0

Worth the Weight :)

Priyendra and I are very pleased to announce that we are growing our family. We are very excited about it and taking it very very easy. I am looking forward to a healthy growing baby and a smooth pregnancy. I have been so excited but I have decided to keep myself calm this time and not jump to tell anyone..yes anyone means even our parents. We will tell them after our first doctor’s visit.

There have been multiple times when I have wanted to tell my mom since she has asked me once too in the last one week but I have had to keep the conversation away by distracting her.

I am sure she will be very excited but just for the sake of the baby we are trying to play very very low key this time. Cannot wait to make these posts public :)

0

Changes

 

(An old post which I wrote but forgot to publish it :))

…and then back on track now.

Does it ever happen that life appears to change for you in a bat of an eye? At times, making professional decisions over personal ones triumphs and sometime we need to take stricter and more futuristic decisions for ourselves which means leaving behind everything and starting from scratch. I am not sure if it is such a big decision for many since it is such a common thing to quit your job and enter the start up world. But for us, it was a Herculean decision. Yes Priyendra decided to quit Google and move ahead in life.

This itself was a colossal step in his life. But the interesting thing is that in front of him lay two options. One was to stay here and join a 3 month old start up in a core field where he would continue doing what he is best at and the other was to move to New York and join the 2 week old start up as a CTO. Yes! moving to New York came as a big shock to me but becoming a CTO of a small company kind of lured my husband.

There was a lot of back and forth. Priyendra went to New York to visit the company too. Thank God he went before Sandy struck the east coast. He came back pretty excited about the opportunity and the weekend Sandy hit the mainland USA, it also hit our lives. We had almost decided that we are moving to the east coast. I had started looking up apartments and jobs. I was gradually trying to get excited about the move too by watching a lot of New York based chic flicks.

After a lot more thinking, some Math and some emotional decisions, we have decided that we will not move out of the bay area and stay here with Scaligent!

 

1

Happy 2013

I am alive and so is the world even after 2012 but there seems to be some kind of death of humanity. There is a lot going on on the map of the world: rape in India, killings in Sandy hook, slaughter in Syria and the natural disasters are not helping much either. There is a lot being said and written about all of this. Let me not go on that road but look forward to a better 2013 and look back at the happy times of 2012.

2012 was the year for traveling. We traveled to a new state almost every month. Out of the 50 states in the US, we traveled to the following states

  1. Arizona
  2. Texas
  3. Illinois
  4. Colorado
  5. Wyoming
  6. South Dakota
  7. Nebraska
  8. Washington DC
  9. Maryland
  10. Virginia
  11. New Mexico
  12. Nevada
  13. Oregon
  14. Washington

Not to forget we also traveled to the two ends of Canada. We went to Vancouver in February and to Toronto in September. It was a fun year since we got to make impromptu plans and end up in a state for the weekend. Our trips were short but very detailed. We would try and cover up as much land as possible.

One of my favorite trips was the trip to Mount Rushmore. Here I got to travel to the midwest. There was very little establishment in Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska (at least  through the parts we traveled) and that was the beauty to it. Driving through this place was a very calm and soothing experience.

Another highlight for 2012 was Priyendra quitting Google and joining Scaligent. He was very nervous initially but he is extremely happy and satisfied now.

2012 was the year for kids too. Two of my best friends had babies. I am so glad they are both here and I get to play with them very often.

Life is a series of frames and I always hope to capture each frame either in the camera or through pen but I always fail miserably at it. I hope 2013 can give me some stamina to capture as many frames as possible for this year.

 

0

April travels

People can call me crazy but the fun I had exploring the least populated areas of the US of A, was exhilarating. The grasslands in particular were spectacular. They might have been very (very very very…) vast but there was something mystical about them. Each time I would look outside the car in Nebraska, there would be a “wow” from my mouth uttered involuntarily.

