Tuesday, July 06, 2021

the value of life

another friend passed away. unexpected and untimely.

it doesn't really hit me as much as it used to, 10 years or so ago.

it's just another reminder that my own life will end - sooner or later.

and i don't want it to end with regrets.

so... what do i want it to end with?

it seems to me that there are two measures of our lives - hedonistic and altruistic.

how much value do we bring to ourselves, and how much value we bring to others.

the value we bring to ourselves - it keeps us going, but it dies with us.

the value we bring to others - it might indirectly bring value to ourselves (studies show it does, but those studies are statistical and not empirical in nature), but it's the only thing that outlives us.

and really, what's the point of bringing value to others, if not as some sort of ego-pleasing "people will appreciate/miss/admire/... me"? the idea that the value of my life can be expected to outlive my physical existence?

it seems to me the people who live for themselves might be happier than those who live for others.

but those who live for themselves (i don't count myself as one of them) probably don't want to see themselves as some sort of selfish life-and-energy-sucking-being.

so...

what is the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how good it has been, other than prolong our species' race to either extinction or destruction of everything other than our species to as much of an extent as we can? would it simply be more valuable to bring our species tyranny to an end sooner? or are we holding out against hope, expecting to someday do better than we have so far?

what, really, is the value of life?

what should be the value of life?

what should be the value of my life?

is there even a concept of value of life?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

My story for the Sustrans Active Travel Challenge 2021

  1. What journeys do you currently do cycling/walking/and/or using public transport to get to work, to do the school run, to go to shops, to get to leisure activities, for example? 

    I prefer cycling wherever possible – to get to work (pre-pandemic), to go to shops, and also to visit places in and around Belfast if they're within an hour's distance on cycle each way. I have occasionally ventured further, mainly along national cycling routes. I usually cycle alone, but occasionally also with my partner. My partner prefers walking, so we occasionally walk to shops. We sometimes walk together for our weekly shop with my cycle, and use it to carry groceries back in the panniers. My partner does not drive, so she uses public transport if she needs to get somewhere beyond walking distance. She has a folding cycle that she can take on buses with ease. I also like swapping items for free over networks such as freecycle, and I have explored a lot of Belfast on cycle while collecting and dropping off items to other like-minded freecyclers.

  2. What are the benefits for you of walking and cycling and or using public transport for everyday journeys?

    I feel more connected to my locality, and have also learned a lot more about my neighbourhood and Belfast in general. As a newcomer to the city, cycling helped me learn the layout of Belfast and explore it in a way I wouldn’t have if I got around by other means of transport. Joining a few walking groups has helped me meet people and socialize when I was new to the city. I occasionally cycle with friends, during the pandemic, as this has been the only safe way to meet people outdoors. I have recently also started walking with people from my local area as a way to connect with my neighbours.

  3. When, if at all, do you walk, cycle or run during your leisure time, simply for the purpose of getting exercise?  What do you do?

    I cycle as a means of combining exercise with my shopping/commute, and take detours or lengthen my rides when I have the time and energy to turn a chore into something more enjoyable and fulfilling.

    I walk with my neighbours and partner, and especially have taken to exploring cavehill on foot as it’s very close to my home.

    I have taken up running in the past as a means of exercise, and while I found it very energizing and fulfilling, I find it much harder to maintain my fitness to the level that I can enjoy running, when compared walking and cycling.

  4. What impact did lockdown have on your walking, cycling, use of public transport and exercise habits?

    I avoid public transport wherever possible, cycling instead. Lockdown has put greater focus on my health and I have tried to maintain a healthy schedule of walking and cycling to keep my body fit. Working from home had caused me to become overly sedentary and I had to commit to doing two hours of cycling every week to maintain my physical and mental health. Before lockdown, I would have a much higher activity level as I would cycle to work daily.

  5. Why you would encourage people to participate in the active travel challenge this year?  Did you take part in 2019?

    I did not feel the need to take part in the active travel challenge in past years as I was already primarily getting around on cycle after my move to Belfast. I have found that cycling is a great way to get around, beat traffic, stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors. Even when the weather is not perfect, cycling is still fun if you’re prepared and dress appropriately. My own experience with cycling has been immensely positive and I would encourage others to try it, as there is an impression that cycling is expensive, unsafe, and impractical, but it’s neither of these. I will take part in the 2021 active travel challenge as I have now realized that my example might inspire others to follow my footsteps and embrace getting around on cycle and on foot.



