just be that the realization hits too late, and we've nowhere left to go.

on a slightly less somber note though, that one hour in flickering candlelight, snuggling on the couch and talking about the environment was refreshing, although i can see it getting boring quickly if repeated often. maybe that's the change we need to make. incrementally re-wiring our brains to get used to a more environmentally conscious life.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


doing the same thing over and over again, no matter how well you do it, is bound to get boring eventually. the real fun is in doing things badly, and then getting better!
- kris, one bored saturday afternoon

Saturday, February 23, 2019


today, I happened to watch this 2012 movie, "a thousand words". it wasn't a particularly great movie, but the concept got me thinking. it's about this dashing go-getter of a guy who through some barely explained mystic quirk of fate, ends up with just 1000 words left in his life - after he says those 1000 words, he's supposed to die.

about halfway though the movie, for some reason, i didn't particularly want to speak any more. there were things i was going to say, but instead of vocalizing them, i just ran them through my head.

after a few instances of this, i was almost convinced it'd be a nice experiment to conduct.

we're surrounded by words. we're continuously speaking, listening, reading... and if nothing else, thinking. in words.

in fact, one thing about this increasingly connected world that we live in, is that it's overly dominated by words. even a picture-dominated place like my instagram feed, for example, wouldn't be much (i think) without the captions.

is it possible that, by over-emphasizing the linguistic centres of our brains, we're letting the rest of it atrophy?

and so, shruti and i decided: we'll try to keep speaking to a minimum. we'll do our best to communicate non-verbally.

but that's just one aspect of the experiment for me.

i want to enhance my non-linguistic thinking.

i remember this one time when i was so overwhelmed by the amount of music that was playing in my head, that i decided to give up voluntarily listening to music until my mind was in silence again.

it took me about 3 weeks.

after those 3 weeks, i enjoyed about one week of inner silence.

that was about 6 years ago (i think).

language seems to be more difficult to avoid. the overwhelming majority of things that seem to occupy me, involve words. i can't text people. i can't speak to them. i can't use facebook. i can't read books. heck, i can't work!

and this also means i can no longer communicate with people who aren't physically in front of me.

so i'm guessing this experiment can't be absolute, like the music one.

but i'm gonna give it a try anyway.

let's see how long it takes before words stop running through my mind all the time!

Monday, February 11, 2019

moving abroad and keeping your old number

i should probably write a post about all the aspects of moving abroad, but until then, this post about a problem I only recently solved to my satisfaction will be a start :D

so one of the bigger problems related to moving abroad is related to your phone number. if you, like me, have used the same number for a while (13 years!), you probably wouldn't want to let go of it that easily. also, you probably have stuff linked to your mobile number that you simply cannot or sometimes would rather not link to your number in a different country. in general, you have three options:

  1. activate international roaming, and keep your old number active. this might turn out to be expensive. not sure about other countries, but in india it's way more expensive to keep a number active for an extended period on international roaming. and then you need both sims (old and new) to be in a phone to be useful. my phone forces me to choose between a second sim and a memory card, and i would be quite sore if i had to take out my 128gb memory card out!
  2. find a way to forward everything without having the sim in a phone. again, calls are expensive to forward, especially if the majority of them are spam calls. i have no idea if forwarding sms without the sim being in a phone is even possible!
  3. give the sim to someone trusted (either pop it into their dual sim phone or give it to them with a phone that's frequently checked) and keep it active remotely. this obviously works only if you have someone trusted who is willing to take calls on your behalf.
after carefully considering option 1, i went with option 3.

there are a few operational hurdles with this approach though:

  • the person needs to take calls on your behalf (obviously!)
  • sms needs to be forwarded somehow.
in my case, i don't get many personal calls (do i even get any personal calls? i don't think i have, in the last 7 months!) so the first concern isn't a big deal - all my trusted custodian needs to do is politely decline (and also tell them the number no longer belongs to me, in the hope it reduces unwanted calls!).

when it comes to sms though, it's a slightly more complicated problem: most phones that i know of do not let me access sms remotely out of the box. my first solution was to ask my custodian to forward sms to me on whatsapp. it was quite a bit of work though, as i actually get a LOT of sms! there's also timezone constraints, which are a significant problem. an automated solution is the obvious answer.

i've been using smsbackup+ for a long time (ever since i started using android, some 10 years ago!), but it was for archival purposes - when i tried using it for remote access, i realized that sms took about half an hour to be sync'd, despite it being set to 3 minutes in the app! this defeated the purpose of using it, as many (probably all) uses of sms as a form of two factor authentication are time bound to a 30 minute limit.

so then, my next option was IFTTT (if this then that) - a very flexible digital automation tool that also supports forwarding sms to email as well as saving it in a google docs spreadsheet with all metadata - perfect!

except that it randomly stops working in realtime, and then i'm stuck with the problem that smsbackup+ had.

and so i found a two pronged strategy: ifttt is on all the time, but if i need realtime sms and it's not working, i have a plan b - airdroid. airdroid lets me remotely access the messages on the custodian's phone. it's so good, i probably don't even need ifttt!

also, there seems to be a tendency for some phones to close background apps to save power, so you need to make sure these apps do not get cleaned up to save power.

tl;dr: if you have a trusted person willing to keep a phone charged and connected to wifi, install ifttt, setup the sms to email and sms to google docs plugins, and then install aidroid + enable messaging access, and disable power saving for both apps (cos some phones tend to aggressively close apps to save power).

tipping the scales

i turned 36 a few days ago. it was about as low-key as turning 35 was last year: i went to work, got home, cut a cake. and just like last ye...