Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lucky Break

The year 2011 was a stressful and tiring year for her. Throughout the year she remembers slogging hard at work, there was work and more work. Work kept her occupied till late in the day  during the week and most of the times on weekends as well. What made it worse was that the project was managed poorly and deadlines were arbitrary and the manager expected everyone to give up personal life and just focus on work. Speaking of personal life nothing much was moving well there as well, as most friends had drifted away into relationships or lived in other cities and for her an arranged marriage was on cards as well. Her parents had agreed to wait for a few years until as she wanted to focus on her career for a while and that time had run out. Not only the parents the whole extended family and well wishers were constantly talking about finding a suitable match for her. It did irk initially but now that she had settled into a routine of working till late in evening and arriving home by 10 pm, these things never bothered her. After all those long hours, something had to give and recognition came in form of a meeting with onsite manager in UK. He wanted to get her to UK soon and mentioned it will help her move further in career.
Back home the reaction was not all that great as she expected, parents were happy at her getting recognized as good performer and being offered opportunity to work abroad. But there was also fear that this may delay her marriage search but she had decided she was travelling and that was it. She was to travel in March of 2012 and towards end of Jan the visa interview was set-up. After a bleak and tiring year things seemed to have turned a corner in the  new year ... and then it happened a few days before the visa interview!
She cannot remember how exactly it happened but somehow while visiting her cousin's house two floors above in same apartment her foot slipped on the stairs and she landed awkwardly flight of stairs below with severe pain at the point of impact - her left hand. She was quickly taken to a specialist who took x-rays and confirmed it was a fracture.  Doctor advised taking 4 weeks break for the arm to heal. Suddenly all plans had gone for a toss and the UK trip was now out of question as the role had to be filled by next month so someone else will end up taking her place while she sat at home. Missing work for a whole month would mean she will fall back at work and will no longer be assured of the top rating that seemed to be in the bag. While she was lost in thoughts and feeling sad about herself, the doctor was chatting up with her parents and had discovered that she was in 'marriage market' and had suggested a few suitable boys he knew which drove her even more mad. Here she was in pain and ruing about the missed chance to do some exciting work abroad and all these guys can talk about is marriage. The doctor was not done yet, he delivered an epic closing line with a smile to her.  "Let this be a lucky break for you"

Lucky break indeed, sitting at home bored out of wits with an arm in cast she could not understand what was lucky in this. But the break from routine was welcome, spending time at home during the day was a good change. Not having to get up feeling sleepy and rushing off in hot Chennai morning in crowded bus and heavy traffic was a welcome change as well. Break allowed her to see things better in terms of life and career. And just as she was getting slightly tired and bored about confined at home a marriage proposal had come. Her mom passed the details of this boy they thought was ok based on profile and his family was interested as well and here was the phone number. The boy wants to talk on phone before taking anything further, that suited her as well. 

So numbers were exchanged and they spoke to each other cautiously at first. She had lots of free time and was bored out of wits so was eager to talk to someone and they hit off really well very soon they were talking for a couple of hours daily. He would text whenever he got free and if she was free which she was for most part they would talk. Pretty soon it was becoming apparent that they were comfortable talking to each other and this moved to serious territory. But with like all things she wanted to keep hopes down so decided to approach this causally. After a few weeks, he suggested meeting up in person to decide if this will work. Meet-up for coffee was at mall nearby which was usually very crowded and the food court was a very noisy place as she remembered it. 
So the day arrived and she caught an auto and went there. The place looked super crowded and she still had pain in fractured arm and dreaded moving through the crowds.He was waiting outside and looked just like she expected. Though mall entrance was crowded, he had identified a different entrance which was not crowded and it had an elevator which they took to reach the intended floor and he marched her straight into a home furnishing and gift store which was odd. She was surprised to find a good coffee shop inside which gave them enough privacy to sit and talk. Sit and talk they did for a long time and finally it was time to leave. Standard operating procedure that she was aware for such meetings is to play it safe at the end of the meeting and part well. Whether you like the person or not was usually conveyed subsequently over phone or text. So as they were about to get up she mentioned the usual lines of lets think about how to proceed next and we can drop each other text message later today.

But she was met with a smile and he just got up and said "I don't know about you, but I like you a lot and I'm very much interested in proceeding. What do you think?". She had decided to keep the expectations low as she walked in and think later in the day. So this was a surprise and she is not sure how and or when she made up her mind but she found herself smiling back while saying "Its ok from my side as well". So they walked out together ...

