Saturday, March 24, 2012

This Incredible Life

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." - Einstein

And that is all there is to lead an incredible life - enthusiasm, lots of it.

A co-worker of mine shared this (awesome) article (pasted from her email to me) during a particularly difficult week for me. I happened to read the article 4 times so far and each time it made me smile - the smile of gratitude. We often forget how much we have going for us, in life. How phenomenal things are around us. How awesome people are.

It also eerily reminds me of this video on Double Rainbow spotting at Yosemite (see below) which I had immediately dismissed in my usual cynical way as "over the top reaction from a guy who is high". Now that I think of it, I don't care if he was high. If I am half as enthusiastic as this guy I won't need anything else to keep me happier than I am now.

Anyhow, back to the article. It is worth the 5 mins you will invest today. So read on...

In Praise of Honest Enthusiasm for the Awesomeness of Life

One Saturday morning last October, my friend Greg and I were running down the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon, close to halfway through 26 miles of trail. 
We had run four miles and would run about four more to Phantom Ranch, where we could double-fist coffee and Lemmy lemonade at the cantina before climbing 4,400 vertical feet back up the South Rim to finish a hike/run Rim-to-Rim.

I turned around mid-stride and said,
“Hey Greg!”
“Yeah,” he said.
“We’re running in the Grand Canyon!”
Sometimes I get to do awesome things, and I kind of forget how awesome they are. Do you? I get stressed, caught up in other stuff, and I forget how fortunate I am, how incredible life has turned out to be most days, and some of the special places I’ve gotten to see. Most of the time, though, I try to keep a pretty good handle on it — try to remember to turn around and yell to my friend that yes, we are running across the most famous hole on Earth, and that’s pretty special. Or, you know, even reminding someone a few months later about something special.
Kurt Vonnegut, in a 2003 speech to students at the University of Wisconsin, said,
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
In 2012, I urge you to notice when something is awesome, as it often is, and exclaim or murmur or just make a mental note of it. Isn’t it just goddamn fantastic that you have your health, for example? Or running water, or electricity? Or that you have enough money to actually pay someone else to make you a cup of coffee? Or if you want ice cream, you are at any time in America probably only 5 or 10 minutes away from a place that sells some form of it? (Trust me on that one)
Your life, even the bad parts, is fucking amazing. And most of the small things that make up your life are amazing, too — mountain bike rides, rock climbs, ski runs, sunsets, stars, friends, people, girlfriends and boyfriends, dogs, songs, movies, jokes, smiles…hell, even that burrito you ate for lunch today was pretty phenomenal, wasn’t it?
What was your enthusiasm for these things last year? I recommend you step it up in 2012.
People can disagree with things like quality, maybe your taste in food, or whether or not a movie is good. But no one can argue with enthusiasm, especially when it is over the top.
Do you think that climb you just did is the greatest climb ever? Great! If someone tries to tell you it isn’t, who cares? “Greatest Rock Climb Ever” is not an objective title. Thusly, when you are excited about a climb (or a trail run or a summit view or a bike ride or a sunrise), don’t let anyone bring you down.
A conversation where someone puts down your favorite ski area/mountain/rock climb/trail/burrito is not a conversation about ski areas/mountains/rock climbs/trails/burritos. It is a conversation about that person being a pompous asshole. Go forth and be positive in 2012.
Enthusiasm doesn’t have to stand up to criticism. It doesn’t even have to really make sense. If you finish a ski run, MTB trail or sport climbing route, and you like love it, I encourage you to try out new superlatives when describing it to someone else. This goes for everything you’re excited about. Examples:

“I’m just going to tell you now that Outer Space is the most incredible rock climb you will ever do. You cannot not smile while climbing it. It’s like the Beatles. Even if you for some ridiculous reason don’t enjoy it, you can’t deny its inherent goodness.”

