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Posted on: Saturday, 09 January 2016 by Rajiv Popat

After having finished a challenge for my body in 2015 where I ran two half marathons in the same month, the next goal I plan on setting for 2016 is hitting the gym at-least 4 days a week. But this post isn't about the body. It's about the mind.

Fitness and books; two things I spent my entire school life not liking and then as soon as I finished my school life and started my work life these exact same two things slowly became things that I fell in love with. I think this says something about our education system and how we introduce our students to topics like Fitness and reading but I'd rather not touch that topic today.

For the last few weeks I've been looking for something that challenges my mind and what would be more appropriate than a marathon for the mind after two half marathons for the body?

I've been looking this thread in Reddit and this post on Life Hacker about reading 52 books a year. We're not talking about skimming books. We're talking about reading a book cover to cover and relishing every page of the book. A book a week continuously for 52 weeks is nothing less than a marathon for the brain.

To make things even more interesting I will try to read all 52 non-fiction books which actively and creatively feed my mind with new knowledge, insights and information.

And I'll blog about most of what I read.

I do realize that a goal of this size is pretty similar and involved (if not more involved) than committing to running a marathon; which is why; as the year rolls over I've done considerable planning for this goal.

But how do you plan and prepare yourself for a fun goal like this?

Here's how:

  • You start by picking at-least 10 to 20 books that think you would love reading and put them on a list (personally I use a Google Keep checklist) - that way you have enough material to stop worrying about and constantly finding new books to read and you are good to go at-least for the first 2 to 3 months; which gives you enough time to find other connected books and add them to your list as you go.
  • You enroll either in library or find a source that would be able to provide you these books at a cheaper (or near free rate) with as little wait time as necessary. Preferably a library lets you carry two books at a time and keep them at-least for a period of two weeks. Or Kindle lending which again forces you to return the book in a week.
  • You need to budget for the books that you don't find anywhere if you plan on buying them; especially e-books and audiobooks. Save up for these books and keep that money aside so you don't have to think twice before buying books you can't find in a library or with cheaper Kindle sharing.
  • You need to start taking some active time out to do the reading.
  • You need to start carrying the books with you everywhere you go - either hard copies or start using your kindle or phone or tablet or your i-pod (for audio books) so that you can read in any idle time you find at work and in personal life.
  • You need to cut down on gossip time and learn not to take up useless commitments during the weekends.
  • You need to get into the habit of reading not just for the sake of reading but reading with deliberate practice so that you can learn from the book and then talk about the book. Read, learn, take notes, form opinions about the book,  share what you've learned from the book and practice active immersion as you try to put some of the ideas you pick up from each book into action in your own life.

Why take up a challenge of this sort? Well, this question has an answer which is very similar to how you would answer the question of why anyone chooses to run a half marathon, a full one or why anyone climbs a mountain.

It's hard, it's challenging and it has it's own intrinsic rewards.

When I committed to running a half marathon, I loved to run for a few miles every week. I've been doing that for years. For months I hesitated with the idea of committing to run a half marathon because I was scared that a commitment of that sort would take the fun out of running and turn it into a chore. On the other hand, what the goal actually did was completely different.

It made be a better runner. I learned how to push my body and my mind, to get myself out there and run on a schedule. I read about the science of running, the right forms, the right stride, the right techniques and I learned that sometimes, just pushing yourself to run, even when you are not in the mood, actually makes you feel really good once the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin kick in to take you through runners high.

By the time I hit the half marathon month, I was not focusing on finishing it but rather focusing on doing a good time and running better.  I ended up running two half marathons in two weeks rather than the one that I had initially planned. One was done with really good timing, the other wasn't all that great; but both were fun and both taught me things about my body and mind that I never knew before. From nipple chafing, to blisters, to cramps - as I tried to beat my own timings during practice, I learned the art and the science of respecting the limits of my body and then over-coming them slowly - not once, but twice in two week period.

I have both fun and serious goals and challenges set out for 2016. Reading 52 books in 52 weeks and learning something new from each of these books happens to be one of them. If you're an avid reader I encourage you to join the Reddit thread or any book club that does similar challenges and enjoy the pleasure of words as they transform your mind. If nothing else; I expect this challenge to be fun and to teach me things about my own mind that I never knew before.

What are some of your challenge fun challenges 2016? What are you planning on doing this year that is more than 'scratching the surface' of your capabilities and getting out of your house and your comfort zone? Hope you set high, interesting and fun-filled goals for the next year and you achieve more than what you actually set out to accomplish! Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous 2016 ahead.

posted on Saturday, 09 January 2016 13:05:12 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, 15 August 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Children are absolutely amazing when it comes to taking chances and moving away from the realms of mediocrity. They are also seriously kickass when it comes to the idea of learning things without measuring the exact ROI from learning those. They are good at having fun.

