I’m writing this in darkest hour. No, not metaphorically like that.. just that dawn is an hour or so away. My body clock is rather messed up, and I’m stuck about whether to embrace it or to go on the warpath and try to set it ‘right’, right here meaning the sort that’ll wake a few hours before noon and sleep somewhere on the good side of midnight. I’m afraid to upset the delicate balance I’ve created, but I also crave the productivity of the morning hours. It’s not like I’ve not tried setting it ‘right’… I’ve tried over so many weekends, to sleep it off or keep awake, but something or the other always, always messes it up.
Talking of which, I have a vague, vague wish I were in Egypt two weeks back. Some detox from the Internet is what I need, yeah, but I can’t voluntarily detox now when I’m actually awaiting a lot of stuff in my inbox. I can’t pull a danah boyd (Lack of capitalization intentional. That’s how she spells her name) and ask everyone to email me a week hence. Not just yet.
However, I don’t even remotely wish I was Egyptian over the past week. Uprising and all is great, but volatility kills me, it just kills me. I cannot take the excitement of a pregnant pause, the cusp of something totally different, the uncertainty in what’s coming next. And yes, I’m going through a bit of that for a few other reasons. I think if I were in Egypt, I’d've broken a window, set something on fire, thrown a Molotov cocktail at an armyman…. something to spark off all the latent tension.
I just can’t take uncertainty.
And all the stuff about how the Internet helps organize mobs… y’know what, uncoordinated publicity, hashtags and all that can only incite mob frenzy. Nothing more. If anything gets done, it’s in the frenzy of a mob. And it can also be easily defused. Expecting 10k likes to translate into 1k people on the streets is too much, let alone expecting 10k people on the streets based on some Facebook community. The reason all these things looking like they work are because they place great weights on things that don’t take much for people to do. Sounds pretty disjoint coming from me at this time in the night/morning, but it was very lucidly said by Malcolm Gladwell in an opinion piece I can’t seem to find now.
I’ve pretty much lost faith in humanity, so I don’t expect the outcomes of the ‘revolutions’ dotting the Arab world to lead to any larger good for the countries or for the rest of us. As long as there are people to be exploited, there will be tinpot dictators, slavedriver bosses, bossy spouses, martinet teachers.
And heck, if anyone’s nice to me, or anything good happens, I just don’t take it well. I am constantly looking for the price-tag, the downside, the catch… it’s good, in a way, I’ve to admit.
Y’know how it is when you hate things for absolutely no reason? Yeah. It pays to try finding out why exactly you hate these things, and for writing it down somewhere for posterity. Otherwise you’re wont to hear one mindblowing talk and say “Heck, why didn’t I consider this career option? What was I smoking?”, and kick yourself for weeks together till the reason is staring at you in the face and you say “Oh, yeah, that’s why”. Save yourselves the trouble, children.
Also, the reason you pick a career is not because you love the awesome stuff… anyone can love that, but you pick one because you like the boring stuff about the job as well. Like the endless waiting for code to finish compiling, or the thrill of reading a dozen papers on a topic and categorizing them, or dodging the paparazzi or singing the same note for three hours to get it right.
Short book review: I read Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue. Fellas, don’t mistake Ryu Murakami for Haruki Murakami. Also, this book is absolutely not for everyone. Puke-worthy. And worse, pointless. Though, I must say, writing’s okay.
Oh, and the DA’s office decided to press charges against 11 students belonging to the Muslim Students Association for planning a disruption of the Israeli ambassador’s speech here last year. Looking at this, I wonder if my earlier stance on the need for student activism was misplaced. It suddenly seems like the right thing to do is to go to class like a good kid and keep away from any sort of trouble. I don’t know if it would have been just like this if it was a more protesty campus like Berkeley instead of goody-two-shoes Irvine… what do you say? As for facts, while I didn’t attend the talk, you can read this article here.
And, well, I’ve been at the receiving end of some racism as well over the past week. I don’t want to talk about it, and the perpetrator was someone well-known to be racist and well-known as the Department Jerk, so it’s not a reflection on attitudes here in general (though I’ve also heard tales of a racist European here), more so since the jerk was told off quite quickly by folks around me. I was very very pissed, and still am, and while it irks me that I’m not displaying any backbone here by making the Jerk’s life miserable, the more I think about it, the more it seems to not be worthwhile. More so since it seems more of a display of jerk-ism than racism.
