~~~

The cardinal and I are two minions with free time on our hands even in the midst of the reckless rush towards the January deadline.

Today, he had the bright idea of telling me what he knew about Japanese culture. It was all illuminating, until he had the bright idea of introducing me to Niconico, the Youtube of Japan (in his words). Gamely, I opened a tab on my desktop, and reached here: http://www.nicovideo.jp. He suggested that we go to the Science and Tech section. We expected to see mag-levs and robots. We saw soft porn instead. Quickly, we closed the tab, incredulously discussed how this conflation could have happened, and went back to our daily grind with ROS.

That should have been the end of it. It wasn’t. Our much-beleaguered and dearly beloved sys-admin came by, frowning, having heard from the people who look at logs, and asked us what we had been up to. It went downhill from there.

I think we’ll keep our jobs. Hopefully.

~~~

I work for a car-manufacturer. I own a car that is not made by the manufacturer. I park discreetly at the far corner of the parking lot when senior management visits.

~~~

Saw the KNN trio. Little N is an absolute ball of cuteness. Big N is half of Big N 2013. Strange, slimming and wonderful are the joys of parenthood. K is as gorgeous and gracious as I remembered her from times past.

KNN is one of my favourite Machine Learning algorithms.

~~~

It has been rainy this week. This reminds me of a particular monsoon when I had watched episodes of Xena. I loved the woman.

“You unchained my heart,” she tells Hercules.

