Excursions by Amit Gawande

It's just some bottled clay..

I had no idea that there exists something called Nation Play-Doh Day. It does, and it is today.


This toy” always fascinates me. After all, it is just clay, plain simple clay. I remember a time, as a child, when we regularly played in and with clay. At that time, it was frowned upon - playing with clay was synonymous with getting dirty. Good boys do not do that”, we were told. I was always the obedient one, but even I deferred at times.

I remember one such rainy evening — we friends neglected not one, but many such restrictions. It had been raining cats and dogs throughout the day, our playground was muddy wet. And the only game that we knew of that we could play in such conditions was football1. We only played this English game on those rare occasions when playing cricket wasn’t feasible. And today was one such day.

Ground was slippery and it continued to rain. So of course, playing wasn’t going to be easier. Running around with the ball by our legs was a big task. Especially for us occasional footballers. So it was only natural that there would be one tenderfoot who would slip and fall down. And he won’t like running around alone with the dirty clothes. So he would pull someone else around. And those two would a few others. It didn’t take long for all of us to resemble the ugly prisoners of The Longest Yard.

It was only after getting crazy laden with mud that we realized, boy oh boy, we were in big trouble. It wasn’t just our clothes that were dirty. The whole of us was. And it had already gotten dark and we had to cross a section of woods to get back home.

To add to our troubles, it had also stopped raining. So the only way for us to clean ourselves up was with the water dripping from the trees in the woods. We did try that, we shook the trees violently at times. But all the attempts were in vain. Now we were not just wet and dirty, but also itchy. That day, I quietly entered the home through the door at the back, went straight to the shower under cold water and even washed off the clothes with my hands.

The walk through the woods that day followed by that cold shower were one of the most tense moments of my childhood.

I still convince myself that my mom did not see me ugly that day.

I know the cutesy games that my daughter plays with her Play-Doh can never be compared to our ugly rolling all over in the mud. But I still haven’t succeeded in explaining my mom how someone managed to bottle some clay and make it one of the hottest selling toy in the world.

  1. English football, Soccer for the US readers.

Mon, Sep 16, 2019 memories life

It was a different day today. It was a different birthday today.

There was no late night, or early morning, cake cutting celebrations. Because I have come to prefer a time when my daughter is completely awake and can thoroughly enjoy the celebrations.

There was no partying in the night with food that my family doesn’t enjoy. Because what matters more is everyone around me has a great time.

There were no loud and over-the-top plans — just a day of togetherness with people that matter the most to me. Of course, that also meant things couldn’t just be perfect.

There was a crazy rush to get ready and cut traffic to reach theaters so that we can watch a show of movie with the whole family together. There were discussions, to the point of exasperation, over the inevitable traffic jams and the needless security checks. There were squabbles over meaningless stuff that ended with guffaws and family portraits. Even awkward at times.

But all said, it was a day well spent. Everyone decided to stay home. And everyone tried their best to make my day special.

I do not have great pictures captured of the day. But I have some wonderful memories made. It was a different, a special day today.

Mon, Sep 16, 2019 update life

There are so many of these apparently great films of the 21st century that I haven’t seen yet. I have seen few, but they are mostly from before 2010. I can see a correlation with the changing priorities in my life. And I forgot Gladiator belongs to the current century ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Mon, Sep 16, 2019 thoughts

I wonder what’s the best way to make note of the fleeting thoughts, say adding an item to a list of things that one needs to do. I know my memory is not my friend here — it gobbles stuff, but fails to let it out timely.

Digital methods are easy to use, convenient, but are unnatural. You lose touch, context, of the written words after some time. They end up being a plain dump of words with no background.

I can capture more context with analog methods — a quick sketch or the current location — but it isn’t convenient. Either I do not have a piece of paper handy or I can’t stop and capture the thought (being in middle of traffic, let’s say) right at that moment.

I am waiting for the day the digital assistants would be smarter to help capture such thought. Today they aren’t. First, they can’t be easily summoned — “Ok Google” or Hey Siri” doesn’t work in middle of traffic, blaring horns or loud chatters.

Second, they are terrible at capturing unformed thoughts. They need structured inputs, which quick notes aren’t. Using digital assistants today is a painful battle between reality and expectations. Former is driven by the technology limitations, later by the out-right spurious promises in the advertisements.

With all said and done though, I have recently - and after enduring lot of pain - learned that heavy reliance on one’s smartphone to lead a structured life is not very sensible to do. There is a chance that it can lead to utter chaos when you don’t have your device on you. It can completely paralyze you for thoughts.

Sun, Sep 15, 2019 thoughts

If a website doesn’t function on a browser other than Chrome or with content blocking on, it loses me as a visitor. I am tired of web developers being clumsy — prompting that we won’t serve content because you block ads is one thing. A nonfunctional website reeks callousness.

Sun, Sep 15, 2019 thoughts

Recent partial failure of the Indian lunar exploration mission — communication loss with the lander Vikram — made me think how crowded the surface of moon must be.

