Saturday, December 19, 2020

the point of it all

 it's the second half of december 2020. the end of a rather different year. but also a year that has forced a lot of people to change the way they live their lives fundamentally.

and for some people, forced them to strip away a lot of the things that they got a lot of day-to-day pleasure from, possibly without really being conscious of the fact.

in fact, for most of us, 2020 and the associated restrictions has reduced our existence to the equivalent of "treading water" - just doing what we can to stay afloat.

which is fine, and probably even good - the personal equivalent of "gardening leave", that most people (including myself) would not experience unless forced to. some people took the opportunity to get fit(ter), others to take up new hobbies, and the few i'm envious of, actually took up creative pursuits that have borne fruit, like nickolai's book and grenville's album.

personally, i dabbled in a bit of android development, and am also brusing up my javascript skills.

but honestly, 9 months of "treading water" later (in fact, not that much later - maybe even as early as june?) i wonder how people who do not have such direction, get themselves out of bed every morning.

most people (myself included) have to focus on feeding themselves, literally and metaphorically.

many others with kids, have to focus on their development and future - the unique challenges and opportunities being locked indoors with their little future selves almost 24x7 present.

some people (the single, retired, those not living with family due to work etc) have to deal with the loneliness of it all.

of all these different aspects of being "locked down", the one that strikes me the most are the retired. because they represent our eventual future (except for those who hope to work till their dying breath, i guess - but even such hopes do not really turn into reality as intended).

one of my personal goals is to be at a point where i can live comfortably off my savings/investments, with a roof over my head, food on the table, and the level of luxury i find comfortable. if/when we have kids, enough money to guarantee their basic security as well (does the list ever end?). at that point i'd be more free to pursue things other than work for money's sake. because while my current work does give me some personal fulfilment (in other words, i don't detest my job :D) i know there are things i'd rather do, but they don't have the stability/income level to achieve my long term goals.

so that's work and money. but there's more to life. even with 8 hours of work, i always had plenty of time to do other things (even after vegetating on the couch just to "recover" from work). what I do with my free time now probably predicts what I would do with it if i was "free" 24x7. there's obviously entertainment: ther'es a lot of good movies and music out there. as i love to say about movies: "life is too short for reruns". but when it comes to music, i'm happiest listening to my favouites over and over again (yes, i have a lot of favourite music!). but either way, it's entertainment. about as fulfilling as a good meal cooked and eaten by myself, or with shruti. maybe a good drink to go with it.

but after a certain point, all of these things that feel good, do not give me that extra something to keep going. hiking, cycling, riding the motorcycle all help postpone that empty feeling a bit. but beyond a point, it's inevitable.

so, what then?

there's obviously charity. helping others not as well as myself in different aspects. and then there's something that's not so much "charity" as "networking" - helping others simplify/solve their problems.

but is that it? helping friends/acquaintances/charity network?

and what happens when i'm too old to do that? when i start feeling like i've helped all i can and am now being helped more than i'm helping? when my own knowledge is so far behind the times that my advice is more of a waste of everyone's time?

I can see it happening to a few people around me.

i'm trying to motivate them to do something to keep themselves active, mentally and physically. but as i try no motivate them, i can't help asking myself: why? and does what i'm asking them to do even make sense to them? they make sense to me, because i'm preparing myself for the rest of my life. for the things i want to do in the future. but what about when that list is empty? do i go about filling it for the sake of having things to do, although the only reason i'm doing them is to just keep going?

and if not, what?

we prepare ourselves for the end of our lives, but what happens when all of that preparation seems pointless?

i know some retired people don't feel the way i have just described. they busy themselves with their grandkids, books, or just slowing down and letting their daily routine fill their lives.

is that the point of it all? is that what i'm preparing myself for?

Monday, November 30, 2020

the afterlife

 humanity was dying. it was being killed off by an unidentified condition.

the world seemed green and natural, greener than it usually would be. not green as if nature overgrew human creations, but green and natural as if human creations somehow vanished without a trace, and nature sprung back up as if humans and their creations never existed. the weather seemed temperate and pleasant, and it was sunny and clear, but not scorchingly so.

the last few humans were on a train. it was a strange train - just a single coach. it had the capability to be attached to other coaches, but it was not. it didn't even have an engine attached to it. just a coach, by itself.

the train/coach ran on tracks across rolling green grasslands, with gentle hills on both sides, patches of trees here and there. it didn't run so much as roll at a leisurely pace. almost like it was rolling with its own momentum, down a slope so gentle as to be imperceptible to the observer.

the coach seemed like it was designed mostly for standing room, with just one row of seats along each side, facing inward. there were windows, and they were sealed off with class panes. but there were no doors. it did have a psssage at both ends to allow movement between coaches if they were connected, but since there weren't any, the passages were sealed off. there weren't many people on the coach, but it wasn't empty either. they were all seated along its length. they were not shoulder to shoulder - there were plenty of vacant seats, and they weren't clustered or consciously uniformly distributed either. they were just sitting randomly. the people on the train were silent. they did not attempt to interact with each other in any way. they were static, but not catatonic. there were all grown men and women, but no children. none of them seemed particularly old either. they were all dressed quite uniformly, in charcoal grey jackets that seemed quite heavy, and otherwise quite nondescript clothing.

the coach rolled along its solitary tracks, until it slowed, and stopped. not abruptly, as if brakes were applied, but quite gently, yet distinctly - at one moment it was moving and at the very next, it was not.

as soon as it stopped, everyone in the coach stood and turned to face the direction the train was previously moving.

i was not on the coach, but i could see it all, as if the walls existed and were visible, yet somehow transparent.

the humans on the train were distinct from myself, and though they did not make a sound, as they stood and turned forward, i could feel what they felt: this is the end of the line.

their feelings felt strange. they were not feelings translated into words, but feelings themselves. as if i was somehow connected to them, and i could feel what they felt. they felt a blank, black sadness. they felt like it was over. that it was not their personal responsibility that things had come to this point, but that they were still part of whatever brought them here. 

they were oblivious to the beauty of nature around them. they did not feel like they had to get out of that train and survive, or do something. they just felt that it was the end.

they started marching towards the end of the coach, even though there was no door there - just he closed off passage that would normally link to the next coach if one was attached.

their feelings began to dissolve. i lost focus of their feelings.

that's when i realized i had no physical form myself.

i had no physical location either. i was free to localise myself to wherever it pleased me. i did not have to move to localise myself elsewhere.

i was everywhere. i localised myself somewhere far above the earth. i could view its expanse, but also see beyond to the darkness of space. the brilliance of this blue-green earth (now more blue than green) and streaked with silvery white (i assume those were clouds).

i was aware of many beings within myself. they all had their own feelings. but i couldn't locate any thoughts or words. it was some sort of non-uniform, pulsating (but not regularly pulsating) contiguous mass of souls. i could not tell if they were human or animal, but they probably weren't plants, as plants seemed quite distinct from the swirling mass of feelings i was a part of. i felt feelings of these beings the same way as i felt those of the last few people on the train before i lost focus. that is, i felt them distinctly from my own, and distinctly from each other. none of these beings seemed to be located specifically either - they all seemed to be everywhere and without physical location or presence.

i had no significant feelings of my own. i just existed, in a neutral, timeless sort of way. the feelings of all other beings diverged or merged with mine depending on whether i focused on them or not. but no feeling stood out noticeably. they were not as dark as the feelings of those in the train though.

while these beings were timeless, the earth did seem to be bound by the normal laws of time and physics - it was spinning, moving. since i was quite timeless i could percieve its spin as quickly or slowly as i pleased.

and at that point, i woke up.

shruti asked me if i had been dreaming.

i told her the bit about the feelings and beings.

she told me that's what some people perceive the afterlife to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

crazy coincidences

nothing like being locked in for most of a year with one person to think about the connections that brought you together... and then kept you together.

i don't know if i'm an outlier or everyone else's story is like mine, but here's tracing the story of shruti and myself, through all the chance connections that brought us together.

tl;dr: i probably wouldn't be married to shruti today if my mom hadn't cold called the owner of a computer institute in may 2001.

first of all, it's weird that though shruti and i have lived within 1 mile of each other since about 1987, we only met in late 2014. and we did not have any close mutual friends when we met. i knew her school classmates, but they didn't know her. none of her school friends knew me. i probably had school classmates who knew her, but i didn't/don't know them well enough to know. until the day we met, we never hung out at the same places, ever!

so...tracing backward. shruti and i met on a hike/camping trip in november 2014. the hike was planned by "adventure lovers", a group of outdoor-loving folks based in mumbai.

shruti was introduced to the group by a friend ashok a couple of months earlier. after she was introduced to the group, we planned many hikes, but all of them were canceled - until the one where we met, which was her first hike with the group.

ashok was introduced to the group by me, because we were planning a 19 day motorcycle trip in july 2014, and he wanted to come along. he was involved in the planning - but canceled about a month before the trip was finalized. he stuck with the group though, and as far as i know, has attended only one hike with adventore lovers - the one where shruti and i met. 

i knew ashok from well before "adventure lovers" - more on that later.