Now 5 years later on warm summer morning in Texas as she wakes up next to him she has to admit that it was a lucky break indeed

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mostly Tweetless

I have always been an information and trivia junkie and was an avid quizzer, so used to read magazines, newspapers and then blogs and various websites  and eventually social media to get regular feed of information.  Blogs and Social media just made it lot more convenient, and with a smart phone it was even easier consume all this information. 7 years back I started using twitter slowly over web and also on phone. After moving to  US with much better wifi access and 4G/LTE availability it became really easy to use twitter on phone. It was a treasure trove of information, insight and it was such a fun place initially. conventional media folks and opinion makers were less active. Of course it depends of the people you follow and the conversations they have but initially to me it appeared to be a gentler place with good meaningful conversations, lot of puns and certainly lot of fun. All sorts of topics were covered but it seemed more like extension of the world of blogging. Twitter replaced quickly replaced Facebook for me. Another big plus was people were polite and civil and respected others and courteous in interactions and totally cool guys you admired for their wit, knowledge or their ability to articulate their views and engage in good meaningful debates/discussions. I think I learnt a lot and got exposed to so many ideas and learnt a lot. Then twitter started getting more and more popular and slowly things changed

Lot of celebrities took to twitter with gusto and most journalists also joined in actively, followed by politicians and their followers and almost anyone who is someone. World over major events started getting covered well on twitter with news articles and opinion and discussions. Everyone famous was using twitter to reach out quickly to a huge audience. It totally replaced the newspaper and 'news' programs on TV to get my daily fix of latest news. My  Twitter TL was my window to the world and it was always accessible and fitted on my palm (almost). Even though I live in US, majority of my twitter feed was India based or events related to India. So twitter became source for my India news and helped me stay connected to the country and the latest trends and at the same time US and global news as well.

Somewhere around that time lot of things changed, as more and more people joined the quality of discourse dropped as well. From seeking and sharing interesting information, it moved to a platform for spreading and sharing information and setting or controlling opinion.  It became a mixture of facts ,opinion, interpretation and the line or difference between both blurred totally. The pull this medium exerts and its appeal is tremendous, I would put it down to combination of how easy it is to voice your viewpoint and no controls or checks and lack of consequence. Trolling and hatred became more common and widespread. Lines were drawn and folks were labelled quickly and people divided themselves into camps. It was like the sorting hat from Harry Potter universe suddenly appeared and divided everyone into clear groups. Instead of meaningful conversation or discussion, trolling, bullying and mob culture took over. Slowly I realized that I had also fallen down the rabbit hole. There was outrage every other day over something or other which no one will remember within a few months and I found myself joining them. This was like those reality shows, with constant fights which no one would even remember later but viewers turn up all the same.  It took some time to realize and gradually I think I learnt to come out the 'outrage' trap. Every one had 'expert' opinion on most topics which was ok but they also expected you to agree that what they state is correct and on the other side folks who do not agree not only disagree but display total hatred and anger not just at the opinion but at the person who shared the opinion and anyone who agrees to that opinion. The whole world was getting viewed as black or white and there was absence of nuance or consideration of other view points. I was searching for an apt metaphor or quote to capture this and I found one yesterday in one of the lectures I was listening to in a different context. But it easily applies for all the twitter conversations as well. People use statistics/data just like a drunk uses lamp post, for support rather than illumination

I had a conversation with a cousin about how addictive twitter  was and how crazy it has been and we both agreed that pruning the list of folks we follow and trying to keep controversial things like politics will help.  Clearly this was no longer the place for me to relax, get information about what was happening around me and get information to improve myself. None of that was happening as most of it was 'shout-fest' or people with extreme opinions. Also it seemed like someone was out there slipping some outrage worthy topics on regular basis and folks just go bat-shit crazy over them and real questions are never come up. Things that really matter and hard conversations never come up. Sure there was good stuff but the hatred and outrage was overwhelming and crowding out the good stuff. Sometime in January 2017, I un-followed lot of folks and also decided to cut the time I spend on twitter. Decided to check it only in the mornings just like how I used to read newspapers back in the days when I used to get daily newspapers and another 30 mins as I hit the bed at night. This arrangement seem to work and during the day the spare time available was channeled to other productive pursuits like reading and studying something useful on Coursera.

After 3 months I realized it did help and I was no longer addicted to twitter and could even contemplate totally leaving it. I did read a lot of books, could finish books at twice the usual speed taken in last 3-4 years. Was able to devote more time for family and successfully completed my first course certificate on coursera. Again exiting twitter or social media totally  was never the aim. I do believe this is a very useful medium and you can learn a lot of useful stuff to improve your life as well. Over last 7 years I think my life has benefited a lot from all the information I gleamed off the platform. But fitting it into daily life was a challenge and this way it seemed to be working. Still I did have this question on how would it be if I totally went off social media for a week, just to see if it really matters that much? I could never know because it was impossible for me to resist checking Twitter or even FB during mornings on my phone last 3 months.

