Tuesday, December 26, 2006

AutoGas problem

This one would make a good interview question at Microsoft:
How many auto gas stations are needed in Bangalore?

Most of the auto-rickshaws in Bangalore are run on gas (LPG/CNG). With the boom in population, and need for transportation, the auto-rickshaw population has exploded (currently ~2,50,000). Unfortunately, the autoGas filling stations have not. There are only a handful (~20) of those stations in the city. Due to this acute shortage, one sees autos lining up (see pic above) for upto 1.5 hrs just to fill gas!

So, here is the question in more detail:
Assuming that there are 2,50,000 autos in Bangalore, and
the gas mileage of an auto is about 20 Km/litre, and
the tank capacity is 12 litres, and
an average auto driver does about 50 Km/day,
how many autoGas filling stations are needed in order to reduce the wait time for filling to zero?

Phew, that was a mouthful.

Let me know when you find the answer, and in the meanwhile, I will be working on it too.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Movie challenge

I was reminded of Mark Cuban's challenge, asking for ideas to attract people into movie theaters, when I visited the PVR Gold Class movie theater.

I had the privilege to go watch a movie at the PVR Gold Class theater at the Forum Mall in Bangalore. My friend with whom I went had to make advance reservations in order to get into it. At Rs. 500 a pop, it is commendable that they run full house. To compare, movie tickets in India start at around Rs. 30 and run up to Rs. 75 or Rs. 80 for balcony tickets. I agree, the demographics of movie goers in India is totally different. But still, being able to charge more than a 10x premium AND getting it, is a model worth looking into.

For those who haven't heard about or experienced the Gold Class, it is a typical movie theater with a big screen and great sound system. Where it stands apart is the 'experience'. As soon as you walk in, you are greeted into a lounge area (check this for a rendition of one such lounges). One can order drinks and snacks at the bar and relax in this plush lounge. A few minutes prior to the start of the movie, you are ushered into the theater. This again, is another area where Gold Class stands apart. The theater consists of 32 plush individual recliners with lots of leg room to spare. The recliners are operated using an electric switch and can literally get into a sleeping position. A switch on the recliner summons a steward who serves you a variety of drinks and food. You can stretch out, relax, enjoy the movie while experiencing the great service. Their Ad promises to treat you like a star, which it does deliver.

I think this unique experience is what draws crowds even at such exorbitant prices. What is lacking is the service and unique experience in the US movie theaters.

With today's Plasma HDTVs, movie projectors and state-of-art sound systems in people's homes, the theaters need to offer something much more compelling than just a big screen and a good sound system.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Road rules

I recently traveled on the new highway SH-17 between Bangalore and Mysore. It is a road on which one can easily do 100Kmph+. But, the average speed turns out to be 60Kmph. When I first saw the road from the train, I was excited to see smooth 4 lane road with a beautiful median full of flowers in full bloom.

I took the super deluxe Volvo bus between Bangalore and Mysore, and it was a comfortable bus. In order to get a good view of the road and the surroundings, I took the first seat up front. Every minute of the journey I was pitying the driver (His name was Ram). He had to slow down the bus ad nauseam, in order to avoid:

- People crossing the highway (who wants to climb the overpass, when you can jay walk!)
- Domestic animals crossin
- Vehicles entering the road without regard to the bus' right of way
- Vehicles riding on the lane divider
- Slower vehicles (mopeds, bicycles) traveling on the high speed lane
- Farm equipment on the road (tractors pulling load, bullock carts, etc.)
- and so on ...

The list goes on. People do not have the sense of road etiquette. Vehicles entering the road seem to have the right of way, and no one uses their rear view mirrors (if present!).

This is an interesting problem for the City/State to solve, if they want to streamline traffic flow between cities.

The first thing that came to my mind is: drivers Ed. and re-issuance of driving licenses.

This idea fails miserably because of the fact that a large number of those on the road do not know how to read, and a minority of the vehicles do not need licenses to operate (bullock cart).

Strict adherence of the road rules (with penalties) also fails for the same reason.

The only plausible solution (which Karnataka is already implementing) is to build separate roads: one for the local/farm traffic, and another for fast intercity traffic. The fast roads need to be toll ways, and should have restrictions on the type and size of vehicles that can get on them (no mopeds, bullock carts, bicycles, etc.).

Hopefully this new toll road between Bangalore and Mysore is going to make life a lot easier for drivers like Ram.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Early bird gets the worm

I have never been an early riser because I sleep late at night, and I am used to working into the night. I always considered myself nocturnal. Then, I read this blog by Steve Pavlina about rising early, and tried to follow it in vain.

I always wondered about the benefits of rising early, and being able to accomplish a lot even before my colleagues got to the office. But, I never had a chance to experience it first hand.

Now that I am in Bangalore (several timezones away from home) with my daughter who refuses to come out of her jet lag, I am forced to wake up early. I have been waking up at around 4 AM daily. Of course, I am not able to go late into the night partially due to jet lag. But, I am able to notice the things I am doing, and how they are different from what I used to do when I wake up later (around 6:30AM).

I can now read the news at leisure. I even read the paper newspaper, and have time to complete the sudoku in it too. I get a lot more quite time before everyone wakes up. Of course, my daughter gives me company, at present. I can do my exercises and be energised for the whole day. Living in the West coast, I can utilize this opportunity to work with my colleagues on the East coast or even the 'better' coast. By the time others are awake and getting ready to go to work, I have already accomplished a lot.

I will report more in the next week and jot down my experience in getting up early.

Singapore tourism

OK, I have not been able to blog as much as I promised due to a variety of reasons. So, here I go with my first post from Bangalore.

We flew to India on Singapore Airlines, and had a stopover of over 8 hours in Singapore. Since I had never been to Singapore, I took the free Singapore tour offered by the Singapore tourism. It was a good 1.5 hr long tour which takes you around the city (downtown, Chinatown, little India, etc.). What a great way to promote tourism. I was amazed by what they do for transit passengers passing through Singapore.

One thing I would have done to make it an even better tour was to add variety to let people taste Singapore with all their senses. I feel that they should offer a variety of packages (based on the transit time) so tourists can choose from these and enjoy Singapore to the fullest. For people with 5 hrs or more of transit time, they should offer a longer version of the tour which could include a boat ride in the river or the harbour area. For people with even more time, they could offer a tour that allows the passengers to get down at one of the shopping complexes, and shop as well as taste the local food offerings. They could also provide a tour with stops at the beach.

The variety is endless. The opportunities to promote tourism are limitless. Of course, there will be some challenges in implementing all these, but none are insurmountable.

The benefits to Singapore are enormous.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

India, here I come...

