Archive for May, 2005|Monthly archive page

Calmer, but still festering

The contents of a “Madras Pavilion” South Indian Thali considerably lighter, and my stomach considerably fuller, am in a better mood than I was a couple of hours ago. My emotions have proceeded from shock (on last count, at least 16 of my folders have ceased to exist), rage (information painstakingly collected / created over the last 12 months has moved to some electronic twilight zone, never to be seen again, except perhaps in dreams, nightmares or alcohol induced stupors), relief (thank God that I lost the stuff that I did, and not other way-more-important stuff), self-pity (why did it have to happen to me?), guilt (what if it’s bad karma – I have been ignoring friends way too long, claiming to be dying at work, and this is all nature’s way of showing me that I cannot continue to use work as an excuse to not live), to, finally, acceptance (this is a bad thing to’ve happened, but hey, it’s not the end of the world, and I still got my really important stuff, and yes, I WILL BACKUP from now onwards).

As I write this, I realize that this particular frustration wouldn’t have existed as short as a decade ago – at least not if you worked for a good old PSU in Hindoostan. My dad did not work with a computer till a few short years ago, and even then, he had folks who did the pecking at the keyboards – he didn’t personally work with a computer until he retired.

What would constitute a typical bad-day-at-work in those days? You type up a whole page just to make a typo in the very last word? The cyclostyle machine eats up your template / sheet thingy? The room with all your filing cabinets burns down? The dog eats your file? Having worked for just 4 years, it’s difficult for me to imagine a work place without computers.

Having said that, I admit I’m a technophobe. Till a few short years ago, I was writing letters – yes, those thoughtful, personal compositions you take the trouble to hand-write, find envelopes and stamps for, and yes, the most challenging bit – remember to post! After 2 years of getting nothing but emails in response, I gave up.

How has technology improved our lives? Yes, I know all about the savings in time and money and effort and what not. What I want to know is where is all this extra time & money I save by not doing things “manually” going? I work just as long as my dad used to, for even less money. Where are the “real” benefits? Can I say, “thanks to computers, I now get an extra hour of sleep every day” or “thanks to computers, I now get an extra week of vacation every year”? No – what I can say is “thanks to damn laptops, I can now carry my work with me on my vacation!” Yippee!

I did not take to reading off a computer easily. For months, I used to print stuff out, and my desk would be buried under old print-outs… I would print stuff out for work, and I would print out articles to read when I got home. And somewhere between drowning in loose sheets of paper with just the third and seventh pages of a great article, and, guilt over the growing conviction that I was wiping off entire rain forests single-handedly, I learnt to read on the computer.

And access to more stuff to read is about the only thing I’m grateful to technology for. I was able to read the New Yorker & NY Times & The Atlantic Monthly [before they went subscription-only :((( ], and The Guardian, and oh so many other fantastic newspapers & magazines even though I was living in a hole located somewhat close to Delhi – a place called Gurgaon (which has since considerably improved)… And now that I have moved to another hole located somewhat close to Dallas – a place called Frisco (which is not likely to improve in the near future), I can still find out things like Rahul Bose’s having a retrospective in Geneva (go Rahul!) or catch up with what used to be my Sunday morning routine – reading the magazine section of The Hindu – columns by Sevanti Ninan or Shashi Tharoor, and learning to avoid reading the horoscope (somehow The Hindu’s horoscopes never have the same this-is-crap-and-therefore-it-is-fun quality that Times of India so effortlessly achieves).

Ah well, everything has its good points and bad. And frankly, I’m just tired of it. I want life to be simple – what’s so bad about black & white? You either hate something or you love it. Yes, today’s incident continues to fester away in some corner of what’s left of my brain on a Friday night or rather Saturday at 1:30 in the AM. So, I will stop typing, turn off this Swedish movie (or whatever it is!) that’s been playing on IFC, put the pint of frozen vanilla yoghurt away, and hit the bed. I have a new issue of the New Yorker to curl up to.

Nighty night.

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DAMN ALL COMPUTERS!!!

I am in a foul mood. Was testing a new application (yes, I work for a software development company), and the silly application just deleted some 20 odd folders – MY FOLDERS on MY COMPUTER, WITHOUT my say so! Yes, yes, we should all back-up. But honestly, you don’t back everything up! I guess I should know better than to trust my own developers!

In fact, am so pissed off at technology right now that even blogging feels like a betrayal. I’ll stop now, and come back when am in a better mood.

Getting away from it all – for an evening.

Watching “The Return of the King” – extended version. Bliss. Yes, I have a ton of things to take care of – starting with the laundry (yes, the week end begins ;)… But how can I think of a life so boring as mine when Sam’s fighting the Shelob, Aaragorn’s on his way to Gondor, and Faramir may be burnt alive by the mad, bad and utterly delicious Denethor!!! Thank God for escapist fare – particularly when Peter Jackson’s at the helm.

Digression – today, I did the unthinkable – said Phil Jackson, when I meant Peter Jackson! Quelle horreure! I blame it all on my colleagues – a bunch of NBA crazed lunatics whose sole topic of discussion these past weeks has been the playoffs. I hate basketball – don’t much care for any sport, which makes me stick out like a sore thumb in this sport-obsessed land. As much as I resist, apparently, there is such a thing as passive absorption. Damn!
End of digression.

Returning to escapism – when I think about it, that’s probably the one thing I’ve become better at with age. The more “responsibilities” I acquire, the more “duties” that there are – the easier it is for me to – well, take a break. Lousy strategy – gets me into a shitload of trouble, which in turn makes me want to get away from it all even more than before. It’s just a crazy feedback loop, that’s fast approaching perfection…

I tried to give myself a pep-talk today. Just hang in there for 5 more years, and then you’ll have all the time in the world to stop and smell the roses. Yes, it sounded ridiculous to me too. You can take a deep breath and plough ahead for oh – a few months – but when the light at the end of the tunnel is years away, it’s just hard to keep the faith.

