Tuesday, April 07, 2020

brake problems

I was in Mumbai, at my parents' place. Sitting astride Vicki, in Carly's usual parking spot. It was a bright sunny day. I did my usual check (brakes, lights). Everything seemed fine. I fired up her engine, and rode out on to the street. My brother was walking alongside, and I kept a slow pace with him (yes, that was one of the skills I had to demonstrate during my off-road manoeuvres test last August). We were discussing the list of groceries that needed to be purchased. And then, abruptly, he said, "let's go get them", and made as if to hop on.

I panicked and said "wait! don't hop on while the bike is moving! let me stop!", but it was too late. He hopped on nimbly, and the bike didn't so much as twitch! Reminded me of school days when he was so good at hopping on and off the bicycle (we had axle extensions that he would stand on) that I wouldn't know if he had hopped on or not. At that point, I realized neither of us were wearing a helmet. As I thought about which route would be least likely to have cops waiting around, I also thought to myself that two guys on a large motorcycle like Vicki would be rather conspicuous in these days of social distancing.

I made up my mind about which direction I wanted to go, and rounded a turn, when I came almost head to head with a speeding car (it was a white honda, I remember!) driving on the wrong side of the road!I slammed the brakes, and strangely enough, the front brakes didn't engage at all! The car swerved past me, and in that split second I figured the only plausible explanation was that this road had changed to a one-way during these months (years!) I've been away. I gingerly took a U turn, feathering the rear brake (another skill I had to demonstrate during the off-road manoeuvres test), hoping nobody noticed I was riding the wrong way. As I took the turn, I noticed a long queue of people waiting for a bus at the stop. The bus got around the corner, exactly the way I had ridden seconds ago, just as I was getting to it. The corner was a really tight one, and I had to brake again as the bus did not leave enough room to pass. Another hair-raising stop, thanks to the front brakes not working.

Made it around the corner, and Kevin got off - I decided to not take any more chances and ride the 100 metres or so home by myself. Tested the brakes now, and they worked perfectly, just as they did when starting off.

Got home, parked, and checked if there were bubbles visible in the brake oil reservoir. None.

That's when I kinda woke up. Heart still pounding from the dream.

The dream continued - I checked the CBS system by pushing one of the pistons of the front brake in, and then pressing the rear brake to check if it activated. It did. Really strange.

That's when I was conscious of the sun falling on my face, and woke up.

Checked my watch, it was two hours earlier than usual.

Tried to go back to sleep, but my pounding heart wasn't letting me.

As I got out of bed, I remembered Vicki does not even have CBS.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

days go by

it's been a little over two weeks since we've voluntarily confined ourselves indoors, except for weekly grocery shopping, and twice so far, walks.

i've never worked from home for so many days in a row in my life.

the last time i've spent so much time indoors was 26 years ago, when i was terribly sick.

i guess the biggest difference between then and now is that i didn't have any way of being in touch with friends (I could wave out to them playing cricket from my home, but i was so weak i probably didn't).

so this is different. an able mind in a somewhat able body. just cooped up indoors.

for one, i've stopped seeing the boundary between work and life. since both are in front of the same screen, on the same couch, i just multitask between the two.

my screen time is off the charts. i don't think i have looked at a screen for as long since maybe 2003.

and i'm pretty sure i haven't spent as much time on facebook in... forever.

it's a strange conflict i face now - my time online is well past the point of diminishing returns, but all the platforms i'm using are designed for exactly that - an epidemic of free time with not much to do. if i reduce my online time significantly, i will definitely have more free time for other things, but i won't be moving back up the curve of diminishing returns - it's going to be flat, because everyone else, including the people i want to be in touch with. is oversharing mindless stuff as much as i am.

one thing is for sure though - progress on my pet projects (the one i blogged about, and another one) have slowed down. focusing might help... because trying to find collaborators online has come to naught.

it's funny how society breaks down so easily, and the wave of boredom and listlessness can consume everyone to the point where few people seem to be getting anything of real use done.

these weeks have provided me a learning experience i would never have imagined. slowing down of time without having any physical/mental impediment has let me view the world in much more detail than i ever could.

i wonder if this is what growing old feels like.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


So, in this time of social isolation and forced/voluntary quarantine and whatnot, I have an idea. I have started work on it myself, but since this is my first ever app, I'm clearly out of my depth. Calling on mobile app devs who are willing to brainstorm and collaborate. I don't think anyone has implemented my idea yet, so I hope we can build something that makes a positive impact to peoples' lives. Hit me up!