And then it happened ... just like that the twitter app on my phone asked me for password. I just did not remember and after couple of failed attempt decided this was a chance for me to take a break from twitter. It has been 5 days now and as of now I don't think I missed anything I have been sleeping okay and this whole week have gone for my morning walk/run without fail. Have also been able to focus enough to update this blog a few times. So hoping to extend this break from all social media (except whatsapp) for another 10 days just to see what happens ...

Update: The break did not extend as long as planned, I got my twitter password issue fixed on 19th, so at least I was out for about 10 days overall. I could get by for while without twitter, but as a side-effect I started using facebook on a daily basis. I used to check FB just once in a couple of months and last 1 week I used that twitter alternative as similar stuff is going there as well with people ranting for and against in various issues. The quality of discussions is much lower than twitter. So eventually I think getting back to twitter is better. But I did un-follow a lot of folks - removed 60 and added a few tech folks who tweet about things of interest to me. Decided not to engage at all on political topics, not because it does not matter. More so because this kind of debates don't interest me any longer as it is reduced to brawls, cheap point scoring, always finding faults and making snide remarks about those whose views/actions you don't agree. Its a good representation of the reality no doubt but for now I will let it go. So aim is to follow and engage with more meaningful topics and lets see if this approach makes any difference

Friday, May 12, 2017

Balakrishnan Sir and the Computer Class

I currently work in Digital product marketing/sales area and through out  my career I have been in IT related jobs. Many demographers include folks of my age under the labels like 'Millenials' or Gen C, so among the several characteristic traits of my generation - we are supposed to be  Digital Natives.  That means we are used to technology from a young age. Kids of my age were among the first set to go to high school when internet era began. Technology is ever present in our daily lives today and my generation is supposed to spend more than half of their daily lives online or connected through some means of technology.

During the last 10 years things have moved at a rapid pace with ever increasing availability of computing power and internet through laptops, smartphone, tablets  into hands of a wide majority of population, more and more adoption of gadgets and these social media apps. For kids these days it must be impossible to imagine a world without internet, mobile phones and computers. But 25 years ago that's how the world was at least in the India I grew up in. Kids my age had a faint idea about computers and no one had any inkling of what is was for and let alone the world it could create

I'm reminded of an incident related to our first brush with computers around 25 years back in my Upper Primary school ( Middle school) in a small city in Kerala. My school was a Govt Aided Private school, so considered a good one in that area but was nowhere among top schools of the city. It was run by a private trust and charged only modest fees and so were the facilities. School to be honest did not really look like a school from outside, it had a large and long courtyard with lot of coconut trees leading up to a typical Kerala style tiled house with multiple levels. First building had 3-4 classrooms for class 5.Then right behind the main house was lot of space which doubled as another playground and then there was another tile roofed structure which was also a ramshackle building like the one in front and this one also had a few classrooms for Class 6. Then right next to it there was a 'proper' concrete building which looked nothing like all other buildings in that compound and was really neat and modern and it housed classrooms for 7th standard , staff room and headmaster's cabin.There was no proper playground but as it was a sprawling compound, there was enough space for kids to play as many as 4-5 cricket/football matches in that whole area. That was a typical school in small town attended by middle class/ lower middle class kids

All our teachers were ladies which was typical for most schools except for the headmaster. The Headmaster (HM) did not teach us any classes but gave us lot of advice during weekly morning school assembly. Another memory of the HM is that he hated kids playing during lunch break, maybe the problem was more with the noise couple of hundred kids talking, shouting and playing in a yard would produce. Once in a while HM will step out during lunch hour and ask folks to stop playing and making noise and go back to classes ( ya right, like we would). But sometimes HM would lose his head and will fly into rage when the warnings gets ignored and venture out with a cane and this time he meant business he will do a full round of the school yard and anyone who does not run away (which kids of that age do very well) would get proper thrashing. When we were in Class 6, the English teacher quit and for week or two other teachers would get assigned to cover other stuff or it was just a free period. A class full of 11 year olds cannot be expected to sit silently and usually a substitute teacher would invite some 'talented' folks to come up and sing a Bollywood number or dance to one or anything to keep the class occupied. It went on like this for a few days and the English period was something we looked forward to.

Then one day HM turned up with another old man who was wearing a white shirt and dhoti ( Mundu in Malayalam) and this new person was introduced as Balakrishnan sir the new English teacher. We were told that Balakrishnan sir ( BS) was a retired teacher from a Govt school and had been teaching for more than 30 years and we are lucky to get an experienced teacher like him. We usually had lady teachers in early 20s as teaching in schools like this would be their first assignment before they move away into more secure Govt jobs or something better. So this was a different experience and everyone started liking his classes as well as he used teach well and like any 60 year old person he would add several stories/anecdotes of his own experiences. So it was fun initially attending his classes, we were spell bound kids listening to his well narrated yarns.