as for adventure lovers itself, its formation is another story. i was out clubbing one friday night in february 2014, and didn't check my messages for a few hours. when i got home and checked my phone, there was a message from joylyn. joylyn said that a bunch of her friends were planning a hike on saturday, and she was wondering if i'd be interested. i was so interested i called her at 3am, because i had no idea what time on saturday they were planning to leave, and didn't want to risk missing it by finding out too late. turns out they planned it for saturday night, not morning. joylyn hated the hike-turned-trek so much that i don't think she ever came for one with us ever again. the rest of us guys (salman, amey, abhinav and myself) on the other hand got along so well that we founded "adventure lovers". before that message, joylyn and i have never really chatted much or hung out together, except with marjorie - that's how i know her, and how she landed up on my facebook. how do i know marjorie? that's another strange set of coincidences. 

anyway, chronologically, the next person whose "story" comes up is ashok. ashok and i have known each other for many years, through multiple mutual friends. all those friends have one thing in common: they used to work together at "3" in malad, in 2007 or thereabouts. I didn't know any of them at that time, even though i was working in the next building in 2007! however i got to know a couple of guys from that group quite closely much later. one of them is jude. jude and i were hiking up lohagad with a bunch of friends, when ashok was hiking down lohagad with another bunch of friends. and they bumped into each other, and jude introduced me to ashok.

how do i know jude? jude and i met at a friend's birthday party, sometime in 2010 or 2011 i think. that friend is brandt. brandt and i have known each other since about 2001, more on that later. but while we knew each other for many years, we never had any common friends for some reason. however, that birthday, brandt's friend cleona decided to throw him a surprise party at a restaurant near home. but she didn't know me. however, brandt had mentioned me multiple times in the past, and cleona was in touch with my brother, and that's how i got invited to the birthday party. we got along so well that jude planned a motorcycle ride with the rest of his riding buddies. that's the one where i met ashok.

the other connection with ashok is through nickolai. i don't remember the specifics of that connection, but she definitely mentioned that i should meet him as we're both like minded riders/travelers/free spirits :D and nickolai and i were close enough for her to be able to tell when two of her good friends would get along great ;)

i met nickolai in december 2007. just shy of 13 years ago. how i met her is another strange story: we were on this social website called "orkut" (anyone remember that one?), and there was a small "group" on orkut for people who lived nearby. after a few months on that community, we decided to meet up. about 10 of us met in the area for a short walk, hung out in a park nearby, and then went home. nickolai missed that meet-up though, because she saw the messages late or something. so we swapped numbers and agreed that i will call her and let her know the next time the group meets up... which they never did. but nickolai and i got talking and we got along so well that she's been my bestie ever since. and the strangest thing is that we've lived our entire lives before about one block away, and though we had common friends that neither of us were close to, we never met or even found each other familiar when we did meet.

i met marjorie somewhere in the first half of 2007. marjorie traveled to pune to meet me (I was doing my internship there, and i used to spend the week in pune, and travel back to mumbai every weekend). that was, if i remember correctly, one of maybe two or three weekends i didn't travel back to mumbai. i didn't travel back because marjorie was headed to pune. for a funeral, i think. it was something dramatic like that, and marjorie wasn't sure if she should head all the way to pune for it - but i convinced her she should. until that day marjorie and i had never met in person. we had only chatted on the phone.

marjorie had taken my phone number from brandt. marjorie's computer had stopped working. and brandt said i was the only person who might be able to help her fix it just on the phone. and yes, i was able to tell her how to fix it on the phone. if i remember correctly, she had to take out the RAM, clean the contacts, and fit it back in. she was so grateful that she promised me dessert at the place of my choice. i still don't remember what the dessert of my choice was, or where i wanted it from - becasue i never collected it. anyway, marjorie and i ended up besties.

and so, finally: jude and marjorie both lead to brand. how did i meet brandt? brandt and i were coworkers at a summer job. this was 2001, and we were both working at a computer institute during our summer vacations. i was their youngest computer instructor (a shade under 17 years), and brandt was in charge of marketing and sales. we were both based out of the branch of the institute that had recently opened, and for the most part, were the only employees there.

i don't know how brandt got that job, but i remember how i got mine: i was whiling away my summer vacations, and mom thought it's time i got myself a summer job. she knew i loved working with computers. so after sunday church, when she was handed a flyer advertising a new computer institute in the area, she called them and asked if they needed an instructor. if i remember correctly, i got the job without an interview.

tl;dr: i probably wouldn't be married to shruti today if my mom hadn't cold called the owner of a computer institute in may 2001.

Friday, November 06, 2020

learning to drive: beyond handling the car part 2 (roundabouts!)

 (side note: it's now over a year since I've passed my driving test, and I don't remember the individual lessons any more... bummer! I'll still do my best to put everything down)

For reference, all my posts about my driving lessons:

all my notes about driving in the UK

So, so far I had learned stopping and starting, positioning on the road, turns, basic road safety (including traffic lights, pedestrians and crossings) and junctions.

I also managed to drive home with this basic knowledge, which felt great!

There's one precursor to the next topic, and that's changing lanes.

Changing lanes

Lane changing is best done when anticipated well in advance, so it pays to know in advance which lane you need to be in to make the change smooth and efficient. By default, you need to be in the left lane, unless you have a good reason to be in any other one.

Good reasons include:

  • The left lane is an active bus lane that you're not allowed to drive in
  • Car(s) parked in the left lane up ahead (as soon as you see a parked car in the distance, you can change lanes)
  • Turning right
  • Road markings showing the left lane is for left turns only
  • Road markings/signs indicating you need to change lanes (lanes merging, bus lane starting ahead, road work/lane closure etc)
  • Left lane blocked by traffic turning left and the right lane is allowed to go straight
If you have moved to the right lane to pass parked vehicles, you should move back to the left lane after the last parked vehicle, if there are no other parked vehicles in sight ahead - if there are vehicles ahead, you can continue in your lane.
If there's a bus lane in action, and a junction, there will be a marking indicating from where vehicles can enter it for the junction. The arrow will also indicate if other vehicles can enter the bus lane only to turn left at the junction (arrow will point left), or to enter both to go straight and left (arrow will point straight). Also, lane changes are forbidden over solid white lines.
To change lanes, it's mirors, signal, manoeuvre: rearview (to check for vehicles too close or already in the process of changing lanes), mirror on the side you're turning, and then signal if clear and safe. Then, quickly, again, reareview and side mirror, blind spot (over the shoulder), look strsaight again, and if everything clear, change lanes quickly, then cancel the turning signal. If more than one consecutive lane change is required, repeat everything (making sure you turn off the signal after each lane change) - this requires plenty of room and planning!

If moving into the left lane immediately after passing a parked vehicle, and planning to continue straight after the lane change, there is no need to signal left. However, if not done immediately after passing the parked vehicle, you do need to signal besides doing everything else.

Next up: the thing that most people find the most complicated bit about driving (and definitely something I didn't have to deal with in India): Roundabouts!

There are two types of roundabouts: mini roundabouts (mostly just a painted circle, about a foot in diameter, in the centre of a small junction) and all other roundabouts, but the rules are almost the same for both.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts will have a sign on approach, and will also have markings indicating each exit. Lanes may be marked for each exit on the road (with arrows marking which directions each lane can be used for), and optionally on signs on the left of the road, or even the median if there is one. If no direction is marked marked for each lane, the left-most lane is always used for exits turning left, right-most lane is used for turning right, If more than one left turning lane is available, vehicles taking the first exit on the left have to be in the left-most lane. On approaching the roundabout, count the number of exits till the one you need to take (starting clockwise from your current position). Make note of dead-ends as well, as those will be marked differently on the roundabout sign. Also make note of the direction in which the desired exit is. Any exit that's left of 11 O'clock is considered a left exit, and any that's right of 1 O'clock is considered a right exit. If taking a right exit, position in the appropriate right lane, and signal right. If taking a left exit, position in the approproate left lane, but ONLY signal left if taking the first exit. No signal if going straight (ie between roughly 11 O'clock and 1 O'clock).

Approaching the roundabout, slow down and prepare to stop, taking all usual precautions (check rearview for tailing vehicles).

If it's a signalled roundabout, and the signal is green, and the path ahead is not blocked, enter the roundabout.

If it's not a signalled roundabout, it's quite complicated:

  • Check the path to your exit: do not enter the roundabout if your path to exit the roundabout is blocked with vehicles that are not moving.
  • Do not enter the roundabout if there is a vehicle already on the roundabout to your right, unless the vehicle has its left signal on, and is turning left off the roundabout - that should be into the road you're exiting. If the left signal is on but the vehicle is not moving left and cannot be clearly observed to be exiting the roundabout, assume the signal has been wrongly turned on - don't enter the roundabout.
  • Do not enter the roundabout if there's a moving vehicle about to enter from your immediate right, even if it's close to the give-way line but not crossed it yet.
  • If there is no vehicle on the roundabout, and no vehicle entering it from your immediate right, proceed to enter the roundabout.
  • If you have stopped at the roundabout, be ready in first gear with clutch at biting point and foot brake held, ready to go. Once there is no vehicle on the roundabout and any vehicle on the right is stopped (ie probably waiting for another vehicle on its right), enter the roundabout immediately.
If there are lanes marked by exit on the roundabout, get into the appropriate lane. If there are lanes but no markings, enter on the left lane if taking an exit on the left, or centre lane if taking an exit that's more than 11 O'clock. Once on the roundabout, speed up to 2nd gear (~15-20mph) if safe to do so. Count the exits as you pass them. Once past the exit before the one you intend to take, is when things happen REALLY quickly: Check your rearview, then left mirror, and signal left. Check your left blind spot (ie head over left shoudler), then head straight ahead facing where you're going, and turn left into the exit. If there's a fair distance between the previous exit and your exit, repeat the left blind spot check before exiting. You must be facing straight before you start to exit.
Once off the roundabout, cancel your left signal. Phew!
One caveat: there is one roundabout in Belfast where the two exits are so near each other that there's no room to signal left. That's the only one where you shouldn't (as you should only signal left AFTER you pass the last exit you are't going to take). Yes, unless someone told you this, you would fail your test if you happened to take that roundabout and signalled left. Talk about exceptions to the rule!