Priyendra suggested this idea to drive to Mount Rushmore from Denver. I was thinking of New Mexico this month (April) but the idea of seeing 4 states in one trip appealed to me more than just one state.
We started our journey on the 27th of April. We spent the night in Denver. Next day morning after having a hearty (free ) breakfast at the hotel, we drove towards Cheyenne Wyoming. Cheyenne is the capital of WY but believe me, it just went by. WY is the second least populated state in the US after Alaska. We stopped at this big town of WY called Lusk (1400 population) where we decided to have lunch. Deeksha yelped for restaurants and found one highly rated place called “The Pizza Place”. I think it was rated by everyone who stopped by Lusk while traveling to Rushmore. The Pizza was hand tossed and genuinely worth 4 stars. And that was the end of east Wyoming for us :)

We entered South Dakota and trust me there were a tons of things to do in the Mount Rushmore/ Custer State Park area. We went to the Wind Caves which was one of the longest caves in America stretching to about 163 miles. It was a very different kind of cave since it was more like a 3D cave. We could go down some 300 steps to the second level of the cave. The cave was famous for its boxwork on the roof. Some 95% of the boxwork roof was found here in the wind caves. After taking a tour of the wind caves, we proceeded to drive through the Needles Highway. Now this was one of the very beautiful drives. Needles Highway (SD Highway 87 between Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake ) is located in Custer State Park in the Black Hills area. The 14-mile scenic highway winds through pine forest under a vista of granite spires called “the Needles.” The route snakes through several small granite tunnels. This was worth the 1.5 hours we spent here. We were supposed to do a hike called the cathedral spires hike but since it was flurrying, we could not go for one.

After this drive, we started towards the final aim “Mount Rushmore”. We reached the town of Mount Rushmore at 8 and all the restaurants close at 8 so we had to hurry up to get food. Without checking in into our hotel, we went to eat at the hotel called Ruby House Restaurant. I knew it would definitely offer some bread if there were no vegetarian options. The restaurant was kind enough to accommodate 4 people at the time of closing. We ordered our food after much discussion over what I like and what I should eat.
Priyendra thinks that I do not like spaghetti and I would prefer a bean burger over it. I was not keen on having a bean burger but Priyendra was twaddling that “AJ tumhara toh kat gaya:)
After dinner we went to see the well lit nigh view of the Mount Rushmore. It was good.

Next day morning again after a hearty (free) breakfast at the hotel, we went to Mount Rushmore memorial again. This time we decided to take the audio tour. One suggestion would be to avoid it :) It was long and spoke only about Gutzon Borglum and his family. He was the artist and sculptor behind the historical monument.

From there on, we moved into Nebraska driving though the Oglala grasslands of Nebraska. They were genuinely beautiful and till horizon one could see the grass. Eastern Nebraska does not seem to be very popular and is very thinly populated as well. The road from Nebraska to Colorado was a straight road and and for miles we could see the road ahead of us. We did take a take out pizza from Dominos in Scottsbluff (may be one of the only Dominos in Eastern Nebraska). We were to travel via Alliance and see the carhenge there but since we were short on time, we planned to take the faster route.
<br/>We managed to reach Denver a little ahead of our schedule and had enough time to try out the best ice-cream in town.
After a sweet ending to our trip, we started with our journey to SF: dropped our GMC, took a shuttle to the airport and discussed about the weirdness of the Denver airport.

Our route for the trip was:

View Larger Map

To check out the pictures, click here.

0

Dosa Republic

As it is said “The Third Time is the Charm” and it was the Jainwals turn to pick a restaurant for the third meeting of gravy gurus. We picked ‘The Dosa Republic’. This is a new restaurant by the famous food truck owners of Curry up now, Akash and Rana Kapoor.

I picked this one up from the “hot new business” section on yelp. I was pretty sure from the start that the food would be good since I have heard great reviews on the curry up now truck.

The food is like south Indian street food with some different cultural flairs to it. The portion sizes are large. Two people could comfortably share a dosa and a starter. We ordered all the starters on their menu.

