sacred memories

I read somewhere that the memory which is not retrieved even once is the most pure one. When we retrieve memories, it seems we modify it – add more color to it, rationalize it, make it change to how we wish the event was, reduce or increase the intensity etc. If that is the case, I might have a lot of memories which are pure – those that I never care to remember or shut it out as soon as I go anywhere near it. Or because I rarely speak much about the past and ruminate for hours with someone.
 
Maybe the tape is getting overwritten also a lot with lot of junk data. I sometimes wonder when people talk about same stories over and over again, whether they are oblivious of whether the same audience is bored or not – I think they simply don’t remember or register. When I read about face blindness, I thought that is rare – but there are a lot of people who don’t seem to recognize people they have met. I feel I store too much of such random data – of random people, random events, conversations, stories, comments someone has made, newspaper articles. I have always been an observer, without interrupting the drama that is going around me. But I worry that I am overloading on such minutiae.
 
My wife’s grandmother is with us – she tell us stories from her childhood, with such fine details that I start worrying that I remember far less about my childhood compared to hers and she is 78 years old. My wife knows almost every teacher who taught her from kindergarten to engineering – I don’t remember names of even one teacher from my college days, maybe since I didn’t establish any meaningful teacher-student connection after my school days.
 
This memory block became so apparent recently during a session, about unconscious bias. We were asked to write down how we identify ourselves (malayali, parent, IT, vegetarian), one instance that caused us pain due to such a label and another instance where we felt proud. I couldn’t identify any instance where I felt proud – that was embarrassing. One reason could be because I believe I am an intense critic of myself, so every instance that could have been taken credit about or felt proud about, would have been analyzed threadbare and concluded that either I can’t take credit 100%, I didn’t deserve it fully or the perceived success is not so much of a success after all. For example, the person to whom I was supposed to share told me that I could have identified myself as a blogger/writer – it hadn’t even occurred to me in the first place! I never thought of myself as one – even though I am now in the 10th year of blogging. Some of these I write because I think about it too much. This same blogpost about memory – I had thought about it at length, even more beautifully I think, 2 days back while trying to sleep – didn’t get to write then. So it was hatching in my mind and now getting birth in an artificial way compared to the original form. Other than that I don’t know why I even write and the writing as such is far inferior to those that I admire.
 
The only thing that I could say was I felt proud of having reached so far in my life, just being here. It was true.
 
I remember telling someone that I have no ambition and getting a reply that it is not good to have no ambition in life. But it was true. I didn’t have a grand design, I just went with the flow. I believe life so far was a random billiards game where one hit of a ball ricocheted on other and kept it going in its natural flow.
 
I remember getting introduced to computer in 8th standard. I remember that I liked programming, in VB to start. I had written a set of programs where I could draw intricate patterns – a circle within which a pattern is drawn, using some formulae to make it symmetric, it could create different patterns with different inputs and in different colors. I remember that I was very fond of drawing and water coloring such patterns in my drawing book those days. But I don’t remember how I wrote it, whether I chanced upon the logic or I devised it ingeniously. I remember after a long time, trying to write the same program and struggling with it.
 
I remember that I was physically sick after cutting open a cockroach – the last time I did that. I never went back to the labs after that. Hence the ball changing its direction towards maths and engineering. I remember that I loved maths – so much so that, I had ignored other subjects. I remember being almost at the verge of tears after engineering entrance exams when there were so many questions from some obscure topic which I don’t even remember now. I remember coming out of the exam hall and meeting my teacher in the grounds.
 
I remember someone telling me that I should have opted computer science rather than electronics since that is where the jobs are – just after I gave in my choice and took admission. How I wish that advice was strong enough and on time – atleast my 4 years of engineering would have been remembered. As it stands, I don’t remember anything that was taught in Electronics engineering.
 
I remember the day before Infosys interview, when I first encountered Shakuntala Devi’s puzzle book. I remember trying to solve those puzzles with a bunch of friends – next day, I was in such a flow during the test that I remember somehow that I scored the highest in the test that day – don’t know if it is the right memory, but that’s how I remember it.
 
I remember that getting into mainframes in Infosys – I remember that I liked mainframes and that I somehow was getting good at it, don’t remember what I liked exactly. I remember moving to a Java project next and arguing passionately with someone about how to design, person whose name came up quite accidentally two days back. I remember moving to a package implementation next and being told by my DM that I am like Hanuman who doesn’t know his strengths, so go and debug an Oracle Forms issue even though I haven’t seen Oracle Forms before.
 
I remember coding feverishly at night, in total panic that I am losing control, trying to fix a data migration in production which was fully designed by me – with a customer in phone on the other line. Then the same customer contact giving me a Baby Shower party with so many gifts and song written about me by one of her team members – I had forgotten about that. That is a happy memory, except that the system that I built and supported didn’t last too long, project getting awarded to a competitor. And then sitting in the lobby with the same customer, asking whether I would like to quit Infosys and join them. Even if I didn’t show it, I must have felt proud of being considered valuable enough to join them then.
 