But like any senior citizen, while he could regale us with various tales and anecdotes, he would also not keep track of whether the incident he is narrating has already been narrated. Once the stories started getting repetitive kids also started murmuring and the attitude changed, the spell was sort of broken. But he did teach us well though he could never complete the entire syllabus on time as lot of time was spent talking about various other things. This meant attending extra/special class in evenings or during weekends towards end of year in the race to complete all lessons before final exams. That was something no one liked!

Next year we had a surprise in store for us, they had started building some additional space for some time now and at the start of year we were told that we are now having a computer lab and that we will have computer class as one of the subjects this year. It was only one or two of periods in a week but this early 90s none us even had seen a computer before and had only heard vaguely about it. This was an era of only Doordarshan channel on TV, occasional audio and video cassettes for entertainment and playing or games meant running around or cricket or football outside. Video game meant those rented consoles connected to TV or the handheld brick game. So this was huge for kids in small town from middle class families and something uncharacteristic for the school really. The computer was kept in an air-conditioned room which was kept dust-free. We had to take off our shoes before entering the lab. Initially we had some theory classes on computer and but were promised that we would  after some time be allowed to touch and even use the computer soon in groups and that was something we were all looking forward to. But being in that AC room with a wonder gadget from future was exciting enough

Then one day BS announced that this year we will avoid having additional classes to wrap up our portion before exams. That was something everyone liked to hear, but he was not done yet. He also added that we he will use the computer hour as well to cover his English lessons. For the board examination after 3 years only  the main subjects mattered and English was one of them computer science clearly was not, so that settled it as per him. We were told that arrangement is purely to help us but that ended that dream of computer classes and getting to see and operate a computer. Nobody dared to question a teacher's authority or wisdom and especially someone formidable like him and that seemed to be the end of computer class for us that year. Voicing our opinion or disagreement to a teach was unusual, so we had to bear with it...

...Until some boys started talking about after a few weeks, it was agreed that computer was a wonderful thing even though none of us knew anything about it or why it mattered. It must have seemed way cooler and more fun than those extra English lessons and a few boys went to meet the 'computer miss' to appraise her about this and appealed to her to restore these classes. She seemed to be in bigger dilemma, she could not confront a senior teacher who was close to  headmaster, at the same time she could not sit idle for a long time as lot of her teaching hours were taken over in this arrangement so perhaps the prospect of job loss loomed as well for her. She asked us to go check with HM and tell him what was happening as she cannot do it herself because she did not want to be disrespectful to BS

Prospect of meeting HM was not very enticing given that first thing that sprang to our mind was him chasing folks with a long cane. So that was ruled out and we sat through the extra English classes with sullen faces. I don't remember how it happened but eventually the murmuring changed to rumbling and it got louder and louder and eventually most of class was convinced this won't do. The plan was that we must just head to computer lab without waiting for BS to come to class. But planning was one execution was totally another ball game.

The situation sort of reminds me about the great spectacle in Masai Mara National Reserve in Tanzania and Kenya. There is this annual seasonal migration of wildebeest and zebra herds across the reserve as season changes. The animals migrate across the region following their food sources and the highlight is a part called 'Mara River Crossing'. Millions of animals need to cross Mara river, which happens at place where river itself is not particularly challenging. But the challenge is posed by dozens of crocodiles waiting to grab stragglers. This happens every year and animals clearly seem to know the danger that lies ahead but also know its in their best interest to cross the stream however dangerous it maybe. Wildebeests and Zebras start gathering in huge numbers until there is some critical point at which they all decide to make a dash across the river. In sight of clear and obvious danger the animals wait for a while and bide their time and then just like that they take the plunge because to move forward is a must to survive eventually and that is something hard wired inside them.

Just like those wildebeests, I'm not sure how we got courage or what was the tipping factor but  maybe somewhere within our heads we all knew this was important and it mattered. But even now I cannot think of how and why we thought that way. Long story short, BS was late for that particular forced English class, some folks finally got up and decided this was the best chance as we can pretend he is not coming and more folks agreed and joined and eventually the entire class decided to make a run for it and quickly went to the Computer Lab and settled in. Computer miss was delighted at normalcy being restored and even offered to put in a word to HM about this so that we are safe. But none of us were sure how it will turn  out. BS was certainly not amused the next day when he came to our class. He made it clear that he was disappointed with us and explained that what he did was for our benefit. Learning English well was more important as class 10 school leaving exam only has English as a subject and not computer. He was of the view that there is nothing major to be gained with this so called computer class for kids like us. That time can be better utilized for other subjects and he felt kids in this school had no use for something like this. He added that most of us will not even see let alone use a computer as live in India and not America or Britain. Sure some bright kids will finish school and college well and do higher studies where computers will be used for research and stuff he added.  He added that it was good on school management to introduce new things, but for folks who will be  in high school next year focus should turn more into core subjects which matter for the class 10 board exam which is the real deal . He seemed quite certain about this whole computer thing and made it amply clear that we were silly to waste time with computer class when we were running out of time to cover our lessons properly. With that he picked up the English textbook and continued as usual. All of us were relieved that we did not get punished as some folks feared, unknowingly we had made a statement for technology perhaps. We did get our computer class every week after that and we moved on cleared that school attended bigger ones, college and so on