I have had the pleasure of spending some time today with my nephew where we ended up doing a mini research which started with my ADHD driven mind easily getting confused with a kid's question and giving in to countless digressions.

Here is how it begins:

I am in the process of trying to think of an idea to post. It's one of those hours of the day where I crave silence. Serious silence. Varun, who coined the name of this website and is about eight now, walks with his PSP in his hand and is playing a soccer game. I tell him to lower the volume. He does. I tell him it is silence zone and a little bit of quite is good for his brain. Fifteen minutes of silence follows.

Then before I know it, he is goggling videos on the Egyptian history on YouTube using my laptop. I have been removed from my very own laptop by the sheer brute force of an eight year old. We are both watching a YouTube video which is talking about Egyptian history. The video casually mentions the length of River Nile. Now how do you take six thousand six hundred and seventy one kilometers and explain it to a eight year old? Hmm.

So, let's begin with what he knows. He knows the distance between two stations of a local subway. He thinks he can guess the distance between the two other stations. So we Google the distance. Turns out, it is seventeen kilometers. He thinks that is a lot of distance.

Now translate the distance of Nile in terms of number of trips that he would have to do between these two stations. The number of trips roughly equates to: 392.4117647058824 trips. He gets it. Totally.

Now let's Google the speed of the subway in our part of the world.

Before you know it two strange minds are deeply submerged in solving a problem. Our research is taking us to corners of the universe where I would have never even dared to go alone and for those of you who might be interested in this super secret research of ours, read on people.

First of all, we now have the time it would take if you were to travel 'through' Nile using our local subway. By the way, there is a huge disagreement between me and my nephew on whether the right word to use is 'through' or 'across' because depending on the direction and angle you travel in the word to use varies. Anyway, I digress, from Egyptian History, to Nile, to Mathematics, to English my ADHD is now playing tricks with me so we decide to focus and complete the research.

We have the details worked out, which we do not have a plan to publish but here are the end results:

  1. Time to travel through Nile using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 9 days 6 hours 14 minutes 24 seconds.
  2. Time to travel around the earth using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 55 days 15 hours 50 minutes 19 seconds 19 milliseconds.
  3. Time to travel milky way using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 3805175038 years 18 days 21 hours 19 minutes 48 seconds.

We thought of handing this over to the discovery channel and letting them publish it but then we figured that since this is our hard work, we should just publish our research on my website and continue to hold the copyright of the research.

Are we sure if the numbers are one hundred percent correct? Have we accounted for all variable factors when we drill down till milliseconds? If you are still reading this and are wondering what is the point of this post, let me tell you that you have missed the whole point already.

If you are interested in buying our research results, we are not interested in selling them. Thank you so much anyway.

Having said that if you have your very own research we (where 'we' stands for my nephew, me and a couple of really close friends) would love to hear about it. Seriously.

posted on Sunday, 15 August 2010 22:58:23 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Saturday, 01 May 2010 by Rajiv Popat

I have never really discussed my ADHD openly until recently. It was also not until recently that I started talking about taking active and conscious steps to work around it. But then I have been working around it for years.

I have always been a vicarious reader of books connected to philosophy, the human mind, business or management. Poems have been something I have liked ever since school days and I could practically recite scenes from the William Shakespeare play I was studying.

I love books but then it took me years to figure out why I read a few books end-to-end in just one sitting and why I just could not gather enough focus to even browse through others end-to-end in spite of the fact that I desperately wanted to.

I either fell asleep way too randomly or I just quit reading them half way through.

ADHD Is Not About Attention Deficiency

For anyone who has browsed through the basics of ADHD if there is one thing qualified doctors often tell you, it is that ADHD is not about deficiency of the ability to gather attention. As a matter of fact, folks with ADHD tend to be much more attentive than their normal counter parts when they are paying attention. Having said that, ADHD is about the deficiency to 'voluntarily' focus your attention on something.

Put simply, your mind silently-and-quietly almost sub-consciously decides the things that it wants to pay attention to and the things it wants to ignore. Once it does that, no amount of convincing usually tends to work.

Of course you know exercising is good for your body, of-course you know that reading classics is a great way to improve your writing skills but if your brain has flipped the switch on the side of not doing it, chances are you wont be able to give enough attention to the thing to get it done.

Listen Don't Read.

When it came to Outliers, when I was reading it, you would find me with a hardbound copy of the book on my way to commute. If you caught me at a bus or a cab chances were that I was reading it. I completed the book within about a couple of weeks, reading it on my commute to office. 

Atlas shrugged has been in my list of favorite books for years. Having said that, here is a deep dark secret. I was never able to complete the book without skipping huge number of pages in the middle. Lets face it, the book was seriously hard to focus on.