I liked the manchurian idlis and the uttapam nachos. I did not care for the Panko Crusted Bharwan (Stuffed) Anaheim Chili but really liked the kale wada sambhar and their samosa bits.
After liberally splurging on starters, we ordered main course. Everyone ordered different items. The orders were as follows:

  1. Priyendra: Mysorean Masala
  2. Priyanshi: Sinhala with Paneer
  3. Atashi: Mumbaiyya
  4. Vishal: Mumbaiyya
  5. Arthi: Paisano
  6. Chirag: Vegetarian Tangra
  7. Deeksha: Purani Dilli
  8. Asim:Chilli Chicken and noodles.
  9. Aishwarya:Chennai onion masala
  10. Saumil: Purani Dilli

We had sweet dosas for dessert but the gulab jamun was unparalleled.
Almost all had fun eating the different kind of dosas but I thought Mumbaiyya was the best.

The decor of the place a little rustic with wooden tables and the menu on the chalk board somehow reminded me of Roma burgers in San Francisco. I think they also have their menu written on one.

Wish we had taken pictures of all the dosas. The only one picture that Aish took was :

.

The reservation was under my name and somehow the lady on the phone heard my name  “Apishi” :)

3

On Principles And Values

Principles and values are concepts that have often troubled me. I struggle to understand their meanings and the interplay between them. This essay articulates some of my thoughts in the area.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides the following definitions:

principle: a rule of conduct

value: something intrinsically desirable

An example of a principle would be “A country should not attack another country” whereas a value would be “peace”. Another example of a principle would be “One must help their neighbor in times of need” and an associated example of a value would be “happy cohesive communities”.

A few observations follow from these examples.

  1. A value is a desirable state of being. It is a quality that we wish was present in the world around us. An individual may uphold a value for a variety of reasons. For example, “peace” may economically benefit an individual, it may give them inner happiness, it may appeal to their religious beliefs or it may improve the odds of survival of the people they love.
  2. A principle is a rule that we adopt, with the goal of realizing some value. A principle that is not anchored in some underlying value is mere dogma.
  3. Principles can be both prohibitive (in that they disallow some conduct) or prescriptive (in that they encourage some conduct).
  4. Adopting a principle is a predictive action. We believe that adhering to a principle will lead to the value we desire. That should be the sole reason we adopt a principle. Often, our principles are motivated or derived from the cumulative collection of human experiences.

A principle seems somewhat of a mental shortcut. One can deduce the correct course of action, given one’s values and the specific details of the present situation, without having any principles at all. Such a person would constantly evaluate all courses of action open to them, and choose the one that ensures maximal realization of the values they care about. Such an exercise is of course quite onerous and therefore, our brains start learning patterns that occur frequently and we call them principles. To borrow an analogy from mathematics, values are the axioms that we hold and principles are theorems that are derived from those axioms.

This framework of principles and values appeals to me. But many people object to principles being cast as mere shortcuts! To them their principles represent something more sacred. They are inviolable holy rules.

My argument against such a characterization is that, given any principle I am confident that I can construct a hypothetical situation where the follower of the said principle would be unwilling to adhere to it. For example, many people hold the principle, “Abortion should be disallowed”. Such a stance is typically borne out of the value they place on “life”. However, one can easily imagine situations where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. Everyone except the staunchest of abortion-opponents agree that abortion is an agreeable course of action in such a context.

What about those that do not condone abortion even in such an extreme scenario? I conclude that either they dogmatically stick to their principle without knowing the underlying value they desire; or the value that motivates their opposition to abortion is not “life” but something else – most likely strong Biblical beliefs or other related positions.

This example serves to illustrate an important point. The reason for all moral debates is conflicting values. In the abortion case for example, the conflicting values in question are: “personal freedom of the mother”, “life” and “Biblical values”. How does one balance the relative merit of one value vs others?

All of us answer this question in our own unique ways. Some people evaluate the options from a solely personal perspective: which value appeals the most to me? Others take a more societal view and discuss the issue in terms of impact to society at large. Yet others tread a fine path where they balance societal benefit with personal appeal and opt for a combination of the two. Still more people invoke divine scripture to answer these questions. Is there any one method which is right?