Now I guess the memories are coming thick and fast and I should stop – to not disturb any other memories remaining which may still stay pure for longer time.
 
One last – in between all these randomness, I definitely remember meeting my wife in Infy – another swing of the billiard ball..:) So yes, even through a series of accidents, I have reached so far, which in itself is a big thing. 

banning cricket

I don’t watch cricket these days. It just stopped. There is no urge, no excitement about upcoming matches, no interest to follow, no interest to read. I wonder how a childhood passion could die like that, a slow death, didn’t realize until one day I don’t feel like looking at even the headings in newspaper. I still open the last page of the newspaper to the sports page after scanning the front page headlines – but eyes don’t stop at cricket news. Is it a sign of growing up – don’t know. Due to a feeling settling in, that it is all a show, few talented and overpaid and over indulged super stars being careless? Is it sign of an era passing with Dravid and Sachin? Is it over commercialization with 20-20, IPL, scandals and love of the game dying with it? Or is it being a family man not having time to watch long games?
Whatever it is, it was probably unimaginable few years back. I am not good at playing cricket. My bowling has a hint of chucking it seems, so had tried bowling with my left arm. I never get the timing properly when I bat. While fielding, I was terrified that the ball might pass through me to the boundary. High points of my cricketing “career” has been these – I believe I have a very good reflex, I had dived reflexively to take a cool catch behind the stumps, scraping my elbows – that was a wonder moment from school days. Playing for hours alone with a coconut leaf stump (“madal bat”) for a bat, throwing the ball against the boundary wall at home, hit, collect and repeat – during high school days. Another catch that I took from close quarters by sticking out my hand at a hard knock without even me knowing that I extended my hand – this during Engineering college days. Having proper stumps and bat, waking up early in the morning to walk to Medical College ground to play – those were nice memories during Engineering college days. Hitting two fours, or was it only one, in three balls ever faced as part of Electronics B Team in College tournament. Thereafter it was even further downhill after I joined Infy – getting run out for 2 runs by a guy striking with a direct throw from improbable angle, getting hit for six for all six balls in a cubicle cricket match which was very humiliating – premature retirement was better choice.
But watching cricket games and commenting about it to hearts content – you don’t have to be a star player for that. I had my fair share, during the glory days of Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Kumble etc. Reading ball by ball commentary, cricinfo articles, combing through score boards and knowing enough statistics to show off during game analysis over lunches and teas. Those are also over now.
Fast forward to now. I stay in a flat/apartment. There are bunch of kids here, enough to make teams. They have standard branded bats, some of them go to coaching sessions wearing whites and with full gear. We have very little space in the flat. They play there, sometimes even with cricket balls. There are continuous complaints by residents on cars getting scratched. Neighbor’s roof tiles got broken multiple times and their privacy intruded by kids going in and out all the time – they started scolding the kids and kids give it back too. Neighbors say that they have videos of kids using swear words not even used by grown ups these days – they are exceeding expectations in every field. Local councilor got involved and finally police. As responsible adults, we banned cricket within the compound. Parents are so protective of their one or two precious kids that some of them don’t believe their kids can even swear. One of the parent’s solution was to construct a cricket practice net around the flat. He took the issue so far that now the resulting issues are with police and district administration. I have come truly a long way from the “madal bat” days to getting upgraded to dealing with so called “privileged upper middle class” wanting to construct even cricket net in residential premises so that the kids for whom they earn hard earned foreign currencies can play peacefully. Banning cricket is such an easy solution.
Only consolation is that, now after successful commercialization of Kabaddi, the kids have started playing that for the first time – but in true modern style, bending and moving like professionals – not the “naadan” kabaddi we used to play in school grounds. 

murmurations


After a disappointing world cup final and 3 hr of sleep the previous night, I slept peacefully last night for 8 hours. The morning ritual these days is checking mails immediately after gaining some consciousness, today learned a new word first thing in the morning – Murmuration. I thought that was a made up word given as title to newsletters these days. Finally asked Google and watched some incredible videos of nature’s ballet in Youtube (nature’s dance and man’s music). Got hooked and continued watching and reading on these birds. Some interesting things about this phenomena

          This is often reaction to presence of a predator like Hawk or Falcon. Threat can be a great motivator.
 
          Research says it is called “scale-free correlation”.
“The change in the behavioral state of one animal affects and is affected by that of all other animals in the group, no matter how large the group is. Scale-free correlations provide each animal with an effective perception range much larger than the direct inter individual interaction range, thus enhancing global response to perturbations. Our results suggest that flocks behave as critical systems, poised to respond maximally to environmental perturbations.”
I wonder if this is similar to something going viral – positive or negative. Like spreading ideas – like Modi effect sweeping India or the Arab Spring – perception change getting more range through social media.
 
          Each bird is reacting to the birds nearest to it – it seems one bird’s movement only affects its nearest seven neighbors.
"Interacting with six or seven neighbors optimizes the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort".
Interesting way in which one change affects the others closest to it.
 