I will be visiting India in the month of December, and will mostly be in South India. I plan on blogging my experiences in India. The current plan is to blog daily, and capture all aspects of life in India in both words as well as pictures.

So, visit this page often for updates from India.

Monday, November 20, 2006

welches zweite Sprache?

I grew up in a place where I was exposed to a [central] official language (Hindi), a regional language (Kannada) and an [regional] official language (English, in case of Karnataka). So, it made sense to learn a second language in school. English was useful since it was the main official language, and Kannada was useful since it was the spoken language as well as official in some places.

Now that I am in an English speaking country, I started wondering why our children should learn a second language. There is no specific business need to learn another language, as long as you are in the US.

The only reason I could think of was that it would help broaden one's mind. Learning another language allows you to read literature in that language which in turn exposes you to a different culture and thought processes. You get to have a deeper understanding of your own as well as other cultures. I recently read that research has shown that studying another language actually improves your math and verbal abilities. Maybe, this is attributed to the additional neurons and connections made..

Of course, knowing another foreign language will expand your growth and job opportunities. With today's global economy, it makes a lot of sense to be multi-lingual.

Second language is just relative. What is a first language? Is it your mother tongue? Is it your dominant language? I used to think that my first language, as a kid, was Kannada. But, ever since I started schooling in English, and once I started thinking (and dreaming) in English, my first language became English. The dominant language shifted from Kannada to English. So, Kannada is my second language now.

So, which second language should one learn?

According to this site, the most practical second language is French. Hmm, makes a good case.

What do you think would be a good second language for kids growing up in the US to learn?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blogs, blogs, blogs...

Why do I blog?
Why do I read blogs?

These are some of the questions I had to answer when I was trying to introduce a friend of mine to blogs (believe me, there are still a few who are yet to be exposed to blogging). I had to think a bit before answering these questions.

Why do I blog?

First of all, let's define a "blog". Blog stands for 'weB LOG'. An online dairy of sorts. As per Webster, it is "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer". Wikipedia says "a blog is a website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order".

Blogs have come a long way from the initial online personal diary. I got introduced to the 'online diary' concept by Philip Greenspun of photo.net and Joel Spolsky of JoelOnSoftware. Philip is a great photographer and my interest in photography drew me in. His Travels with Samantha series captivated me as well as his other entries on technology. Joel wrote about the business of software, and related technology topics. Of course, there are many more who had online public journals even before 'blogging' was officially recognized. I was fascinated by their thought process as well as writing style. I always wanted to, one day, have my own blog and publish it.

With the advent of technology and tools/services that made blogging so easy, I got my chance to publish my own content.

I started blogging for the primary reason of sharing my thoughts with like-minded people. It also served as a daily/weekly/monthly assignment which helped improve my writing ability. It has now morphed into a showcase for some of my art. It has helped me connect with like-minded people from all over the world.

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes. There are blogs that share ideas, thoughts, commentaries, opinions, etc. Blogs that give a face to a (faceless) company. Blogs that just plain try to get hits (see Blog Pimping) in order to make money. Blogs that report the latest news, be it politics, happenings, technology or gadgets. Due partly to citizen journalism, blogs are becoming a source of news (and rumors?).

People blog for a variety of reasons, some of which are:
- Just because you can do it (there is nobody editing your content before publishing)
- To spread useful (or useless) information
- To share ideas
- To teach
- To make money
- To connect with like-minded people
- To get exposure (I blog, therefore I am)
- To expose one's mind (via sharing thoughts and commentary)

Why do I read blogs?

The answer to the previous question partly answered this question too. I read blogs to get information, learn new things, to connect with people, to get into another person's head. Blogs have been a great source of information as long as you know what to read. Where would a school kid sitting in a remote corner of Srirangapatna get a chance to get into the head of a CEO on an almost daily basis? Thanks to blogging, this has become a reality.

There are millions of blogs and there are only a handful that have any useful content. In today's world of Ads where every pageview counts, there is tremendous competition to get new content into blogs and keep it interesting. It is a lot easier to start a blog than to maintain one.

Once you start following a few blogs, you will discover that there are a lot more that are interesting, and that some of them are very active. How do you know if a blog content has changed? Do you visit them daily to check for changes? That is almost impossible. Here comes RSS and the feed readers. Feed readers help you subscribe to blogs and get notified whenever the content of a particular blog changes.

The fact that you are reading this blog means that you are familiar with blogging. Go ahead, and explore the wonderful world of blogs.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Work-life balance

A friend of mine mentioned that his company offers great work-life balance, and hence is a great place to work. This got me thinking as to how a company can 'offer' great work-life balance.

The first question that came to my mind was: what is work-life balance?

It is the ability of an individual to decide when, where and how they work. Work-life balance is achieved when an individual's right to life inside as well as outside of the workplace is accepted, and respected.

The ideal work-life balance varies from individual to individual. It also varies from time to time. It is upon every individual to define and achieve the balance. For some individuals (whom we lovingly label 'workoholics'), spending lots of time at work is what they want to do. For others, this may not be the case. Organizations need to understand this first in order to institute an acceptable program to achieve work-life balance.

Good work-life balance leads to (among other things):
- Reduction in absenteeism
- Improvement in morale (leading to satisfied employees)
- Reduced stress among employees (flex time to take care of sick kids)
- Increase in productivity (happy employees are productive employees)
- Decrease in turnover (happy employees want to stay!)
- Reduced sickness (flex time to stay home and not spread the germs at work)

Optimal work-life balance is a variable. This needs to be well understood. A young person out of school may love to spend lots of time at work. But, once that person gets married or has children, the balance shifts (either way). And, other changes in one's personal life could again shift the balance. Organizations need to understand this and respect it. They should not be biased towards employees whose work-life balance tilts more towards the work zone. There is this notion that workoholics are favored in organizations. Of course, they will be more productive. But, that doesn't mean that an organization should encourage it. They are also more prone to burnout.

Most organizations have this policy of use or lose vacation every year. Lots of people lose their vacation (at least part of it) because they don't want to (or can't, due to various reasons) take it. This leads to frequent burnout, leading to productivity loss and decrease in employee morale. Some organizations force people to 'use' their yearly vacation by offering incentives (Leave Travel Allowance: I pay you $x if you take your vacation and produce travel receipts). This will force most employees to use their vacation and recharge.

Work-life balance is a way for organizations to recognize that everyone works in different ways. Orgs should recognize that working 'long' hours is not the only way to be productive. Everyone has their own ways of being productive. Take the example of telecommuting. Not everyone will be productive working from home (distractions, kids, etc.). So, orgs should leave the choice to the individual. Provide employees options and let them choose what suits their style most. Empowering the individual thus will improve the employee morale and make them more productive and loyal to the organization.