Wednesday, June 23, 2021

dear diary

during the times i've kept a physical diary (about 10 years, but with very erratic frequency), i've found that my diary helped me put things in perspective, give structure to my day, or sometimes, just give me a private outlet to vent my inner feelings.

during the times i've kept an electronic diary (my first blog, i.e.) which spanned about 3 years of almost daily writing, i found that i got none of those benefits - but it was more accessible, and i think i ended up going back to it to read more often.

now that both are temporarily inaccesible (my physical diary is in another country, and my electronic diary is in a database which I could probably read if i tried, although the website designed to present it is long-defunct), and I feel like i really need the things that writing a diary gave me, i'm wondering what I should do - restart a physical diary, or restart an electronic one?

i.e., do i write a diary that's more useful to write, or more useful to read?  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

optimism, pessimism, realism... or none of these

i used to think of myself as an optimist: one who sees the best possible outcome in everything.

but i realized that optimism unfounded in reality is not just pointless, it's self-defeating.

and so i decided to be realistic.

but there is actually no such thing as realistic.

reality continues to confound me in unpredictable, unforseen ways.

sometimes, when i realize this, i become pessimistic.

at other times, i just choose to ignore the realization and plod on, mindlessly.

eat, sleep, work, repeat.

at those times, i try not to think too much. because when i start thinking, i can't stop.

what's the point of it all?

what happens when the things (i use that term loosely) that are supposed to give meaning, actually end up taking it away?

it's a strange place to find myself in, and i find myself in the same strange place time and again.

perhaps it's still time to eat, sleep, work and hope i can keep this repeating until things change. in my head, or in the world around.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

post-second-wave?

it's ironic that a little under a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the pandemic being over. it certainly wasn't!

once again, pandemic restrictions are easing up, we can finally do things we couldn't do for the last few months, like travelling, meeing friends, eating out. and all of that is nice.

but there's evidence that this isn't the end of the pandemic. there's already the numbers creeping up in parts of the UK, even though everyone with authority is currently maintaining it's not cause for concern.

there is a research paper I read yesterday about how the most popularly administered vaccine in the UK (and India) isn't very effective against the newest strain of COVID-19.

and of course, the situation in some parts of the world hasn't improved as much as it's improved in the parts we've been paying attention to.

on one hand it makes me happy that most of the world has learned to live with the pandemic.

on the other hand, it makes me sad that the divide between those who have and those who haven't has widened.

i feel that more than ever, it's time the "haves" step-up and focus on helping the "have-nots" level up. not just for altruistic reasons, but because the world really needs it. the pandemic happened for the same reason, and it has played out exactly the way it has, for the same selfish reasons.

the sooner we realize selifhs behaviour only works in the short-tem, the sooner we can build a better world for everyone (including ourselves).

the heartbeat of memories

it's strange how easy it is to fall into this mode of "nothingness" even though you're doing the right things.

I think I have observed this over and over again, but never realized why.

Funnily enough, today, I ended up listening to a podcast by Dr Julia Shaw (more like the soundtrack of a recording of a presentation she gave employees of my workplace) that reminded me why, in a simple line: "the heartbeat of your mind has been missing"

Life during the pandemic has (for me) actually been objectively better than pre-pandemic. Yes, I might be among the lucky few who can say that.

But it has also been more of a blur than any other time of my life. And it's probably because my mind has been missing its' heartbeat.

I've been too bored to shake things up, when there have been more opportunities than ever to do so.

Luckily for me, it's Friday evening, I have taken up a few new challenges (8000 steps a day for the month of June, 51 minutes of cycling or running a week to celebrate 51 years since the start of the "pride" movement), joined a book club with old friends I've been out of touch with, and hopefully, in a week or two, I'll be embarking on a new project.

Let's hope I can keep my mind active and beating, and keep changing things over the months and years to come!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

anti-social media

the less you use Facebook, the more dysfunctional it seems to get. is their algorithm bad or is there a subtle plot to encourage people to be regular users? same experience with Instagram too, until I finally uninstalled it 🤦‍♂️ 

stepping away from twitter for a few years and then getting back made me realize it was always a super-high signal to noise ratio that wasn't useful unless I spent hours on it.

is social media dead? has social media always been dead? 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

setup your own domain and "burner" email addresses

Ever since I purchased krist0ph3r.com 7 years ago, I have been figuring what best to do with what seemed like a frivolous purchase.

