Saturday, March 30, 2013

Philosophical Thoughts

So I will try to document some stray philosophical thoughts in my mind, that I constantly keep losing track of.

A lot of discussions, I seem to find are based on individual instances; Instances of horror, Instances of people making all kind of wrong noises for all kind of wrong demands, and so on.
And one thing I have come to realize  is that even though all these instances matter, these are singularities in the graph. When getting involved in a discussion, the different sides choose singularities, that seem to justify their points of views. The winner is the guy who listens to both the sides, and is then able to form a continuity out of those singularities, something that holds valid for most of the singularities.

I have been reading and learning about the animal kingdom a bit, and it just marvels me how we are all like animals - fearing the unknown, attacking when feeling vulnerable, focussing more on the immediate needs than focussing on the larger picture and so on.
I think, to understand the humans, we need to first understand how they evolved into who they are right now. I thus must finish reading some books - 1)The origin of species 2) guns germs and steel - the history of everything for last 13000 years.
On a funny note, if you are inside a meeting or something, where the environment is highly tense with people fighting each other over petty issues - try imagining the people as monkeys in your head. You will find the situation absolutely humorous.

I have always wondered how one form of death is different/more painful than another. So you die in a truck accident, where its a scene of gore, your head is completely crushed, and people have a tough time separating you from the road. Or you die in your bed, having lived a life till 80, with wife, kids et al. Would it matter to you how you die?
I guess all these ways of death matter a lot more to people who are still living on the earth - the gore shocks their inner self, because they haven't imagined life to be so fragile.
 Dying young means a lot of things unachieved, dying in accidents means things ending abruptly - and thus, many a thing which were meant to be achieved left incomplete, unachieved.

When I think of it, would it matter to me if I die in either of the ways? I dont know. I think it wont matter, though I would love to finish whatever all I started, and there are intermediate phases in life when you complete one thing and are moving on to another. But I dont get it why one form of death has to be more painful than other.

I have been reading a lot of books and blogs lately. One thing I have come to realise about people is, that they are not bad or good; they just have their moments of failure when their character fails. For some, this turns into a habit. The reverse can also be said to hold, people just have their moments of success when their character succeeds. For some, this turns into a habit.
The lesson is, Life is however you want to look at it. Life is whatever you want to make it to be. You are both good and bad simultaneously; what separates you, is the choices you make.
What defines you, is what side you choose to be on, the good or the bad, the positive or the negative.

Then finally there is love. I have been thinking lately, on the meaning of love, and what value it holds in our life, why is it important and so on. I watched a movie, A beautiful mind, and its had one such deep profound thought in it, in the acceptance speech, when John Nash says "you are all the reason I am". I just can't stop reflecting on it.
People define their lives in terms of god, in terms of religions, in terms of causes, in terms of impact, but what is underlying under it all, is love. What you love comes to define who you are. You love religion, it comes up to define you. You love God, and you get thusly defined. It might be worldly, non worldy, living, or non animate. But what you love defines you. It truly is all the reason you are.

Life. And rocket science.

Life in a startup

I have been working in this startup for four months now, and the learning curve has been wonderful.

The discussions, the lunch breaks, the food jokes, the office mail threads, the environment - everything has been a good experience. As a company also, I think we are doing all right.

But what I find the most exhilarating is the width of learning startups offer. For example, I can discuss on need for an inventory predictor, and how we can design it with someone with huge experience. Or I can talk about a customer communication system and how we can integrate order and call data. To be able to share thoughts with someone heading very high positions, to discuss thoughts so freely, with people far more experienced than you, thats what has made the startup experience worth having.

I talk to my friends, and many of them ask me, are you getting a hike. I know hikes are important, but  such an atmosphere is enough to convince yourself that you are not working here for a hike or the money. Money is important, but there are more important lessons I am learning, which a hike cant compensate for.

Questions to ponder over

I tore away the two questions that I had put on the wall. 
Did I give it my all today? Is this the best I can do?

In practise, I found them to be an overkill. I can't expect myself to give my all everyday, nor can I expect to do the best everyday of my life, both are beyond human limits.
I can only try to give it my all today, and I can only try to give it my best everyday. Sometimes, the result may be beyond me for externalities I don't control, and which I may not realize at the time.