This is one of the ways organizations can make employees to fall in love with them!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"I don't like it"

said my toddler daughter when I offered her a new (for her) vegetable to eat. I wondered how she could make a decision that she doesn't like it? Especially since she had never tasted this vegetable before.

We are all guilty of doing this. Be it a new vegetable, a new dish, a new religion, a new belief system, a new sport, or a new 'thing'. Is it a pre-conceived notion? Is it our gut instinct? To make such a hard choice at such a young age is very surprising. It is understandable for adults to have pre-conceived ideas, but for a kid with limited experience..

I remember a friend of mine stating that he doesn't like skiing. I asked what it was that he doesn't like specifically. He could not answer that. In fact, he had never been skiing and he had already made up his mind that he isn't going to like it! Wow. Only if we could make up our minds on positive things that easily ("I am going to try this AND I am going to love it").

The moment we utter the words "I don't like it", especially without experiencing it, we close our minds. We close our minds to new experiences, new joys, new possibilities and new frontiers. We should always be open to anything that comes our way. I agree that you have all the right to not like something once you have experienced it. How will you know that you are a gifted piano player if you never expose yourself to the piano? My philosophy has always been that you expose a person at an young age to a variety of experiences. See how that person reacts to each and make training decisions based on that.

Let's open up our minds to everything that comes our way, experience them, and then make a decision as to whether we like them or not.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Beauty is only skin deep - part II

Earlier I talked about how the media was defining what is beautiful. Media in every country tries to define what is beautiful, and also tries to 'create' people who match its fantasy. It is a well known fact that photoshop is a very oft used tool in the media circles. Look here for a recent example which became public.

We need our younger generations to be confident and self assured. And the media is not helping us here. Nothing is flawless. In fact, the flaws and imperfections are what add color and variety to the nature. We should realize that it is the whole personality and not just the looks that matter. We should strive to build self esteem and a positive image in our children.

I am happy to see that at least somebody is making an effort in this regard. Check out Campaign for Real beauty, and while you are there check out the cool short film 'evolution'. It paints a good picture of how 'beautiful' images are created.

If you ask me, the model looks much more beautiful before the neck elongation and eye enlargement. Well, that is my opinion.

Until later, appreciate natural beauty.

PS: All art (photos, sketches, etc.) on this blog are my creations.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Smart car?

I am talking about "the smart car". The one Mercedes Benz is planning on introducing in the US. A few years ago I saw this car in France and I was impressed by its cuteness and compact design. I have seen people use it on city streets. Parking it is a breeze. In fact, you can park two in a single car garage. It is like a motorbike, but you get protection from the weather as well as the road hazards. It is a great solution for city driving, especially in congested places. This would be a great solution to the crowded streets of India.

Today, I saw a smart car on I-90 while driving home. I was almost shocked that someone had the nerve to take it on a freeway. I know they talk about the 'tridion safety cell' and all that, but seeing a smart car on a freeway along with an 18-wheeler is scary. In accidents, people get crushed to pulp in much bigger cars. One of the selling points of vans and SUVs is their safety factor. Imagine driving along on a freeway in this puny car, and when the time to merge comes, you floor the gas pedal, and nothing happens!

It is a great car for city driving. Its gas mileage, its compactness and ease of maneurability should be a boon for congested cities. But, the other issue is with capacity. In places like Bangalore (where I see this car as being a perfect fit), it isn't uncommon to see a family (couple and two kids) riding in a scooter or motorcycle. So, a two seater car would be a hard sell. Unless, they modify it for Asian markets to accommodate at least one more (small) person.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Passport photography

I have always created my own passport photographs. Who wants to pay anywhere from $8 to $20 for a pair of passport photos, when they can be had for as little as $0.20. I used to figure out the ratio of the size in the image finder in my camera to the printed image. And determined, using a template, where the head should be so that I get the correct sized picture for a passport photograph. This was cumbersome, and involved a fair amount of trial and error. And, to top it all, I had to wait until I shot the whole roll of film to get my passport photos. But, once I got a good negative, it was good for a year.

Recently I had the need for a passport photo and I tried using my tried and trusted formula with my digital camera. It worked fairly well, and then I found this site which details how one can create an accurate passport photograph from a digital image. This was awesome. I had not thought of resizing the image at all, duh. This works great, but I would make a minor modification to the steps in order to get awesome photos that meet the standards:
  • After the step where you do a fixed size marquee, instead of just copying the image, crop it.
  • Choose the lasso selection tool and click on the background.
  • Select as much of the background as accurately as possible using the +- selection.
  • Use a Feather value of 5 - 15 depending on how the picture is.
  • Now, adjust the Levels such that the background fades to white.
  • Continue to the step of creating a 4x6 template in the original tutorial.

This will yield a professional looking passport photo. Print the digital image on your own photo printer or at any convenient store photo printer for as little as $0.20 for a pair! It always pays to learn new tricks in Photoshop.

Of course, this assumes that you have Adobe Photoshop, and good scissors wielding skills.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Power of questions ...

I was watching the movie "16 blocks" last weekend and Mos Def asks Bruce Willis a riddle, which goes something like this:
"Imagine you are driving through a severe hurricane and at a bus stop you see three people: an old lady in need of immediate medical care, your best friend and the love of your life. You only have room in your car for one person. Who do you pick up?"

Everyone will start rationalizing at this moment. Should I save the life of an old woman, or my best friend or the love of my life? Who do I pick, and what will it say about me? What will happen to the rest? Whose life is more important? More important to whom? And so on and so forth.

This is where the power of questioning comes. Realize that a question can either open doors or close them depending on how it is posed. The way a question is posed can subconsciously inject unstated and unnecessary conditions into the picture (Riddles are deliberately coined with the wrong question to lead you astray).

Questions can be empowering "How do you feel about what has happened so far?" or dis-empowering "Why did you not meet the schedule?".

Questions can be open-ended "What do you think about this idea?" or closed ended "Do you agree with this decision?".

Questions can be confrontational "why did you do that?".

Questions can be accusatory "Do you know that this whole company is going down because of what you did?".

Questions can be thought-provoking "what could we have done to avoid this?".

In the 16 blocks situation, the question can easily box you into a corner. "Whom would you pick?" seems to indicate that you have only one choice: to pick one of them. Most people put this subconscious condition that the choice is restricted to just picking one of the three people.

Let us now look at a different approach in framing the same question, and the doors it opens: "What would you do in this situation?".

Hah. What could I do in this situation? I could pick one of the three people and drive off. I could give the car to two of them and they can drive off leaving me behind. This never seemed possible with the pre-conceived notions we had earlier. I could drive off as fast as possible and get more help. The possibilities are limited only by ones imagination.