Having a handy link for this blog is nice, but the biggest use has actually been quite unanticipated: using "burner" email addresses for sites i sign up to. this means I can sign up to every site with a unique email address, and nobody knows it's the same human. which makes my online experience much safer and more private than the average internet user.

If you think this is something you want/need to do, this is my handy guide - takes about 10 minutes if you know what you're doing, maybe a little more if you sign up with a user-unfriendly domain service. for reference, it took me a couple of days to get right the first time, but has worked absolutely perfectly ever since - so perfectly, that i completely forgot how I did it when a friend asked me to replicate the setup for him!

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Buy your domain. It could be any domain (.com or the more interesting/quirky/local TLDs all will work). Just make sure you buy it from a provider that offers a basic control panel that allows you to setup custom DNS records. Nothing fancy, just custom MX and TXT records. Ask their sales team if you aren't sure. This is (at the time of writing) your only expense for the most basic setup. I've used namecheap.com (because it's cheap! but it's also probably the simplest interface to get the job done. Takes no more than 5 minutes here if you're a slow reader) but I have also used other providers that I can't remember any more, and all of them have worked well. Notably, godaddy.com works but is super user-unfriendly as I discovered while helping a friend do his setup yesterday. I haven't tried this with subdomains, so no idea if you can set that up - DNS does support subdomains but I haven't tried to even read up.
  2. Setup an email address to receive your emails. Could be any address on any provider, a new one or an existing one (in which case no setup required - but I don't recommend this). I use gmail, because it allows some interesting things (and used to allow more things than it currently supports, unfortunately they've been trying to monetize the platform so things aren't as easy/free any more). For the basic stuff, any email will do.
  3. Signup at improvmx.com - this is the site that makes the catch-all burner email setup possible. It's free at the time of writing, and has been free for at least 7 years now, with some premium features that you don't need to get this setup done. They need your domain, and the email you need to forward it to. Don't create aliases unless you need this - just one (*) will do the job.
  4. Use the step-by-step view at improvmx.com for guidance regarding the DNS setup. In short, it's two things: setting up 2 MX records (to route mails from your domain to improvmx's servers) and a TXT record so improvmx knows it's you. I had my domain without the TXT record all these years and it worked, so I'm assuming the TXT record bit has been added in the last few years. For completeness, these are the two MX records I needed setup:
    • Host: @  Value: mx1.improvmx.com Priority: 10
    • Host: @  Value: mx2.improvmx.com Priority: 20
  5. Wait a few minutes for DNS records to propagate (shouldn't take too long, but you never know - 30 minutes max). Send a test mail (send it from an unrelated email address to be sure it's working) and it should show up in your inbox! Improvmx is quick and reliable :)
All geeky happiness aside, this solution has one glaring deficiency: you can't easily send mail from your burner email addresses. Sending mail needs a SMTP server and while these used to be common a few years ago, they aren't any more (for a good reason - SMTP servers open to 3rd party domains are the easiest target to bounce spam mail off!). My own solution is to setup a SMTP server on my own machine, dynamic dns aka ddns (namecheap comes with ddns support and a "beta" client, not bad!), port forwarding on my router, and finally point my gmail to it. And only turn it on when I need to send a mail - because I don't want spammers to be taking advantage of my pc! This is definitely not for the faint-hearted/technologically challenged, and definitely not as easy as getting incoming mail setup. There are easier ways to do this, but these aren't free, so I haven't bothered trying them out.

Either way, that's it for now. I might write the SMTP/outgoing mail guide later, and I definitely need to write up the bit where you can point your domain and custom subdomains to your blog(s) - probably more for myself than anyone else.

Have fun and stay safe!

Friday, March 26, 2021

boring

this is probably not the first time i'm feeling this in the last one year... but i'm bored. proper bored.

i'm on top of my work, email, chores, sleep.

i have a decent balance of entertainment via music, movies, south park, books, blogs, web-comics, chatting with friends (somehow even my friends don't seem to be chatting as much as they used to).

i've been cycling when i can. more than usual, in fact.

nothing interesting is happening at the moment. all the interesting things that could happen are time-bound and will/might happen sometime in the future.

i don't even have weird dreams any more.