There have been many such hard and soft landings and crashes on the surface of the moon since way before as part of numerous attempted Moon exploration missions, 137 to be precise. And there is a huge list of artifical” objects that we have magaed to send on the way to the surface of the Moon. Boy, so much to grasp there. Especially dates. Just look at the first entry on there - Luna 2, the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon, and the first human-made object to make contact with another celestial body”. We, as species, complete 60 years of that achievement today. Fascinating!

Humans have left over 187,400 kilograms (413,100 lb) of material on the Moon, and 380 kilograms (838 lb) of Moon rock was brought back to Earth by Apollo and Luna missions. The only artificial objects on the Moon that are still in use are the retroreflectors for the lunar laser ranging experiments left there by the Apollo 11, 14 and 15 astronauts, and by the Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2 missions.

Sat, Sep 14, 2019 thoughts

Apple needs to stop being so stingy with the storages they provide. I do not recall they putting much emphasis on their storage plans, on-device or cloud. It’s worrying that they get mocked all around for this and they are fine with it.

Thu, Sep 12, 2019 thoughts

Face recognition, bad people and bad data

We worry about face recognition just as we worried about databases - we worry what happens if they contain bad data and we worry what bad people might do with them.

A great post by Benedict Evans where he compares our fears around usage of facial recognition technology, and in extension the AI and data hoarding, to the fears we had when data gathering and analysis capabilities of databases was being introduced. Some comparisons are indeed apt. And some fears, of course misguided and misplaced.

Gathering data inherently isn’t bad — it is the fact that it enables bad people to use it in bad manner that everyone knowledgeable worries about. So, the call for regulating the usage of the data isn’t unjustified. However, the exaggerated and far-fetched fall-outs of data misuses, and the recent own goals by the big corps, like Facebook, Google and others, are just making regulators around the world shoot for the easiest target out there — their ability to collect data.

The challenge here, I think, is to work out the right level of abstraction. When Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme imploded, we didn’t say that Excel needed tighter regulation or that his landlord should have spotted what he was doing - the right layer to intervene was within financial services. Equally, we regulate financial services, but mortgages, credit cards, the stock market and retail banks’ capital requirements are all handled very separately. A law that tries to regulate using your face to unlock your phone, or turn yourself into a kitten, and also a system for spotting loyalty-card holders in a supermarket, and to determine where the police can use cameras and how they can store data, is unlikely to be very effective.

Wed, Sep 11, 2019 links thoughts

Not justifying either side. But the fact that there is a possible conflict of interest with Google’s Project Zero involvement, given it owns competing platforms from Apple and Microsoft, this kerfuffle was bound to happen. Am surprised it didn’t fall out earlier.

Sat, Sep 7, 2019 thoughts

For my 5 year old daughter who just watched another magician perform, magic is a skill that is matched by nothing else. It is something that she continues to believe that her father can perform — and something that she is learning to perform.

For me, magic is the silliness that I willingly become part of just to watch my daughter, impressed, giggle. Magic is that feeling when I watch her jump around excitedly after I pull a coin from behind her ear or after I make things disappear and reappear out of thin air.

Magic is what happens when I spend more mindful time with my daughter and my family. When the distractions of the day to day digital life lay forgotten in some corner of the home. When my daughter lends a spontaneous burst of energy and everyone around just joins in on her imaginative games. When there is nothing playing in the background expect for the chatters and guffaws or even complete silence at times. When everyone I love is around me, with me.

That is when magic happens.

Fri, Sep 6, 2019 thoughts family

Reading Log for September

Recently, my reading habits have been pleasantly satisfying. If not something that I can be proud of, or anything that’s comparable to the voracious readers I know of, at least I am glad they are far improved. It is only the start of September and I have already met my Goodreads challenge- 4 books ahead of schedule. I understand it was a small target this time - book a month - but I was worried I would not meet even that. I am happy that I did it so comfortably.

It is the use of Audible that has led me to at least stay on track for the book a month” target. Every credit I got in the month was excitedly utilized. I say excitedly” because I used to be keen to get a new credit and identify a new book at the start of every month. Of course, it meant I had to change the habits of my reading” - rather listening. No podcasts. No music in car. It had to be a book.

I thought I would always have one. This month proved that would not be the case always. I was through with the audiobook — the brilliant second in the Discworld series from Terry Pratchett — in the first week itself. Audible is wonderful!

This allowed me time to kindle my reading habit next. So, well, my old Kindle had to get recharged and be ready to serve. And serve it did. It was great to complete reading one book and get in the middle of another — right after finishing the audible book. There are times when I can’t listen — or may be I can avoid listening. Especially when I have a limited time at hand. For example while standing in a short queue. Kindle app on my phone has taken that mind space. It is better than letting the stream of some social network, mainly Twitter or YouTube, pollute my mind with some useless posts.

So August was brilliant from reading perspective for me - 2.5 books read. I want to continue doing so in the remaining year too.

There is one book that I just can’t get back to, the latest in the Cormoron Strike from J.K.Rowling. This one has stayed there in the list of my currently reading” books for more than a year now. I am ~30% in. And I am no way inclined to pick it up again. It is not that I do not enjoy the Strike series. I do. I have throughly enjoyed the first three books. But there is something about the latest one, or the time when I am reading it and the state of my mind, that makes me uninterested in story it narrates. Or the way it narrates it.