          “Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.”
Tipping point, critical transition – is the iron hot enough? J
 
          “Surprising as it may be, flocks of birds are never led by a single individual. Even in the case of flocks of geese, which appear to have a leader, the movement of the flock is actually governed collectively by all of the flock members. But the remarkable thing about starling flocks is their fluidity of motion. As the researchers put it, “the group respond[s] as one” and “cannot be divided into independent subparts.”
Interesting to note that there is no leader who initiates the change in direction.
 
          “When one starling changes direction or speed, each of the other birds in the flock responds to the change, and they do so nearly simultaneously regardless of the size of the flock. In essence, information moves across the flock very quickly and with nearly no degradation. The researchers describe it as a high signal-to-noise ratio.
          This scale-free correlation allows starlings to greatly enhance what the researchers call “effective perceptive range,” which is another way of saying that a starling on one side of the flock can respond to what others are sensing all the way across the flock—a huge benefit for a starling trying to avoid a falcon.”
So one condition of bringing about a murmuration is to reduce signal to noise ratio. How do we play “pass the message” without completely losing it?
 
Good links:-

caring about work

This weekend I was re-reading "Zen and art of motorcycle maintenance" after a gap of probably 10 years. I wanted to check whether with me being more "mature", if I understand it better – more on that later. One particular incident was kind of a coincidence.
In the morning it was raining heavily – Monsoon is a week early. It was raining with the sound of a speeding train. I was reading a passage in the book about how people has a block with technology, willfully ignores and puts up with a problem since it needs them to bother about technical details to solve it. Author was recounting an experience of taking the motorcycle to a shop and getting it back in an even worse shape – people not caring about what they do, being in a hurry, not diagnosing the problem right, not bothering to test, taking it too light, being sloppy with work. I also haven't done much with my own car, never tried to fix anything myself other than changing a tire maybe – I was thinking if there is a class somewhere on basic car maintenance or should I learn it online etc.
So in this rain I had to drive back and forth ferrying my daughter to her keyboard lessons, buying gifts for upcoming birthdays etc. My windshield wiper was behaving strangely – the one on the driver side was colliding with the other and getting flipped on the side and getting damaged. Last year around this time I had a worn out wiper and had taken a long drive to Athirapalli waterfalls and into forest routes beyond it when it was raining throughout – that left a permanent line in the windshield. So this time i didn't want to repeat the mistake. Initially I thought it was due to length of the wiper blades, overlapping, adjusting it in anyway didn't fix it. Finally the driver side blade stopped moving after one sweep and in the next iteration went outside in same direction.
I scouted for the usually Car Accessories shops, most of which was closed on Sundays. In recent years accessory shops have boomed here, there must be more such shops than ladies cosmetic shops now. Finally found one, there was a guy sitting in Sunday mood – he took a look and said the wiper was not inserted correctly in the first place and it was lengthier and anyway it is broken. He had a newer style wiper which was twice as costly, but said would last more – typical of the service done with car dealers now, bunch of new guys who doesn't care to fix anything, solutions are always to replace only. He put in a couple of new ones. It had the same problem. I thought the wiper blade was bent when it got stuck against the other one earlier – this guy was having none of it, he replaced with different length blades and test continuously with same results. Then he said my wiper itself is faulty, pointed to some misalignment and would need replacement.
The book says this about such an experience which seemed apt..
The radio was a clue. You can't really think hard about what you're doing and listen to the radio at the same time. Maybe they didn't see their job as having anything to do with hard thought, just wrench twiddling. If you can twiddle wrenches while listening to the radio that's more enjoyable.
Their speed was another clue. They were really slopping things around in a hurry and not looking where they slopped them. More money that way...if you don't stop to think that it usually takes longer or comes out worse.
But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard to explain. Good-natured, friendly, easygoing...and uninvolved. They were like spectators. You had the feeling they had just wandered in there themselves and somebody had handed them a wrench. There was no identification with the job. No saying, "I am a mechanic." At 5 P.M. or whenever their eight hours were in, you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work. They were already trying not to have any thoughts about their work on the job. In their own way they were achieving the same thing John and Sylvia were, living with technology without really having anything to do with it. Or rather, they had something to do with it, but their own selves were outside of it, detached, removed. They were involved in it but not in such a way as to care.
I had switched to a local mechanic last year after such bad experiences with dealers – once I went to change a tail lamp, the guy locked the keys inside the car, then changed tail lamp but broke the indicator, I had stopped going to dealers after such. So I called this mechanic – being a Sunday, was skeptic if he would be around. He picked up, asked me to come over. He has a garage in front of his home, very hands on, doesn't speak too much more than necessary, extremely professional and very fair in dealings so far and he explains the diagnosis and fix usually – I used to think he worked somewhere abroad earlier and now keeps busy in his retirement.
I took the car to him, he came out and took a look, went in and came with a wrench, tightened the nut at base on the wiper assembly and asked me to turn it on – it worked perfectly. His explanation was that the nut had come loose a bit, blade was moving slower than the other causing the other one to catchup with this and get blocked – driver side blade has to have more length anyway since it should cover more area, so that is normal.
It is easy to put it down to experience. But there is value to being hands on, caring about work, putting in time, having patience and taking pride in what we are doing. 

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