We get the results we want by asking the right questions in the right way. The right way to find solutions is to know how to ask.

In the end, Bruce Willis answers "I will give the car to my best friend and tell him to take the old woman to a hospital. I will stay with the love of my life".

Monday, June 12, 2006

Boy, am I getting old ...

I had thought that I will never say these words. My philosophy is always that if you are young at heart, you are always young. Of course, you need to be healthy too. Nobody says you are young when you need two people's help to get in and out of a car.

Here is the last straw: Check if you can hear this. If you cannot, join the club. You are getting old. This is a high pitched sound that most adults over 30 years of age cannot hear. Kids can, though. Isn't that cool? I mean, the discovery, and not the fact that we cannot hear it. It has always been known that gradual hearing loss (to high frequency sounds) occurs in adults. Someone was clever enough to find uses for it. This is widely used in malls to disperse annoying teenagers gathering around stores, and scaring adults (with buying power) away. They play this (supposedly) annoying sound over the speakers, and drive the kids away.

Now, some kids looked at this and said "Hey, why don't we use it in cell phones as ringtones, and our parents/teachers will not know that we are receiving text msgs or calls". Presto, we have Mosquitotone ring tones. Smart kids.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Finally ...

the boat was launched today! The weather gods smiled upon Seattle and all the stars aligned today, and we launched the boat in the Beaver lake behind our house.

We loaded the boat atop (the roof rack on) the car. Tied it up securely and drove to the lake. The boat weighs in at around 70-80 lbs, so it is a pretty light boat. But, due to its size and shape, it is a little bit unwieldy while un/loading on a car. While unloading, it slipped our hands and we dropped the stern from about 3 Ft. Visual inspection revealed no damages. Fiberglass seemed to do its job well. No cracks and such. Stress test (unintended) successful. Launched it into the lake, and I took it for a short spin. Things seemed to hold well. So, both my wife and daughter boarded. Spent a couple of hours on the lake and the trip back home was a breeze. We have now mastered the art of loading the boat onto the car. We will know, during our next trip.

As you may notice in the picture, the oarlocks are still not on the boat. The reason is that there is no set formula for calculating its location. We have to figure it out by trial and error. There are thumbrules to get you started. So, I used c-clamps to place the oarlocks in different positions to figure out which works best. Finally found a sweet spot and marked it. I will now attach the oarlocks and we should be set.

With the launch behind us, we need to get the boat registered, and we are good to go.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dr. Rajkumar lives!

Nata-saarvabhouma (the Emperor of Acting) Dr. Rajkumar, the distinguished Kannada actor passed away on 12 Apr 2006. He was the most popular actor in Kannada cinema. He acted in more than 200 films, was a well known singer, received numerous awards including the Padma Bhushan award as well as the Dadasaheb Phalke award. His death sparked riots in Karnataka's capital, Bangalore. People were sad that he passed away.

The day we heard the news, my wife said that she felt sad. I am trying to understand why she felt sad. Was it because we lost a Kannada icon? Was it because Dr. Rajkumar is no longer with us?

I, for one, was not sad (I was not happy either). Let me explain before you start flaming me:

I did not know Dr. Rajkumar personally. For me, Dr. Rajkumar is represented by his legacy. So, as far as I am concerned, Dr. Rajkumar still lives. I agree that if I were meeting him everyday and eating breakfast with him, I would miss him terribly today since he cannot be with me. But, that is not the case. I was not personally connected with the private individual Dr. Rajkumar. I was personally connected with the legend Dr. Rajkumar through his work and passion. Since his legacy is still with us, Dr. Rajkumar is still with me.

Everyday, statistically, 1.78 people die every second. What really makes me sad is that so many people are dying every day and only a small fraction of those are leaving behind a legacy. We should be sad for those who could not make a difference, who could not leave a legacy for the next generations. From what I understand, Dr. Rajkumar lived a happy and fulfilling life. He loved what he did, and did what he loved. He left us a great legacy in many dimensions. He fulfilled his purpose during his lifetime. We should be happy to have been born in the age of Dr. Rajkumar. We should cherish what he left us, and make sure that our younger generations get a glimpse of his greatness.

Let's sing "Aagadu yendu, kai katti kulitare aagadu kelasavu yendu" from one of Dr. Rajkumar's hit "Bangarada Manushya" and step out of our comfort zones and make a difference.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Happy cows and sad cows ...

We have been giving our daughter organic milk for most of her life. Recently, we switched to a local dairy which offers home delivery. I noticed that the cartons contain a statement that it does not contain the artificial growth harmone rBST. It doesn't specifically say that it is "Organic". The organic dairy products sold in stores do contain the USDA stamp of approval that it is organic.

Hmm, does this mean that the milk we are drinking now contains rBGH or some other kind of harmone? What does the label 'organic' really mean? Do I care? Should I care? This sparked my interest and I started researching into this subject.

When I was a kid growing up in India, milk was delivered to every home by a village woman who used to milk her cows that morning. These cows were the ones which used to graze in our lawns. Their main job was to laze around grazing on lawns and gardens, and give milk, and occasionally deliver calves. In general, these were happy cows. Nobody used to harass them since cows are sacred, and they were free to roam the streets.

The only way to increase production (and make more money) was to water down the milk before delivering. Once this was discovered, the angry consumers demanded that the cows be milked in front of the individual customer's house. This made sure that there was no foul play and everyone was happy.

Those cows were fed natural greens and were healthy cows. They were never given any harmones, or subject to cruelty. Known as Kamadhenu, cows are worshipped by Hindus. So, this is what I think of, when I hear the word "organic".

Organic food products are those that are not subject to synthetic chemical inputs. In case of dairy products, it means that the cows are not given any synthetic chemicals, and the cows are not fed anything that is subject to synthetic chemicals. That is one mouthful. Using this definition, and my example above, organic could mean small farms, cows roaming never-ending green pastures, and cowherds singing and dancing around trees. Oops, that is in Bollywood movies.

But the reality is the cows end up spending most of their life in production lines, grazing out of troughs, and getting shots of all kinds of chemicals. Even in cases where they don't get exposed to synthetic chemicals, most live in inhumane conditions. I wonder how many products coming out of these factories are certified organic/natural. Reading about all these makes me want to go vegan.