Then… I’ve sort of been attending these Women In Computer Science events on campus. I’d love to go to those conferences, but haven’t got an opportunity yet, so just the campus stuff for now. While it’s great that these spunky undergrads are taking initiatives to get highschool girls interested in computer science, I have mixed feelings about another aspect of this. I find I am not too comfortable with the whole “Computer science doesn’t mean being a nerd, y’know” line. Especially when that is peddled about to get girls interested in stuff like Informatics and technical writing and software testing. For one thing, it makes Informatics, technical writing and software testing look like the poor cousins of ‘real Computer Science’. For another, it says folks in computer science are nerds and for some reason, being a nerd is a bad thing, and more so if you are a girl.
If your girls are not choosing parallel processing and database systems as a career because it requires being a ‘nerd’, there’s something wrong with the whole system, not with the girls. If your society says working hard is a bad thing, or choosing not to do something just because it’s hard is okay, something’s wrong with that attitude. If your society doesn’t reward persistence with anything but social ostracism, there’s something wrong with it, and that’s what you have to work to correct. Not these band-aid measures. Like getting women to do the ‘easier’ jobs in the field and saying ‘Oh, look, we have a fair representation of genders in our workplace’. This is just passing the buck, and it doesn’t solve any damn thing.
That said, I sometimes wonder if I’d've been better off in some artsy job that involved writing features and blurbs and reviews, meeting Marxy members of the literati, talking in abstractions, finding phallic symbols in the opening scene of Lion King, making Free Binayak Sen posters and Tshirts, and sending pink innerwear to some remote address in North Karnataka. That, when I’m not viewing people from other countries as objects in a museum, acting in plays which use just one prop and have plenty of monologues, and lamenting the cloistering morality of the middle classes of India. I possibly wouldn’t have been as analytical as I am now, but maybe that’d be a good thing; it’s blissful to not know the extent of your ignorance about the world.
And then I look at one of those Indian-hippies-discovering-themselves-in-the-US, with their Jayanagar-4th-Block-Pavement junk jewelry, their ill-fitting kurtas and their totally clashing salwars, their desperately-in-need-of-a-comb hairdo, their lack of pride in themselves, and back at my Zen-ish accessorizing, recent trendy haircut, clothes designed to blend in rather than stand out, and strict no-caffeine-as-wake-me-up rule and decide the change is totally not worth it.
So, Google just gave me another reason, why I should hate them! With its web history … Yet another step to intrude my privacy.
You might say, why do you want to use google accounts? Use something else!
So, thats another reason. First they hook me on to them what with that brilliant seach engine. Then comes gmail, higher storage, cool chat, labels and yada. So, they have access to the whole of my personal life. Phew! I say, no one is reading this mail. But then their bot crawls over it and neatly places “relevant” ads besides it. Do they have an option for me to disable them? NO. But they every other inane options to change the colors of my labels, and personalized themes and the like.
No Thank you! Im not using more of their products. Yet they have reader. So thats fine? Now they know what all I read, and when I read and how much I read. So thats not eough for them to find out or give me “better” search results.
They bring out this web history thing. What with a whole packaging of personalized results for that. No it was not enough for them to keep a copy of all the words I searched for. But now they want to know which site I clicked after I searched for that elusive keyword. Oh! so, How many people know about it? Not many. Its just one of those little prices you pay for using their services. Oh you can set up what or how you want your web history to be stored. No thankyou, Im not even going near it.
So Im going to see if I can switch this whole brower history off? Nooo! Google wants me to go and delete every item if I dont want to use it. After all the heavy searches I do, this is the least I can help them out, nein?
Oh and they also have this whole list of stuff for Privacy and security for google accounts:
Someone changed you password? Keeping you account secure? Detecting suspicious activity in your account? Removing malware from my computer? Dont you think its just what google could do with all the information it has access to?
Third party access to your account information? Sharing your data with other sites? Isnt google already using it for more monopoly?
I suppose im being cynical about it. But all the over dependence is killing me.
Do tell me if youve figured out if there is a way to turn the damn thing off!
This just occurred to me. Maybe you who’s reading this knew this for ages, but when Aamir Khan reads about dyslexia ages after Arun Shourie established a special school [Ok, not too sure about the establishment bit... but I think it has to do with autism... his child is autistic. I think], and gets excited enough to make a movie about it, and which gets critically acclaimed in spite of being a copy of a ten-year-old illustrated children’s book (You didn’t think Aamir was capable of originality, did you?) I’m sure I can be excused for writing this post.
So there are folks who manage time pretty well normally, but the moment they log on to the Net, their time gets sucked into a black hole. I wondered why.