I do not claim to have an answer to this question. But I do claim that this question is irrelevant. This is because the real world has its own way of resolving such conundrums arising from conflicting values. When a society chooses to uphold some value, it derives utility (either negative or positive) from adhering to that value. For example, “equality and freedom for all” is a widely-held American value and it makes America an attractive destination for talented immigrants.

This observation leads to a strange Darwinian landscape where countless moral beliefs, ideas, values are competing to be adopted by a society. And over time, societies adopt those ideas that bestow the greatest strength upon them. Or phrased slightly differently, if a society makes a sub-optimal choice and sticks to a value that makes it weaker, it ends up being dominated by another society’s value system that made a smarter choice. The claim is that over the long term, a more efficient system will win out over a less efficient one; the moral appeal of the values and principles notwithstanding.

I do not claim to have any concrete evidence for my theory of Darwinian evolution of ideas and societies. However, let me provide some examples which will hopefully persuade you that there is a kernel of truth behind the idea.

Consider the issue of equal treatment for women. Tremendous advances have been made in the past few decades at bridging the gap between men and women. Today, things are much better in the developed world, while a lot of work is underway everywhere else. Let us ask a hypothetical question: Could such progress have been achieved five hundred years ago? Or two hundred years ago? Hundred years ago?

My answer to these questions is no. Such progress was simply impossible in the past. And the reason doesn’t lie in some moral awakening that we have had in the past few decades. Somewhat surprisingly, the reason lies in industrialization. Industrialization has helped the cause of women in two distinct ways.

Firstly, the modern world places greater emphasis on the mental abilities as opposed to raw physical strength. Industrialization and the onset of machines reduced the utility of personal physical strength and that proved to be a big equalizer between men and women.

Secondly, modern technology has freed up a lot of time that women used to invest in doing household chores. The biggest economic innovation ever made was the idea of division of labor. If a single person was required to cook food, stitch clothes, maintain cleanliness, cultivate food, earn money, defend against attacks, cure diseases etc, then nothing would ever get done. A society where people are responsible for all aspects of their lives would be hopelessly unproductive. So we invented roles. Farmers cultivate food, doctors cure diseases etc. This allows people to invest their energies into becoming better at their jobs and the society as a whole reaps super-linear benefits. This same division of labor principle is applicable to a medieval family as well. Men were naturally, biologically suited to go out to earn a living because a lot of jobs required physical strength.Consequently women were left to tend to the other jobs like stitching clothes, cooking food. cleaning the house etc. A society which organized itself the other way around would simply have been less productive and would not be able to compete with other societies around it.

So what has changed now? Modern technology has sped up household chores and women have a lot more time on their hands now. In such an environment, a society that gainfully employs half its population stands to be more productive than one that keeps its women imprisoned inside the household.

I find this absolutely fascinating. “Equality for women” seems to have gone from being a net productivity negative to a productivity positive. And lo and behold, the movements for women’s equality gained steam right around the time these conditions became ripe. This leads me to believe that our recent advances in women’s equality have less to do with the abstract moral force behind those ideals and more to do with the hard underlying economic realities.

A similar argument can be made with respect to slavery or the more general case of bonded labor. Machines which were cheaper and more effective than humans, made the idea of bonded labor obsolete. And a society that clung to obsolete notions of bonded labor and failed to embrace modern technology would lose out over the long term.

As the quote goes, “One cannot resist an idea whose time has come”. The converse of course is, no amount of advocacy can prop up an idea who time hasn’t come.

So where does this leave us? If we feel passionately about a cause, should we take a passive approach and wait for the right thing to happen at the right time? No. The above discussion does not attempt to devalue the role played by an agent of change. The only claim made is that even though agents of change are frequently driven by moral considerations, the success of their efforts has little correlation with the moral superiority of their ideas. However, since we can never predict whether the time is right, perhaps the best thing to do is to assume the right time is here and now and to keep fighting for the causes that we care about.

1

Our first motorcycle: Ninja Kawasaki 650

Do you wish for something you never had and before you grow old, you want to fulfill this wish of yours. Motorcycle was one such thing for Priyendra. He has been wanting to ride a bike since times immemorial.