Interestingly I never really learnt computers formally in school after that as I switched schools next year and the new school did not even have that as a subject. In college I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering but strangely we did not have any computer exposure. Still around 10 years after incident I mentioned after I finished my college, my first job was as a software programmer. Things had changed very quickly in India by the time I was in college the most desired jobs were in IT sector and it did give a wonderful opportunity and ability to earn well and interact with folks across the world. But even as I embarked on this career in early 2000s, at least in the initial years I met my fair share of skeptics everywhere who were not impressed by IT industry or computers. One was my college lecturer and another was a family friend who was in big corporate job, they both shared exactly same sentiment about this nascent IT industry when I told them about landing my first job. They mentioned they were happy to hear I got a job in nice and well known IT company paying decent money, but hoped I will not just stay with an IT company but will try hard and get into some proper 'old world' engineering related jobs as IT sector and jobs might not last too long!

Now in 2017, I see technology mostly via smartphone omnipresent in all walks of life. People book train/flight tickets, taxis, order books, food or just about anything online, they find marriage partners, get new degree , watch new movies online. Technology companies have created more and more jobs and are going strong both globally and especially in India. There are frequent hiccups and challenges, but it is here to stay. It is estimated that IT & ITES industry employs around 10 million people in India and is believed to contribute close to 10% of India's GDP. Globally this is referred to as digital era, with Information technology companies leading charge into everything and are doing so well that the tech titans - Google, Amazon, Apple, MS and Facebook are the most valuable listed firms in the world. In fact a recent article I read mentioned that several factories in US now require workers to have gone to college as computer knowledge is a must even for factory jobs. As we gradually adopt automation and AI this is going to be more common everywhere.

The point of this post is not to mock or blame my good old English teacher or my lecturer  or anyone else who was either skeptical or did not take computers and internet seriously. Old world skills like language, basic sciences, arithmetic are still extremely important, but computer science and applied technology got adopted and grew at unbelievable pace. I don't think any of us even today can comprehend how massively big and transformative this is and how much computers, internet and smartphones have changed the way we live. I'm sure my teachers as well as those skeptics had the best interests of their students or whoever they were advising in mind when they said that.

Quarter of a century is a long time indeed and the world around us has changed and how!


Friday, April 21, 2017

Another small milestone

While on the topic of  anniversaries ( psst, I just blogged about one recently), I recently marked another small milestone. Completed first year at my current work place. The Indian companies I worked in past treated work anniversaries differently, the companies I worked in my first 7 years did not really seem to care. Later I worked for Cognizant which is technically a US headquartered company (but full of Indians) and maybe that could be the reason they used to send out anniversary notification to my manager who would share it with entire team with some good words tossed in for added motivation. Once I joined this grand old company, I could see that 'service' with company mattered  to folks a lot. Service anniversary was a big deal indeed. Once I went for a mandatory training at my city arranged for folks from various different roles/work stream and they had us introduce ourselves by stating, name, which city we work, what role and how long we have been with the company. When a team member has an anniversary we all get notified and there is a usual round of applause and congrats emails which floats around regularly. Several folks in my side of the organization have work anniversaries with the company higher than my age.  The emails are really fun especially for the anniversaries of veterans in the org, usually there is lot of self deprecating humor involved and the mails and huge fun. People spoke about being happy and sounded happy when we talk about their service anniversary, all of which is good to know for someone in their first year at the company. I could understand why the company featured in great places to work list

So the day arrived and as soon as I logged in I got a very nice email  from my manager and several others chimed in as well with good words and predictions of a long successful journey ahead. To be honest this was a job which on paper looked very easy and comfortable one for me given my previous work background. But as lone Indian employee in a team full of Americans I was not sure if I will fit in well and there were lots of doubts if I truly belong or if I can belong. Of course there were minor cultural differences, and I had to look stuff up online to understand some references/quotes but it also had to do with the fact that I was lot younger than most people around me. Before I knew it an year was up and it was up so fast that I hardly noticed. Only when I walked into office one day in April and after noticing my name up on the board for service anniversaries did it really sink in



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

And its 4 years!