This is precisely the sort of moment when escapist fare is so appealing. Frodo & Sam seem to be in a far tighter spot than I, with many many more chips stacked against them and I take heart from it all. Especially, when I know that all ends well. Yes, Frodo is irreparably wounded by the war – but he does realize the dream of every 20 something – he retires young, and moves to the Elvish equivalent of the Seychelles. So, Eowyn might not get herself Aaragorn – but hey, ending up with Faramir ain’t that bad a deal.

Juvenile? Simple-minded? Just plain stupid? Sure. Does it change the fact that tomorrow am probably going to get chewed out at work? Not at all. But tonight, Tolkien & Jackson are as potent a combination as the best wine.

Adieu for now, I need to get back & focus my full attention on my anodyne for the weary heart & mind.

Bad could be good

I have suspected for sometime now that as the years go by, my brain is becoming more and more accustomed to outsourcing… I have exchanged paper and coin money for a plastic card. I have a phone to remember the numbers of all my friends. This phone also comes with a calculator, just in case by some miracle, I actually find myself in the tight spot of having to add 5.99 and 7.20.

This suspicion is accomapnied by another – that too many things are being dumbed down for me – don’t bother with a big fat boring book, dahling – just watch the movie! And the newspaper – why read entire articles, when you can read a “Quick” version which gives you 100% of the news using only 10% of the words? If that is too much for you, someone’ll text message the news to that phone of yours – using even fewer words!

But all is apparantly not lost. In his new book “Everything Bad Is Good for You” Steven Johnson explains how popular culture – long blamed for the “dumbing down” of man – may actually be responsible for making us more intelligent than folks a couple of generations ago. His argument – television shows are more complex now – more characters, and more threads to keep track of; video games that allow children to “experience” complex worlds… Methods traditionally considered fail-proof apparantly have far less learning value than we’ve always believed – homework, for instance, may have no value at all!

Interesting argument. Maybe if I live long enough, there’ll finally get scientific proof about the “inherent goodness” locked in tens of other things now considered bad – fried foods, high heels, sinful desserts…

In “Sleeper” Woody Allen enters the hospital for a routine gall bladder operation in the early 70s. When he expires on the operating table, he is cryogenically frozen, and wakes up after 200 years. When folks hear about his occupation (Allen’s character used to own a healtfood store – selling sea-weed and other “nutritious” foods), they’re amazed. They are surprised that this privmitive society hadn’t discovered the nutritive value of high fat, red meat and sugar.

Here’s to the future.

To Bryson

Just started reading Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country“. Returning to an old favorite like Bryson feels like putting on the t-shirt you bought 15 years ago – it’s faded, and the fabric’s [allegedly] completely worn off in a spot [whose existence you refuse to acknowledge, when your mom points this out to you] at just the place you can’t reach on your back, but feels comfortable in a way your 1500 rupee Arrow shirt never will.

The problem with taking your hobbies seriously is that somewhere along the line, well, you take things a bit too seriously. You start reading books you’re “supposed” to read, books that anyone who considers themselves a reader “ought” to read, books that other equally bookish-friends have “told” you to read, books you read as preparation for other books you intend to read, books you read as you lookout for another author who makes it worthwhile to stay up till 3AM …

In “If on a winter’s night a traveler”, Alberto Calvino gives an absolutely beautiful list of categories that books fall into into. His list goes for for almost 2 pages, but here are some of my personal favorites:

– Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow From Somebody
– Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
– Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
– Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
– Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread
– Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them

Anyways, I digress – my point – in the midst of all this reading, sometimes, without even noticing it, you can stop having fun. Until you pick up a trusted old fav like Bill Bryson. Or until you do discover another author who can make you turn up for work bleary-eyed, yawning, and grinning from ear to ear, purring at the mere thought of getting back home to the rest of the book. But the latter is pretty rare, so am grateful to Bryson.

Late last night, when I’d allowed myself 10 minutes to read, before my eyes closed by themselves, I found myself chuckling to Bryson. Here’s a sample:

The people are immensely likable — cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Rupert Murdoch no longer lives there. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

How can you NOT love this man?

Did Dante know about Microsoft Word?

Stuck in the middle of creating a document that is supposed to “make everything crystal clear” (at least that’s what the boss wants), I have spent the last hour tying myself up in knots. Am sorely in need of a shot of inspiration.

If writing involved muscle, there are chemical options to choose from. What does one do to jump start the brain? Caffeine? Have tried it already – no good. It’s only going to tip the scales a tad, as I try to choose between sleeping and worrying tonight.

Wilkie Collins is said to have put opium to very effective use…He claims to have written an entire novel when under the influence, having no recollection of actually writing it. Now, there’s an attractive thought. While there’s a very slim possibility that I might actually be capable of typing a sentence or two, I somehow doubt that post-laudenaum, my mind will ponder on the fine points of system architecture design, let alone produce a document that will “make everything crystal clear”…

Walking away from a problem, and coming back for a fresh look is supposed to help. In this case, I know that if I walk away from this desk right now, I may never want to come back. So that’s out too.

As the clock ticks away, the idea of smashing my computer, and telling my boss that my hard drive crashed, and I lost all my work (including some truly brilliant documentation), is becoming more and more attractive.

Surely, violence is no answer. Besides which, I will still have to produce the damned document tomorrow…

Arrgh! I just want to finish this silly thing, and be done with it already! Hell is a half-empty Word document.