Then then the miracle of a life time happened. I don't know exactly when or how this happened. As far as I remember I just bumped into an audio book and decided to download it. I was hooked on to the idea. My MP3 players started having physical scars because of overuse and it was practically next to impossible to see me on my way to office without a pair of headphones on.

When I went through my first audio-book of atlas-shrugged there was very little skipping. I started remembering and stumbling upon parts of the story that I did not even know existed. I started remembering incidents from the book, I started remembering the names of characters, phrases and writing techniques way better than I had ever remembered by reading the book multiple times over.

There were a certain kind of books that I could have read, for everything else, I almost instantly started preferring audio books. Then came a realization that I happen to be 5x to 10x more attentive and receptive to learning when I am listening to stuff rather than reading it.

For me audio books were like a conversation. My mind was suddenly focused and soaking in words like a wet sponge as I sat down with eyes half closed in a moving bus speeding on its way to my office.

My mind, it seems had pre-decided that while it was okay to listen through a version of the Da-Vinci-Code it was a criminal waste of time to flip pages of a text book and even try to read it.

Classics, literature, travel related books, love stories - the horizon opened up and I was reading, or should I say listening to everything and anything I could lay my hands on. Slowly, as I listened more I also started grabbing hard copies of these and I started reading them occasionally as well.

I had similar issues with long-winded emails which I often found pointless to read. Proof reading my emails, which were generally long was also painful. Editing the blog posts I write was a huge problem as well, because no matter how many times I proof read them, they would typically have a couple of mistakes. Besides proof reading them sounded like a boring chore as well.

Then one fine day the realization dawned unto me with divine intervention, that I could in-fact use the inbuilt engine of Microsoft word to read aloud what was written on screen. In the first few days of doing that, proof reading emails or blog posts like this one wasn't suddenly all that boring or difficult. I actually started liking it and getting done with just one round of review.

The point of this post, is a rather simple one. If you think you have ADHD, having issues with paying attention while multi-tasking and are having a hard time reading a certain kind of material, don't try to force yourself too hard to read it. Go grab an audio book or an audio version of the same content. If you cannot find the audio version, drop the content into Microsoft word and have it read aloud to you by the text to speech feature of Microsoft word.

Of better still, if you can afford it go grab a copy of text aloud with a few natural voices from AT&T and have your emails or word document read out to you. See if you can focus any better. If you suffer from ADHD and are like me, chances are that you will love audio and will soak in much more content than what you will absorb if you were reading the same content. Chances are that you will actually love audio. Try it.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Saturday, 01 May 2010 20:30:00 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, 28 March 2010 by Rajiv Popat

One of my earlier posts was our first announcement for TEDxCalcutta. I absolutely enjoyed and loved being a part of the event. Besides the speakers, who were of-course amazing and absolutely fascinating one of the things that I also loved about TEDxCalcutta was the participants who attended the event. We had folks from all corners of the world and all walks of life doing amazing things which were not just innovative but hugely inspirational.

During the event I was able to connect to a few participants and get a conversation going about some of the genuinely inspirational and innovative work that they were involved with.

As we work on editing, publishing some of the speaker videos and deciding a schedule which will be used to upload the talks on the website, one of the additional things that we want to start as a parallel thread is listening to you.

If you are working on something that is ground breaking, genuinely innovative and at the same time is truly inspirational, if you have an idea that you believe is worth sharing and if you would like to share the idea with a community of really smart individuals, we would like to know more about the idea.

We would typically prefer this to be in the format of an un-edited video where we have a casual discussion with you about your idea or your work, preferably in your work place but if you are working out of places where we cannot get someone to interview you, we can also do it as recorded podcast, a recorded webcast or web meeting.

The email to send in your ideas or more details about the work that you are involved with is ideas@tedxcalcutta.com. We will start looking at some of the emails that we receive and start prioritizing the order in which we cover these. We expect the first recorded cover to happen around mid April.

Its always a pleasure to come across smart people who inspire you and connect to them. This, is just one of our attempts at getting the discussion going around the year instead of just turning TEDxCalcutta into a once a year event.

Go ahead, send in your ideas.

We are waiting to hear from you.

posted on Sunday, 28 March 2010 21:00:00 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [3] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, 21 March 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Those of you who follow my twitter handle are probably aware of my involvement with TEDxCalcutta.

The last few days we have been working really hard in organizing the event, picking the right participants, getting the right speakers and doing a truckload of work that is associated with organizing an event.

The event was an absolutely stunning experience which ended up teaching me much more than what I had initially expected.

If you are reading this and you were an organizer, a speaker or a participant, here is big fat thank you for being associated with the event. We were touched by your involvement with the event, the passion and the encouragement that you guys have given us.

As a small team of organizers start working towards post-event activities like publishing the videos and getting you to give a feedback about the event, some of us have already started thinking about how we make the next year's event even better than this year.

Pictures and videos of this years event coming soon.