Roundabouts are really hard to get the hang of, and probably take the most practice - any mistake results in a major fault, and even not going when you can counts as "undue hesitation" and gives you a minor fault! Practice is everything, and this is one bit where my instructor came really handy - his patience (and a couple of emergency stops/steers when I made mistakes!) probably saved me from more than one crash while learning! You also have to be 100% bang on with starting quickly and cofidently, because if you take too long to get going, the vehicle on your right will enter the roundabout before you. Holding up traffic due to undue hesitation will also give you a fail.

Mini roundabouts

Mini roundabouts are quite similar to regular roundabouts, with only a couple of rules relaxed (and the roundabout + roads leading to it and exiting would usually be single lane), so a lot less streessful.

Approaching, you'll always want to be pretty slow, as these are going to be quite tight turns, and these will always be in urban areas, and on pretty narrow roads. There's also a likelihood of vehicles being parked on the sides of roads, pedestrians, kids, etc - basically just go really slow. Before the roundabout, you need your turn signal on if turning left or right. As you get to the roundabout (there will be give-way lines), check what's ahead and what's on the right. A mini-roundabout is only big enough to hold one vehicle at any time. If there's a vehicle that's past the give way line,no matter which exit (left, ahead, right) you stop at the give way line. If there's no vehicle inside the roundabout, and there's a vehicle waiting at the roundabout on your right, you give way to it. If there's a vehicle to your left, it would be waiting for you to proceed. The only ambiguity (to me) is when a vehicle is waiting to enter the roundabout from ahead. In this case, the highway code is ambiguous, and it's safest to wait for a bit and proceed if the oncoming vehicle does not proceed. There's a similar ambiguous situation when all 4 roads leading to the mini-roundabout have vehicles waiting. Must be quite rare, as the rules say nothing about what to do in this situation - whoever enters the roundabout first has the right of way.

At this point, I had pretty much covered everything involved with "regular" driving - it was just a matter of practice. Lane changes and roundabouts take LOTS of practice to get perfectly. 45 hours in, my success rate with roundabouts was still not 100% (but luckily, good enough for me to pass :D)

A few weeks of roundabouts down, I was pretty confident, and focusing on learning the quirks of the roads around belfast (tricky roundabouts, junctions where lane signs appear so late that you have to memorise them or you won't be pass your test safely :D).

The only things left then: practice (lots of practice) and a few manoeuvres thast are part of the test!

Thursday, November 05, 2020

my experiments with food

TL;DR: If you want the short story, scroll to lists at the bottom :D

I've always loved to experiment with myself, and while I'm not very systematic/scientific about it, I have found certain experiments "just work" without sweating the details.

I've also always been fascinated with "paleo" - mostly just because it seemed instinctively right to me. My attempts at following it haven't been the great success others have made them out to be. It's hard to say why - I know that I've never maanged to sustain the activity level and type a paleo diet recommends. I did try it half-heartedly for years though.

I've also experimented with exercise and diet - that was for a much shorter time, becasue, for me, exercise seems to require external motivation (i.e. company) and company is a very difficult thing to have consistently.

And then, lockdown happened.

Coincidentally, just before March, we were going through a rather bad comfort-eating spell ourselves. Packaged microwave TV dinners and the like. So when we were locked indoors, the time was perfect.

Shruti had great experiences with keto, although I wasn't fully convinced going without fruit and other carbs was good for me, I thought I'd give it a go with her. We started sometime in March (or was it April? I'm so unscientific I don't even know the month, forget the date we started!), but I do remember it took us 3 weeks of eating through our stockpiled supplies (we didn't go crazy munching on all the junk at home in one go :D) from the day we decided, before we actually started in earnest.

The first few days were weird. Figuring how to cook the stuff we were to eat, how to make it satisfying, how to control the cravings. And damn... what cravings! We were already down to just one slice of bread a day (with our breakfast), but breakfast without bread was weird. And then there was the matter of portion control. We had absolutely no idea how much food we'd need. And we were aiming to only do groceries once a week. We started running out of eggs pretty quickly. And everything else seemed to slow down. Suddenly, we were only eating two meals a day - breakfast and dinner. Shruti decided she won't eat after 8pm. I decided I'd only eat when I'm hungry, mealtimes be damned.

We controlled our cravings.

Made sure we don't slip up.

We had 0 cheat meals for the first two weeks.

Two weeks later, Shruti wanter her first "cheat meal". I don't remember what it was, but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as she did.

I had stopped craving the stuff I decided I won't eat.

Two weeks in, we were already losing weight.

About one kg a week!

I decided I had to go back to having fruits. It just felt wrong to me.

I loaded up on fruits. Whenever I was hungry, I'd have a fruit. Breakfast, fruit, dinner.

About 6kg or so in, I was looking visibly thinner. People were beginning to notice (in photos - we were still not meeting people). I gradually started onions, spinach, and then tomatoes. So far, so good. Shruti also found food more palatable with these few additions, so it worked for both of us. We started eating more common meals.

At some point, Shruti plateaued. I pushed a bit by upping my activity levels (also, since it was summer and bright till late, I was happy to go cycling when it was dry).

At my lightest, I reached 65 kg. I felt on top of the world. I purchased two tees to try at home, as clothes stores weren't allowing trials in store. Size XS. The cashier was unconvinced. I was unconvinced too. But 21 days' free returns, so why not.

The tees fit.

I fit into the smallest size an adult male could wear in the UK.

I was the same weight as I was when I was 13.

I was 13 24 years ago!

At this point, I declared my experiment a success.

Also, at this point, Shruti's motivation began to give way. Cheat meals got more frequent. The cravings were back. I realized how tricky paleo is for me - after every cheat day, I had to voluntarily control myself very carefully for the next couple of days or there'd be no turning back. And there were a couple of weeks where most of the days were "cheat days".

Surprisingly, my weight stayed put. I couldn't believe it. I was hovering around 66 without following any diet! How was that even possible?

Turns out, it wasn't possible. I'm now back to 68. And I can see the momentum. About half a kg every week.

Looks like it's time to "reset". But before I embark on the next phase, let's put things down for posterity.

So, here's what worked for me:

  1. Control what you eat, not how much you eat. If (and that's a big IF!) you eat right, you'll know when you're full, and won't feel hungry until it's time to eat again.
  2. (For me, not for Shruti - although I don't know how much was due to her body and how much was forced control - she's very good at control!) Don't control when you eat. If you wake up at 8am feeling hungry, go for it. If you thought you're full at 8pm so skipped dinner, but are suddenly hungry at midnight, don't go to bed hungry. MAYBE if you wake up in the middle of the night, just eat a few nuts and drink some water.
  3. Don't buy stuff you don't want to eat, until the day you want to eat it. This worked well since we do our groceries on weekends, and that's also when we have the time to savour our "cheat meals".
  4. Food is overrated. Cheat meals are overrated. They are merely gateways to happy memories associated with the food involved.
  5. Alcohol is overrated. But it's hard to diffrentiate between alcohol and the junk that goes with it, so it's still hard to say. A double of good quality alcohol on ice at home is the sweet spot (no puns intended) for me. More than that, and I start craving junk. And if there's junk on hand, I'm out of control.
Here's what didn't work for me:
  1. The 80-20 rule. Lots of places online said if you stick to your diet 80% of the time, you don't need to worry about the remaining 20%. Didn't work. Remember that one slice of bread? If I had my breakfast with one slice of bread daily, the rest of my day was inevitably out of control. As simple as that. IF the 80-20 rule worked for anyone, it was probably because they were using external control.
  2. Socializing over alcohol. It's just impossible to stick to reasonable amounts of alcohol in social situations. While that worked well in lockdown, it didn't work when lockdown was lifted.
  3. Watching my weight. It took 3 months of kinda-not-following the diet before I started gaining weight. But when I started, it seems like I can't stop. There were no warning signs - once I started piling the pounds back on, it was already too late.
  4. Socializing in general. When there are other people involved, it's very hard to stick to your diet without feeling weird. If it wasn't for lockdown, I'd probably never have pulled this off!
  5. Vacations are difficult. It's either processed food, or breaking my rules. Very hard to have a good time (since my vacations also involve eating and drinking local!) and stick to my diet.
  6. Buying cheat snacks "for later". NEVER EVER WORKED.
  7. Portion control when it comes to "cheat snacks"/meals. Once the bag of crisps is open, it's going in. Ditto for cake (serves 6? I'll have all 6 slices in one go!)
And finally, for those who don't know what paleo is, here's my interpretation of it:
  • Only eat unprocessed food
  • Only eat food that's sold raw
  • NO sugar, NO grains, NO lentils. NO anything that can't be eaten raw or roasted.
  • Plenty of protein (but not obsessive amounts of it) - 3 whole eggs for breakfast is usually adequate, the rest is in my dinner. I enjoyed egg bhurji the most (especially boiled egg bhurji!), but it was good no matter what. As long as there were 3 eggs in it. More on that in another blog post!
  • Plenty of fruit and nuts.
  • As much vegetables as desired, with one caveat: too much salad made me full but low on energy.
  • For meals, I switched between red/white/oily fish and the occasional shellfish. On days I wasn't too hungry, it was just veggies.
  • Rendered fat > oil. However generous you are with fat, if things are being roasted, you'll be consuming minimal quantities of it anyway. The air fryer made it easy to render fat and roast.
  • Minimal salt, generous spices. NO sauces.
  • The one thing I didn't follow as well as I should have: Hydrate!
  • Technically I should have stopped dairy, but I didn't.
  • I also didn't bother with much exercise, although I made it a point to be active. Walking and cycling, when weather suited. About twice a week. Not even half as active as I was, when I was cycling to work daily but not following any diet!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

aches

 a few years ago, I remember the day, after one long ride, I got home, depressed.