“Have you heard the new Macklemore song? It will knock you on your ass!”
“The Eggplant Parmesan sub at Pasquini’s is probably my favorite sandwich in the entire city of Denver, if not the state of Colorado. In fact, now that I’ve said that, I think we should go to Pasquini’s immediately.”
Maybe some of the stuff you like love, that you’re passionate about, isn’t cool. Hey, this is 2012. Everything is cool. Irony is either everything, or dead. Be honest: When you see someone wearing a Motley Crue t-shirt, you don’t know if they’re serious, or wearing it to be ironic, do you? Do you like Motley Crue? Then ROCK THAT SHIT. And spread happiness.
Remember it is not illegal to high-five anyone. Do you use exclamation points in the salutations of your e-mails? Well, why not?
Do you like to laugh? Most people do, don’t they? Including baristas, waitstaff, and retail personnel. Perhaps you have at some point had a real conversation with one of these people. This can sometimes begin by sincerely asking those people how they are, instead of treating them like a machine that makes you coffee or orders your salad. This opens the door to making them laugh. If you play your cards right, you may be able to high-five them at the end of a conversation.
Remember yesterday, when you saw that one thing that reminded you of that one friend of yours, and you thought about how if you sent that friend a photo of the thing that reminded you of them, they would smile? But then you didn’t send your friend that photo, and it wasn’t awesome. Don’t do that again. Here’s what you do:
Take the photo.

Send it to your friend.
Your friend smiles. The world is a better place. Thanks.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hacker Way

No, that is not an address in the Bay Area. On second thoughts, it could be (too lazy to look up)

Amidst all the furore this week revolving around the Op-ed in New York Times questioning a company's moral standards, I sat wondering about what got us all here. What is that one thing we are forgetting about? What is important and means the most to you, me and everyone around us? And then while standing under the shower (yeah, I had a moment) it came out loud to me - Hacking.

Hacking is important.

Hacking is a way of life. It needn't just be computer code. It can be anything you build, you own, put it out there and relentlessly improve it over time. That solves someone's problem and makes lives easier. The best music you can make, the best books you can write, the best dances you can choreograph, the best lifestyle you can have, the best dishes you can cook....anything and everything you are passionate about can be "hacked". Notice how the word "hacking" is used in the positive sense :-) In a hacker's world, perfect is frowned upon and executing and shipping is welcomed. 

Last week, I was reading the Facebook S-1 from their IPO filing (yes, it took me this long) and loved how they summed up "hacking" in a page. Their mantra is "Done is better than perfect" -- I couldn't agree more.

And so like always got to share it here :-) This is an excerpt from their S-1 filing that describes the hacker culture:

"As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word "hacker" has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I've met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it - often in the face of people who say it's impossible or are content with status quo. 

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we built a testing framework that at any given time can try thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words "Done is better than perfect" painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also inherently hands-on active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There's a hacker mantra that you'll hear a lot around Facebook offices: "Code wins arguments"

Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win - not the the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people."

PS: Their current YoY growth is at 88% while they are targeting a valuation of $100B, which sounds way too ambitious compared to their growth. But then they are hackers and anything is possible in a hacker's world :-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Steve Jobs School of Leadership

Ever since I have finished reading the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I failed to understand what made Steve Jobs such a great leader. In fact, he was the smack opposite of what a leader is defined to be in traditional terms.

Then all of a sudden Jobs came by and started a whole new facet of leadership. Suddenly, being an asshole was a cool thing. This idea was so conflicting to my mind that has been taught that leadership is all about being generous, inspiring, considerate, supportive and appreciative.

So imagine my surprise bumping into this article in Harvard Business Review about what made Steve Jobs style of leadership palpable. It sort of made sense to me having read through this article...

Why would you listen to someone who was a jerk?

- Because they had built a wealth of credibility about them and their decisions. Who would you listen to if you wanted know about the future of technology? Steve Jobs or your mom?

- Because they were sort of like, say, those personal trainers at gyms. Yes, you hate them for pushing you through pain, but you know you are going to get great benefits out of this misery.

- Because they had a sense of higher purpose in life. How many leaders have you met, who knew what their purpose was in life? Wouldn't that be the most inspiring moment/revelation for you?

Having said that, I don't mean to propose you should start being a jerk to people. Please, no :-)

This is what I really think - Steve Jobs was paranoid. He was paranoid about things that mattered to him. I think everything else just followed due to the nature of the three qualities he exhibited. I am not sure if there is a right or wrong way to lead people. Apparently, this worked for him.