More information about the next years event will also start coming out on the website in a couple of weeks. If you were there at the event and liked it, go spread the word. We look forward to having you at the event next year as well.

Stay tuned for more announcements.

We will be publishing them on the TEDxCalcutta website in the next few days.

posted on Sunday, 21 March 2010 20:45:00 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [5] Trackback
Posted on: Thursday, 30 August 2007 by Rajiv Popat

Malcolm Gladwell toys with the idea of “snap judgements” and how our brain makes snap judgements in his book - blink. He describes how one can learn the art of “thinking without thinking”. He calls this the art of blinking.

Some refer to this as “listening to your heart” or “gut feeling”. Others refer to this as “going by your instincts”; Malcolm, calls this “blinking” and presents the whole concept using a simple yet distinctly elegant and factual examples.

The book is full of tons of examples of snap judgements and a number of experiments which are eye-openers. I’ll never be able to do justice to them by wrapping them up in three lines but here's my attempt to tease you to go read the book. Some examples the book illustrates rather articulately:

  1. An individual realizing in the first minute of watching a statue purchased by a museum for 10 million dollars, that it’s fake, when a team of scientists takes 14 months of study and calculations to come to a completely wrong conclusion before buying it.
  2. Psychiatrics using the ability to blink and techniques for predicting how long a marriage will last just by listening to two people talk for less than 3 minutes about a topic which has nothing to do with their marriage.
  3. The ability to find out if a candidate is a right candidate for an the job, during an interview in less than a couple of minutes; sometimes even without talking to him.

Too much thinking is dangerous. Malcolm questions our traditional knowledge of how a lot of us take decisions:

And what do we tell our children? Haste Makes Waste. Look before you leap. Stop and Think. Don’t judge a book by its cover. We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making.

He warns:

But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgements and first impressions can offer much better means of making sense of the world.

He explains why we, as human beings, lean towards basing our decisions on calculations and data and then goes on to explain why this approach is fundamentally flawed and why too much deliberation, data and particularly calculations before taking decisions can be devastating at times.

The book starts with the same lines as Steve Job’s video on Life and Connecting the Dots (using a  follow-your-heart-and-intuition kind-of approach) and then this book goes beyond with Practical and eye opening examples. A must read that I would highly recommend for anyone who has ever hesitated about trusting his gut feeling. Even if you always go with snap judgements this book offers new insights and perspectives which are eye opening.

<Aside> Personally, my life has been full of snap judgements and this book offers support and reconfirms (in a different way), what I've always believed in. But this post, dear reader, is not about me or my life. It’s about snap judgements, so I shall try not to digress. Let's move on with the topic. </Aside>

As programmers we are supposed to blink all the time and yet there's only a really small group of programmers in our profession capable of blinking well. I see countless developers debugging through their code - line by line and working for hours when a 3 second blink, instinct, gut feeling (whatever you call it) would have told them exactly where the bug lies and maybe even given them major hints on how to fix it.

According to Malcolm, this power of blinking is not a special gift that only a few have. He believes it’s something all of us have.

But, as Malcolm puts it we often “override” our blinks with so-called logical thinking, facts and figures and take completely wrong decisions.

I see developers once in a while thinking too hard, wasting hours, to fix that nested if-else complication which has resulted in a nasty logical bug when all they need to do it go out grab a cup of hot chocolate, come back and blink!

Almost Ninety Percent of all performance related issues that I’ve fixed in my development career have been a result of blinking. A hunch about what is causing the system to slow down. All the research, data and figures have just been add-ons; at times, even a waste of time. A lot of times, the data and figures have also driven me in the completely wrong direction.

The concept of blinking seems to work in all aspects of life starting from taking the most complex of decisions, recruiting folks, to fixing bugs and logical errors in code.

Fellow developers and dear readers, when in doubt, Don’t Think - Blink!

(Now go get your own copy of the book! :))

posted on Thursday, 30 August 2007 15:42:36 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [3] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, 10 June 2007 by Rajiv Popat

There were a couple of folks who asked me what happened after the one-man-army post? Why did I stop writing? I didn’t. In fact, I’m back! And I feel light and awesome!

The Past couple of weeks were exciting, depressing, motivating and sofa king (to be read loud and very fast, repeatedly) educational that I felt like a baby who was taking his first baby-steps at learning how to walk.

Past couple of weeks was my first time at a lot of different things or for that matter, the first time where I did a lot of things, “differently” (depending on how I see it). A lot of things happened and that changed both my personal and professional life – faster than I could cope up.

So what were these few weeks all about?