Friday, March 12, 2021

the path to normal

it's reassuring to see news of COVID-19 infection and death rates falling, hearing about vaccination successes, and reading about leaders' reassurances that this unlock is "one way" and we can firmly put the last 12 months behind us.

the timing couldn't be better, as today is exactly one year since I started working from home, as part of the pre-pandemic precautions by my employer.

it's easy to see normal as the way things were before the pandemic hit: meeting friends and family, traveling for vacations, not having to worry about how close we were to others, or even the chances of infecting each other (one slice of wedding cake shared by 8 people on our wedding day, seems quite unimaginable now!)

but this return to normal is also an opportunity to not normalize things we did earlier without thinking about the consequences. everyone's list will be different, but here's mine:

  • physical activity and the outdoors: i never realized how much my well being is dependent on it. going out is forced on you if you're commuting, but when working from home, it really becomes vital. and that's when I realized the quality of "outdoors" matters - as does the quality of activity when outdoors.
  • food: in the rush of our daily lives pre-pandemic, food often took a backseat. just throw something together, eat it, pack the leftovers for tomorrow, eat in a hurry, eat while working. but one year of working from home and eating from home taught me that there's much more to food than just that. that quick-fixes may give time but take away health and energy in exchange. sometimes immediately, sometimes long-term and subtly. after almost one year of "detox" i can't imagine going back to how things used to be.
  • relationships: one year with shruti, locked indoors for the most part, and with her even when out and about, taught me the value of maintaining healthy relationships. when we can't distract ourselves with other people, or even work, we were forced to focus on what really keeps us going. when we get back to our office lives, socializing with our respective circles, etc., we will never try to use those things as distractions/ways to tide over problems in our relationship. it's more difficult, but more rewarding.
  • free time: this year has given me more free time than ever. at the start, I pretty much ran out of things to do! not any more. I have learned to focus on things that energize me, instead of taking the easy way out and distracting myself.
  • communication: this year has been an overdose of calls, video calls, texting, and also of other less fulfilling forms of communication like forwards, endless scrolling through pointless posts and websites. i have cut down on my "online time" (ironic, given that i'm blogging at the moment) and online distractions to focus on meaningful communication.
I'm sure i'll think of more, but it's time to sleep now.

happy "new normal" to you!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of US president from one who went out of his way to trash environmental commitments to one who seems to be making the right sounds so far, think-tanks focused on the post COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and catastropic climate changes in some parts of the world that are getting harder than ever to ignore even by the most entrenched naysayers and skeptics, the time seems ripe for change.

however, change is not as simple as it may seem at the outset. one wants change to have an impact, because anything else is simply a waste of time (and time, when it comes to the environmental-time-bomb, is obviously of the essence, as it has always been).

I have tried making changes personally over the years: reducing use when economically and logistically feasible (by buying non-perishable items in bulk without packaging, practically eliminating food wastage, etc), reducing my energy footprint, reusing whenever possible (I go through about 2 plastic bags a YEAR), have taken up upcycling and freecycling items when possible, and finally, recycling when reuse is not possible. but... and this is a big but: all my changes are practically insignificant.

worldwide, household waste is under 3% of all carbon emissions. and we were relatively carbon conscious all our lives to begin with (my energy footprint in Mumbai was so low, I did not have to pay electricity bills for over a year!). Right now, in the UK, I've survived 3 winters without using heating until outside temperatures dropped below 0 - barring January, my gas bill in the UK is the same as it was in Mumbai, despite higher taxes + rates per unit! Despite riding a high capacity sports tourer, my overall fuel usage is under 1/5th of what it was in India - simply because I cycle on a daily basis and ride about once a month (or maybe twice a month when we were not in a lockdown).

And so, it seems clear to me, there's not much more I can do personally by way of action to avert the climate crisis. The problem lies elsewhere.

For example, my personal network in the UK comprises of people who either walk, or (mostly) drive cars. and when they drive cars, they usually do so for short distances. one less family ferrying groceries by car for a month would save on more emissions than I have in a year of cycling! A family of 4 who switches to bulk-buying non-perishables without packaging would save twice as much plastic as I could have. But it's even simpler than that. I don't expect families to go cold-turkey and stop driving completely. Simply cutting down on trips by better planning would make a bigger difference than I possibly can. Families with infants switching to reusable diapers even a couple of times a week would reduce more non-recyclable trash than I produce in a year.

Obviously, nobody is going to wake up and make such changes of their own accord. Which is where influencing comes in.