told wifey that this feels like it's the end of the line for me. the end of everything i feel brings fulfillment to my life.

i had my first post-ride backache.

i don't remember where the ride was from, or how that happened (probably bad posture caused by having a tent or something between us on the seat), but i do remember how i felt: a bad back was the end of riding the way i love. throw everything on, hop on, and ride off, just taking care of sleep and hydration until i arrived at my destination.

I didn't want to be one of those guys who only rides solo, or needs a backup vehicle, or takes his motorcycle out twice a year and takes a day off work after i'm back to recover. to me, that would have been the end of all things fun.

luckily for me, shruti convinced me i was overreacting, and that it was a one-off, and i believed her.

she also suggested core-strengthening exercises, but i didn't quite bother with those. anyway.

the last few weeks have brought the same thoughts back to me.

vicki has been out of action for the last few weeks (over a month, actually!).

and right after that, I have been put out of action myself.

it started with a strange ache in my right shoulder, extending down the shoulder blade. just the right side.

a few days of being attentive to my posture while working from home helped greatly, and I recovered after about a week. which was a lot longer than it's taken me to recover from any ache so far!

two good weeks later, I woke up with an extremely bad neck. so bad, that I literally couldn't get out of bed till 4pm, and even then I was in such intense pain I had to be helped out.

I literally couldn't move.

I tried everything from stretching, moving my head as much as I could (which wasn't much), etc. Since it happened while I was asleep, I assumed it was something with my sleeping posture. Shruti insisted it was due to bad posture while working.

The next day, I was a little more careful about how I slept, but there was barely any improvement. I did manage to get out of bed and get a whole day's work done though. Also hit the gym for an "upper body" day, which helped things somewhat.

It's been two weeks now, and it's a constant battle of sleeping extremely carefully (even the slightest bad move results in excruciating pain an hour later) - the complete opposite of my entire life so far.

Even when I'm sitting at the PC, if I'm in one spot for an hour, or have a cushion in the wrong spot - literally anything less than perfect - I'm in pain again.

I don't know if it's just an injury that will take a while to recover from, or if I'm going to have to make a permanent lifestyle change.

Either way, it is a very depressing thought.

I just hope I'm overreacting, like I was a few years ago.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

static

 I realize most of life is cyclical. Ups and downs. Never a straight line. A dynamic equilibrium.

Seasons are cyclical too.

And this pandemic is turning out to be more cyclical than initially imagined.

But there are times when things do not seem cyclical.

Halfway on the way up of the cycle, just before things start to taper off, we probably don't care much. Things are great, sure, and even if the upward trajectory seems like it will flatten out, it's still great, right?

Things are different on the downturn though.

Things are going downhill, fast.

The trajectory is headed straight down, with no apparent force to bring things back to flat.

But as things go downhill, the feedback should start to kick in. Shouldn't it?

Survival instinct is a label for so much more than it might seem like on the surface.

At what point does too much of a good thing become a bad thing?

How do you turn too much of a good thing, that's become a bad thing, back into a good thing?

Is it really about the good thing or the bad thing?

Time continues to move at its constant pace, while my perception of it seems to slow down. Days, weeks, months lived without a trace. And all this while, what seemed like things going OK is actually more like dropping at terminal velocity, giving the impression that nothing is moving.

I don't think I have ever spent such a long period of time just... static.

Not moving.

Not thinking.

Not anything.

And the funny thing is, I know what can help me.

I need to get off the couch and drink a glass of water.

Stretch my legs.

And m shoulders. Damn, my shoulders need a stretch!

Take out the trash.

Fill some air in the bike.

But I'd rather not.

And that's what worries me.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

paypal scam/security issue: you could be billed by merchants you've terminated your agreement with!

Paypal users:

Turns out some sellers add themselves as pre-approved billers and don't/can't remove themselves when you cancel your membership/billing agreement. You have to remove it yourself, or they could charge your paypal in the future without any advance warning. Your only clue would be a notification that the money has already been deducted from your paypal, and at that point you cannot decline/reverse the transaction by yourself.

To prevent that, remove unwanted billers from the following link:
When I checked today, I had a couple of merchants on the list who I have not used in years, and am personally aware of merchants who have fraudulently charged people I know in the last couple of days. 
Paypal refuses to entertain any complaints regarding merchants if they're on the list - their argument is that you have agreed to be billed by the merchant, so any problems are now between you and the merchant. Paypal has also said that the agreement can only be ended if agreed by the user AND the merchant, which leaves the feature wide open for abuse.

The feature of being able to view pre-approved billers is new to paypal even though having pre-approved billers is an old thing. it could be that paypal added the feature in response to complaints, but their handling remains poor. Please take care of yourselves by removing billers from the list, or you might be faced with a lengthy fight to get your money back! If the balance was deducted from paypal itself you're out of luck. If it was deducted from your credit card you still have hope as you can raise a dispute there.

ps: special shout out to past users of Shaw academy (www.shawacademy.com), as they recently did this (deduct money from people who had canceled their memberships over a year ago)

Monday, September 14, 2020

problems and solutions

some problems become easier to solve by merely by thinking of the solution.

others need you to actually grab your tools, get over your fears and get your hands dirty while getting nowhere, and then dig in and remind yourself the biggest failure is to never have tried.

- kris, trying to solve two different problems on the same day

Monday, August 24, 2020

38... sorry, 37

you know you're old when you need to subtract your birth year from the current year to get your age.
-kris, not many years ago

 

you know you're old when you subtract your birth year from the current year to get your age, and get it wrong.
-kris, 15th august 2020

That's right. It happened. Luckily for me, I realized it before I posted my age anywhere... or wrote this blog post.

It's been an interesting year, for sure.

Last year, on my birthday, I had just passed my UK driving test (oh yeah!), and was preparing for my motorcycle test. My parents were over for a 3 month visit. We were doing one vacation every month.

Things seemed to be going rather nicely. Everything was "on track" - I was checking things off my (imaginary) checklist, and so was Shruti.

In the 12 months since then, things have changed.

Work got busier, our vacations changed from hopping on to a flight/train/bus to hopping onto our newly purchased motorcycle (and usually, taking the motorcycle on and off a ferry).

I discovered the joy of running. And for the first time in my life, I was able to run 5K without limping past the finish line with my legs on fire. I was able to run 5K thrice a week, during my lunch breaks, chatting with my running buddies while we ran. I could probably have run 5k every day if I wanted to, but I didn't.

Shruti got her first full time permanent job in the UK. A big relief (and step forward) for the both of us.

We about a month of dealing with living in a house with both of us working from office 5 days a week.

And then, COVID-19 happened.

Beyond the obvious canceled vacations (and postponed visit to see our family back in India), and the expected cabin fever/work from home etc that everyone we know had (/has?) to deal with, we got to experience more time together than we usually would. For the first time since we met each other, we've been within 12 feet of each other almost 24 * 7. We got to watch each other work, share our ups and downs in ways we never imagined we would.

We also realized that if we take away the social aspect of eating/drinking, it stops being fun. And so, we embarked on a health trip of sorts. No significant exercise, but just eating healthy. Eating clean.

I lost 8kg in 4 months (that's over 10% my body weight). I'm now lighter than I was 20 years ago. The last time I weighed this much, I was an acne-riddled teenager, who hadn't had my first shave yet.

And for the first time, this feels sustainable. Almost.

It feels amazing to be able to use my body the way nature intended it to. And while I'm not in perfect shape, it doesn't seem like i'm very far from it (yes, i know, there's no such thing as "perfect" anything, but let's just say I have an idealized image of what I would like to be).

On the other hand, it's also been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I've tried to ride the rollercoaster the best I can, trying to reach for greater heights, and avoiding the murky depths of no return. So far, so good - but there are times when it feels like it's just sheer luck that keeps me from doing things I'd regret.

I have tried to learn from this year. I have tried to learn differently from this year.

I have tried solving problems as a partnership.