Cows should have access to open air and natural pastures that are not subject to harmful pesticides. They should not be given any artificial harmones to increase their milk production. These cows are happy cows, and produce healthy milk, which in turn is good for human consumption.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lane merging

Here is a question: If you know that the road you are on is going to turn from a 2 lane road to a 1 lane road (with merge signs), when would you start merging into the remaining lane?
OK, a few constraints:
- This is not a freeway
- There is no construction in progress
- The speed limit is under 40mph
- There is a traffic signal 20 car lengths before the merge

There are two possible answers here:
1. Merge as soon as possible (and ensure a spot for yourself, sorta)
2. Utilize all lanes until a merge becomes necessary

Depending on where you are, people pick one of the above. In LA, people choose #2. In Seattle, people choose #1. I choose #2 whenever possible, which pisses people off. That got me thinking as to why people go one way or the other. Is this just a group mentality? Is there some rocket science behind merging which I was not taught as a child (understandable since Mysore had very few roads with multiple lanes)?

Let's analyze both the scenarios and try to make sense out of it.
Good: The good thing about this is that people act as if there is only one lane and just fall behind one another. This reduces lane merging.

Bad: The bad thing about this is that I don't like leaving lanes empty. In this specific case (see constraints above), since speeds are low, merging is relatively easy and painless. So, why not use both lanes? The other problem is that people get stuck behind the traffic signal when it turns red. In this case, only 20 odd cars will be able to get ahead of the signal before it rotates (2+ min). If both lanes were used, there would have been 40 odd cars ahead of the signal. Hmm.. Also induces slinky (compression/expansion) effect due to merging at various points.

Good: Usage of both the lanes. 40 odd cars ahead of the traffic signal. No slinky effect due to one merge point. Everybody takes turns at the squeeze point, and traffic merges automatically.

Bad: Lot more merging at the squeeze point. But, since speeds are low, and motorists know that they need to merge, it can be relatively easy to merge.

I think that merging at the squeeze point is more efficient in this particular case resulting in more throughput. There will be a lot of disgruntled motorists on Issaquah-Pinelake road.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


What makes a downtown great, lively and attractive to locals as well as visitors? There are few cities in the US which can boast a lively and active downtown. While others are trying to revitalize their downtowns in vain. Cincinnati downtown is one such example. I used to wonder what was wrong with that downtown. They offered free parking, but still no one wanted to go there!

I am not talking about living in downtown here. Living in downtown is efficient, practical and desirable since most people work in downtowns. I am talking about the after-work hours. I am talking about weekends. How are some downtowns successful at attracting people while others are not?

We visited several cities in Southern California recently, and happened to experience several great downtowns. The 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Gaslamp district in San Diego, Old Town in San Diego (pictured above) to name a few. They are bustling with activity on weeknights as well as weekends. BTW, don't miss the Angelaterie (sp?) when you visit 3rd Street Promenade. They offer over 100 varieties of gelati.

Here are some of my observations on what makes a great downtown:
- Plenty of affordable parking
- Sidewalks, streetlights and landscaping - Well lit and beautiful
- Open spaces for kids to play - Small parks, fountains, lawns, etc.
- Accessibility - Close by freeways
- Safety
- World class shopping
- World class restaurants
- Movie multiplexes
- Family friendly events
- Promotions - Promote a positive image, and market the downtown

Most of the above mentioned points can be clubbed under the wide umbrella of Design. A good design is functional, easy to use and pleasing to the eye, and hence attractive.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thousand marbles

Life is of a finite nature. But, still we live as if it is infinite. We take so many things for granted. We put so many things off to "tomorrow". If only there was a way to drive home the point that life is finite, we think.

Last night my wife was watching a contest on Food Network in which chefs were racing against the clock to prepare elaborate desserts. They had a huge digital clock showing the time remaining, and everyone knew what they had to do, and were concentrating on achieving it. If only, life was like that, it would set our priorities right.

I recently stumbled upon this death clock. The idea is to show the finite nature of our lives, but fails miserably in driving the point home. The main reason being that human beings have a hard time comprehending huge numbers. A classic example is that of smokers. A smoker is told that if he continues to smoke, his life expectancy will be reduced by 2 years (say). His first response: so, what? If you tell the same person that drinking rat poison will kill him in 30 mins (say), he will immediately swear to keep away from rat poison. See the difference: A few years lopped off somewhere in the unfathomable future is not of great concern, but something in the foreseeable future (like today) is taken quite seriously.

In contrast (to the death clock), consider this story (author unknown), and see how it drives home the point:

Thousand Marbles

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the basement shack with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know, the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with something about "a thousand marbles".

I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say. "Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital."

He continued, "Let me tell you something, Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities." And that's when he began to explain his theory of "a thousand marbles."

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I'm getting to the important part."

"It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail," he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy."

"So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round-up 1,000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away."

"I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

"Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time."

"It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again."

You could have heard a pin drop on the radio when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss.

"C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing special, it's just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? I need to buy some marbles."

Make today count for every one you waste can never be lived again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Boat update

It has been quite sometime since I updated on the boat project. The simple reason being that the project had not progressed much, thanks to the rainy winter weather in Seattle. I finally completed glassing of the entire boat. It is fine to just glass all the seams (strength), and the bottom (wear) of the boat. Since I had ordered tonnes of fiberglass cloth, I thought I will glass the entire boat including the insides. This gives the boat tremendous strength and durability while adding only a few ounces to the weight.

I had to remove the amine blush that had formed on some of the surfaces that I had fiberglassed. Then, I had to sand the cured surface so as to form a uniform as well as rough surface. If I were applying another coat of epoxy on an uncured surface, it would lead to a chemical bond (preferable). Since the first coat had completely cured, I had to sand it in order to form a rough surface for the second coat to cling onto. This forms a mechanical bond, which is not as strong as the chemical bond. Chemical bond occurs at molecular level. Enough theory now. The boat surface looks shiny and beautiful (see pic). Unfortunately, I have to paint it since epoxy degrades with exposure to sunlight. I will be completing the second coat on the outside and then painting the boat. Still thinking of a color scheme... The inside surfaces will be white or off-white. I don't want the surfaces to get hot in the sun.

BTW, we did watch The Sixth Sense last weekend. Of course, since this was the third time, it didn't grip us as much, but the ending did hit us well. I was observing the technical merit of the movie, and I have to say, it is a well made movie.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I see dead people ...

Last night I happened to watch Medium after a long time. I could see the plot through, and it was comical to see the blunders in this episode. This is the episode in which Allison's brother comes over and they both discover that he sees dead people too. They both interact with a dead person throughout the entire episode.

Let's look at some of the great blunders in this half-assed production. First of all, Allison's brother gets the dead girl a beer, and she sits at the table and drinks it. Then comes the scene where the dead girl pulls the brother over herself and kisses him, in order to hide from the bad guys. This second scene is cool. Imagine, that you are one of the unfortunate who cannot see dead people, and you are in this scene. All you see is a well built dude hunched over a sofa, his upper body hanging in mid air. All this is happening in public places with lots of people around. C'mon guys, this is Hollywood. Even for a TV series quality matters.