100 people making a 1% reduction is probably better than one person making a 100% reduction (if that was even possible). 1% is such a small reduction, one may not even notice it! Something like a 50% reduction would be possible without significant impact to cost and well-being. And even that will do spectacularly if a significant number of people do it. The network effect can do wonders - when it actually takes effect.

The question is: how?

How does one motivate people to make changes?

Preaching doesn't seem to help.

Example doesn't seem to help.

Not doing anything (obviously) doesn't seem to help.

One area I feel particularly handicapped is: data. hard numbers. Or better still, tunable models.

If I could spend some time with each person in my network, I could actually help them identify easy wins. But without data, that's practically impossible, becase I'll be asking people to just go by my word. And my word might even be wrong - I am no expert myself!

If I could locate other like-minded and similarly motivated people, we could help each other get better at this.

My goal would be to get people motivated enough to identify easy wins and spread the word about techniques (as opposed to actions).

I'm sure there are many tricks I'm missing, but for starters, let's connect and figure things out.

After all, it's our world we're talking about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

thoughts about COVID-19

a pandemic, by definition, affects the whole world. and hence, gives us a chance to see how the world reacts to it.

my own thoughts about COVID are those of gratefulness - so far. I've not been personally impacted, the lockdown has caused some discomfort and inconvenience, but also a lot of benefits. my immediate family back in India are (mostly) being sensible and safe, although in some cases the impact of public opinion, and even pressure, is visible.

but in one sense, i've learned that it's best to let go, and let freedom run its course.

my parents gave me the freedom to make my mistakes and learn, even when they worried about my well being. I remember those overnight solo rides across the country, on lonely highways, with absolutely no idea of where I am, or when I will arrive. I remember my parents giving me their warmest hugs before I walked out that door, hoping that when they wake up they see a message from me saying i've arrived at my destination, and not silence. I think back sadly about the times I've rode off without even telling them I was, simply because I couldn't sleep and I'd like to see a nice sunrise somewhere. But I don't think they remember such days sadly. they accepted it, while reminding me it worried them.

just a few years later, I haven't even realized that we have switched places - I'm the one who panics when I hear for example that my relatives were over for lunch at Christmas, that my mom has to attend building society meetings, or that my in-laws have met their neighbours. and while I try not to show it, I'm sure my feeling of surprise and sadness when they take risks I wouln't is no more than what they have felt when I have done things that seemed unnecessarily risky to them, but felt right to me.

we all have to live our lives on our own terms. that's what my parents taught me. and that's what i have to let them do too, just as they did before I was a even glimmer in their eyes. and the same goes for the rest of the world - my family, my friends, and everyone else i associate my happiness with.

the only thing I can do from afar is be there from them in whichever way I can.

and in fact, that's one of the reasons I volunteered to participate in a vaccine trial last November.

for someone who has taken huge personal risks for only selfish gains, I feel this one selfless act might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but does give me reason and purpose.

and when I was watching a random video on youtube, where Bill Gates mentioned, just in passing, the name of the vaccine I'm trialing and that it seems like a promising candidate to be rolled out in developing countries, it just made my day.

I know that the point of a trial is to find out IF something works, and how well it does, if so. and every vaccine doesn't succeed in making it to the market. but I don't care. I'm happy because I'm part of the cause.

I used to feel weird when people would ask me if I got paid to participate in the trial - and I had to say I did not. or why i'm fine with not knowing if i've had the vaccine or the placebo. or dozens of other questions. but i don't feel weird any more.

All I want is for COVID-19 to end. and to be able to see and hug my parents again, more tightly than they ever did.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

If you ever had a bad motorcycle accident, what advice would you give to others?

I’ve had many close calls, and three accidents that could have been much worse if I was unlucky/less skilled. Here’s my advice, in (my) order of importance:

  1. Do not overestimate your abilities. Start with the assumption that you’re absolutely incompetent, and work your way up from there. But do make sure you’re working on “working your way up”.
  2. Do not ride when you are not at your mental best. Angry/tired/depressed/even overly happy! Anything that takes your mind off the road is a risk you take.
  3. Do not overestimate your motorcycle’s abilities - especially when it comes to emergency braking/steering in adverse conditions.
  4. Do not make assumptions about other road users. This is tricky in the UK, where most people do follow rules but are distracted/bored/inattentive instead, but having done most of my riding in India, where following the rules is a joke (most road users have never even heard the rules once in their life, and most truckers rely on alcohol to keep themselves awake on overnight long haul drives!) it’s basically what kept me alive.
  5. Take every close call as a lesson. Take every accident as an even bigger lesson. Most close calls are a result of at least one of the 4 above. Most accidents, at least two of the 4 above. Dissect each incident, by yourself, with trusted riding buddies, on quora. Internalize it. Make sure it never happens again. And thank your stars you lived to see another day.
  6. All the gear all the time. Motorcycle safety gear saves lives, reduces pain, and really is not uncomfortable/inconvienient/expensive when you get the right gear. All of my accidents where I sustained physical injury have been where I was not fully geared up, and where gear would have reduced my injury, and were on extremely short rides (within 1km of my destination!)
(posted this on Quora, but thought it was too valuable to leave off my blog :D)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