I may have to drop it for now, move it to couldn’t complete. May I will attempt to read it again with a fresh perspective. And at a new phase.

Thu, Sep 5, 2019 thoughts reading

Effectiveness of Customer Service Representatives

I have met two types of customer service representatives. There is a section that is trained to listen to what the customer has to be say and serve her rightly. It may, at times, involve sailing through the tirade that the angry, unsatisfied customer unleashes on them. They wait for the right moment to pacify them with a solution that does actually solve the problem that she has.

Then there is another section that neither calms a customer down nor solve her problem. They just passively ignore the blabber and just move on to what they had to do right from the beginning — lead her to another queue.

Both these sections pacify the customer by making her tired.

But there is another section, though in minority, that I come across with a pleasant surprise. They do not listen to your tirade - they even engage, if necessary. They make you realize that your anger is unjustified at the moment, at the place and is against a person that does not deserve to be shouted at. They pacify you by not making you tired, but by tersely moving on to the actual problem that should be addressed. It demands a degree of confidence in one’s knowledge and experience and belief in understanding the customer need better to belong in this group.

Which section fits the standard schooling of customer care, is more effective in addressing the customer needs is undoubtedly debatable. I believe majority of the people may prefer the patience and calmness of the first group. But at times, it is the concise interaction of the final group that is beneficial for all parties involved.

Wed, Sep 4, 2019 opinion

A Month of Bullet Journaling

It’s been around a month since I started maintaining a bullet journal (BuJo, as it is called with love). It has been an enlightening month - I have learned so much about my habits and the way my mind works.

Of course, this wasn’t my first attempt at maintaining a journal or of planning myself, my life through an organizer. There have been many failed new year resolutions that have led to me buying, keeping and planning my days and months in the traditional journals - ones with days, months written on every page. With every day that I had failed to make an entry in, I had lost my interest in writing or planning another today. I just wasn’t organized enough each day, everyday to keep myself, well, organized.

However, I love, love updating my personal bullet journal daily. I believe the analog method of doing so is one big reason behind the change. Thoughts flow freely through the pen on to the paper — a lot more so than they do digitally. There is something about the legibility (illegibility, to be fair) of the handwritten words that lowers some mental hurdles. I always wondered, and even subconsciously ridiculed, the fascination a section of my social circle had with the pen and paper - the pen addicts. But I do fathom the allure now.

The fact that I could be more organized with BuJo by being less organized at times was neat. The process of maintaining” a journal feels a lot less formal and this casualness has done wonders for my journaling/organizing attempts. The whole concept of rapid logging - capturing thoughts as bulleted lists - worked brilliantly for me. It was ok to miss bullets for a day. It was ok to not have any tasks, but only notes for a day. It was ok to not complete tasks on the day, or even in the week that it was written — just migrate it to a new page. It’s perfect for my moody, erratic, unorganized mind.

A month of habit tracking has also been delightful. This is what I was tracking when I started this habit of tracking habits - morning walk/run, publish 100 words every day, measure weight, three meals a day and regular sleep routine.

Bullet Journal Habit Tracking

And boy, have I learned stuff about what makes me carry through any habits. Some habits are easy, some are way too difficult.

  • Habits that I thought would be a cakewalk to follow, turned out to be a walk in a desert. Those I thought would need more push from my side came just naturally.
  • I had thought 100 words to be published daily would be the most difficult task for me to stick to. Three meals/morning walks would be difficult, but not so much. Nah ah. It is apparently easier for me to do things I enjoy doing (bruh, of course) - so I wrote daily more often than I jogged or controlled eating. However, I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to stick to all the three daily, so I plan to continue to track them.
  • Measuring one’s weight daily does nothing but act as a deterrent when you are trying to lose your weight. It is easier to do, but useless. Anything that I shouldn’t be doing daily doesn’t need to be on the tracker.
  • Maintaining regular sleep routine was something I did almost daily. But this tracking was also the most ineffective of the lot. I think I know the reason - I just wasn’t specific enough with my target. Regular” and routine” are subjective. So any sleep more than 7 hours was fine — didn’t matter if it was pleasant or how I felt when I woke up. I do want to sign myself up for a good sleep routine. So this particular item would need some changes.

With all the learnings, I decided to continue with my habit tracker, with some tweaking. This is what I would track as my daily habits for the next month.

  • Rise by 6 AM
  • Morning Walk/Run
  • Morning Pages
  • Publish 100 Words
  • 3 Meals/day
  • Sleep by 11 PM

Since I started maintaining a bullet journal, I have also started carrying along a small diary that I mainly use for the morning pages. It helps me declutter my mind to a limit. Do I see benefits? I believe it is too early to say. But it is something I do want to carry on.

Bullet Journal

It has been a wonderful month of reorganizing the way I lead my life with journals. Is it worth all the effort I have to go through? Only time will tell. But it for sure has made some aspects of my life more fun.

Sun, Sep 1, 2019 thoughts life bujo