I have tried not "fixing" situations, but working cooperatively to find sustainable solutions for everyone involved.

It's hard to say that it's working - things always seem good until they're falling apart. In fact, things seem better than good until everything flips and it's suddenly a complete disaster.

But I'm learning to see things differently. And I'm also learning that it's not enough to see things differently, but to also try to see things alike. And work together towards that ideal.

Also, after maybe 15 years of "make every moment count", and frantic madness of trying to squeeze the most I can into every day of my life (only to despair when the unsustainability of it all comes back to bite me), I've started treating my life as a journey, not a series of destinations.

I once believed (and publicly stated) "life is too short for reruns". I don't believe so any more. Life is not too short for reruns. Life is too short to waste it doing things you don't enjoy.

Life is too short to waste it trying to be happy within the constraints I've assumed I need to live within.

Life is long enough to make every moment count. Even if it's not on the bucket list.

Life is more than a bucket list. Life does not even need a bucket list. Life just needs you to be mindful of what is fulfilling (not necessarily happiness-generating), and what is not.

Oh, and age is not even a number.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

unlocked

two weeks ago, when we took the plunge and decided to venture out of home for a 3 day ride/vacation, thanks to the governments of UK and Ireland deciding it was safe to do so, and bnbs and campsites opening up to take guests, we were finally out of our home for the first time in 4 months, down to the day (11 march - 11 july).

we didn't decide on our trip until literally 36 hours before our departure time: we read all the guidelines, news, statistics, thought long and hard about the precautions we could take, etc.

and then, we hopped on to our trusty motorcycle and enjoyed the ride. sanitizer every where, frequent hand washing (in public washrooms, which aren't really known for being perfectly clean, and in these times, gave a feeling similar to navigating a minefield!). i joked at one point that we're probably the cleanest we've ever been on a ride.

while we were riding back, we told each other: precautions notwithstanding, we'll stay away from everyone for the next two weeks. just one of us doing groceries, once a week, wearing a mask, etc.

that was not to be.

by the time the weekend had neared, our friends were making plans to meet up. we wanted to stay away from people to minimize risk, and thought it shouldn't be difficult. staying 2 metres apart in a park spread over thousands of acres, right?

and then there were other friends planning to meet up. the cafes were open. people were making plans to consume some good ol' alcohol in each others' homes.

and every time we accepted an invitation, we told ourselves: we'll take precautions.

sure, we didn't do silly things like sharing food/drink.

but you can't play exploding kittens without touching each others' cards. and we were probably a foot apart at the cafe. literally shoulder to shoulder with the windows closed in the car we pooled in.

and so, here's the tally over two weeks:

meeting in open spaces maintaining more than 1 metre distance: ~19 adults + a few kids (we did gather closer for a few seconds for photos)

meeting in closed spaces maintaining 1 metre distance: 3 adults

meeting in closed spaces not maintaining 1 metre distance: 13 adults

meeting in close proximity: 6 adults

restaurants/cafes visited: 4 (3 on vacation, 1 after)

oh, and we have collectively made over 5 grocery store visits in 2 weeks after the return from vacation + at least as many during our vacation itself (it's surprising how quickly these add up!) + visits to other shops + 2 ferry rides.

when you add these up, the numbers are mind boggling! we're up from meeting 1 person in an open space at over 1 metre distance over a two week period, to 41 people, most in higher risk situations over the next two weeks!

i just hope whatever analysis fed into the decisions to reduce restrictions and the test-and-trace programs that have been recently kicked off do their job in case the number of covid-19 cases increase.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

life after a pandemic

the last few months have involved more than a few revelations, as far as my relationship with "life" is concerned. it started with re-evaluating the obvious stuff: work, private open spaces, friends, food, health, my couch (oh yeah, I'm sure a lot of people feel very differently about their sitting arrangements now). but beyond the obvious stuff, there's a lot more that I've had the opportunity and time to evaluate.

my marriage, for example. being with the same person 24x7 has changed us. we have covered in 3 months what we would have been lucky to cover in 3 years in more ordinary circumstances.

but the biggest revelation of all, one that I think I have observed for the first time today, is that travel has something to it that cannot be explained by anything else. I used to think it was just about new experiences, a break from the normal, pushing myself, planning (just kidding, my travel does not involve anything more than very superficial planning), or maybe just time with my two wheels... but no, it's not any of those. because travel is not the only way to experience anything I could think of. and in these 3+ months that I couldn't travel (in the way I would like to), I think I gave all of the alternatives a shot. and they all worked, up to a point. but then they didn't.

I still can't explain it. but all lack of rationalisation notwithstanding, I will sleep in a strange (hopefully well sanitized) bed tonight, exhausted, but fulfilled. a feeling I have missed for these months.

a feeling I've felt every time I've travelled. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

good

as i get ready to fall asleep, my mind inevitably finds things to mull over. tonight it was "how was my weekend?"

well, my weekend was good. but not in my usual sense of "good" - in one phrase: i did nothing.

well, technically i didn't "do nothing". i slept in (both days!), we saw a movie (horror, for a change - thanks to shruti noting it's a genre we have both avoided in the 5+ years we've known each other) and countless episodes of family guy (only a handful of seasons left!). i read stuff online (didn't touch my kindle though), took vicki for a spin (got stuck in traffic, didn't expect that!), ate (mostly) healthy, baked a wee cake, did our week's grocery shopping. and slept even more.

spent a lot of time thinking, talking about non mundane stuff, getting cosy, and just generally being together... but not doing anything particularly memorable.

perhaps having a good weekend is not about what we do, but what we feel.

and i feel rested and recharged.

and good.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

learning to drive: beyond handling the car

having gotten my theory in place, and myself behind the wheel once, it was time to actually learn how to drive.

driving is not about making the car do what you want it to do, driving is about knowing what you want the car to do.
 - kris, just now

so far i had learned how to start off, stop, and follow the road (i.e. steer). beyond this, the only bit left when it comes to handling the car is to change gears. the rest of my driving lessons were basically about what to do, and when. that's the fun bit!

at this point, the skills to learn aren't that many, and the practice required is far more. which means although i am over 50 hours from getting my driving license in this story, the stuff i had to learn isn't really that much!

I had already learned to follow the road. As long as there are no lines/paths I have to cross, that's the simple bit. Just follow the road!

actually, it's not that simple. a bit of safety and anticipation first:

while driving, you keep glancing in the rearview (no need to look at the side mirrors when driving in a straight line, following the road), and make sure the vehicle behind isn't too close. if it is, lightly tap the brakes so your brake lights flash without slowing the car down. that should remind the driver behind to keep space. stay at least a car length behind the vehicle in front when moving dead slow, half a car length behind when stopping for any reason (easy guesstimate is, you should see the tyres of the vehicle ahead, and a bit of road). when moving at normal speeds on dry roads, the distance to be maintained is two seconds: look at a fixed object by the side of the road, and when the vehicle ahead passes it, start saying to yourself "only a fool breaks the two second rule" at a normal speaking pace. if you pass the object before you finish saying it, you're too close. slow down, making sure the vehicle behind you is far enough as well - if not, tap your brakes until they give room. brake lightly when letting go of the accelerator so that the vehicle behind has a visible cue that you're slowing down.

if a pedestrian has their feet on the road or even one foot off the kerb, or is standing at the kerb at a zebra crossing, you have to stop for them. if someone looks like they might cross, be prepared for them to step on the road without warning. when approaching a traffic light that's green, prepare for it to turn amber/red. preparation involves checking your rearview for vehicles too close, and signalling to them with your brake lights if they are.

if you do have to stop for pedestrians/traffic lights, you first let up on the accelerator and press the brake. when the engine gets near stalling, clutch in all the way and shift down, releasing the clutch immediately. at higher speeds you may need to shift down to 2nd/3rd, let go of the clutch while braking, and eventually clutch again before coming to a complete stop. when stopped, the brake should be held down all the way. the moment you stop, shift to neutral and start counting to 3. if stopped for more than 3 seconds, engage the parking brake, and let go of the foot brake - this is to avoid dazzling drivers behind you. if the vehicle behind is still at a distance and approaching, it may be fine to lightly tap the foot brake to alert them that you've stopped.

one the light has changed or the pedestrian has crossed (and if there is more than one lane, the pedestrian needs to cross all the way across - if there is an island in the centre, you can start when the pedestrian reaches the island safely), it's time to get going again: shift back to 1st gear, find the biting point, and check all around the way you would when moving off from parked (except for the signalling bit), starting from over your left shoulder, and ending with over your right shoulder - your eyes should be back on the road ahead before you start moving. brake off, and get rolling! don't spend too long on the clutch - in most cases a second or at most two.

The next bit is about T junctions: turning left or turning right.

in most T junctions (when approaching from the leg of the T) the leg of the T will have either: a solid line, a double dashed line, a single dashed line (all painted on the road), and optionally a stop sign (a red octagon) or a give way sign (in an inverted triangle) by the left of the junction.

a solid line or a stop sign (or both) mean you HAVE to stop before entering the junction - doesn't matter if it seems clear on approach. you stop before the solid line, taking the usual precautions - rearview etc.

a double or single dashed line means you have to give way to traffic going along the road you want to turn into. Same for the give way sign. double dashed lines mean visibility is reduced at the junction and you need to be extra cautious. either way, you have to slow down, till not more than 2nd gear, and prepare to stop (again, usual stopping precautions).