If you haven't seen the movie "The Sixth Sense", read no further and go watch the movie.

Spoiler ahead:
Go take a look at The Sixth Sense, and tell me when Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes in contact with any other human being in the whole movie. That is one good movie. I need to watch that movie again...

Monday, March 13, 2006

New wine in an old bottle

It feels like that is what I am trying to be these days. I always believed that age was no bar when it comes to learning new things. We have all seen or heard of someone who ran his first marathon at age 80+ (got into running at 70+), became a violin virtuoso at a ripe old age, mastered Doom3 at age 90, etc. These are inspiring tales, but achieving that distinction is not easy.

I recently started taking guitar lessons. I went into it confidently since I have a decent ear for music, and always loved the guitar. One of my goals is to be able to play the solo in Hotel California and Comfortably Numb (and a few others). Things started off smoothly until I hit barre chords. Man, they are a pain in the neck. The beauty of the barre chords is that by learning a few chord shapes (just four, for all the major and minor chords), you can play any chord. That is powerful stuff. The chord voicing may not be the same as in your favorite song, but you can play the chord. The difficulty in playing this chord pattern is that you need to create a barre with your index finger of the left hand. This barre should cover all the six strings, while the other fingers are shaping the chord! This is when I thought I will end up with tendonitis.

It is easy to make up ones mind to master something new, at a later age. It is much more difficult for the body to react with the same zeal. Take gymnastics for instance, it is much easier for a 4 year old to learn new tricks since her body is flexible and nimble, than for a 30 year old. Likewise, there are many activities that need physical ability along with mental ability to accomplish them.

I am not complaining that I will never be a rock star. I am just saying that it is going to take me longer than I initially thought ;-)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Material equilibrium

I always believe that we should not be too materialistic. The US economy thrives on people buying new things and replacing things they already have. I have been brought up in a culture where reuse is valued highly. I loved quirky things like the toothpaste squeezer, which lets you get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. I had once made a pencil holder using the remnants of an old fountain pen, the main purpose of which was to hold wooden pencils which are too short to hold properly and write. I used to love to come up with gizmos like these. Now, I am in the land of splurge and am forced to throw away reusable things and buy new ones. Of course, it helps our economy, but we, as consumers, need to draw a line at some point.

So, I came up with the law of Material Equilibrium: Make a conscious effort to gauge your needs, and once you achieve critical mass, try to maintain equilibrium rather than exceed it.

Take a simple scenario of the things in your house. You are just out of school and landed a great job, and have some green bills in your pocket and you want to run to the nearest store and buy everything they have. Fine, but let's set our priorities first. Get your necessities first. Then, splurge and get some luxuries. OK, get lots of luxuries. After a while, you are at a point where you own a nice little house filled to the brim with cool things. The next thought in your mind: I need a bigger house to fit all these things. IF you do get a new house with lots of space, you will end up in the same situation a short while later, and will be looking for an even bigger roof. The snowball effect continues until there is no more cash to move/fill up.

Let's stop before we get there. First step is to take inventory of our current possessions. You look around and see that you have all the necessities, and lots of luxuries to keep you warm and cozy. At this point you have reached your critical mass. Of course, this critical mass varies from item to item. So, different things have different masses. That itself will help you prioritize things. Say, you want a new plasma TV. You look around and see 5 tube TVs spread around the house, and then you see an unreliable junker sitting in the garage. You know where you have reached critical mass, and where you need to concentrate.

Once you set your priorities, it is time to maintain equilibrium on the things that have reached critical mass. Let's say you feel the need for a new couch. Then, you have to weigh the real need, and if you really feel the need, you have to get rid of one you currently have. Replace the one you have (which you don't need/want anymore, for some reason) with a newer one (which you need/want). See the struggle to define need and want. You need to consciously determine what you 'Need' versus what you 'Want'. Did you ever wonder why the supermarkets stock milk and bread at the back corner of the store, AND stock up all the junk food on the 'way' to the milk and bread? Milk and bread are essentials, and everyone buys them. While you are making your way to the essentials, the friendly supermarket staff is helping you define what your 'Needs' are;-) And, you end up with a few bags of doritos, chips, etc. All you went to the store was to buy milk and bread!

Once you determine that you have reached critical mass in a certain area, just try to maintain equilibrium. You want something in an area, you need to part with one of the things you already have in that area. That is the theory of maintaining equilibrium.

One day, I was strolling the mall and saw the latest (at that time) digital SLR from Canon, and immediately started salivating. But, my rational mind kicked in (wiped the saliva off), and started thinking. I already own 3 film SLRs, 2 P&S digital cameras, and who knows how many P&S film cameras, and now, I want another one! At that point I decided that I was a little bit over critical mass (way over critical mass, if you ask my wife), and I needed to pare some before getting the digi SLR. So, off went a few of my cameras on Craigslist. I still feel that I need to 'make space' for the new digi SLR. It is going to happen soon.

Sometimes, I feel this imbalance and immediately know that somethings need to be pared. You get that feeling too. You just have to heed that feeling, take a moment and look inside yourself and decide on what you want to do. We don't want to add to the tonnes of garbage that the world generates. Do you?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Santoku knife

The Japanese word Santoku means "three virtues". When it comes to Santoku knives, these virtues are: chopping, mincing and dicing. Santoku knives are also known as "chef's knife". We recently bought one of these babies and here is the story.

One of my wife's hobbies, among scores of others, is cooking. She loves to cook and experiment with different kinds of cuisines. Lucky me, I get to be the taster! Did I tell you that she is a great cook. Since she is a cooking aficionado, she watches the Food Network on a regular basis. She always wondered how the cooks on the show chop the vegetables so precisely, and wondered why we could not do so. After a little bit of research, she found out that the answer lies in the knife you use, and the technique. She looked around and found that for most of the chopping, mincing and dicing work, a chef's knife was the best. To our surprise, we found that there was a whole world of knives in prices ranging from a mere $5 to upwards of $200! The more expensive models are the professional tools some of which have ceramic edges.

Santoku knives a heavy, well balanced and have a comfortable grip. Used in the right manner, you can rival the chef's on Food Network. We always thought that really sharp knives were dangerous since you could easily cut yourself. But, you know what, it is the other way around. Dull knives have a tendency to slip when you force them through the veggies and you end up chopping a finger or two. Sharp knives do not slip and always do their job. A well maintained chef's knife has a keen edge and can easily cut any vegetable/fruit/herb. Also, the right technique of wielding the knife and holding the vegetable is also very important.