Firstly, it is because we haven’t grown up using the Net for educational purposes, or for getting work done. We are used to seeing it as an entertainment medium.
But the larger reason is, everything is so close to everything else. It takes very less time to context-switch between work and fun, or fun and fun. Now you wouldn’t be talking to a friend in your living room, and run to check your postbox every few minutes, would you? And movies on TV don’t take time to load that you pick a book out of your bookshelf in the buffering time.
Essentially, there’s very less decoupling. The same applications are used for a variety of tasks, so much that it becomes increasingly hard to distinguish between the two. And it gets worse when these tasks are on opposite ends of the essential-nonessential spectrum.
One of the biggest defaulters is Mail. It is a very convenient application. It is non-intrusive. The user can respond when (s)he wants to. Items stay on for as long as you want them to.
So you find a very interesting post on cracked.com which tells you about 10 Rags-to-Riches tales that weren’t. You know a dozen friends who’d be interested in reading this. You can’t disturb them in the middle of the day over this. So you do the logical thing: mail it to them.
And you also find a bug that needs to be fixed urgently. You feel too lazy to get off your chair and tell the owner of the code to fix it. What do you do? Mail.
You want to urgently call a team meeting. Your team is distributed over three floors. No prizes for guessing how you inform them all.
Now the logical thing to do while you are hard at work at a task that requires concentration is to turn off new mail notifications. In most practical situations, that is humanly impossible. Because folks who mail you mail you stuff with different levels of priority. You can’t forgo the urgent stuff (like meeting notifications and bugs that need fixing). (Actually, one solution involves staying off the Net while at work. But what about when you’re on a task that requires your use of the Net? Or one of the time-sink type websites/applications?)
This problem is not hard to solve. You use filters, block some, tell your friends to mail you the chit-chatty bakwaas discussions on some other ID…
Sadly, Wikipedia doesn’t have any of these features. So you go searching for info about Bio-NLP, and end up reading the story of Dev D, then some about Bimal Roy, Suchitra Sen… and before you know it, you’re chuckling at the dialogues of Jhankaar Beats… and an hour of your life is gone, never to come back.
While applications with multiple features seem a good deal, they aren’t exactly made with the monkey-mind of people in mind. People tend to get distracted easily. By the slightest thing. So while ISKCON and the Art of Mind Control might be a sight richer due to that fact, it doesn’t mean the problem is with you. You can only try to change the way your mind works, but heck, why mess with nature? Instead, tailor the world around you.to suit the way you and your mind work… isn’t that what technology is all about?
After the advent of Google Reader, the number of email FWDs have reduced to a really great extent. (It is of course another matter that a lot of time is wasted on Reader). That’s the sort of decoupling we want. We should be able to distinguish between the different aspects of our life. While you can technically talk to your PhD advisor and better half at the same time now, it doesn’t mean you have to, if you’re morbidly scared of signing off with “Luv ya hon” to your advisor.
More features might seem a good deal, but heck, this is the Internet and we’re mostly talking about Freeware. You need to quit the whole bargain-and-buy mentality if you want to make some real optimal choices here.
If you’re waiting for some important mail to turn up in your GMail inbox, don’t have an open browser window which you’ll open every now and then and occasionally open a new tab where you check your blog stats or your feedReader updates. Don’t even keep GTalk on that you’ll be tempted to ping someone with a scandalous status message. Use GMail Notifier instead.
If you want to inform people about urgent work, use an instant messenger. Or the phone. Not mail. Or if you have some stuff that needs to be said in writing, mail them, and call them saying you’ve mailed them.
Like the Late Prof. Randy Pausch said, email is supposed to be checked at leisure. You don’t sit at your postbox all day waiting for the mailman. That’s the whole point of mail – a means of communication which can be checked at your own convenience.
Similarly, I’m waiting for a point-to-point messenger service. It’d be anyday better than signing on to GTalk to talk to some very important person halfway across the world, and being interrupted with “wazzaaa?”s. You could of course set your status as “DND”, but the hecklers who ping you with “y u login if ur2busy ya?” are painful enough. No, I don’t accept the ‘Invisible’ mode as a true solution. It is, at best, a workaround.
And wasting time on Google Reader? The only solution I can think of is don’t login if you don’t have the time.
I’d really like it if applications with multiple features provided a way to switch on only those features you wanted. At each session.
So… tell me.. what are your biggest time-BlackHoles on the Internet? How do you manage when you need to get stuff done?