Tuesday, 24 February 2009

My take on the economic downturn

Obligatory CYA statement: I don't know economics. I failed economics when I was in 9th grade. The only book related to economics which I have read is "Freakonomics", by Steven D. Levitt. All the statements which I express below are based on mere speculation, random hand waving, and (hopefully) some common sense.

The downturn has been here for almost an year, but people are still optimistic that it will soon go away. I don't think so.

I didn't care till now, because I didn't personally know anyone affected by it. That has changed.

People are really feeling the impact in the U.S.A and the heat is slowly being turned on us folks in India. Technology based companies are cutting jobs and I believe this is going to hit our banks and telecom service providers, who provide credit in the form of loans, credit-cards and postpaid connections to many young employees in these tech-companies. I very much doubt that if and when such people get laid-off, they will stick around to pay their mobile phone bill, credit card bill or the EMI on personal loans. Instead, I believe they will chose to run away. Leaving the banks and telecom providers empty handed.

Other things to note:
  • People are losing jobs irrespective of their experience, qualifications and performance. You are not a unique snowflake; your skills can be replaced. Don't be complacent or arrogant; be careful.
  • Companies are firing and hiring side by side. They are using the recession as an excuse to become lean, but at the same time roping in highly talented folks, at lower cost, who weren't available before, because they had nice cozy jobs.
  • If you are in the job market, you are in no position to bargain for better salary or perks. Just take what you can get. The case was the exact opposite a couple of years back.
  • Finally, I have been dreaming about alternative career options:

    • Farming -- Can grow and eat my own food, but don't own any arable land.
    • Meru Cab Driver -- One Meru cab driver told me, he earns Rs 30k a month.
    • (Fake) Kickboxing Instructor -- With my 2 months of kickboxing experience, I could try and cajole some people to come under my tutelage.
    • (Fake) Guitar Instructor/Player -- Almost same as above.
    • Clairvoyant Baba -- This should pay me well; even in these times. Just need to grow more white hair and read the daily horoscopes.
    • Daily labourer -- If all else fails, at least I'm physically fit.
I leave you with an inspirational quote:
What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

P.S: But if it does kill you, then you really don't have anything to worry about ... do you?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

First guitar video

Tears in the rain, by Joe Satriani. Couple of mistakes in between and vehicles honking in the background. Love me oh internet world!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Linguistic or logical

This is a real dialogue which happened two days ago. I blame computer science.

Lady on the phone: "Sir, you will be paying the bill by cash or card or cheque?"
Me: "Yes."

Lady on the phone (repeats): "
Sir, you will be paying the bill by cash or card or cheque?"
Me(again): "Yes."

Lady on the phone (repeats again, frustrated): "Sir, you will be paying the bill by cash or card or cheque?"
Me (realizing my folly): "Card."

Things you may not know about runners

Still high from my last race, I'm going to ramble more about running. This time around things about runners which are not that obvious.
  1. Runners come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Don't judge how good a runner is just by looking. An older person with a paunch may very well be stronger/faster than you.
  2. Most runners whom I know are not health freaks; they love their food. The motivation for an early morning long run is almost always the breakfast which follows.
  3. Running and beer are not mutually exclusive ... and thank god for that.
  4. A corollary of all the above is: don't expect long distance runners to have six (eight?) packs.
  5. Not all runners love running.

Auroville half marathon -- Number 4

I write this again half asleep. Yesterday I finished the Auroville half-marathon with a time of 2:07. I was aiming for a sub 2 hour timing and I would have gotten it, if I hadn't gotten lost in between and run another 1.7 KM extra. The time when I reached the 21.1 KM mark was 1:57:43, but I'm not considering the sub 2 hour goal complete till I have it on an official certificate -- of course I don't consider the midnight marathon certificate, listing my time as 1:06, official.