For quite sometime, we have gravitated towards serrated knives and glass cutting boards. They sorta get the work done. You are always 'sawing' the vegetables, than 'cutting' them. Also, even though glass cutting boards are easy to clean and hygienic, they are loud. After using one of these Santoku knives, we can vouch that it makes a big difference in preparing the ingredients for a meal. One important thing is that you use these knives only on wooden cutting boards, or they go dull before the meal is done. It is a pleasure to chop veggies. Your hands don't get tired so fast. So, in the end, you save some time as well as energy. What a pity, we waited all these years before discovering this secret!

Before I go, an update on the boat. I finished glassing the entire bottom, and it took only 5 hrs spread into two days. It was a lot easier to lay the cloth compared to the tape. It was an exhausting experience since I was working alone, and had to run back and forth mixing small batches of epoxy and applying it before it hardened. Now, I am ready to epoxy the insides of the boat, and put the finishing touches! With every coat of epoxy and fiberglass, the boat is getting heavier and heavier. Looks like, cartopping may be a challenge once the project is completed.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


OHIO- An acronym which stands for (among other things) Only Handle It Once.

This certainly applies to all sorts of mails, be it emails, snail mails, bills, etc. Earlier, whenever I received a bill, for instance, I would open it, check it for its accuracy, file it for later payment. Most of the time, I would miss making a payment and pay a late fee. Or, end up going through the pile again another day and paying some, and stacking the others for another day. This was a very bad habit. Now, I am close to following the OHIO rule for all my correspondence. There is no point in procrastinating. It only multiplies the time spent on the subject. So, as Nike says "Just do It"; as soon as you receive your mail, read it and take an action on it immediately, and be done with it.

I started applying epoxy and fiberglass to my boat a few days ago. It sounds intimidating, but once you get all the materials in place, and follow all the safety instructions, it is not so bad. I am still getting used to laying the glass fiber, and saturating it with the right amount of epoxy. You apply a coat of epoxy on the wooden core, before it dries (this is the wet layup method), lay the fiberglass cloth on it. Now, you are supposed to apply just enough resin to wet it completely, but not float it off the wooden surface. That is the tricky part. In one occasion, I ended up floating the cloth. In another, I had too little resin and had to soak it again. But, I am getting there.

With epoxy, there is not much reuse of materials. The mixing cup, the stirring stick, spoons, brushes, gloves, all go to the trash after 15- 20 mins. You need to use all the resin before it starts getting hard. Epoxy is what is packaged as super glue in small containers. It comes in two parts: resin and hardener. Alone, both of them are in liquid form. Once you mix them in the right proportion, an exothermic chemical reaction starts, and the molecules bond to form a very strong union. So, at the end of the curing time (20 mins, in my case), all tools used in the application will become useless. This was when I remembered the OHIO acronym. In case of fiberglass, you are forced to complete the work as soon as you start it. This is a great way of making sure that you don't procrastinate. Procrastination, in this case, turns out to be very costly.

Well, the boat core is completely done. I just need to finish off some rough edges, and then I can glass the entire boat.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Back to the boat

The core of the boat is all done, and that wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. The right tools made all the difference in the world. I had cut the plywood a bit generously, so as not to screw up, and ended with a lot of extra material that I had to sand off. When I went to Lowes to get some sandpaper, I discovered this amazing yet inexpensive tool, SurForm. It is like a cross between a rasp and a plane. It is small and removes material at an alarming rate. It saved me days of sanding and dust.

I have also cut the bottom piece a bit wider than necessary. For this I am thinking of using a router. Once I am done with fiberglassing the insides, I will just turn the boat over, run the router over the bottom edges, and I should have a beautiful smooth surface. That brings us to fiberglassing (aka, glassing). As of now, it seems very intimidating, since I have never done it before. I am planning on trying it out for the first time tomorrow, and I am sure it will turn out to be a simple process. Scarphing seemed tough and I was done with it in a jiffy. Now, I can scarph plywood to any length.

In my next entry, I will most probably extol on the joys of fiberglassing. Or, if the whole thing turns into a gooey mess, you will hear me cursing... Hopefully not.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Beauty is only skin deep

The other day our daughter was acting and doing cute things, as usual at this age, and I ran to get my camera, as usual for me. As I started snapping pictures she immediately called her grandmother, who is visiting, to join her. Her grandmother's immediate reply "I am not looking good. Why do you want me to spoil the picture. Go ahead by yourself". But, my daughter vehemently insisted and grandma reluctantly joined. I finally ended up with great snaps of both of them.

The lesson from my daughter: Beauty is only skin deep.

She doesn't see the outer beauty of her grandma. For her, beauty comes from the person's intellectual, emotional and spiritual qualities. In short, she equates the personality to a person's beauty. Which is what everyone should do. Today's media paints a different picture. It splatters the so called beautiful models day in and day out on the TV, in Ads, in movies, etc. Which makes me wonder: of all the actors in Bollywood, it is easy to find ones that are not so 'physically attractive' but great at acting. But, we seldom find Bollywood actresses who are short on the beauty end and still great in acting. Hmmm. That speaks a lot on the Bollywood audience. But, I am digressing...

I always dislike sharing photos of friends and family with people who don't know them. Consider this scenario: You are visiting a friend/family member and they start showing off pictures of their friends' who you don't know anything about. You see a guy with droopy eyes, and the first thing that pops to your mind is that he snorts drugs or is into drinking. But, for a person who knows the 'personality', they 'see' a great ball player, a great friend in need, a great cook, a childhood friend who loves to crack jokes, etc. You get the point. So, whenever people visit us, all they see is slides of our adventure, places we visited, or projects we have done. Only rarely do we share pics of people, and that happens only when the audience knows the people in the pictures.

'Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder'. What is considered (media-suggested) as beautiful in one country may not be so in another. This is true right here in America. The US media portrays tall and skinny (almost to the point of mal-nourished) women as models of beauty. Go South for a few hours, and you see a completely different portrait of beauty. In Mexico, a little chubbier women are portrayed as beautiful. We are 'trained' by the environment around us to 'see' beauty.

My daughter is still at a stage where she is not yet influenced by the environs, and I want to keep it that way as far as possible.

For her, I am the most handsome, smartest, loving, caring father in the whole world. I am not going to argue with her. For all you (and the influenced world) know, I may look like the ugliest toad in the whole world.

Her grandma is the most beautiful, intelligent, loving, caring grandma in the whole world. Why should we argue with her. We should learn from her and go back to our roots, and accept it whole heartedly and bask in that glow.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Take the "Red Pill" and discover how deep the rabbit-hole is!

Last weekend we had some friends over, and as usual, after some time the group polarized and the women gathered around in the kitchen/breakfast area, and the men congregated in the family room.

Soon, the topic turned, among the men, philosophical and we started talking about life, its purpose, and all that deep stuff. I have gone through these sessions with countless number of friends at countless times, but this time I thought of really making a difference. So, here I am jotting down some of the notes/lessons that were gleamed out of the last session.