Just realized today marks the start of my 5th year in states. That needs a blog entry because 4 is usually the maximum I stay at a place or at least that was the case in the first 30 years of my life.Now in  mid 30s maybe I'm embracing familiarity and hanging on to stuff longer. I stayed at my previous job for 5 years until quitting an year back. Even though I have lived for 4  years in US, I did move to a different City/State after 2 years, so not that bad I guess!

And as cliched as it might sound it just seems yesterday that I applied for and got a role in a projectin US and had to uproot myself and my wife from comfortable life we had in Chennai to North western US. But it was very hard to give up an easy life in India with folks around for support, Chennai did take a few months to get used to. But I did start liking the place, grew familiar with various parts, the local lingo and almost felt like a local. At work I had put in the hard yards initially and had an amazing reputation and was well regarded and steady growth awaited. But I wanted to travel and live in other parts of the world and experience different cultures. There were possible stints to Australia, UK and even NZ hinted at, but nothing seemed concrete and so when I got my US visa approved I thought I should make a move immediately otherwise I will not step out of my comfort zone. Spend an year or two at max in US was the plan and get back to whatever I was doing back in India. That is another reason why 4 years is a bit surprising.

Usually you don't get much of choice in terms of where you go, luckily I was able to land a role in Seattle.  Its a nice beautiful place no doubt, but the main reason to choose it was the fact that my sister and another cousin lived there. So having family made it very easy for me to move to US and settle down.It was a wonderful place to live in for sure, extremely scenic. With more greenery than I have ever seen and perennially rain drenched and cloudy most of the year. But enjoyed it all the same, rain or lack of sunshine did not really bother me. Life in general was certainly more easy, I actually could imagine life outside of work during week days something non-existent in India. Being able to get back home before 6 PM was a big positive. Plus having folks I knew guide us and come and meet us quite often initially made it smoother to transition to a life in a different continent. It was hard initially for my wife until she got work permit, and started working, but we soldiered on and after moving a couple of houses within Seattle Metro we decided to try warmer Southwest US and landed in Dallas, Texas. Its been almost 2 years in Dallas now. Lot of folks keep asking how is life over there, difference between the cities and how is life really like over there, how different is it from India? Day to day life is mostly just the usual boring routine stuff. Work during weekdays, evenings in park nearby, weekly temple run. Shopping during weekends at Indian grocery stores, Whole Foods, Costco. Occasional trips across US, lot of new places explored, lot of wonderful travel experiences. Tried so many different cuisines, interacted with folks from diverse ethnic groups and backgrounds.Some of it interesting, most of it just routine stuff.  I will try to write more about life here this year now that I have some memories and experiences spread across several years to fall back upon. Write I will even if its just the usual stuff!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My first smartphone purchase

Continuing from previous post on my smartphone experiences  ...

I bought my first phone after I started working in 2003 and of course it was that ubiquitous Nokia phone. Did not need to think much, went to the store after my 2nd month's  salary came in and walked out with the phone in 10 mins. Cellphone then was a luxury and not really a necessity and it was actually status symbol signalling some sort of upward mobility. Possessing phone was good enough initially but very soon all of us started wishing to own cooler phones. So tracking the latest models of phones  was something all of us did  throughout the year to decide the next phone. Over the next 5 years I changed my phone multiple times but it was always done after lot of research, never anything flashy or top of the line. While on that nostalgia trip was big Nokia fan then and though there was Motorola and Sony Ericsson phones which looked interesting, I was looking to buy only Nokia. N-Gage was a phone that was on my wishlist as it was made for 'gamers' but finally settled on Nokia N series phone in early 2007 which was a multimedia phone with OS I think. Maybe it was a 'smartphone' but to be honest the phone was just used for calling, texting and photos so it wasn't really a smartphone for me without internet.
Fast forward another couple of years, by 2009 Blackberry phones had become common and so many folks I knew were using it and not just senior manager/Director type folks with BB phone clipped to the belt.BB Messenger was in fact very popular and a cool way to stay in touch. All around me I could see people exchanging BBM pins during meet-ups. So in late 2009 and early 2010 I thought of going for it and getting a Blackberry as that seemed to be the 'in' thing.