Turning left at a T junction

About 6 car lengths ahead of the junction, you start your observations: rearview (for vehicles too close), left mirror (for cyclists/motorcyclists following closely). if all looks safe, signal left, and then look over your left shoulder (all the way behind - chin over shoulder), left mirror, road ahead, road to your left, road to your right. when looking over your shoulder and in the left mirror, look out for motorcycles and cyclists. give them room, slow down, and let them pass/stop. by the time you're at the junction, the car should be at the left side of the lane (so somewhere between the parking position and the driving position), so start moving left if clear before stopping at the junction. it's fine to stop at a junction that does not say stop/have a solid line if unsure.

next, you have to make sure it's clear before you move. first, check the road you intend to turn into (ie the left of the T) - if there's no room for the car to fit there entirely, do not enter the junction - wait at the line. then, check the road from which vehicles are approaching the road you intend to turn into (ie to your right). you can only turn in if it's clear - the vehicle approaching should not have to slow down or anyhow change its path because you are turning. if in doubt, wait - however, waiting when it's clear or the vehicle is too far will get you a minor fault in your test, and two minors get you a major (which is a fail) - so it's fine when learning, but you need to get good enough at estimating distances and speeds before you give your test. the simple rule is:

"if you can walk across, you can drive across"

obviously this depends on you at least being able to judge how fast you can walk across a road, but hopefully you have more experience of walking across :D

there are a lot of other things you need to watch out for when turning into a road:

pedestrians - any pedestrian with a foot off the kerb gets right of way. once you stop, you can expect waiting pedestrians to begin to cross. even if they don't, they might cross at any time. if they start to cross, stop immediately. pedestrians could be crossing either the leg of the T or the arm of the T you're turning into - or anywhere, really. pedestrians on the road have right of way.

parked cars/other obstacles on your side of the road: they obscure your view. if from your current position, if things look clear, you need to perform the "moving off" sequence (biting point, left shoulder, all 3 mirrors, right shoulder), move a bit, look again. as soon as you see any reason to stop, stop immediately. this is called "peep and creep". if there are a lot of vehicles passing by, you might have to repeat this multiple times (stop, biting point, check all around, start each time) until you have a clear view.

parked cars/other obstacles on the opposite side of the road: they force oncoming vehicles to cross over on to your side of the road (if it's a 2 lane or narrow residential road). similarly, parked cars on the right side of your road would block cars turning into it - if a car has already started to turn, you shouldn't move until they stop, leaving enough room for your car.

basically if anything is in your path, stop. if anything is going to move into your path, stop. if you can't see if anything is in your path or going to move into your path, peep and creep. your actions should not cause anyone to slow down or do anything to avoid you.

Turning right at a T junction

Turning right is same as turning left, except that you signal a little earlier (10 car lengths in stead of 6), mirror your checks (ie obviously check right when you would be checking left for a left turn), and you have to make sure you are clear on both sides - no vehicles approaching from the right (ie the path you intend to cross) or the left (ie the path you intend to join). Again, peep and creep/stop as soon as you see something in your path. Can be quite time consuming, but that's how you do it. Also, you should be positioned toward the right of the lane (but not touching/crossing the lane marker) before entering the junction.

More turning stuff

If there is more than one lane in the junction, you need to stick to your lane. More on lanes later, but basically when turning from a single lane road onto a wider one, you're turning into the leftmost lane, unless prohibited (leftmost is a bus lane, etc).

Sometimes, when turning, if you have "peeped and creeped" far enough, oncoming vehicles may slow down or stop to let you go. this still means you have to check both sides and for pedestrians, and that your exit from the junction is clear. Some drivers may flash their lights at you as a signal to go ahead. this is not an official signal, and hence is a hint, but cannot be used in itself as an indication that it's safe to proceed.

Approaching vehicles may have their turn indicators on, and that may indicate it is safe for you to turn (eg a car approaching from the right or left and signalling left). However, you are not allowed to act upon those signals unless you have seen those signals off before they were turned on - this is to eliminate the possibility that they have forgotten the signal on. Also, you should be able to notice them slowing down as they approach the junction. If they don't seem to be slowing down, ignore the signal and wait for them to pass.

phew! that was again a lot to cover in two hours - but at the end of it, I had a bonus: my instructor asked me drive home! he's obviously a very skilled instructor, as he literally had a hand on the steering, feet on his pedals, and eyes on his mirrors all the way! He was probably doing more of the driving than I did, but I felt amazing to be able to drive home on open roads. 4 hours down, I was grinning to myself as I parked and got off!

Speaking of parking - before opening the door, you need to look all around. Especially behind. I once got "doored" while cycling to work, and I will never forget it - extremely dangerous! The "Dutch reach" is no mandatory but helps - you reach the door lock with your opposite arm, forcing you to turn around while doing so.

Friday, June 19, 2020

the camera and the washing machine

I needed a new camera, as my trusty old Canon 1000d was well past its prime. None of the cameras I checked out appealed to me. my main problem was that I had a nice lens, and I didn't want to get rid of it because I purchased an incompatible camera. and I didn't want to buy another Canon, because I didn't like it. Dad told me that Fuji cameras are compatible with Canon lenses. I was surprised, as I had never heard that before.

I decided Fuji was perfect for me. And just like, that a Fuji SLR was in my hand. it was nice, a little more compact than the Canon, jet black plastic (in contrast, the canon's once-black body was now discoloured and faded). It also had neat red accents that looked pretty classy! I liked it.

The main thing though, was to try it out. And to make sure both lenses worked together. Yes, the Fuji lens had a way I could thread the Canon lens on, like an extension! Pretty cool. I threaded the lens on, and switched on the camera. I looked through the viewfinder and the image was a little blurry, but gave a pretty good zoom. I pointed the camera at a TV, which was probably hooked up to a computer, as it had a page from Wikipedia on the screen.

I realized the blur went away when I adjusted the focal length of both lenses to their maximum. I wondered if I would need to adjust the aperture to get a good shot, but the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced I did not need to do so, as the aperture was within the camera, and the lens was just open to let light pass through all the time.

I clicked a photo. It was in automatic mode, and it turned out pretty sharp and very highly zoomed - from about 20 feet away, the TV was so highly magnified that there were barely 5 lines of text in the photo.

I clicked a few more, checking what settings the camera selected while in auto mode. I took care not to touch the focus ring. 

I then had the idea that I should check the focus setting, and try different manual focus settings. Since there were two lenses stacked, there were two focus rings. I turned off auto focus and tried adjusting one ring. the image magnified even more, but also blurred. Beyond a point, I couldn't really tell how magnified the image was, as it was a complete blur - the text and background merged into a grayish frame, almost uniformly coloured. I tried turning the focus rings on both cameras to their extreme settings (not sure if I was focusing in or out), and as I was focusing the outer lens (the Canon one), the image abruptly started getting sharper. As it got sharper and I could identify the alphabet on screen, it turned out it had zoomed a lot more in the process. The entire frame was covered by just a few words - maybe 3 or 4. But funnily enough, the image was inverted! As I reached the limit of the focus ring, the image was perfectly sharp (in fact, so sharp that I could see detailing of the serifs of each letter on the screen (and they were quite detailed!).

I was very happy with the result. This was brilliant! I wasn't expecting using two lenses to produce such excellent results. I wanted to now take the camera out somewhere and click more photos. My only worry was that attaching and detaching the second lens on top of the first might end up scratching it, since both the glass surfaces were pretty close to each other and seemed like they would come in contact while being screwed on. I decided it would be safest to always use this camera with both lenses attached in this manner. 

I slung the camera with both lenses around my neck and went downstairs. Once downstairs, it was instantly familiar as I was at my parents place (although somehow the room I was in and the TV seemed completely unfamiliar).

Downstairs, I walked out onto the street from the pedestrian exit of the apartment. Karishma was waiting in her car. She said she was glad I decided to come for a drive instead of taking my bike out as I usually did.

As I was getting into the passenger seat, I noticed there was some sort of black tub, about 8 inches deep, filled with dirty looking water with some soap suds. It also seemed to have clothes in it, presumably Karishma's. Karishma told me to go ahead and sit, and showed me where I could place my feet. The tub was a washing machine, in the passenger side of her car, under the dash! And it seemed to be operating as we spoke as well!

I squeezed in, and as she was about to start driving, I asked her if soapy water would splash on me. She said it might.

I told her I didn't quite fancy getting dirty soapy water on myself, and decided to sit in the rear seat instead. 

I opened the door, and stretched my legs to get out without getting my feet into the washing machine. 

And that's when I woke up. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

learning to drive in the UK: behind the wheel

So, back to my series: theory aside, it was time to get behind the wheel.

I had been cautioned that driving lessons could be expensive, but there were also a couple of friends who went with cheaper instructors and ended up failing their driving tests. I decided to go with reviews instead of banking on my personal network, and called the best rated guys in my area. While that worked out well for me, and I don't know of what groundwork they do regarding quality control etc, it was interesting to note that they operated more like a franchise - my instructor was simply passed on my contact details and handled everything else himself.

