Once upon a time

A few months back, someone sent me this “pixar format” of storytelling.

While it makes sense, I have deep-seated insecurities regarding this format, going back to when I was in “upper kindergarten” (about 5 years old).

Until I was 14 or so, I had a pronounced stutter. It was very rare until then that I would win any prizes in speaking events even though I was comfortably the class topper in academics – basically I couldn’t speak. The mystery got unlocked when some teacher wondered if I stuttered because I “thought faster than I could speak”. That one remark made me conscious, and helped me slow down, and I remember pretty much cleaning up the speaking events prizes in school the following year.

Anyways, ten years before that I couldn’t speak. On top of that I couldn’t remember. I mean I could remember obscure things (for a five year old) such as the capital of Angola or the inventor of the telescope, but I couldn’t remember a coherent passage of text.

And one such passage of text that I first needed to mug up (and remember) and then speak it out (double nightmare) happened to be in the above (Pixar) format. There was a storytelling session in school for which we had to mug up stories and then tell it out in class.

I don’t exactly remember the text of the story (well I couldn’t remember it in 1987-88, so what chance do I have of remembering it now?), but it went something like this.

Once upon a time, there were four cows who lived in the jungle.

Every day, they grazed together. So if a tiger attacked, they could get together and chase it away.

One day, the cows quarrelled among one another.

Because of that, they started grazing separately.

Because of that, it was now possible for the tiger to take them on one-on-one.

Until finally, one day, the tiger attacked the cows one by one and ate up all of them.

Don’t ask me how a tiger could eat four cows in a day. I remember struggling like crazy to remember this story and speak it out. I remember that my father tried to make me mug it up several times during one weekend, after which I was supposed to speak it out in school.

I don’t remember how well or badly I spoke it out. However, what lasted was that this kind of stories started giving me nightmares. From then on, I developed a fear of the phrase “once upon a time”. Any story that started with “once upon a time” were scary to me.

I remember this one day in school when one classmate was asked to narrate a story. He went up to the front of the class and started with “one day … “. That was liberating – that not every story needed to start with once upon a time was a massive relief to me.

It’s funny the kind of things we remember from childhood, and the kind of seemingly innocuous things that have a long-term impact on us.

Letters to my wife

As I turned Thirty Three yesterday, my wife dug up some letters (emails to be precise) I’d written to her over the years and compiled them for me, urging me to create at “Project Thirty Four” (on the lines of my Project Thirty). What is pleasantly surprising is that I’ve actually managed to make a life plan for myself, and execute it (surprising considering I don’t consider myself to be too good a planner in general).

In February 2011, after having returned from a rather strenuous work trip to New York, this is what I had to say (emphasis added later, typos as in original):

For me steady state is when I’ll be doing lots of part-time jobs, consulting gigs, where I’m mostly owrking from home, getting out only to meet people, getting to meet a lot of people (somethign taht doesn’t happen in this job), having fun in the evenings and all that

I wrote this six months before I exited my last job, and it is interesting that it almost perfectly reflects my life nowadays (except for the “have fun in the evenings” bit, but that can be put down to being long distance).

I’ve just started a part time job. I have a couple of consulting gigs going. I write for a newspaper (and get paid for it). I mostly work from home. I’ve had one “general catch up” a day on an average (this data is from this Quantified Life sheet my wife set up for me).

A week later I had already started planning what I wanted to do next. Some excerpts from a letter I wrote in March 2011:

Ok so I plan to start a business. I don’t know when I’ll start, but I’m targeting sometime mid 2012.

I want to offer data consultancy services.

Basically companies will have shitloads of data that they can’t make sense of. They need someone who is well-versed in working with and looking at data, who can help them make sense of all that they’ve got. And I’m going to be that person.

Too many people think of data analysis as a science and just through at data all the analytical and statistical weapons that they’ve got. I believe that is the wrong approach and leads to spurious results that can be harmful for the client’s business.

However, I think it is an art. Making sense of data is like taming a pet dog. There is a way you communicate with it. There is a way you make it do tricks (give you the required information). And one needs to proceed slowly and cautiously in order to get the desired results.

I think of myself as a “semi-quant”. While I am well-versed in all the quantitative techniques in data analysis and financial modeling, I’m also deeply aware that using quantitative tools indiscriminately can lead to mismanagement of risks, which can be harmful to the client. I believe in limited and “sustainable” use of quantitative tools, so that it can lead without misleading.

