Tuesday, October 20, 2020


 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


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


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.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

riding in india vs riding in the uk

I was going through some of my facebook memories, and came across this one:

The start was the most interesting bit: riding in traffic. There were a few obvious differences there: the complete lack of personal space, the seemingly blind trust that everything will continue to move in a straight line at constant velocity unless indicated otherwise, no matter how close or badly positioned you are.

But there's something else that struck me: while watching the video, I somehow involuntarily felt like going WOT. Riding in Mumbai traffic now seems so SLOW! And I obviously know why: It's because my eyes and brain were literally tracking dozens of things, looking out for anything that might require corrective action. So much so, that it would be suicidal to take my eyes away from the road ahead to do a "lifesaver" (yes, ironic!).

UK riding on the hand, seems to be just "keep track of what's happening ahead of you, unless you plan to change direction or velocity" - and even then, everything is so planned and deliberate. Mirrors-signal-mirrors-blind spot-manoeuvre. You literally have 5 seconds before anything happens.

I'm curious to experience riding in Mumbai after a year of riding in Belfast. Will the lack of personal space overwhelm me, or will I just switch back into my old riding style as long as I'm there? Or worse still (and I hope not) will my trust in rule-following override the lack of safety margins?

I wonder!

Bonus video: blurry video of us riding in Ireland, last November!

Thursday, April 23, 2020


it's been a busy week (so far, work-wise), and i haven't been sleeping well either. woke up today almost palpitating, and as the day wore on, i felt so terrible i could barely get any food in me.

thankfully, i was able to wrap up work and relax for a bit. i don't remember what i was reading, but i eventually drifted off to sleep, head pounding, on the couch.

i don't know if i was dreaming, but something snapped me back awake. all i remember was this sudden transition from darkness to light (the light of the TV screen, that is), from silence to stars, by the cranberries.

it was so abrupt, that i thought i was woken up by the music turning itself on or something. but the music had been playing for the last half an hour or so, and i had only been sleeping for the last 10 minutes.

it was like being shaken awake without any physical shake.

and i can feel my pulse racing again.

ps: as i re-read my post, it seems quite random and arbitrary. maybe t's not obvious enough that i find the feeling of being violently woken up, without any external stimulus or being lucidly dreaming, rare enough to feel strange!

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

brake problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 02, 2020

days go by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i wonder if this is what growing old feels like.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


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

Sunday, March 08, 2020

my first hackathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

it feels good to be part of something good.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

heavy breathing

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

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

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

update (2020/05/26): it was a certain bird's calls, which somehow sounded like heavy breathing when filtered through the double-glazed windows! strange but true!!!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

motorcycle servicing

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that's when I woke up. 

Saturday, February 08, 2020

the problem with trying to solve people problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so, i must solve my own problems. fine.

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

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

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

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

watch this space.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

my problem with everything

  1. too much opinion, too little fact. way too much opinion passed off as fact.
  2. nobody talks about their intentions. everybody can see what, nobody knows why.
  3. judging everyone who is too different for us to ignore.
  4. "patching" of problems instead of moving towards real solutions.
  5. the world has been rewired to keep us on a stimulant cycle.
  6. there is no common goal, or even the motivation to find one.
  7. i have fallen into all of the above traps and am currently refusing to get out.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

the mask that became me

i think it's time to remind myself that everyone lives behind their masks, and the only thing different about this new layer is that it has been externally prompted. maybe it's time to be thankful that i've gotten this far without having to feel this way.

- Kris, almost 4 years ago

i've thought long and hard about why i don't blog like i used to. it's easy to blame things on being busy, but that's not the real reason.

this blog never really was a commentary about the world around me. it was about me.

and there's something that's changed about me that i can't really bring myself to show from under the mask.

we all have our secrets. our dark side, even. and unlike in the movies, we can't just embrace it dramatically in public. we could, but then we'd probably be quickly consumed by our inner demons or something (i don't know. i've been too afraid to see what happens when i let loose).

life seems fragile.

trying to be be the best version of yourself means there's too much at stake: too many chances to do something you'll regret for a long time.

my mind always seeks out the worst case scenario. sometimes, it seems like it's the only way i can keep myself away from the path of quick self destruction.

but that path sometimes seems like slow self destruction.

another rushed morning, another day at work that passed in a blink, another mindless evening that would probably be kept sane if i don't assert myself or think too much, another night of not enough sleep (even if it's sometimes 12 hours).

halfhearted attempts at eating healthy because i've wired myself to guilt-trip every time i do something else, getting to my activity goals because my phone reminds me to.

because: why?

most of what I do is not because I want to do it. i don't even know what I want to do. when I start thinking about it, everything falls apart.

i remember this friend who, over 15 years ago, said he hits the bottle every night he's alone because that's the best way to stop thinking, because when you think too much, everything falls apart.

i thought he was addicted or something. maybe he was. but i now know how he felt.


it's not that terrible.

my problems are possibly not that bad. i know plenty others who have it worse.

my problem is that i thought i could see through everyone else's mask without attempting to see beyond mine.

and, so, here i am. at the end of a long winded blog post that lost its point, just like i did. just like (or so it seems to me) humanity did.


 I realize most of life is cyclical. Ups and downs. Never a straight line. A dynamic equilibrium. Seasons are cyclical too. And this pandemi...