Somewhere that year I met my friend Abinav who was visiting India from US for vacation and he had the 'iphone' about which I had read a lot but had never seen it. It did seem to be a super cool gadget . But the price in India was extremely high and I could not imagine spending so much on a phone. My roommate Pankaj had a windows phone which he got as a gift from family in US and that looked good as well but he pointed out at that number of apps were limited. He suggested looking at Android phones instead and they were just picking up at that time and lot of people were moving to it. But a couple of friends I met during a get-together in Mumbai had Blackberry and were swearing by it as totally awesome phone. One guy suggested a shop where I could get it without bill for an attractive price and gave reference to someone he knew there so I almost made up my mind to go for a Blackberry. There was one problem though, I was working for a major Indian telecom company which had a CDMA network ( as opposed to more common GSM) and as an employee my perks included a free CDMA phone ( which I was using) and heavily subsidized phone plan which resulted in ridiculously low phone bills. So it would have made sense to go for a CDMA phone to get all these benefits but problem was the number of CDMA Smartphones in market was very limited. As I was in middle of job hunt around this time, I kept pushing my smartphone purchase for later  as I didn't want to buy a CDMA device and get stuck but getting a GSM phone would mean I cannot use it as primary device right now. So spent a while browsing tech sites for every new android phone model specs and prices. Somewhere around this time Mobile operators started rolling out 3G network and more data was available in new plans with and that in turn was pushing folks to go for smartphones

My cousin Vaidya was living is US and he was my tech-guru, any tech purchase is always done after consulting him and he said nothing beats the iphone and while chatting with my friend Vineeth who was not into iphone but had android phone so many more Android options came up. Aswin (another cousin of mine and MBA classmate) was heading to US for 6 week assignment and would be there during Thanksgiving time, so that seemed to be a good chance to snag a good android phone. Aswin is usually my partner in crime for any such ventures, and readily agreed to get something during his next US trip and was looking to get something himself as well. Then started the deal hunting time as we compared several phone models from Samsung, HTC and a few others. It was just a couple of years after I had done my MBA and I was in touch with many batch mates during those days and almost everyone I spoke were planning to  get some smartphone or already had one. So there was plenty of inputs

Around that time iphone 3GS inched ahead in my wishlist and it had a price cut in US as they already had next model iphone 4. But those days there was a difference of 1-2 years between US launch and India launch of a smartphone, so even if I got the previous version it will be the latest one in India. My friend Vineeth was not convinced with my logic and was pushing me to go for the latest one ( iphone 4) as very soon it will be common and apple would come with next version in an year or get some good android phone instead of buying a contracted iphone . So on that note  any iphone purchased from US cheaply would mean it was tied via contract and you need to 'jailbreak' it yourself. Which essentially means you are cutting the cord that binds you to Apple and you are on your own with no further software updates which was a good move for an apple product. But further research online indicated folks do that all the same and it works fine for a while. Anyways the price would be low so I thought I can change phone after 2-3 years. The appeal of actually owning an Apple product easily trumped everything else at that point

Then suddenly one day in Nov 2010 things moved quickly, Vineeth pinged me with a craigslist ad about someone wanting to sell a brand new iphone 3GS, unopened in box. The asking price was $350 which after converting in Indian Rupees was about 15k which seemed to be a really good bargain. There was no time to mull this over, if I put 350 in his bank account he was ready to go and meet the seller and get the phone next day. So it was decision time suddenly and a call was made to my chief financier for all international purchases - my sister- who kindly agreed to bankroll this deal as well. But she thought this buying phone from a  stranger on craigslist was very sketchy and offered to gift me an unlocked new phone instead when some deal comes up during year end. Meanwhile a couple of other folks also advised me to not try 'jailbreak' route as it is risky and some phones might just lock itself permanently. But I wanted to go ahead anyway despite the risks involved in such transactions and with jailbreaks. She transferred the money immediately and Vineeth went and got the phone. I got the pics in email the next day of a brand new iphone at half the price of what it was retailing in India! Yipee!!!

So phone was purchased but it was in Dallas, TX and now there was this question of getting that phone from there to India. While phone purchase discussions were going I had tapped my friends and family network and located a friend of my cousin who was from that area and travelling to Erode, Tamil Nadu in a week. That was 3 hours away from my hometown, so had gone ahead with the purchase. Then the next day I found out Aswin who was in Houston, TX I believe for his project had decided to meet up with Vineeth in Dallas the very same week and he kindly offered to pick up my phone as well and get it back to India
I got the phone by year end and my cousin Vaidya tried to help me with set-up over phone and Google Talk messenger with helpful links and videos on how to jail break and lent his assistance over phone when I got stuck or confused. Another friend of mine had tried to jailbreak the phone and it just got locked permanently so there was that fear. After about 30 mins I gave up not wanting to turn the phone into brick. I do have an Engineering degree, but techie I'm not and though I'm willing to try these things I give up quickly and the 'manager' in me takes over and I decided I will pay Rs.500 to some smart phone repair guy in Mumbai and get this fixed  much to the despair of my cousin. Shops that can do this were already there in every neighborhood and it took just 15-20 mins to get the phone set-up and just like that I had the most talked about phone in the country for less than half price.