  1. These weeks have been about watching near and dear ones sort out their problems and knowing completely, that there is nothing I can say or do to help them other than praying for them and standing by them - “if” they need me. 
  2. These weeks has been about realizing that at times I can do a people much more help by moving away rather than by being there during the most vulnerable and embarrassing moments of their life.
  3. These weeks have been about getting to know a few new people and a lot of people I already knew, newly.
  4. These weeks included having a long conversation which lasted for hours in the middle of a busy road and making a promise to myself that I would try to change parts of myself completely, after that conversation. 
  5. These weeks have been about seeking help from family and friends by waking them up in the middle on the night, night after night, and then keeping them awake all night in discussions. 
  6. These weeks have been about having my friends and family stand by me in all decisions and letting me know that what mattered most to them was my happiness. Everything else was secondary.
  7. These weeks have been about getting some very sound, timely and spontaneous advice, which came straight from the heart of friends and family. Advice that has always given me the hope and courage to make the crazy decisions I often make in life.
  8. On professional side, these weeks have been about having discussions with mentors and realizing that I can completely trust them to represent me, exactly as I would represent myself, without having any fear of being misquoted, misinterpreted or misunderstood.
  9. These weeks have been about dumping the excess baggage and developing stronger roots! These weeks have been about making difficult decisions about what is important to me and what is not and then letting the things that don’t mean much to me, go. It has then been about watching those things come back, all of a sudden. 
  10. These weeks have been about trying to become a better human-being on the professional side and trying to become a better person on the personal side.

I wish I could write more about the turn of events rather than just talk in riddles. But then, that would mean writing a very long post involving mundane details of my personal life. :) Rather than writing down and then remembering each and every incident, I would rather remember these few weeks by what they taught me and how they changed me.

I have a habit of versioning myself. After my last version (0.2.0) - this weekend has made me feel like a new me! I feel like the version 0.3.0 of myself was developed and taken to production in the past few  weeks. These past few weeks, as difficult as they were, will be very special to me because they taught me so much on both personal and professional sides that I feel like a baby again.

<Aside> For everyone who can make any sense what-so-ever out of this post, for everyone who talked to me these past couple of week (be it for my personal problems or be it for my minor problems on the professional side), I thank you from deep corners of my heart. Thank you! Thank you for being there. Thank you for discussing. Thank you for teaching me things I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for helping me become “Me 0.3.0” :)  </Aside>

These past few weeks have been about realizing that no matter how much I grow, I would always find myself on the road of life long learning where there'll always be something fundamentally new to learn. I will cherish every single lesson learnt in these past few weeks for life. Dear Reader, meet - "Me 0.3.0"! Hopefully, many more versions to come in future as I walk down this road of life long learning. :)

posted on Sunday, 10 June 2007 19:05:27 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [4] Trackback
Posted on: Thursday, 29 March 2007 by Rajiv Popat

I think it’s been more than a year since this incident happened. Which is when I had  written this and shared it out with selected friends and acquaintances on a collective blog I shared with friends at that time. Recently I was reminded by someone that I should probably post this out on my blog :)

For all the readers who are not familiar with Indian languages here are some words used in the story and what they mean.

“Jadu” is a special kind of a broom usually kept at Indian house-holds. Besides sweeping the floor this thing is supposed to have multiple other uses, like…

Hitting cockroaches hard enough to leave them unconscious, without killing them! :)

“Gangi” is Hindi-Language-Equivalent for a vest. So here’s the post - back from the old-days. Read on!

Some More Gangi Talk from Yesterday…

Yesterday was “sofa king” (to be read very fast without stopping) long and interesting - thought I should share it out for the sake of some creative speculations that you guys might have.

A Little background: Tuesday evening I see a big fat cockroach crawling on the walls of the bathroom of my hotel suite. That is when I realized that hotels in Texas don’t give a jadu with rooms… I missed my jadu then.

Anyways, I decided to use a "gangi", climbed up the bathtub caught the bugger walking high on the wall and left him on the stairs of the hotel so that he could conveniently go into someone else’s suite and bother them. Thought that was the end of it… turns out, I was “sofa king” wrong!

Yesterday morning, just when I was about to leave for office, I see a cockroach (the same one? Milan, a friend back from school days, suspects that it was a relative of the one thrown out on Tuesday, but I have my doubts – I mean, personally, I am inclined to believe now that with the years of evolution behind them these guys can easily find their way back to the bathroom of the suite from which they were insulted and thrown out! Can’t they?)

So I see him walking on the same high spot on the same wall! (I think he was back for revenge of the insult he had been subjected to a couple of days ago) Anyways, now the turn of events begin…

The plan was laid out – the primary weapon of attack that was so successful last time (the same gangi) will be used again and the rascal will be thrown right on the streets of Houston! So, I take the gangi and climb the bathtub again! Just as I was about the attack, the rascal decides to fly right on my shirt!!! Well, I did what anyone who hasn’t participated in fear factor would do – decided to RUN! But… I slipped from the bathtub instead.

In a desperate attempt to hold my ground I tried to catch hold of the bathroom curtain rod – which I thought, being made of solid steel, would be able hold my weight! Again, I was “sofa king” wrong!