“You unchained mine!” I tell the TV.

~~~

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I have done so many things in the time-span between last November and today.

Snow! I was blue, and shivering, and rambunctiously indulging the creation and launch of snowballs, giggling in glee. I walked across the bridge over the pond at Atlantic Station, towards the cafe, awed by the snow – the snow falling, the snow on the ground, the snow on my fingers, the snow on my black coat, the snow on the tree branches. I spent considerable amount of time gazing through the tall windows of the apartment at the snow carpeting the ground and lining the roofs. Georgia Tech had days off, which was an added bonus, given how rare it is for them to give days off.

Ice-skating! Given how little I ventured out from my daily path, the rink set up in Atlantic Station over the December holidays provided a lovely interlude. I wish that I had been less hampered by my fracture. I would have indulged more.

Graduation! I graduated (finally) in December. My old lab-mates would raise an eyebrow (or two) at the finally, but I was so very relieved to leave. The games to gain funding and the publish-or-perish mentality had not suited me. I found it difficult to believe that these were the most worthwhile things I could do. I am very glad to have left.

The Odyssey of a job search. It had been hell. I am grateful to those who helped me retain a semblance of sanity and perseverance during those dark days. As a side-note, this is a very good reason to not choose the degree I chose, unless you have a plan B.

Financial crisis. It was terrible. I am grateful to those who made sure I wasn’t homeless and starving. Also, I should remember the bankers who were understanding enough to waive fees and reschedule payment dates.

A job that I didn’t like very much. My tolerance for things I don’t like is very low. I had feared I’d not be able to perform at such a job. I learnt otherwise. I learnt a great many things. They were a startup full of creative and enthusiastic people and I learned that I liked things slower. They gave me a lot of free rein. I got to pick my interns, bring them aboard, work with them, learn from them and mentor them. Two of them decided to pursue a machine-learning grad-school program. At the end of their internship, I was so happy to write letters of recommendation for them. Brilliant kids.

A job that I like tremendously, but stress over fearing that I am not doing anything much that is valuable. I haven’t learned to handle this yet.

A professor, who taught me the magic of Kalman, died in May. I admired him greatly.

My brother is in his last year of undergraduate college.

Loans! I stress so over them. My father tells me they are a part of the salaried man’s life. My mother tells me not to stress and that it will be sorted out eventually. I am very worried.

Mises! The days of the job search were terrible. My life had little in it. Human Action is the only fond memory from those days. I used to sit on the boulder by the pond, wrapped in a shawl, Human Action on my lap, and a cup of coffee warm held in my hands. Spring blossoms were strewn across those pages, I remember, and I had to carefully remove them before turning a page.

A car accident. This was on Alma, and I rue the hour when I decided to take the Alma. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. I learned a new word – totalled.

I have lost all my wisdom teeth. I feel less wise, though no more young.

Back to LJ after a long hiatus! I am so, so very happy to be back amongst people who were instrumental in motivating me to write.

A car! She is the curviest, prettiest car I have seen. She has taken me faithfully up and down the 101 for three or more months. She has given me confidence in my driving skills. I had been unwilling to drive at night before, since my eyes water when the glare from the lights of other vehicles is intense. I am not sure that I am a better driver now, but I am a less stressed one. I think driving up and down the streets of San Francisco has contributed. I drove across the Golden Gate through the fog! It was a magical experience.

I went for my first late-night show alone. It was at the Symphony when the LSO had come over, and I was stuck in traffic at some unholy hour of the night in San Francisco. I felt very adult after that.

A new David Bowie album! Isn’t he the best?

I took my first selfie today.

I had my first smoothie last week.

I see you see me. When I think upon the past, I realize I have changed quite a lot, and that there are few aspects that I miss from the ‘I’ then.

I should get back to my Nano. The straight, straightforward story seems to have been hijacked by Pelops. This requires attention.

If asked what my greatest accomplishment was, I would say that it was learning Malayalam.

My parents were educated in English-medium schools, had little to no exposure to the written word in Malayalam. My mother’s spoken Malayalam was melodious. She has lost none of the Thrissur accent of her forefathers. It was also completely at odds with what the written word was about.

I ended up in a school-system that required us to learn Malayalam a lot (the epics, the poetry, the grammar – the works). I was singularly unfortunate. Being Catholic required you to do school catechism classes that were taught in Malayalam. I scraped through to high-school, and found out to my dismay that I had to do well in three papers – Malayalam I (the literature), Malayalam II (the essays, the critiques) and Catechism. I rued my lot. Most everyone in my batch spent time learning Mathematics and Science. I spent my time learning Malayalam.

I despised the language. I had no reason to like it, after all. My English was fluent. It was, I knew, the only language that I required. Each time I was bullied by teachers or fellow-students regarding my incompetency in Malayalam, I revelled in fantasies of getting away from it one day, and finally taking heart in the fact that my competency in English would grant me the last victory. Getting away required doing well in the subject though. I needed to know how to write in that blasted language, I realised, if only to have sufficient marks to get through the boards and have a chance at the better higher-secondary schools. So I set to it with grimness. I read the epics, I read the newspaper editorials of Mathrubhumi and I read Aashan-Ulloor-Vallathol with solemnity suitable to one approaching the gallows. I saw no beauty in any of it. I was determined to do well. Thinking back, I was more disciplined as a teenager than I am now. When I set my mind to something then, I usually managed to get it done through sheer perseverance. I made progress, slowly, and my skills at writing in Malayalam improved enough to give me hope that I might not face utter rout in the board-exams. It was nowhere near what I wanted, though.

The hyacinth spoke Malayalam well. Her accent was coarse and nothing close to the melody of my mother’s Thrissur accent, but her skills at writing in Malayalam outstripped that of most everyone I knew then. As our involvement increased, I began to find another reason to learn the blasted language. The first letter I received was in Malayalam. The next one was in Malayalam too. And the one after that. I couldn’t bear to be outdone by her. So I set myself the task of crafting replies more beautiful. I cheated, most of the time. I wrote in English and translated that into Malayalam painstakingly. The end was stilted prose that the Victorians would have balked at.

Time went by. The boards were a few weeks away. I had resigned all hopes of doing any better in the Malayalam papers. Grimly, I played catch-up with the other subjects, cursing Ezhuthachan all the while. I had spent most of my school-life trying to learn that language. Now school-life was drawing to a close, and I had drawn no nearer to Malayalam’s secrets.

Then the hyacinth read out Verukal to me. I was transported, through the writer’s verses, to look at a land old and beautiful, through the lens of a language that was as exact as Sanskrit and as expressive as Tamil.