We started off by an assessment of my driving skills: he picked me up from home, drove till an isolated spot in a residential area nearby, and got me in the driver's seat.

The first thing you do is called the "cockpit drill"

The first thing he asked me to do was adjust my seat. The basic thing is that you should sit back all the way in the seat, back to the rest, and be able to hold the steering wheel comfortably, with arms neither cramped nor fully extended, and left foot should be able to push the clutch pedal all the way in. The seat position determines your feet, while the incline determines how you hold the wheel. This is the most basic requirement, but getting it perfectly comfortable is something I actually didn't get right consistently for a while - more on that later. Once in place, the seat-belt goes on (obviously).

The next step was adjusting the rearview mirror. The tip is to get it to a point where you can see the corners of both rear side pillars (so it's symmetrically aimed backward), and can see the entire rear windscreen, so a bit of edge from the top and bottom, or as close to that as possible.

The wing mirrors don't need adjusting as long as they're set up right, so I never had to deal with them, but it's important to check they're not folded in and offer a full view starting from the sides of the vehicle, and aimed horizontally (so not tilted upwards or downwards).

Cockpit drill done, the first time, it's important to find your spot on the road. To aid getting used to positioning, he placed a number of coloured dots on the dash, just below the windscreen. The car was parked about a foot away from the kerb, and he asked me to make note of which dot lined with my view of the kerb. I was to remember that as my reference when parking.

Interesting thing about the dots: We had them placed at various different parts of the car, and I had to use them as references for a lot of things. Things are obviously different when in your own car, but I think the precision of those dots is more important when learning, and to pass the test without any flaws (some of these things are an instant fail!)

Now comes the exciting bit: getting moving (also known as moving off). Turn the key in the ignition, once the engine is on, you're ready to go.

First off, the controls, for someone who doesn't know them (I did): the foot pedals are from left to right, clutch, brake, accelerator. The signals are the stalk under the steering wheel, and you push downward to signal left, upward to signal right, and bring back to the centre to cancel. Unless being used to change gears or signal, the left hand never leaves the wheel (and even then, the right hand never does). Hands should be in the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock position, and should never cross over to the other side, or cross each other.

The first step in moving off is finding the "biting point" - push the clutch in all the way, get the gear into first (stick to the left and forward, pushing firmly left until it won't go any more, and then forward until it won't any more, then let go of the gear stick, letting it get back into its resting centre position). Then gradually start letting go of the clutch until the bonnet rises slightly. In the tiny car I was learning in (a Nissan Micra), I could also feel noticeable vibrations once the engine was beginning to engage - but as I learned later, that's not always the case, and finding the biting point probably becomes second nature with practice. The bonnet needs to rise perceptibly, because if you begin to feel the vibrations but the bonnet doesn't rise, it's probably not engaged enough to hold the car on a slope, and that's going to end in disaster.

The next step is making sure it's safe to move off: start from looking over your left shoulder (your chin should align with your shoulder, something I found quite awkward, but I see the importance of it now), then the left mirror, then the centre mirror, the road ahead, the right mirror, and then out from the right window, all the way till you're looking backward over your right shoulder, chin over shoulder. You're looking for anything that is or could be moving into your path. Vehicles coming from behind at any speed, pedestrians walking by, pedestrians who might cross, oncoming vehicles (especially if you're moving out on a narrow road or from behind a parked car or another obstacle).

He had me practice just looking around multiple times, which felt strange holding the clutch at biting point, but I guess it developed some sort of muscle memory as well).

At any point, if there is any reason to not move off, you wait (optionally pushing the clutch in - a chance to practice finding the biting point again!) and start again from looking behind over your left shoulder.

Once good with the drill of looking around, the next step is to look and signal in time - while looking from left to right, once looking through the right mirror, and if it's all clear, push the signal stick up to turn on the right indicator as you look over your right shoulder. If you see something in your right blind spot, you cancel the signal and start again. If not, you move your hand down to the parking brake lever, push the button on its end, pull it up a bit (that;s when the button will go in), and then push it down all the way. It's better to move your fingers out of the underside of the lever as it goes down, or you may not end up pushing it all the way down (the parking brake alarm will start beeping in that case). Done right, the car should immediately start moving. Turn the steering to the right (up to half turn, definitely not more) and straighten it immediately once in the middle of the lane. While straightening, it's easy to let your fingers push the signal stalk downward to cancel the turn signal. Simultaneously, let go of the clutch completely (no need to throttle when learning to move off on flat ground). And... we're driving!

Once we started moving, he guided me to the point where we were in the middle of our lane, and asked me to make note of which dot aligned with the kerb at that point - that was my reference when driving. For the lane marker, I had to mentally note how far off the headlight seemed from the lane markers when the left dot was aligned, so I had a reference on both sides. The lane marker wasn't going to be too accurate, but that's not as big a deal as getting the left alignment I guess. To illustrate:


positioning within your lane

Finally, the second most important thing (or possibly the most) - stopping!

To stop, you first check the road ahead, rearview, and then the left mirror, if it's clear (i.e. no vehicle approaching from behind, cyclist or motorcyclist trying to cut from the left, etc), signal left as you look over your left shoulder, and start to brake while moving left towards the edge of the road. Do not brake before signalling left, and once moving in, keep an eye on the "parking dot" to make sure you don't get too close. Push the clutch in (and push it all the way in) only once the car is about to stop, and hold the brake firmly. Cancel the left signal, put the gear into neutral, engage the parking brake (again button in before you can move it, and pull it up as far as it will go before letting go of the button). Once the parking brake is engaged, you can take your foot off the brake pedal, although hands should remain on the wheel unless doing something that requires you not to.

We also practiced using the wheel to turn left (it was a road that curved left, almost like a rectangle, so plenty of left turns). The important bit about turning was making sure the dot marking the left edge (green dot in the image above) stays on the kerb. Also, hands slide on the wheel one at a time, while the other one holds the wheel and pushes in the desired direction. Hands only move between 8 and 12 o clock for the left hand, and 4 and 12 o clock for the right hand. We spent a lot of time practicing this, and he told me I can even practice at home with a dinner plate - smoothly moving one hand into position while pushing/pulling with the other, then switching to pushing/pulling with the first hand while moving the other into position.

Phew, that was one long first day of driving! Two hours, to be precise. At the end, I was dog tired, quite stiff (I was pretty tense, somehow!) and waiting for my couch :D

Sunday, June 07, 2020

learning to drive in the UK

It's been about a year since I first got behind the wheel of a car as a learner driver, and soon it will be a year since I've passed my test! However, since I don't get to practice much, I figured I could do the next best thing: blog the process, so that I can have a revision of sorts.

Part of learning to drive also involved asking a few friends for advice and some valuable tips from my instructor. I hope blogging them can help others in a similar situation.

So, to get started: you need a learner's driving license. The process might be different between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but the basic guidelines are the same: you need to apply by filling a form, and supplying documentation of proof of identity and residence. I used my residence permit as proof of identity and a credit card bill as proof of residence. And wait till it arrives in the post.

Next up: you have to eventually prepare for and pass your theory test. While it's not mandatory to pass it before you get behind the wheel as a learner driver, having a good feel of the rules, road signs, recommendations, etc will obviously make things easier on the road. Also, since I love to read, this made the wait for my learner's license more bearable.

I prepared in what would probably be considered the wrong order: I stated off with "how to drive" by Ben Collins (the guy who, as the cover of the book wold remind you, used to be "the Stig" on Top Gear) - while his book was good, informative and entertaining, it was aimed at teaching people who knew the rules, how to be a "good" driver - and brought home the point that the two things are quite different. Next up: The DVSA's official highway code. Now this (e)book isn't new to me (I had read it online in 2017 when I was preparing for my 1500-mile motorcycle trip up and down the country, back when I could use my Indian license), but I didn't realize until some way into the print version of the book, that it was simply terrible: all the facts were in there, but it was incredibly badly structured. In fact, most of the stuff that would get you through the test was in the appendices! Either way, i read it from front to back (or the other way around). But I wasn't confident I would pass (and mock tests online suggested I wasn't doing great either). And there was the bit about hazard perception as well - there were a couple of free clips I could try online, but I was doing terribly at them, and the instructions were no good!

I then purchased a DVD: Driving Test Success Theory. I don't know what got me to this one (probably cheap + well rated). This was about the time I was starting my practical lessons, and my instructor said it didn't really matter as they're all about as good.

The application on the DVD had one page about passing the theory test. It was brilliant. It summarized in about 10 or 20 screens of text, what none of these books I had enthusiastically read could do: told me exactly what are the principles behind all the rules.

It also had question banks of all the possible questions that could be asked, but honestly, the UX sucked when it came to mock tests, so I eventually gave up on the DVD and did these online. Definitely much better UX there!

The hazard perception bit was tricky though. I literally took the mock and practice tests on the DVD until my eyes were sore. Like 60+ hours of them. The only way I could pass was by watching clips multiple times until I remembered from memory when the hazard appears. I was super scared and tense. Finally, I realized the problem: I was using my TV (hooked up to the laptop) as a screen, and the video resolution was not good enough, and I was too far from the screen to see minute details of hazards. In fact, I sometimes completely missed hazards thanks to my setup! Solution was to not use a TV but a regular monitor, and sit at the usual distance one would from a computer. After that, I was pretty good at those as well. One handy tip my driving instructor gave me, was to always click twice. Once when you think a hazard may occur, and one when you're sure it's a hazard. Also, the definition of a hazard is "anything that might require you to react to it" - so whether it's by slowing down, changing lanes, etc. Also, I found that two clicks is not adequate, as sometimes my first click was before the software registers the start of the hazard window, and the second click barely got me any points. So I would click first when I had a clue that a hazard could happen, second when I have a good sign a hazard will happen, and third when I can actually see the hazard unfolding before me.