The rod just decides to break into two pieces (that was a steel rod! I am not kidding here – albeit, it was hollow but it was steel! Makes me wonder if I am putting on weight or as ifte (another friend from school days) says, becoming - 'muscular' – Well, it breaks into two pieces, comes completely off the wall, throwing the curtain on the ground. This time, the cockroach decides to hide in the kitchen area! Right under a cabin!

Now my mind is multitasking with the primary thread being – Who the phu##$% pays for this?? The secondary threads all occupied by the cockroach who was still sitting there in the kitchen!

So, I decided to go to the front desk and tell them about the cockroaches! I thought everything would be fine now. Well again, I need not say by now that I was so… wrong!

Basically, I go to the front desk with all the 3 key cards of my room safely locked in the room!

So I go and tell them – “Houston, there’s a problem” – and the lady out there starts filing a ticket for me assuring me that they will “look into it”. Then I broke the news that I have already wreaked their bathroom rod while I myself was trying to “look into it”.

Now I am taken a bit seriously. A guy is sent with me to the room. When I ask for an extra key I am told that I’ve already used up the keys the hotel had for my room – but the guy can open the door for me. Good! I think… once I get in I can get all my keys.

On the way up (we took the elevator to go to the second floor) I have a hard time describing to the guy what a cockroach is. Not sure why – but looks like the guy has never heard the word cockroach before (or maybe I am just not articulate enough). Interesting.

So he finally opens my door for me using his master key (or whatever). Luckily for me the bugger is still sitting in my kitchen! Jackpot! My point is proved! I point at the bugger and tell him – “these” (whatever you want to call them) have been coming to my room for the past 2 days!! Now he gets it or in his words – he sees what I mean. He bashes the bugger with his handkerchief and throws it out.

He tells me that there’s been some renovation going on and they’re spraying insecticides around the building so cockroaches are moving in. At the end of the day...?

I get all my three keys, I go to office… some really exciting work going on these days which makes professional life fun (but better to leave the technical mumbo jumbo out) … and when I am back I can see my room all cleaned up with the insecticide sprayed in the entire suite! And the broken rod with the curtain… it’s still lying under my sink.

posted on Thursday, 29 March 2007 09:45:09 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1] Trackback
Posted on: Monday, 25 December 2006 by Rajiv Popat

Here is wishing anyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year! It’s that time of the year again! Time for celebrations, rest, holidays, fun and above all, a time to get inspired!

A whole new year is near, and that itself, is a good reason to take a pause, look back and spend some relaxing time to plan for the year ahead. Personally, these times feel so very similar to those during my long 10+ hour flights, when the plane is standing silently on the runway and we’re all waiting for the takeoff; The plane staff are checking the pre-flight checklists, assessing the weather conditions, checking the flight-plans and we’re all ready to fly and get to where-ever-it-is we want to get.

Of-course, having a flight-plan for life is a very difficult. But, this is the time when most of us make New Year’s Resolutions before we take off for the year. Wikipedia states:

"The new year resolution is one example of the rolling forecast-method of planning. According to this method, plans are established at regular short or medium-term time intervals, when only a rough long-term plan exists."

Looking back at the History of New Year Resolutions, it was the Babylonians who started this whole concept. They believed that what a person does on the first day of the year will have an effect on that individual, throughout the year. The most popular Babylonian resolution was to return something they borrowed from a friend (usually, farm equipment).

Today, lists like the List of Top 10 New Year Resolutions seems to cover and claims to provide help with most of the resolutions that a lot of us tend to make these days. Then there are sites out there that also provide help in the form of a paid-service which is supposed to help you meet your New Years Resolutions. Are they effective? Honestly, I haven't tried any and hopefully, don't intend on trying them anytime in the future. 

Personally, I don’t find the whole idea of New Year's Resolutions very appealing. Most of the resolutions we tend to make during this time are way too optimistic and un-real. Maybe, that’s why they fizz out within a couple of months. I’m more inclined towards introducing agility into my life using Professional and Personal TODO Lists for Life and striking off items from these lists whenever life permits. I’m also into doing small and agile sprints of myself. I call this the “Your-Next-Version” approach.

The idea of versioning myself and then working for Self-Version started out during a great vacation this year when I spent a lot of time thinking about my plans of self improvements in the next 6 months. I wrote a lot about the things that I wanted to change and made a lot of so-called-resolutions. Then I announced in this blog that I was done doing an elaboration of “Rajiv 0.2” and construction would being soon and that people would notice the difference.

I’ve always said that too much Analysis doesn't really help and after posting about the problems with analyzing too much, I soon realized that I had ended up doing the same thing with my own versions. My idea of versioning myself and keeping constant track of the self-versions, could work, but if it was to work, it needed to be light-weight and not too-optimistic-big-plan-up-front kind of an approach. The approach was quickly tweaked to support agility.

