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!

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 yo...