I have read multiple times online that you get disqualified for a question if you're clicking repeatedly, and I know someone who actually failed because he was disqualified for too many questions, but I found the three-clicks rule worked well for me.

Also, when it came to the actual test in the test centre, the videos are not recorded but computer generated - I found movements and hazards in those videos to be quite exaggerated and hard to miss - definitely easier than the DVD's practice videos!

Most of my friends passed their theory test with just the practice questions, but I don't recommend that because honestly, driving is a matter of life and death. Practicing enough questions might get you good enough to pass, but I feel that a good, safe driver should have ALL aspects of their theory right in their head, never mind if you don't get a 100% in the actual test.

Back to my experience: I passed my theory test. Twice. Twice, because you have to retake the theory test for the motorcycle license as well (even though the content is virtually identical - few motorcycle maintenance related questions in addition to everything in the car test). I booked my tests for consecutive days, because I wanted to get them over with. I don't remember my hazard perception scores, but I literally aced the multiple choice questions, so there!

Also, once you pass your theory test, you have two years to pass your practical test (or you have to reteake the theory test), so at that point, the clock starts ticking!

Next up: let's get behind the wheel :D

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

the waking life

it's not very often that i blog about something i've watched or read, but there's something i've re-watched recently as an exception to my rule "life's too short for reruns" just because it's so good: the movie, "waking life"

i've watched the movie several times before, and every watch results in a different part of the movie resonating with me. this time, it was this one line:

Actually, the gap between, say, Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human.

this is something i've thought about many times over (well before the re-watch, in fact, and for the last few months if not more), and tried to make my guiding force as a human being.

living life at a higher level than a chimpanzee is not very easy. our world is engineered to keep us at that level. work (ie the civilized equivalent of searching for food), preparing and eating food, maintaining and feeding our interpersonal relationships, maintaining our homes, religion, and to top it all, entertainment. pure mindless entertainment. sports, news, sitcoms, action, sci-fi. all of these appeal to our baser instincts which have not really changed much even though our genes and surroundings have.

thinking about chimpanzees reminds me of my visit with my parents last year at the belfast zoo. the chimps in their enclosure were so human-life it was simultaneously fascinating and eerie.

some time later, while i was introspecting, i realized not much of my life was beyond the realm of a chimp who had grown up in my surroundings would do. sure, i exceeded the chimp's ability in some aspects, (the term code monkey is a joke, i'm sure) but what am i actually doing with my ability? am i using my ability to fulfill the same drives as the average chimp?

and in all seriousness, what is it that separates us from chimps?

i don't have the answers, but while i look for mine, i hope others start doing the same. us humans have turned into a race of sophisticated chimpanzees.

Monday, May 25, 2020

the train picnic

we were all on a train. it seemed like we had the train to ourselves. a mix of friends and family. I sat with my friends, although family was nearby too. the seats were very strangely laid out though, definitely not in a way that made you think of a train. it was more like a metal rectangular room moving on tracks, so I guess that makes it a part of a train. it wasn't a very long journey, maybe a couple of hours. lots of banter, there were some games being played too... I did not participate in them. I was reading something, and I had my ipod. someone had a psp, and we played a bit, taking turns obviously. we reached our destination. a hill station. just before the station, the final stretch was a physics defying bit - the train climbed up what seemed like a spiral track upwards, so steep it was probably 45° or so, before coming to a halt at its destination.

the destination was a regular looking railway station, and as soon as the train came to a halt, grandma was the first to be ready to alight. in fact, she was so eager someone had to tell her to wait until the train had stopped moving!

as the rest of the family alighted, it turned out we had two alternative plans: we had a nearby holiday cottage booked, but those who wanted to stay on the train could do so. i decided to stay on the train, as did most of my friends. the train left the station and moved a few minutes away to the end of the track, where it would remain until the next morning. it was parked in the middle of a field, quite a green grassy one, on a plateau surrounded by flattish hills.

we played games (i remember charades, uno, cards) until it got dark, and then we got started with the drinks as well. i remember i was sitting besides jayashree, although i don't really remember what we spoke about. sometime late in the night we started feeling hungry, and while i don't know how we cooked, i was eventually eating out of the cooking pot i use when camping. it was a mix of khichadi, rajma, peas, fried veggies... and topped with vodka! i think i had mixed all the leftovers together and was eating it. everyone rolled their eyes at my "unholy combination" while i ate it with relish. i was disappointed that nobody wanted to taste it themselves.

people started falling asleep, and ian and i were the only guys left awake. we had an adjacent room which was completely empty except for the door that connected it to our part of the coach. ian and i tried making shadow figures using both our hands and this light source that flickered like it was an old-fashioned sooty oil lamp.

we eventually slept off, and by the time we woke up the train was already back at the station. it looked like the station where my folks had got off, so i was expecting them to get back on the train and ride home, but instead i got off in a hurry. it turned out the train had been at the station for a while, and my parents and brother were waiting for me. we crossed over to the other platform, and were walking along it. my parents were looking for the toilets. that's when i realized I was not carrying anything with me.

i started frantically checking my pockets, as I had a feeling I had left something behind. that worried my mom, who started scolding me for being careless. my pockets had a charging cable. I was relieved, as that was all I had left home with.

At that point, the train started moving, leaving us behind.

and that's when i woke up.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

the dream-reality diary

i woke up from the strangest dream.

it revolved around my diary.

there were so many things happening with my diary-dream i'm kinda losing the link between them. but the essence of my dream was that my diary had a link with reality (whatever happened in my life was written in my diary, as it is with most diaries). the writing didn't happen automatically, because i was writing it down myself. but it seemed like i was writing it as it happened, while not being physically present with the diary wherever it was actually happening. but i was also physically present wherever reality was happening (ie it was happening to me and not to someone else). so it's almost like there were two realities i was experiencing at the same time, one of which was sitting at a desk on a sunny afternoon at my parents place, writing in my diary. however, it didn't "feel" like there were two of me: it was more like my mind was jumping between the two bodies, while simultaneously experiencing both. my reality was all in india, experiences that were plausible with people i remember, but nothing that actually happened although they seemed real at the time.

but then comes the funny part: i could strike off parts of the diary that I had written, and they would cease to have happened. my diary also had scribbles in the margins, and modifying those scribbles seemed to have a two-way link with reality, with a similar feeling of being present in both.

and then, there were the dreams: there were pages in my diary which were clearly dreams, and as i flipped through them i spotted glimpses of familiar ones that i've blogged. and it almost seemed like there was a link between my blog and my diary, because everything i've blogged was also in in. during the dream (which seemed to last a few days), i had a few dreams, which i was transcribing at various points: one was a dream about the differences between being an English-speaking tourist in France and Germany. in the dream within the dream. I was comparing the phrases you'd have to learn to be able to get by in either country. the situations were so weird and the phrases even more so, that i concluded while writing these down that it wasn't reality but a dream that i was transcribing. once i was conscious that i was writing dreams in my diary, i didn't bother editing embarrassing bits out.

another dream within my dream was about shruti having a conversation with two of her friends, and suddenly putting me on the phone. the strange bit about this dream is that i was dreaming of writing my diary while on the phone! so it was a dream of writing my diary within a dream of writing my diary, except that in the dream within the dream, it was the same physical existence that was writing the diary and speaking on the phone. and somehow that convinced me that i was dreaming within my dream!

back out of the diary-dream within the dream, i kept flipping pages in my diary, and even read a few old pages - these were actually days of my life from a few years ago that i can distinctly remember to this day. but the difference between those old pages and the ones that i wrote over the course of the dream was that te new ones felt like reality and the old ones felt like text.

also, the dreams and reality pages of the diary were not adjacent, and i kept cross referencing the two, involving a lot of flipping back and forth, and occasionally getting lost between the two. that was another strange thing about the diary-writing me: i didn't have to struggle to keep up with reality (and i'm a real slow writer!), and i didn't feel any pressure to keep up. i could flip back and forth while writing, even read some stuff in between, and it didn't seem like i was losing sync with reality.

now that i think about it, it almost seemed like the writing of the diary controlled reality!

at one point, i got confused when flipping between the dream and reality sections of the diary (i was searching for reality but read a dream that i didn't remember, and it took a good bit of reading before i concluded it was a dream!). i flipped more carefully, nothing the number of blank pages between both sections. it seems i just had a few dozen pages left of reality before i run out of space to write.

which meant i would need a new diary. i wondered if i should go for a hard-bound one (like my first diary) or a soft bound one (like this one). i also wondered if it would be nicer to switch to green and red ink like i used to, or stick with my current boring black ballpoint pen.

and that's when i woke up.

20/20

 2020 was a strange year. started on a rather nice note - a ride across the UK, and then a week with Nickolai and Damian, with a few evening...