Each version of “Me” would include just one or two new features. The features included in each version would be both simple and incremental - As an example, a feature could say:  

"Just because you can, don’t code for others. You’re not really helping them. Let them find their own answers – even if you know them already. Be a mentor, not a human search-engine!"

A version, typically consisting of not more than a couple of features, can take anything between a month to a couple of months to roll out and my life would continue as normal, except of course I would be really careful and serious about committing to and making just one or two features a part of my life. Once this was a habit, I would call this version complete. For the next version, I would move to next one or two features, which may be an extension of the features in current version that was just completed or something completely disconnected. This approach seems to be pretty effective till now.

This New Year, I suggest the Your-Next-Version approach as an alternate option to New Year’s resolution. "What’s the difference?" - You might be thinking. The difference is exactly the difference between Waterfall and Agile. A New Year resolution is too generic, long and waterfall-like. E.g. for my friends and colleagues who smoke, A typical New Year's Resolution is often something as generic as “Quit smoking” – (way too optimistic and most likely to fizz out within the first couple of weeks or maybe a couple of months).

With the Your-Next-Version approach, we tweak this slightly and just say - My Next Version / Sprint smokes a cigarette less than my current version. Whenever this is achieved and is a comfortable part of your life, you move to the next version / sprint where the features could be an extension of existing features (a couple of cigarettes lesser) or something completely disconnected. We’ve worked with quick sprints, releases and versions in the software world; isn't it natural to extend the same knowledge and use it to tweak ourselves?

Do you version yourself too? If not, doesn't a whole New Year seem like a good time to try this out? Keep your own versions small and keep them agile. Here’s wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, great Holidays and a beautiful New Year full of lessons, love, family-time, work, excitement, growth and lots of new, exciting and stable versions of your current self! :)

posted on Monday, 25 December 2006 17:17:58 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Thursday, 12 October 2006 by Rajiv Popat

Dad is a "Train-Person"; simply put, A Train-Person is an individual who takes a train when he travels from Point A to Point B. Period.

Other mere-mortals like me or for that matter, mom or even you, (if you are not a Train-Person) would do some So-Called-Analysis which would be usually based on a set of “worldly” questions:

  1. How far Point B is from Point A? - or vice-a-versa.
  2. How long will it take to reach from Point A to Point B by train? - usually counted in Man-Days (with a Capital M and a capital D).
  3. Are there other faster (and/or cheaper) modes of transportation? - e.g. metal things that move on 4 wheels or metal things that fly, (depending on what the answer to question number 1 works out to be)?

To a "Train-Person" these questions are nothing but trivial worldly details. A Train-Person sees the "higher picture"; A Train-Person will ask a completely different set of non-worldly questions:

  1. Is There a Point A?
  2. Is There a Point B?
  3. Is There a Train Between Point A and Point B?

But the "worldly" questions asked become profoundly important; especially if Point A and Point B are located somewhere in India.

As an Indian who occasionally reads the news-papers :) and along with the papers, the Advertisements of the crazy Discounts a lot of Indian Airlines offer, I knew for sure that there were cheaper and faster ways of getting to Point B. But we (mom and me) pretty much agreed to the Train Plan without any arguments. Mainly because:

  1. I don’t have get to have a lot of vacations with family – for the past few years I have been nowhere on this map, every time a vacation was planned - mostly work and American hurricanes (long story) have kept me ‘on the move’ and when I do return to India the holidays have usually ended. So, the "going on a vacation" part was more important than how we got there.
  2. You can’t convince a Train-Person that there’s a better way to get to Point B from Point A other than a train. It has never been done in History of man-kind. Never.
  3. And honestly (on a slightly serious note), I liked the whole idea of "enjoying you journey as much as your destination".
Long story short, we surrendered to the train person and boarded a train that would take us to Point B for an awesome vacation. The Train trip to the destination was "sofa king" (to be read very fast, repeatedly) lousy that I wouldn’t enjoy it even if I was on a highest dosage of Nitrous Oxide (a.k.a. Laughing Gas) that can be given to any two legged creature before that creature… anyways, I digress. The point is, the trip to Point B sucked! Why?

Other than Mom, dad and me, the train compartment we had boarded consisted of the following other “things” which happened to accompany mom, dad and myself:
  1. A Mommy thing – this thing was usually quite, barely spoke, but would fight for luggage-space of 9 people because Daddy Thing had paid his “hard earned money” to buy 5 tickets.
  2. A Daddy thing – with obnoxiously loud voice and sick jokes, which by the way, were so-not-funny.
  3. 3 Teenage things – all three of which, had something in common. A Taste for bad and loud cell phone ring-tones. I’ve seen people listening to some strange music, but ring tones!!? How can you listen to ring tones, even if you are just a... a... “thing”? And of course the use of ear-phones was so-not-necessary… Anyways, am I sounding mean here? I think I’ll leave it at that :)
The part of the trip that sucked the most was that these things happened to be in the same compartments as us. There was one good part to that train trip however – It Ended.