phone free

I'm preparing to go phone-free. I'm already down to using my phone for about 10 minutes daily, and my phone's battery life is down to about 20 minutes on a full charge.

I could theoretically purchase a new phone, but why? I don't even use my phone much any more. Yes, I know, it's because I'm working from home, and basically at home 99% of the time, and I might change my mind and buy a phone once we're back to moving around again. Who knows?

I'll still have my mobile phone number for calls and texts (unfortunately, my landline is only used by cold-calling scammers), but I am planning to not use my phone for anything else that can't be done without it.

So:

No more Whatsapp (oh yeah!)

No more Instagram (yeah, why not?)

No more Signal (sorry, all of you who just switched. Telegram is better because it doesn't exclusively run on a phone)

Possibly no more Google maps (we did fine without it for decades, no?)

No more photos of my food (let's be honest, how many of you cared?)

I'll probably blog more. Probably.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

the ice-cream fine

 i was riding through the outskits of navi mumbai, the bit where the urban sprawl starts giving way to semi-rural areas. i was riding alongside Apurva (or Unitechy as I'd usually call her), and we were "kinda" racing. it wasn't an all-out race (I was on Carly, she on her scooter :D) but we were trying to out-maoneuvre each other and get to a certain location quicker.

We came to an intersection where I decided to take a right turn, off the highway and through this village. Apurva continued straight on.

The narrow road (barely broad enough for two cars) through the village was lined with houses on either side, and quickly turned steeply uphill. I revved Carly with all my might, but she kept losing speed. As the slope steepened and the engine struggled more, my point of view began to change, forward and downward, until I could see from barely inches over the road. As the scenery rushed past me, the landscape changed abruptly. I was no longer racing uphill along a house-lined road, but through a flat marketplace. the raod was even narrower now (barely broad enough for a car to squeeze through between the stalls, if there were no people). The stalls weren't very densely packed though, and at one point they seemed to end. Instead, on both sides of the narrow road, there were white sheets of cloth hanging down on to the road. It was hard to tell if the sheets were hanging from stalls or some sort of structure, or off the heads of people - they almost had the appearance of flowing robes, uninterrupted from head till the floor. They were longer than required, and partly covered the road I was riding on.

I was conscious that I was riding way too fast for the conditions (despite having lost a significant amount of speed on the way up, that I somehow did not regain when the ground flattened). In fact, the sensory feeling was not so much riding as floating very close to the ground, moving at a good speed, with these robes stretching out across enough of the road to almost meet in the centre.

As I thought about slowing down, I heard a shout: "STOP! What are you doing here?"

I realized I must have broken some rule - was I going too fast? or was it some sort of pedestrian area?

As I stopped and dismounted, the surreal cloth-lined marketplace turned more normal, with stalls on either side, and my point of view shifted back to something more normal as well. I turned around to see a uniformed policeman, with another man in plainclothes.

I apologized for whatever rule I may have broken (I did not ask what rule it was), and explained that I was new to the area and was trying to avoid the traffic on the highway which was a few km away.

He said that's fine, but I would have to pay the fine any way.

The fine was I had to buy him and his associate an ice-cream.

I thought this was weird, but sure enough, the road had a stall right in the middle of it, right where we were (how did I not see it earlier? If I was riding fast I wouldn't have been able to avoid a very serious collision!). The road when around the stall and continued straight behind it, but seemed to branch off into very narrow passages between unkempt houses (almost like a shanty). So it was pretty much a dead end.

Without giving it much thought, I agreed to buy the ice-cream (for them and myself). They picked the cones: dark chocolate covered cones (covered on the outside and inside). I'm not sure how those cones were designed, but they would probably have been quite messy to hold as the chocolate covering ran all over the surface, with no uncovered surface to hold.