As the topic suggests, we should have the courage to take the Red Pill (Neo from Matrix), and be aware of the truth in our lives.

I also recalled one of my favorite taglines (it is from an Ad, for something I don't seem to remember. That shows how [in]effective the Ad was): "If your life was a book, would YOU read it?" Wow. What a way to put things in the right perspective.

Set your priorities right and live a meaningful, exciting, interesting and purposeful life.

Take a holistic approach to life. Look at the big picture, and not just tomorrow.

We also discussed the analogy of how a project manager, assigned newly to an ongoing project, would interrogate the team to get the pulse of the project. What is the SOP? Where is the SOW? Where is the project plan? Where are we, and where are we supposed to be? Are there any issues? What are the risks? How are we mitigating them? What action items are open? Etc. Why don't we turn it around and question ourselves in the different "projects" of our life? Spiritually? Health-wise? Socially? Financially? In relationships? In our career? We have to ask ourselves these tough questions in order to get a grip on our lives.

Come up with different categories that matter most in your life. They could be broad and at a 50,000 Ft level, like "Career", "Social", etc. Be the CEO of your own life and treat it like a public company. Generate quarterly reports in each of these areas. I had heard about the 'Boiling a frog' analogy, but had never understood the meaning of it until my friend explained it to me. If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately leap out to escape the danger. But, if you put the frog in a pot of cool water, and then gradually heat the water to its boiling point, the frog does not become aware of the threat until it is too late. This is a great analogy which illustrates that if we are not careful, and take the temperature of the waters around (and within) us, we will not become aware of the changing environment as well as threats around us. So, this activity of generating quarterly reports is a great way of taking the temperature. We need to know before the fecal matter hits the air circulating device. The report should not only show the current status, but also have a timebound plan on getting it back on track (assuming we are of in at least one area).

We discussed tools that we can use to keep us on our tracks, and to visualize our progress in different areas, about which I shall write later. Use technology to the fullest extent to make sure that our minds stay focused on the important things in life.

Effective people know how to identify and execute the 20% things that bring the 80% rewards. Understanding and setting the right priorities goes a long way in becoming more effective in all areas of our life.

I conclude this entry with the poem:
"The Dash?" by Linda Ellis (copyright Linda Ellis)

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning...to the end.
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth...
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars...The house...The cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard...
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile...
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

Take a moment and decide how you want to live your dash.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boat building saga begins

OK, I give up. It has been raining everyday for the past almost 4 weeks, and Seattle is living up to its fame. I was waiting for dry conditions to start building the boat, but the weather gods are not accommodating. I am itching to start the boat, and I finally decide to heat the garage and start on the boat.

I have been reading a lot about boat design, oar positioning, different kinds of sails, rigging, helms, etc. I can't wait to rig this boat up and start sailing. I finally started on the boat, and what used to be a heap of plywood now resembles a boat! I don't have professional tools, so I have to improvise and make do with whatever I find in the garage. I did buy a neat circular saw with a laser sight. The laser is cool. It draws a line in bright red light showing me where I am going to cut. Since I don't have clamps, I had to improvise and use bungee cords and rope to hold the seats together while the glue dried.

The first thing I had to do was, create long strips of plywood. Since HomeDepot does not sell plywood that is longer than 6 ft, I had to scarph (or is it scarf?) two pieces together. This seemed challenging to an inexperienced hand, but once I started, it is pretty straight forward. I used a belt sander to create the scarph and glued the pieces together. Since it is still winter, the glue took 2 days, instead of the usual 12 hrs, to dry. The joints look good. I will be applying fiberglass on top of them. So, there is no compromise on strength of the joint.

Oops, I forgot to introduce the boat. It is a 12 ft long flat bottomed sailboat built of fiberglass laid over a thin plywood hull. Initially, I will set it up for rowing. Once I find its sweet spots and characteristics, I will design the sails and rig it for sailing. It has a carrying capacity of about about 550 lbs, which will be reduced to around 500 lbs once I rig it for sailing.

Now that the boat is taking shape, it looks bigger than I had imagined. Now, I am having second thoughts on cartopping it. Cartopping will work when it is a rowboat, but once it is rigged up for sailing, I will have to get a trailer. I was getting ready to hunt for a roof top bike rack for my car, and now am thinking of hunting for a trailer instead. I was telling my wife that we should make sure that it is a breeze to get the boat from our garage to the nearest lake. Otherwise, we will not use the boat as often. Imagine, if it takes half a day to get the boat to a lake, you won't have any energy left to row/sail it in the lake. So, I am leaning towards a trailer now. We still have a couple of months to go. So, we have time to think about it.

Gotta go. Time to attach gunwales on the boat.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Zen and the art of boat building

After moving to the Puget sound area, I discovered two things. One, this place has lots of water (I mean, water bodies, apart from all the rain we get), and two, there aren't many marinas which rent boats. I love boating, be it rowing, sailing, canoeing or power boating, and consequently missed having easy access to a water craft. To make matters worse, we built a house that is three houses from a small lake (But, don't ask me why it takes 3 miles to get to the same lake. I hate the planners of this city). So, I was left with two choices: drive to far off lakes to rent boats (not many choices here, either), or buy my own boat. The first choice was not very practical because most marinas didn't have rental sailboats, which I prefer. So, I was left with the latter choice.

I looked around for inexpensive small sailboats, and most were way over my budget. Then, I stumbled on websites as well as magazines that focused on boat building. Yes, boat building is a complex task, if you are building complex boats. Since I wanted to start off with a small boat, it seemed easy enough for me. Given my wood working background (a bird house as a kid, speaker stands, bookcase for a friend, a deck behind our previous house), I felt confident that I could build a decent boat. So, off I went on to become a wooden boat builder.

After extensive research, I settled on a plywood boat covered with fiberglass. Initially, I will build it and launch it as a row boat. Once I understand its characteristics, I will rig it up for sailing. I bought the boat plans from a couple of places (check this page for links on boat building), and my supplies from all over the country (fiberglass from San Diego, epoxy from Miami, wood from local lumber yards and tools from garage sales). After acquiring all the material I discovered that the epoxy I had, even though a fast curing one, was most effective if used at temp over 60F. With temperatures in the 40s during the day, my plans of building the boat this winter are sinking fast. I guess I will have to wait for Spring before I can do anything significant on this project.

I have already built this boat several times, in my mind. I have made notes on some bothersome areas that need attention. I have already decided on a color scheme for the boat! Hey, this is planning or what? I wish I did this kind of thinking and planning in all other areas of my life too.

I will post updates as I build the boat.