The race was overall well organized. The trail was scenic and well marked, except for the one place where I managed to go the opposite way. Aid stations were there at every 4 KM, with water, lemonade, biscuits, bananas etc. People running the full marathon started at 5 AM and were given torches. The half marathon started at 6 AM. The accommodation facilities provided by the organizers, for the out-station runners, at Auroville was rudimentary, but for Rs 200 it was fine. The pre-race pasta and the post-race breakfast was pretty good though.

The weird part is that I expected my race to go really bad, but it in fact it went really good. Here's a short course of events.

We reached Pondicherry by train at 10 AM on Saturday -- the race being the next day. One of the organizers came to pick us up, but he told us that the place we were supposed to stay won't be open till 4 PM and we therefore had to kill a lot of time. So we couldn't change, no shower, but ended up roaming around Pondicherry the entire afternoon. Even after reaching Auroville, and collecting the bibs, we were asked to stay for the pasta party (dinner at 6 PM) and then go to our accomodation.

It was 7:30 PM before we finally got a place to settle down -- note that I didn't say rest. We were put up in, what seemed to be one of their art galleries, called Kalakendra. The organizers had laid out portions of thin synthetic material on the floor, which was going to act as our mattress. There were three rest rooms and plenty of competition. Fortunately for me, as soon as we reached there was a power-cut and most guys decided to wait for the power, before the shower (ooh ... rhymes). I being impatient, went in the dark and got my deeds done (the power didn't come till morning). That night I didn't sleep well -- I had dreams that the race had started and I was still sleeping.

I woke up at 4 AM on race day. Everyone got ready by around 5 AM and were taken to the starting point by bus. On the way we could see the full marathon runners' torches bobbing along. There was a check-in counter at the starting point, where I deposited my wallet, cellphone and camera. I warmed up with a bit of walking and slow jogging. Finally it was go time.

I was exhausted and low on sleep, but once I started running all that went away.

Like the midnight marathon, I had planned for a negative split. I ran the first half of the race at a pace of 5:40/KM and the second half at 5:30/KM. Given that it wasn't too crowded I could easily stick to my plan and didn't spend too much time weaving around people.

Till the 12 KM mark everything was going according to plan. I was within my goal time and was feeling strong. I had passed many runners and I could just see one guy running in front of me. So I followed him. Then I crossed him. Then I reached a crossing where there were a couple of volunteers and they were looking at me quizzically: both me and the other runner had taken the wrong route. One volunteer decided to guide us to the correct turning. He got on his bike and lead. Frustrated I increased my pace and followed; hoping that I would still make the sub 2 hour cut. Finally, into the correct turn.

When I reached the 14 KM mark, my Garmin read 1hr 30 mins (15.8 KM on distance). There was still 7 KMs to the finish line. I had never done 7 KMs in half an hour. Although I was maintaining my 5:30 pace, I knew that I couldn't cross the finish line before 2 hours. Slowly and steadily I passed the remaining kilometers and many runners whom I had crossed once already. Finally when I saw the marker which read 21 KM, I sprinted. There were people cheering and I was running at full steam. I crossed the finish line. Just for that, the whole ordeal was worth it.

At the end it was again a personal best, a good race, and a good experience, but I was disappointed that I didn't get an official sub 2 hour time.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Where do you waste your time?