 

My past experience with working with data is that data analysis can be disruptive. I don’t promise results that will be of particular liking for the client – but I promise that what I diagnose is good for the client’s business. When you dig through mountains of data, you are bound to get some bitter pills. I expect my clients to handle the bad news professionally and not shoot the messenger.

I don’t promise to find a “signal” in every data set that I’m given. There are chances that what I’m working with is pure noise, and in case I find that, I’ll make efforts to prove that to the client (I think that is also valuable information).

And these paragraphs, written a full year before I started out doing what I’m doing now, pretty much encapsulate what I’m doing now. Very little has changed over nearly five years! I feel rather proud of myself!

And a thousand thanks to my wife for picking out these emails I had sent her and showing me that I can work to a plan.

Now on to making Project Thirty Four, which I hope to publish by the end of today, and hope to execute by the end of next year.

When Kara met Pinky

Readers of this blog might have noticed that I have an above-average long-term memory, and frequently indulge in “this day that year” exercises. While I have blogged about it a couple of times in the past, I do this practically every day – wonder what happened on that day in a previous year.

There are some anniversaries that are special, though. And there is no particular number – the special anniversaries are those where both date and day of week coincide. This usually happens at a frequency of five or six years (depending on the leap cycle), though it can be longer at times. For example, I vividly remember all years when my birthday was on a Sunday (1987, 1992, 1998 and 2009), and they were all spectacular (so I’m hoping for a spectacular birthday this year, too).

Anyway, today is the 28th of September, and it is a Monday. The last time 28th September was a Monday was back in 2009, and in hindsight it turned out to be a rather special day. The previous evening my “chat friend” had called me, trying to explain why she didn’t want to meet me. I convinced her to meet me the following day. And we agreed to meet in Basavanagudi (basically I was playing on “home ground”).

We spent some three hours together that day, and for virtual strangers who had only bantered on Orkut and LiveJournal and GTalk earlier, the breadth and depth and ease of conversation was rather spectacular. I remember this rather “special” feeling as I walked back home that day.

I promptly freaked out, and wrote this blog post:

Yesterday I met a friend, an extremely awesome woman. Once I was back home, I sent a mail to my relationship advisor, detailing my meeting with this friend. And I described her (the awesome friend) as being “super CMP”. I wrote in the mail “I find her really awesome. In each and every component she clears the CMP cutoff by a long way”. That’s how I’ve become. I’ve lost it. I’ve lost my heart. And I need to find it back. And I don’t know if I should continue in the arranged scissors market.

She seemed more positive than that. This is what she wrote:

First step is to keep your eyes open to delicious and nutritious tharkaris(potential marriage material girls/boys). Then, somehow thru some network, make someone set you two up. Third, interact. with tact. Fourth, put meet. or beat. Fifth, this can go in two ways now. Or more. First, is a no. Definite no. Second, yes. Full yes. Okay, there’s a third possibility too. Third, Yes, but not yet. This is a lucrative possibility which gives super scope to put more meets, learn about each others funny faces, food tastes, sense of humour, patience, sense of dressing, chappliying, smells, etc. Finally, it’ll end up in louuvu..maybe not the gut churning romantic feeling for the other party like a unit function, out of nowhere. This is more sustainable like a step function built on affection, tolerance, enjoying each others company, comfort, care, etc and if it were to ever fall apart then it would be one step at a time and less painful.

Things moved reasonably fast after that. Exactly fourteen months after we first met, we got married. We had fun. We occasionally fought. We bought a house. And we went long distance. Yet, in the last six years, I’ve never done anything for any of our anniversaries (date or marriage). There have been some customary dinners but nothing spectacular.

So I thought I should make a video this time. I decided to retrace the path of our first date, recalling some memorable bits of the conversation, All photos and videos were shot with a hand-held Nikon D90. I got creepy looks from people around. Lots of people asked me what I was doing. But the photowalk experience helped.

Normally, it’s the wife who stitches up the NED Talks videos, and this was my first experience with iMovies. Both my inexperience and my general lack of attention to detail clearly shows. Commentary was recorded in “synch sound” (along with the video). And I hope youtube doesn’t take down this video citing copyright issues.