Sunday, March 08, 2020

my first hackathon

most of the turning points of my life have been serendipitous.

five days ago, i was approached by a colleague at work, who said she needed some help, and wanted to know if i was up for it. we agreed to meet by the coffee machine a couple of hours later, and she pitched her case: there was a hackathon coming up this saturday, and her team had just disintegrated. and they had an idea.

the idea appealed to me. it was one of those things that seemed like it could be done. in fact, as she was describing what she wanted to do, i could literally see it take shape.

i went home that night, and fired up my IDE. it was 2 years behind the times, but ran. logged in to heroku, which i had again signed up for two years ago. it's still free.

i was up till 1:30am that night. just writing random stuff. a hello world REST service that logged its source IP and facebook click ID in a Postgres database that could be edited by strange and funky REST calls.

the next day, the old team regrouped (kinda). it seems that everyone was suddenly convinced again that this is something we should do. i carried my notepad along, scribbled some notes, and took a photo of them before i left office. i couldn't wait to get home, to start writing some real code, which i did: a RESTful service to signup and login. took me all night again.

thursday morning, i had a late start to work as I was expected to work late. not sure what I wrote (I could check my git log, i guess) but i was definitely writing code and pushing it, hitting refresh on my browser. finished work at 10pm, and was back to hacking away. refactored all my code, added the capability to run against an in-memory data store so that I don't mess up the DB with my silly CURL commands.

by friday morning, i felt like a zombie. but i managed to get work done, attend meetings and all that. when i got a call from Shruti at 8pm reminding me that she had been waiting at the restaurant for 15 minutes (I had not left office yet), I knew I was pushing it.

I didn't touch my computer that night. just got home, and crashed. or maybe i did touch the computer, because how else did i sleep at 1am if dinner was done at 10:30pm? it's all a blur now.

either way, i slept through my alarm. went from bed to the door in 15 minutes (breakfast at the hackathon, thank goodness for little mercies!).

laptop plugged in, raring to go. met my team, who had mostly arrived before me.

presentations and introductions out of the way, we got started... and stopped. kinda.

technical glitches (the one person who was going to write the UI had a laptop that REFUSED to see the specific wifi we were supposed to use!), another teammate who was supposed to do the presentation had never actually launched powerpoint on her laptop and suddenly realized her laptop does not even have it, and another teammate had an ipad with a remote connection to two freshly paid for amazon cloud servers, that had... nothing. ok, they had had notepad, so it could be used as a glorified text editor. the ipad might have done a better job i guess. as we worked around our technical glitches, general picking away at the problem ensued, until it was about 2pm. at that point we realized we had to change tracks drastically.

the server (aka my code) was ready and running full steam on the cloud, waiting for all the requests it was built to handle... and it kept waiting (it still is waiting, for the record).

everybody was doing their own thing, and we were kinda getting nowhere. i was too demotivated to even try hitting my code once to verify it worked. we abandoned all IDEs. our new strategy was to just do mockups of everything. so we huddled around a flip chart, drew all our screens, then ripped them off, scattered them on the floor (for some reason!) and proceeded to transfer them to the computer. i'm not sure how i contributed at that point besides hovering around, wringing my hands helplessly and possibly gulping large amounts of caffeinated sugar free sodas. it was 5pm before we knew it, and pizza was served. i didn't care. at 5:15 we got to know that we'd be given 5 minutes to present everything. and this was after i was somehow convinced my teammates we'd be given half an hour or something (it was planned to end at 8pm, so we'd have two and a half hours which i assumed would be used entirely for presentations, i assumed there were half as many people around, and i was obviously too caffeinated to do proper math)

and so, while everyone was moving towards the presentation area, i hit ctrl + D on the terminal window that had all my curl commands preped up, and replaced the slide that said "DEMO" with a screenshot of my IDE and the text "COMING SOON" in 96 point bold.

we still managed to get a "highly commended" award, which I think, given the above, is definitely something!

i'm in hackathon-afterburn mode. trying to install node.js on a Linux emulation layer on my 8 year old android tablet at 2am because... why not.

it feels good to be part of something good.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

heavy breathing

one of the strangest mysteries of the universe would be the sound of heavy breathing in our living room.

we couldn't locate the exact origin of the sound, no electronic items that could have made the sound were powered on, and obviously we were the only mammals present. we tried holding our breath, and it definitely wasn't us.

the sound persisted for a few hours and then disappeared as abruptly as it started!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

motorcycle servicing

I was in Mumbai on vacation. but I hadn't taken a flight there from Belfast - I had taken a ferry! and that was because I wanted to ride my UK bike (Vicki) and not my India bike (Carly) this time. I was quite nervous about having a big bike in Mumbai though. parking at my parents place was tight - it was pretty hard to get Carly into position, and Vicki had double the turning radius! I also got stopped by cops because Vicki doesn't have a number plate in front, but they did buy my story about having shipped her down for a month - not sure how, but I showed them everything from my passport, to my UK residence permit, Indian and UK licenses, my return tickets, and obviously my bike papers. I remember thinking to myself that I don't have a carnet (the legal document most countries require to temporarily allow foreign-registered vehicles). phew.

also, I happened to bump into my regular mechanic. he was in awe of my big bike. I told him the story of how I moved to the UK, etc. he asked me if there was any work that had to be done on it. I told him I wanted to learn to do an oil change myself. asked him if he had any idea what sort of oil filter would go in. he didn't know, but  he would take a look and see, while we were doing the oil change.