There was a high which comes when you score an amazing bargain, but after I started using the phone it was clear that the product was very good and it had a great UX . But other similar phones were not bad either. As it was priced really high in India it was not very common and folks used to notice it when you used the iphone anywhere. I can't deny it made me very happy when people wanted to see the phone and a bit of snob and  yeah maybe an annoying show-off for some time. But within an year or so lot of people around me got newer versions of iphone. I did upgrade my iphones several times after moving to US with carrier subsidy it is pretty easy but that first phone purchase was special because of the way it was obtained.
Its more than 6 years now but I'm told that that old iphone still works and is used by my parents as back-up phone whenever they have problem with their phones! One other thing I realize after jotting down the iphone purchase experience is how much I used to interact with 'friends' before buying stuff and that I was connected with lot more people in those days without whatsapp. Now I'm not in touch with so many people, but there are always online reviews and consultation with just a couple of close friends

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Phone a friend


Read a few weeks back that it has been 10 years since iphone was launched, that's the device that spawned the 'smartphone' era. Having any smartphone in pocket has totally transformed our lives for the better I believe. There is suddenly renewed discussion and flurry of articles examining the role of smartphones the good, the bad and the ugly part. I for one have always been an early adopter for these technological advances and think it has really really helped make our lives better. It is of course upto individual on how to effectively use the phone in their lives.

I wanted to cover this in a couple of posts as smartphone which I will just call as phone going forward has helped me.  But a personal anecdote to get started

If I needed to go somewhere on my own, I used to ask my friends for directions, bus route/number, some landmarks etc to reach my destination.There used to be an era not too long back when phone used to be something for just talking. But things have changed rapidly in last 4-5 years, everything is available online. Any information you need you can get it online through message boards, blogs or social media. Availability of information and quality of info became even better and more easy to access with advent of smartphones

While I used to depend on lot of people I knew in any place I moved into to find my way around including Seattle when I moved there in 2013, moving to Dallas in 2015 was different. I did not know too many people here, had no friends at all here. So everything from apartment hunt, restaurants, grocery stores was all identified only most often through phone. 

It was early Dec and the winter was just setting in and as expectant dad was trying my best to support my wife who was in the 2nd trimester of her pregnancy. It was a weekday and suddenly in the afternoon she told me she wanted to eat a hot pretzel. Now keeping my wife happy always is my goal and during pregnancy was doubly focused on making her happy and satisfying any craving during this stage. But it happened to be a week-day and though both of us were working from home and it was not exactly the busiest time of the year it was still a working day. None of that was going to stop me even though she immediately said it was ok, we can go and eat during weekend. It was almost 3 PM and I had my next conference call at 4 PM and the shop in question was in a mall nearby which meant I could make the round trip in 30-40 mins. So I could easily go, order and pick up hot pretzel and get back and eat and still have some time to spare before next call.

So I set out on mission pretzel and as I was driving the distance of 5 miles to the nearby mall the radio was playing some 90s Hindi film music adding to my already upbeat mood in having managed to sneak out during middle of a working day. All was fine until I reached the mall which was a huge sprawling property as land is never in short supply in Texas. So this meant the parking was at ground level and unfortunately the entrance usually has lot of visitors and hence parking is always difficult. It was no different that day, as it was cold I did not fancy parking far away and walking to the mall entrance. Then at the very last minute I saw a vacant slot at ideal place from corner of my eye. With great joy I swung my car at last minute to the slot and I think it was combination of quick sharp turn and my heady celebratory mood and plain dumb luck perhaps but what happened was I parked and the steering wheel seemed to have moved too much that it just got stuck and decided to stay put. 

I was not sure what happened and got out and car seemed to be parked fine though wheels were not aligned, but I had a feeling something was not right with the way I parked. So went in and tried to turn the steering wheel to align the front wheels and found that the thing was stuck. Was it broken? I was not sure, I had no idea what just happened. Suddenly things had changed. The car was not new but was doing pretty well and major breakdowns meant lot of money for a car like that. Something I could certainly do without at any point especially at that time. I had no clue what to do and first impulse was to call home but did not want my wife to worry and feel guilty about sending me out. Then there was that meeting I was supposed to attend via phone in sometime.and it will look very bad if I did not turn up as I did not inform anyone before stepping away. It was cold outside but I was feeling hot near my neck, you are just nervous I told myself and you are panicking. Even at that stage I knew standing there dazed and confused was not going to help. So went into the car and just sat back to think for a minute on what to do next and take a few deep breaths while I was at it.

Then I turned to my trusted friend - my phone and started 'googling' about this, just took me a few seconds to type the right words and the friendly auto-suggest did the rest and I had some promising links infront of me on screen. One of which was a youtube video on how to fix the steering if it got locked. 2 mins of video watching later, I got the car steering unlocked and managed to smile at the ridiculousness of the solution. It was unreal how quickly the problem got fixed, it was infact like having a friend around right when you need. That pretzel sure tasted even better than ever before