I think this was result of an important realization, one cant keep touching the bar everyday, and raise it simultaneously, forever. Heck, this wasn't even the target, the aim was to higher my own standard, and its better to allow some inefficiency in the system, rather than be burnt out while trying to mechanically achieve something repetitively.

Its more about a state of mind. I realized its not about the peaks I achieve but life is an area under the curve problem. Hence, a less precise but more prolonged state of mind is better than a highly precise, but temporally diminished state of mind.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Age of Realizations

There were some important realizations today.

The first one started with a gtalk buzz from S, with whom I have worked in the past. As are the times these days, he was told, that the whole department of the company was now being shut down and to start searching for another job. He asked me if there were any jobs in my company, which as far as i know are none.
He then asked me not to tell about this to anyone. "Sab mazak udayenge mera". Everyone will make fun of me.

It made me realize, how big a role the fear of humiliation plays in our lives. So much mind space this stupid thought eats, what will others think/say, when actually one should be focusing on moving fast and getting a new job. It also made me understand better why few months earlier, some of my friends started crying when they were told that all freshers are being asked to resign.

The second realization I had, when I was reflecting on a blog I read. I have always heard people around me telling me that they want to work for a company X for some time, before switching, because they want to build something during that time.

I never really appreciated their sentiments, up until today, when I realised that all that my college tried to teach me was the basic skills, the basics of computer sciences, the basics of mathematical theory. the basics of computer architecture and so on.
And throughout my life so far, that's how I've learned things - learning all the basics.

But today I realised, its not about the basics alone.
Even the most complex of castles are built out of bricks. Life is not about learning how to make good bricks alone. It is about learning  how to make castles, and one requirement of that is understanding how to make bricks.

So far, all I have are the bricks - the basic building blocks.

In order to make use of all that I have learnt, I now need to work on the arrangement of the same, to make castles of my own. I guess the same is the intentions of people when they say they want to build something.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Some thoughts - on social networks and questions in life

I observed that I was spending too much time on social networks - twitter, linkedin, facebook, quora.
Not that I was spending too much time on each one of them individually  - still the sum total was very high.
So just to counter it, I have deactivated my facebook, and I reroute the linkedin, twitter sites to google through my /etc/hosts file, so that, any impulsive triggering of the network get blocked.

I was having a discussion sometime back, on the need of facebook, linkedin and other social networks with a good friend.
The thing I have of late realised is, that only the good part of people's life is on facebook. That is, the moments where they are enjoying, the moments where they are celebrating, and so on. But the bad part - the tragedies that go in everyone's life are mostly absent.

So on an average day, my timeline is full of people sharing their trips' photos, their accomplishments, achievements and what not. Sometimes, people decide to be funny and post a witty status mesaage or two. Not all people do this everyday; however, there are almost 700 people in my friendlist and different subsets of them churn out different mix of data on different days.
So, what happens is, that instead of getting/remaining in touch with most of my friends and get to know whats happening in their life, i get to know only the good happening in the life of a subset of those friends.

And that somewhy gives me a complex.

I know, the problem here is with my perception, I get intimidated by the achievements of all those people surrounding me. But still, facebook succeeds in re-enforcing that feeling of being behind the curve. That life sucks in general. 

I know, that the kind of people I work with, the kind of work I do, I am much better off than most of those guys; still facebook succeeds in driving me to think that my achievements are insignificant, or nothing out of the ordinary. Because I dont go to a trip 7 times a day, but 7 different friends of mine might very well go for a trip every day of a week. I dont get witty things in my mind 10 times a day, but my 10 of my friends can easily get 1 witty thought every day.

So, the problem is, facebook pits me, the one and only me with both good and bad, against almost 700 people with only good.

And I cant stop thinking of how much fun the others are having, while I am just slugging it out. And this is not good. This is definitely not good.

And I am sure I wont be the only one feeling kind of depressed seeing the good in other people's life, while cursing myself for my shitty life. I am just another human being, and I have my shortcomings, and I get really distracted when I see that something good might be happening in someone else's life.
The problem, may not be with facebook as a product, its with that thought that it puts everytime I see an update from one of my friends - That I am not doing enough in my life. And over a period of time it can be very frustrating.