I did horribly well in my Malayalam board exams, buoyed by the transcendental experience of having Malayalam fed to me in a story of decay related by a voice well-loved. I have written more in Malayalam voluntarily after that, though I haven’t had any good reason to. I remember a lot (vahnisanthapthalohastaambubindunabanguram, marthyajanman kshanaprabhaachanchalam). I have a rather good-looking hand-writing when it comes to writing in the script. I remember waking up from dreams, months after the board-exams were over, trying reassure myself that it was all over and that I would not have to put up with the perpetual worry that scoring poorly in the language would hold me back from going to a better place.

That was all long ago. Learning Malayalam did not grant me much in life. Knowing English has been highly useful.

I don’t plan to have do anything with Kunchan Nambiar’s convoluted poetry in the future. I wonder if I will forget it though.

I was driving back from work today. My usual channel on the FM is KDFC. Today, the channel was playing Gershwin’s piano concerto that I dislike a lot. I felt compelled to fiddle with the radio channels. I ended up on a channel that was playing Aerosmith’s Ragdoll.

I had loved the song back in school. It was an unexpected traipse back in time. The women had been lovely, luscious, and sensual. Yum!

At the next stop signal, I quickly brought up the other tramp song (the best of them all) – Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. In that one, Bowie is lovely, luscious, and sensual. He still remains all of that, inexplicably. Yum! He wears heels better than any woman ever has.

Pansexuality makes me think of goats. I don’t like goats. That might have been easier.

As it goes, the truth is different, and hot tramps weren’t what I fell in love with, and I am a bird on a wire.

Writing in cursive was mandatory at the secondary school I went to. I believe it had been necessary even at my high-school, but I had somehow managed to get around it by connecting my letters every now and then with bars (rather like Hindi, now that I think of it). I can’t write in cursive, or slanted cursive. It twists my wrist in interesting and painful ways when I try. I suppose that is because I am doing it wrong. There was this well-meaning nun in secondary school who advised me to get those copy-writing notebooks and practise. God knows I tried. It was important back then. What if some underpaid teacher somewhere correcting the common exam papers graded me badly just because I wasn’t writing in cursive? I cared a lot about that. Never mind that my non-cursive, non-slanted hand was easier to read than a cursive, slanted version, everybody cared about the cursive, and that was that. It might be a genetic flaw. My brother’s hand is more legible (and downright pretty) after he abandoned the cursive. It is not that we didn’t try. There are dozens of copy-books, dozens of re-written assignments et al, showing how hard we tried. The sad part, of course, is how pointless having a cursive hand turned out to be. Yes, it might have gained people marks when they were in school and graded by teachers who thought it a good metric to judge children’s aptitude by. My brother and I tried, and failed, and castigated ourselves, and were castigated, about the inability to write well in cursive. Now he is in undergrad. I don’t think a cursive hand really counts for much there. Lab experiments must show results, the code must compile, you need to know how to use Matlab and Simulink, you need to know your way around microprocessors – all of that matters, but not the slanted cursive. As for me, as long as my squiggles on the whiteboard aren’t illegible, I doubt anyone cares. It has been quite some time since it was something anyone cared about.

The slanted cursive is just one of those things that the education system thinks is important. The number of pages in your answer booklet is another. How punctual you are with your assignments and how you interact with your teacher is another. None of this matters much. So when the entrance exams are here, everyone wonders why the teacher’s pet doesn’t do better than someone who spent his time playing truant (and says it is unfair). When the placement time arrives on campus, everyone wonders why Google picked someone with a horrible grades over someone who topped the class. Perhaps we should be rethinking our metrics. We have these metrics, and our children expect that as long as they score well on these points, everything else will fall into place. No, it won’t. It is something they need to be aware of. Their little world (school or college) isn’t the world, and isn’t even an approximation.

There was a professor at my undergrad, who taught networks, who encouraged us to write only the points relevant. It was a heavenly idea to me. I could just jot down three or four bullet-points and be done with a question. As far as I can remember, she was the only one sensible about these things out there. I think she tried to tell us, often, about what lay outside the campus. It can’t have been easy, being one of the rare few to have reasonable metrics to judge students (you write the answer, I’ll give you the marks) as opposed to unreasonable metrics (do I like you? do you respect me enough? do you write in a slanted cursive? how many pages in your answer booklet?).

I know a man who has poor communication skills, has poor hand-writing, and would meet no Indian teacher’s idea of ‘acceptable’. He had led a big revenue-churning team at Google for a dozen years, had invested in and started successful companies, had outstripped all his peers who came with better grades. He is tenacious, resilient and stubborn. Many people have those qualities. I think that the difference though is that he thinks. He thinks outside the framework the education system tries to instill in all of us. Many of us go with the framework. Some of us go against it instinctively. Only a rare few have the ability to think about it, gather the best with them as they go forward, and discard the rest.

I rejected everything to do with the education system, blindly. I might have been right in doing so, but I am trying to think now. I am trying to think about why instinct told me that it was a broken system. Why would a system reward those with a slanted cursive hand? Why would it reward those who behaved, those who were punctual, those who compliantly went along with the framework, those who drew margins, and those who wrote a lot of pages in their answer booklet? Did it make sense in the era where government service was the best one could aspire to? I think much of it has to do with the teacher’s laziness (why read answers when you can just count the pages?), and sense of self-importance (this student isn’t punctual, doesn’t treat me with complete respect, and why would I give him or her marks?), and in some cases even ignorance (how dare this student write down things I don’t know about?).

The education system is a dystopia. That parents and children still buy into it is most horrifying. There are still pieces that make sense that you might come across (one lone professor who is the voice of reason, one or two professors who know what they are talking about, a handful of students who remind themselves and each other everyday that something is off), but you need to be very lucky in order to do so.

I went to a Farmer’s Market for the first time in Portland last year. I came back enamored with the idea, and frequented the local weekend markets in Sunnyvale and Mountain View for the rest of the summer.

I had the good fortune to finally introduce my Galatea to a farmer’s market. I had long wanted to. I was ecstatic at the prospect of today.

It was rather wonderful. I’ll remember it for a long time to come. We gamboled to our heart’s content, people-watched, ate crepes, slurped down honey straws, drunk limeade, had the sun bright and warm on our backs, and came back happy.

Thank God for farmer’s markets.

Now I am in such a fine mood that I must write.

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