For me, it's the internet. So if you are talking about where I waste my time on the internet, then maybe I can speak:
  1. Gmail: I'm subscribed to few google groups and I need to read emails as soon as they come. Also who can forget the integrated GTalk.
  2. Yahoo Mail: Although no longer my favorite, I check it something like once an hour.
  3. Google Reader: I follow ~ 50 feeds. Then there are feeds which my friends share which I need to read.
  4. Twitter: This is a recent one. Although I don't follow many people (6), the updates from everyone come at a decent rate. And then you start replying ... and they reply back ... and it becomes like a chat visible to the whole world.
  5. Facebook: Facebook beats Orkut (just like Gmail beats Yahoo! mail). Why? It has a nice interface and all. But it gives you the minutest updates of what any of your friends did (are doing). If Pofu throws a virtual sheep at Tofu -- you will know about it. And what more? You want to know about it and follow it.
  6. Flickr: I end up using their 'explore' function too much. Also I have a Pro account.
  7. Youtube: Instructional videos, funny videos, inspirational videos, i-will-never-be-able-to-do-that videos, music videos etc. Then you watch the videos which your friends favorited. Then you watch the videos which Youtube recommends.
  8. Orkut: Yes, I occassionally check my 'scrapbook' and keep any eye out for upcoming birthdays.
  9. Wikipedia: Once every while I search for some item of interest and end up traversing the Wikipedia tree.
  10. Stack Overflow: I scout for interesting technical questions and answers.
  11. Blogger: How can I forget it? Although, not entirely a waste of time. I end up doing the edit, post, find-glaring-mistake/missed-point, re-edit, post ... cycle too much (this last point is one such example). Who wants to use the 'Preview' button?
And loop ... till someone calls for coffee.

What do you wanna do this weekend?

If you are in Bangalore, you have quite a few alternatives:
  • Be scared of going out, because you think the Sri Ram Sena goons will embarrass you and marry you off. It won't happen, but you can always give this as an excuse and enjoy a movie and a cold beer at your home.
  • Go celebrating in pubs as part of the "Pub Bharo" movement to thwart Sri Ram Sena. Which is not that special. I mean what do you do on weekends anyway?
  • Rock the weekend Iron Maiden style. I'm sure that we will see a lot of head-bangers from outside Bangalore coming for the concert. This should surely help the "Pub Bharo" movement at least.
  • For the computer programmers (respect to all the geek bros), we have the Yahoo Hack Day.
  • All couples who can run: you not only have the advantage of escaping when being chased by our friendly neighbourhood Sri Ram Sena, but you also have a chance to win fancy Nike t-shirts. The Nike Run Club is conducting a 4k couple run at Cubbon Park at 6 AM. Check it out.
Unfortunately I can't do any of the above. I'm off to Pondicherry to take of some running business.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Mumbai attacks: What happened to Pakistan's response?

The Indian media seems to have gone to sleep on the issue of Mumbai attacks. They have got more entertaining characters like Pramod Muthalik whom they are focusing and trying to direct the fury of the youth. IPL also seems to be captivating.

I think it has been clearly established that terrorists from Pakistan were behind the attacks and the Pakistan government had agreed to take action. But what action is being taken? What kind of pressure is the Indian government putting on Pakistan to take action? I don't know and seems like the media doesn't care. If you don't believe me check out the news sites.

How easily do we let things go?

Every year we see:
  1. Terror attacks.
  2. People dying in the east due to floods.
  3. Farmers committing suicide in Andhra Pradesh due to draught.
  4. Blue line buses killing pedestrians and cyclists.
  5. Rich brats driving drunk and killing people.
  6. Train accidents killing people.
When it's so easy to predict, why do we see it every single year?

As far as the hindu extremist groups are concerned, I think they should be banned. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have seen at many places where people argue that the people in these groups are cowards and they aren't fighting terrorists, who are the real danger. But think about it, do you really want them to fight terrorists? Do you really want non-state actors to be striking across the border? Aren't you just engendering a new terror outfit, just this time it will be in the name of Ram?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Tonsillitis strikes back

When I was young -- like 6-7 years old young -- me and my brother used to suffer from constant coughing and throat pain. The cause was attributed to tonsillitis. Afraid of operating it, my parents took us to a homeopathy clinic. The "medicines" suggested by the "doctor" worked and we were "cured" ... or so we all thought.

Two years ago, I had a tonsillitis attack. A few months before this, my brother also had the same problem. All grown-up and knowledgeable, I concluded:
  1. My tonsillitis had not been cured.
  2. Homeopathy is really not medicine.
Tonsillitis is not entertaining. Anything you swallow feels like someone sticking a rod into your gullet. Every single gulp is torture.