So I have started hacking around the way facebook works.
I am not "best friends" with most of the people in my friend list, which means I get updates from people whom I dont know well, and about whom I dont much care.
I have tried limiting the number of friends I have, (removing many of them from my friend list at a go), but that doesn't work. Because I somewhy want to stay connected, yet dont want to learn about each and everything they post every day.

Then there is the question of the content people share - memes, youtube vids, and others. Though most of them are good for recreation, they are not exactly the best use of time. There are other people, who share good stuff most of the time, but its very difficult to get the good things out of the noise.
So now, I keep all the feeds from each of my friend blocked, and have a separate list wherein I follow some 60-70 people who I care about.

I keep app requests banned from many of my friends (the farmville spammers).

I keep a tab on what I am liking, rarely liking any facebook page. Given how facebook's ad targetting work, the lesser number of pages you like the better, though you can always be targeted by the kind of likes your friends have. The point is not to stop it, but just to raise the barriers. (Because you cant just stop it, you are too insignificant to do that)

And when I still feel I am wasting a lot of time on it, (I am a human, and can get easily distracted like a monkey), then, every now and then, I try to go off the facebook grid. I deactivate my account. for months on the stretch. "Na rahega baas, na rahega basuri".

I know, that is not the best way to ignore, but it works, and thus is good enough for me.

Of late, I have observed that though my usage of facebook has dropped considerably, I have started spending too much of time on linkedin. It gives me a high everytime a new visitor visits my linkedin page, and I keep trying to figure out which amongst "One of these people viewed your profile" people might have actually visited my profile.

I am not really used to getting so much attention, so finding 6-7 random strangers in a day showed interest in my professional profile can be a distraction.

And then there is twitter - I follow some 8 accounts, most of them news, and some 15 people follow me back. Still, in my quest to remain updated, I keep hitting that refresh button on twitter every now and then, and end up clicking on news links and reading them

All this brings down the productivity levels, and these are truly impulsive actions.

Hence to control my impulses, I have started routing both linkedin and twitter to google when I am in my office. The aim is to kill that impulse, but still preserve the habit (since they are both useful).


The discussion I was having with my friend did involve the above, but it also involved a bigger question - why you must use some form of social network.

And the reason he gave me - why people should use facebook is that it gives a sense of security that everything is good in my friend's life. I dont agree with that line of reasoning, mainly because if someone is concerned about me, I wouldnt come to know of it this way. but whatever.

The reason I use social networks, like linkedin and facebook, is not just to remain connected with friends, but also to bring down barriers via increased visibility - if there is someone out there who wants to communicate with a person like me, they can now easily connect with me by whatever channels I am available, because of my increased visibility. 

I have seen college juniors ask me about the kind of experience they will receive at a place where I have interned, and I have myself been able to contact people whom I don't know with equal ease. The visibility helped in finding out the right person faster, and thus, getting the answers faster. It also meant I was contacted before someone else was, and thus, the opportunity cost is lower in my case.

The above deals with my social philosophy, and now, let me move on to some important questions, the questions related to life. 

Just to digress a bit, I have been reading tonnes of blogs of late. Most of them relate to technology and startups in general. Some of the best blogs out there - I have scourged each and every post on them out there.  There's been so much of reading, I haven't been able to focus much on my work. And the content I have been reading is really really good, so good, that I am not finding quora as useful as I used to find it some 2 months back, even though it occasionally pops up some real good questions up there.

I have been asking a lot of questions to myself everyday now. I dont know when it started, maybe it was the internship during which I was  reading books heavily. or maybe the final semester when I first tweeted, inspired by that one question from American history X - "What have I done to make my life better?". Or maybe, i always used to have a lot of questions, but I never took the pain to find out answers to all of them.

Whatever. Anyways, all my plans boil down to two simple questions, that I must answer for myself everyday.
  1. Did I give it my all today to whatever I did?
  2. Is that the best I can do?
I eagerly await a day when the answer to both these questions is a yes, for then I will have achieved my real potential.