next I knew, I was riding on the highway somewhere. it was definitely somewhere far, and I didn't find it familiar. and then, I saw a mechanic by the highway. with plenty of big, imported bikes outside. I decided I should get the bike checked here. I rode in, asked if they'd service my bike - nothing major, just oiling and greasing, and free up the brakes (I have a problem with the brakes binding with the disc). the main mechanic was a lady, who definitely didn't look Indian - seemed more British or Irish in fact. the people working for her seemed like locals though. they all wore a dark blue uniform. they got down to work, while she supervised them. they oiled everything, took the brake pads off and re-set them after a cleaning. while putting the bike back together, they installed an engine immobiliser as well. strangely, they didn't ask me if I wanted one - just fitted it. in fact, I didn't even get a chance to see how and where they fit it. the immobiliser came with a remote, that I added to my keychain. it was multicoloured, back-lit, and had 4 buttons. it looked sealed, so I wondered what I'd do if the battery runs out. I asked the lady where exactly the immobiliser was attached/wired in to the bike. she refused to tell me, claiming that once the word was out the bike would be easy to steal. that didn't make sense, but she refused to budge.

service done, I was ready to ride off. I asked her how much. 125 rupees! that was shockingly cheap, so cheap I wondered if she meant pounds (although 125 pounds would be a fair bit more than what I expected to pay). I asked her if I could pay by card, still not believing the bill could be that low. she said that only cash would be accepted. I checked my wallet, and I didn't have any rupees - only pounds. I offered to overpay generously, but she insisted that I pay in rupees, and in cash.

I tried to convince her that I needed an oil change shortly, and I will come back for that with enough cash on hand. she agreed, reminding me that she could disable my bike with the immobiliser if she wanted to. 

I left, wondering how I'd explain to my regular mechanic why I didn't need an oil change after all. 

and that's when I woke up. 

Saturday, February 08, 2020

the problem with trying to solve people problems

i've always felt the urge to solve human problems. mine as well as those that are not directly mine, but indirectly affect me (every problem affects everyone!)

my own problems are usually simple: the solution is usually about doing something that seems obvious but not very appealing. and the solution is usually incremental - i got here through many tiny steps in the wrong direction, and i just have to retrace/go the opposite way and i'm sorted. the big bang problems are generally not obviously visible to me until someone calls me out on it, and in that case as well, the solution is usually tiny steps in the opposite direction.

when it comes to problems that are indirectly mine though, it's interesting. as an outsider, tiny incremental steps by others in the right direction seem inconsequential, and i tend to focus my thoughts on chunkier things. the reasons for this are many:

  • for every person seeming to do the right thing, there are others doing the exact opposite. unless there's an overwhelming majority moving in the positive direction, it's easy to get lost in the perception bias and conclude there is no net effect
  • solving problems incrementally depends on consistency, and it's hard to perceive consistency in other people.
  • it's hard to tell if tiny incremental steps are due to an over-arching strategy or just correlation. if it's the latter then nothing is being solved since the above 2 points are dominant.
  • the obvious possibility that i'm wrong - if it's tiny steps, how do i correlate cause and effect on a macro level?
i could probably go on all day. but in short, that's why small steps do not lend themselves well to observation and solutions of people problems. and so, i'm unavoidably attracted to big picture problems/solutions. but again, trying to solve big problems, leads to a strange progression of thought: every problem leads to an underlying, even bigger problem. sometimes it leads to multiple problems. and eventually it leads to such a big problem that the solution seems to be... annihilation of the human race. that is a definite, conclusive solution to all people problems, isn't it?

but if that's the solution, isn't that where we're headed after all? why speed up a process when my now nihilistic perception of our race already predicts that as the inevitable destination?

and if that's the solution for our race, why should I attempt to go the other way?

nihilism quickly leads to hedonism - if we're doomed, we might as well enjoy the journey, and damn the consequences, right?

but then, i'm no longer part of the solution: i'm now part of the problem! and that's obviously something I don't want to be, because if that's what everyone else was, we'd be brought to a pretty swift end.

in short: since we have arrived at a contradiction, my premise must be incorrect: there's no point in solving big problems that affect other members of society before they affect me.

so, i must solve my own problems. fine.

but as part of solving my own problems, if i do not try to let others reuse my solutions if they desire, am i not wasting my solution?

so, i must solve my own problems incrementally, while helping others solve theirs by speaking about mine.

but again, i need to know what problems i'm solving for others, so that i'm not just pouring out an overwhelming stream-of-consciousness thatg dilutes my solutions to the point of them being lost, right? and for that i need to know what problems i want to solve for them!

there sees to be no correct approach to this, so i'm probably going to pick a few thing I feel are important, and focus on them consciously.

watch this space.

brake problems

I was in Mumbai, at my parents' place. Sitting astride Vicki, in Carly's usual parking spot. It was a bright sunny day. I did my usu...