Yesterday, while I was basking in the glory of having obtained my yellow-belt, I felt some irritation in my throat. Suspecting cold/cough, I downed my handy remedy of a cetirizine tablet and some cough syrup (not recommending it to anyone). It didn't have any effect. Right then and there I knew what it was, my old nemesis: tonsillitis.

From my recent past illness I have learnt some obvious, but very important things which need to be done:
  1. See a doctor. No the illness will not go away on its own. Doesn't matter if you are feeling better than what you were feeling an hour ago. Go see a doctor.
  2. Take rest. Doesn't matter how fit you are; diseases have killed soldiers. People feel like they are heroes, when they work while sick. They are in fact spreading disease, performing at sub-par levels and deteriorating their own condition.
  3. Crocin, Disprin, Digene, Pudin-Hara etc. don't cure everything. Take advice from the person suggested in point 1.
Having learnt the lesson, I have medicines prescribed by an ENT specilialist. I took a break from both running and kickboxing (at least today). I cannot afford to fall sick, with another half-marathon approaching -- believe me, getting back to form after an illness is a task. I hope I can be rational and patient.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This water is delicious

Warning: Long fitness related, sometimes (mostly?) self-appreciatory post.

Last Sunday I managed to cross the 21.1 KM distance threshold. Our long distance run in GKVK ended up being 24.5 KM covered in a little over 2 hrs 30 mins. Although we started early (6:30 AM) the sun was out in the latter half of the run -- damn you global warming! The run ended like most of the long distance runs: relief with a sense of accomplishment -- followed by calmness throughout the rest of the day, because you don't have the energy to get irritated. And yes, the water was delicious.

On Monday I received, by post, the second book on running which I had ordered online: Chi Running. I love receiving things by post -- bills and bank statements excluded. It's unexpected and always holds a surprise. But anyway ... where was I? ... yes, Chi Running. The author of the book -- Danny Dreyer -- claims to combine the teachings of T'ai Chi into running, making the activity enjoyable and injury-free. How cool is that? So, during my (free) Monday evening, I proceeded to imbibe 100 odd pages of the book. I was all excited to try out the new running form and mystical things such as 'body-sensing', 'cotton and steel' etc.

Today was going to be the day. I had planned a 12 KM tempo run with a pace of 5:27/KM (11 KM/H), and I was going to do it Chi Style! I warm-up and get on the treadmill. I push in the numbers and the belt starts moving. I'm thinking of relaxing my legs, tilting my body forward, focusing on my breathing, using my Chi (whatever that means). I'm running in a new posture. I look at the distance: 300m. And suddenly it happens: a seething pain in my left knee. I push some more, the pain doesn't go away. I stop the treadmill. I try again the pain still comes back. Dejected, I retire and have an early lunch.

I won't blame Chi Running for my failed run (yet). It was stupid on my part, to try out a new style at a challenging pace without resting properly after my longest run till date (I have always given 2 days rest after all my half marathons).

Evening arrives. I have my self defence class. There was going to be a yellow-belt test (you know right, martial art levels ... white, yellow, orange ... lot of other colours in between ... black). The test is split over two days, with the first day testing your endurance and the second day testing technique. Today being the endurance part. Given my knee issue, the rational part of my brain decides that it would be foolish to take the test. But no, stupidity reigns supreme. When the class started and instructor asks who all are taking the test, I find my hand raised.

The test was one and a half hours of exhaustion, pain and dehydration. Here is what all we did:
  • 20 minutes free running -- Different from regular running in that you have to jump over obstacles, take a roll, jump again etc. It's more tiring as well.
  • 30 pushups -- Wasn't too difficult.
  • 2 minutes ironman
  • 100 crunches
  • 100 leg raises
  • 1 minute side bridge on each side
  • 100 squats
  • 200 counts bouncing cross
  • 500 punches
  • 500 kicks -- At 200 kicks, I was wondering whether I would collapse.
At the end of it, I was proud to be standing. My clothes were drenched as if I had been out playing Holi. I came back home and the water was delicious.