After they placed their orders, the lady at the counter turned to me. I was trying to pick my flavour of chocolate. There were two options: dark chocolate and chocolate with salted caramel. I was curious about the texture of both the varieties, so she let me hold the scoop and tease both the tubs pf ice cream to decide. I prefered the texture of the dark chocolate, as the salted caramel formed stretchy strands between the second variety of chocolate. While I was trying to decide, I noticed the lady at the counter was unlike the other peole around: while she spoke to the rest of the staff in fluent Marathi, she spoke to me in perfect English, without a trace of the accent most native Marathi speakers carry over to their English. She was also dressed very smartly - almost fancily, with a bit of make-up on too. Her appearance probably suited someone headed to a semi-formal function: traditional but not too elaborate. In contrast, her staff were dressed and looked like the villagers in all the other stalls in what was quite a busy market.

I made my choice, and she served the cone with the ice cream scoop in it, flat in a plastic tub. It was covered with a layer of chocolate sauce, and was to be eaten with a spoon. I now understood why the cone was completely covered with chocolate. I dug into my ice-cream, almost oblivious to the fact that the policeman and his plainclothes associate had walked away with their ice-creams. As I ate my ice-cream, I realized that if I ate a bit of cone with the ice-cream, there would be more cone than ice-cream.

About halfway through the ice-cream, I asked if I could get another scoop in the same tub to eat with the rest of the cone.

The lady responded that the cone comes with two scoops, but she didn't serve them together as they wouldn't fit well in the cone.

She directed one of the staff to give me another scoop.

As I walked back to the counter, I decided to pick the ice-cream with salted caramel for my second scoop.

I asked the man now at the counter if I could take the scoop out myself. I wanted to try to serve myself more of the caramel than the chocolate ice-cream, and I tried to scoop with a swirling motion. Before I laid the second scoop in the tub, I aranged the remains of my first scoop and the half cone still left. I then placed the tub at a point next to the counter where I could have all the available flavours in the background, and proceeded to click a photo using my phone. Instead of clicking a photo with the usual dimensions and cropping it for instagram, I swotched my phone to take photos in 1:1 and composed it carefully so I wouldn't need to crop it later.

As I put my phone away, I thought to myself that this was probably one of the better ice-creams I've ever had - this ice-cream fine had turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

And that's when I woke up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

20/20

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

Back to Belfast, and we were already planning our next vacation: a trip to the Shetland isles for "Up Helly Aa", which is as far away from home I've ridden Vicki (our Honda ST1100) so far.

Back home, and we were already planning our next vacations: Amsterdam in April. Ameland in August (just realized they're all with A!). And to get a visa for both of them, Edinburgh in March.

Attended my first ever hackathon. Was a really energizing experience!

Obviously, Edinburgh in March was the only trip that actually happened.

One week later, we were working from home, and literally going crazy.

Cabin fever. Reading (books, Kindle, online). Streaming movies. Streaming music. Cooking. Eating. Drinking. A bit of blogging too.

At some point, we decided (or rather, realized) we were going overboard with the food, and our bodies and the bathroom scales were showing it.

Thus began the first notable achievement of 2020: our first "reset" diet. It worked for a couple of months. Our friends were surprised at the changes that were visible even in our photos. We enjoyed our new diet as well. We thought it was good enough to last for life.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.

By October, we were slipping up with regularity.

By November, I knew we had to "reset" again.

On Jan 1 2021 we were probably at the same state physically as we were on Jan 1 2020 - but with the experience to prove that it could be done quite easily.

That wasn't the only achievement of the year, of course.

I got back on board with Android development. Dabbled a bit with a few other programming languages.

Signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

A few day trips, which picked up towards the end of the year, when we realized COVID-19 isn't going anywhere soon, and we're going to have to make the best of the free time we have instead of planning vaactions.

A bit of hiking, which again picked up towards the end of the year.

A lot of video calls.

A lot of using grocery shopping as an excuse to get out of these four walls.

A lot of chat as a substitute for human contact.

A lot of mindless scrolling.

ONE lockdown vacation to Galway, when it actually seemed like Ireland and the UK were past COVID-19.

Lots of conversations with Shruti.

Lots of things to look forward to for 2021.

And above everything else, the realization that all assumptions about the future are pointless.

the value of life

another friend passed away. unexpected and untimely. it doesn't really hit me as much as it used to, 10 years or so ago. it's just a...