We Reached Point B. Took connecting buses to our final destination (my happy-place) and I had the best uber cool, rocking, relaxing and thought provoking vacation of my entire life (long story).

Good times slowly ended and it was time to head back to home to Point A to enjoy home, life-as-usual and interesting work. The return tickets had been booked and I was getting “prepared” for another lousy experience of having to spend another 38 hours with god-know-what kind of creatures and “things” which would share the train cabin with us this time.

But this time I was be prepared; with my MP3 player, Audio Books and the loudest set of headphones I could buy. At least sick jokes, mobile phone ring tones and requests for “a little bit more space” weren’t going to get me down after such a rocking vacation.

When we boarded the train Mom was concerned about the seats we had. Dad (being, the Train-Person) was concerned about all the other points between Point A and Point B (such as X, Y, Z etc.) in which the train was going to make brief stops and kept looking for an official Time-Table. I was concerned about the lousy company I was going to get and kept buying books just in case my Mp3 player lost charge. So, basically, all of us were... concerned.

After more than 38 hours we reached home. So, after my long rant about train-trips you would think that if I had a chance to choose between a flight and a train journey, ever again, I would choose the flight any-day, right? WRONG! Wait, I didn’t describe the train trip back home yet.

On the train journey back home other than me, the train compartment we had boarded consisted of the following “interesting individuals”:
  1. An incredibly lively girl who could speak on-and-on-and-on-and…and-on, for hours; Quite literally :). About sun-signs, face-reading, religious conversations, bhajans, jokes, cards, movies, travel (the list goes on). If you didn’t talk to her, when she was getting bored and if you were brotherly enough, you ran the risk of having her pluck a hair out of your head or hand to make you talk.
    If she was my sister I would feel proud (no offense to my existing cousin sisters :)). If I was concerned about recruiting guys for HR of any company, I would choose this girl with eyes closed.
  2. Her sister - who would ask questions, listen, explain what she knew rather well (I saw her giving some sound career advice to yet another individual) and was curious to know about things when she heard them. I casually mentioned the word Blog in a conversation and ended up describing what a Blog is and beyond.
  3. A Bubbly Girl who would laugh at jokes and then couldn’t stop laughing.
  4. Mom – Mom was “interestingly different” with these girls than she is with most other people in her first meeting. With most other people she takes a couple of days to break the ice (much like me). Here, she was singing bhajans, playing cards, talking, laughing away and having fun. We’ve (dad and me, well, at least me) never seen her get this friendly with people in the first meeting.
  5. Dad – He was putting his solid hold of English vocabulary to good use - the guy is a living walking dictionary and the reason why we never looked up the dictionary when we were young (we usually just asked him). There was this game of making words which start and end with a particular letter and Dad was in action!

During a short span on one day as the train was taking us home; people in the compartment (me included) were engaging into one or more of the following activities:

  1. Having conversations, cracking jokes, pulling legs. (Including my leg, which got pulled more than once :)).
  2. Singing bhajans.
  3. Playing court-piece - a card game (I learnt that I suck at it!).
  4. Career discussions and advice.
  5. More conversations, more jokes, more pulling legs.
  6. Stories about heart surgeries, discussion on recipes, face reading, sun-signs, studies… (Long list). 
  7. Gambling - not with real money, but with a deck of cards which everyone pretended was money.
  8. People teaming up to plan to steal my personal diary when I sleep (and then asking me if I was asleep and if it was OK to steal my diary) :)

This trip was the first time, since my school life, that I wrote my thoughts on paper and the first time in a long time, when I went anywhere for more than a week without my laptop. I paid the price for it by getting my legs pulled for using a paper pad :) – But a deal was struck.... They would have access to an “edited version” of whatever-it-is that I was writing and in return the idea of stealing my diary would be completely dropped.

There are very short extracts of the thoughts I was scribbling there 'embedded within this post' so I guess I’ve kept my part of the deal... "Technically" :).

The next day after a trip of 38 hours or so (albeit, it appeared much lesser than that) we reached Point A again. If I was to version myself and say that I was “Rajiv 0.1” when I started out for this vacation it would be ok to say that this vacation has been a solid Elaboration Phase for “Rajiv 0.2” – people will notice Major “design changes” as Construction begins :).

This was a vacation where I came back without a lot souvenirs or pictures but with many interesting stories. And the train trip back home? Well, that was an icing on the cake!

Moral of the story: When a Tain-Person tells you to board a train, you board a train. Chances are, in the end of the story, you won't regret you did what he told you to do. :)

posted on Thursday, 12 October 2006 14:41:26 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback