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

boring

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

words

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).

Sunday, February 10, 2019

terms of endearment

recently, when thinking about the factlet that eskimos have over 50 terms that describe snow, i realized that my wife and i have over 10 ten "secret" terms we use with each other... to call each other fat.

in fact, we have entire conversations that solely involve calling each other fat. there may be days when the only chats we've had involve calling each other fat (and that carries over to in-person conversations as well - though not as exclusively). we usually start and end conversations with calling each other fat. when we want to call each other, we frequently simply call each other fat.

we have never actually used the word fat though. it's always mild metaphors. in fact we use these terms so frequently that we now use acronyms. we have acronyms for combinations of these terms. we sometimes say those acronyms to each other on the phone and in person instead of expanding them. we have even created backronyms for fat.

we call each other fat so often that we have even forgotten that they mean "fat"

in hindsight, it's amazing how we have evolved our own language to communicate endearment while effectively calling each other fat.

ironically, we're not particularly fat (although opinions might differ), and there was a time when shruti was positively thin - i had to repeatedly tell her that she really doesn't need to lose any more weight, or she'd be unhealthily thin!

it's like how most people mostly use the f-word without associating it with sex.

like all languages, i'm sure this one will continue to evolve.

but we'll probably continue to call each other fat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

fitness tracking

i purchased an activity tracking watch (garmin forerunner 235) around the end of november. it was an impulse buy, because i saw some discounts online and thought it would be a good thing to get a watch that could track my cycle rides (my earlier fitness band only counted steps, and with an extremely high margin of error!).

i noticed a few changes happen almost overnight, thanks to having that watch on my wrist: i started taking detours on my cycle route to do slightly longer distances daily, pushing myself a bit more just to get myself in a higher heart rate zone, doing a few extra steps when i was close to my target and had a little time to spare, stuff like that.

and then of course there was the novelty value: discovering how my body reacted to things like dancing, motorcycle riding, standing instead of sitting, etc.

however, a month and a half later, i felt i was done with the watch.

i realized that it was quite simple: the watch was just required to push me to be conscious of my body's demands for activity. and once i got there, i didn't really use the watch for much at all. in fact, it was more of a waste of time, spending 5 seconds to lock on to gps before i cycled the exact same route as i used to, to get to work. while i was riding, my speed and effort was more to do with the amount of traffic on the road and what my energy levels were like - the watch just recorded them for me to share to the world. and i'm not sure who would be interested in seeing these rides anyway. the other features were more like distractions - if i forgot my bluetooth on, my watch would vibrate every time my phone did, usually ending with me turning mobile data or bluetooth or both off. also, i liked the heavy feel of my conventional metal watches - after a while i actually started missing them, but the data junkie in me didn't let me take off my smart watch and use my dumb watch - it almost felt like i had some sort of attachment to the watch!

funnily enough, it was a similar experience with the earlier basic fitness tracker band as well - it recorded my activity but didn't do much to motivate me. i was under the impression that this was because the band did a crappy job. i can now say that that wasn't the end of the story.

and so, i've concluded that if you need something to get yourself thinking about your activity levels and establishing a baseline/routine, a fitness watch might help. once you get into the habit though, it seems pretty superfluous. the only use cases i can see for the watch right now is if i start training for something specific (like a 10k or something) - if i just need to push my activity levels, i think just keeping my mind set to it and developing systems to keep my activity levels up (taking the stairs, for example) would keep the momentum going.

curious to know what the experiences of other non serious users are.

Monday, January 21, 2019

2019

once again, this blog seems to have fallen by the wayside. and it's not like i'm short on things to blog about. it's just that somehow, blogging doesn't seem to be a priority any more. in fact, i have a fair amount of free time as well. i think i can just put this down to inertia.

anyway, setting aside trivialities (we have instagram for that), the highlights of the last month or so have been a nice good vacation in india (with a quick dash to thailand at the start!), our 2nd anniversary, and then heading back to belfast to brace ourselves for the rest of winter. nothing particularly noteworthy if you look at it as a summary, but i guess the fun is in the details.

on the whole, a few things seem to be falling into place - my sleep cycle seems back on track after a lot of randomness (nightmares, problems sleeping and waking up, feeling sleepy at weird times, etc). i still haven't gone beyond my regular 40 minutes of cycling daily (work and back on weekdays, and the supermarket or suchlike on weekends) - the free gym in our apartment complex is more thought of than visited, but i have been paying a little more than usual attention to my health and wellbeing. no results yet, but i'm going for a more long-term push than something i'll see in a month or even three.

overall, the year seems to have started on a rather positive note, and i'm glad to say that positive changes happening in people around me seem to be helping me as well.

i've stopped making resolutions long ago (actually, i probably still make resolutions of some sort, but i just don't associate them with the new year or call them that), as i've come to realize change comes not from big bang decisions, but incremental improvements, and from internalizing long term goals.

2018 was a good year, with its start and end being so radically different that they almost seem like different lives being lived by the same person. 2019 seems like a time to think about the direction i want to take, and start pushing myself in that direction rather than drifting there.

i have to acknowledge though, that there are some battles on the horizon that will probably come up sooner rather than later, although hopefully i can tackle them without disrupting my plans.

fun times ahead!

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...