It has been a couple of months with Lalli now and we have been having loads of fun. We rode it twice to the city (San Francisco) and a couple of times in the South Bay. Priyendra rides it to Google most of the days.

Few more pictures :
while we were at the dealer and other one when Lalli was parked in the garage :)

0

Politics and Corruption

What follows is a random, hastily written observation about corruption in politics.

Countries typically have GDPs far in excess of the revenues of most corporations. Even otherwise, leading a country is a significantly more challenging task than leading a corporation. Then why are leaders of countries entitled to far less compensation than say CEOs of companies?

Take the case of Egypt for example. It has a GDP of $500 billion. Hosni Mobarak was at the helm of the country for 30 years. What would be the net worth of a typical corporate CEO who has been heading a company of equivalent size for 30 years? A billion dollars would be easily achievable!

So why are Mobarak’s finances a problem? Well for starters, it is stolen money. And that’s that. There is no excuse for Mobarak to have made that amount of money. But our political systems are set up in a way that incentivizes people like Mobarak to steal.

Say my family owns a business that no one from our family is interested in running on a day-to-day basis. So we decide to hire a manager. Since we own the business, the money it generates belongs to us. We will use that money to pay the manager. We can’t hope to hire a good manager if we offer a bad salary. Or we will find a really smart manager who understands he is worth more than we are offering, but figures that he can bridge the difference by skimming off some money.

I claim that tax payers are unwilling to pay a good salary for the CEO of their country. I claim that our political leaders should be compensated in a manner that is commensurate with the intellectual complexity and importance of the job we hire them for. And the compensation we offer should be competitive with what the private sector can offer. We don’t believe that corporate CEOs do their jobs solely out of the desire to make the world a better place. So why do we expect our political leaders to do so?

There is a problem with this scheme. Once a leader is in power and is raking in the big bucks, why would she relinquish power? I can imagine it is a problem in countries like Egypt where dictators rule for 30 continuous years. But in countries like India, where elections are held frequently and largely fairly, with an independent press and judiciary, this shouldn’t be an issue.

CEO incentives are aligned to the best long-term interests of the company they head, by giving them an ownership stake in the company. If we can come up with a similar system, which gives every leader a fair ownership stake in the country, perhaps one of the big drivers behind top-level corruption will go away.

1

Cheesy Lasagne Rolls with Spinach and Ricotta

This is my first effort in this year to try something new in the kitchen. This is not an original recipe but one that I got from the whole foods website. It was an easy one. I should have baked it for some more time but I was pretty impressed with the end result.

There was piping hot tomato soup tonight too. This is the same that I prepared at Shradha Ramesh’s Christmas party.

For the people who wanted to know how it was made.

  • Take a can of tomato puree.
  • Now take a pan and add a teaspoon of oil.
  • Once the oil becomes slightly hot, put some cumin seed, salt, red chili powder and coriander powder.
  • Once the cumin seeds splutter, add the puree and about 1.5 cups of water.
  • Mix the puree and water and the cumin seeds well.
  • Now add some cream or milk and keep stirring for about 7-8 minutes.
  • Your soup is now ready to be served with some croutons :)

Enjoy till I come back with another new recipe soon :)

1

The Insider (1999)

Lying and hiding facts by a few major food giants is not a new thing. Coca Cola was vilified for putting pesticides in the aerated water they used which contributed to cancer and breakdown of the immune system.

“The Insider,” the story of a man who revealed long-believed tobacco company lies and changed the way the world looked at both smoking and the big cigarette companies. This is a real life story of a man called Jeffery Wigand. His life was turned upside down because he exposed the deceptive production practices at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company (B&W), maker of the Kool brand of cigarettes. They were adding some ammonia to increase the absorption of nicotine by our lungs.

The movie revolves around Dr. Wigand and his relationship with 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, who convinced Dr. Wigand to speak on camera about his knowledge of B&W -only to have executives at CBS kill the story out for fear of being sued by the company.

It is a great movie and tells you the deep and dark secrets of such big giants.

For the full article from the Vanity Fair magazine, click here.