And really, end of the day, you want to see yourself happy more than anything (That's probably what Jobs did too) If you don't agree to that, you are lying :-)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Burying the lead

Burying the lead often occurs in journalism. This is a problem of how journalists stray away from reporting the most important point of a story. However this is a phenomenon that occurs in our everyday non-journalist lives as well. We often miss the core of an idea, message, work etc. that we are involved in.

I found the following book excerpt from Made to Stick (a book everyone must read) to be a profound illustration of this concept, that it instantly stuck with me. I am tempted to share it here:

Nora Ephron is a screenwriter whose scripts for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle have all been nominated for Academy Awards. Ephron started her career as a journalist for the New York Post and Esquire. She became a journalist because of her high school journalism teacher.

Ephron still remembers the first day of her journalism class. Although the students had no journalism experience, they walked into their first class with a sense of what a journalist does: A journalist gets the facts and reports them. To get the facts, you track down the five Ws - who, what, where, when, and why.

As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron's teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts:

"Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacremento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund 'Pat' Brown."

The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence:

"Governor Pat Brown, Margeret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School faculty Thursday in Sacramento...."

The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.

Finally he said, "The lead of the story is 'There will be no school next Thursday.'"

"It was breathtaking moment", Ephron recalls. "In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn't enough about to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered."

SF half marathon 2012 - Notes from Week 3

Hi ya all!

How is life?

I got my first blisters (from running) today :-)

Ok, aside from that cheerfulness, I will be honest. I wanted to completely dodge this post today.
This week I have hardly run or worked out. I know. What a sham! And it is only third week. Tch Tch.

Well I missed a run and a workout. Just like the last week. Sigh.

And the one easy run I did, lets just say I dragged myself to finish a paltry 3 miles.

So really I was looking forward to my mileage run today. Also because I ordered this shiny new wireless headset (oh the hopes I pinned on it!) and a nice armband to keep my iPhone tucked in safely. Unfortunately (yes, you guessed my tone here already), the headset had ear buds that would fall off my ears. This was the last straw. This seals it. Ear buds don't work with my ears. Period.

Well, at least the arm band was working fine. So according to my training plan I was supposed to do a 5.5 miler today, but I had this nagging feeling and this whole week was a downer for me - sick, red eyes, irregular sleep, toe joint pain from last run, cramps. Phew!

I really really really wanted to break out of this funk. Like, really really!

I set myself an ambitious 6 miles. Of course, I kept a lookout if my body was wearing's always important not to overdo it and listen to your body signals.

As usual the first 2 miles are always tough for me. It is almost at end of 3rd mile that I get a runner's high. My pace picks up and I feel like "Hey this is not so bad. I think I can do another 3-4 miles."

I also made sure I was breathing well and running in form. (No more toe sprains please!)

At the end of 6.1 miles in ~58 mins, I felt SO magnificent. You will know when you do it too.

And now I have nothing but tremendous respect for runners. It is mind over matter people!
Just do it. Make it count (shameless plug for Nike;-)

PS: I promised I would reward myself with some new dry-fit gear after my 6 miler under an hour. I think I justify running gear now. I still need to up my drinking water and protein intake though. So those will be my goals for this week. Happy Sunday folks!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Steal like an Artist

We have all heard about that one before :-)

This happens to be the title of a new book I am going to pick up for some quick reading this week. It is by a guy called Austin Kleon, who lives in Austin (duh!) and whose bio reads "I'm a writer who draws". Yes, he got me at his bio. His earlier projects included The Newspaper Blackout - how he used a sharpie to blackout words and create poetry out of newspaper text :-)

This is one of the talks he gave at The Economist where he speaks of how artists steal (the right way of course).

"We can pick our teachers and we can pick our friends and we can pick the books we read and the music we listen to and the movies we see, etcetera. You are a mashup of what you let into your life."

And an awesome poster from his book that caught my attention.
So what are you going to steal today?


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Awesome Indian things # 6 : The 1 Rupee Popsicle called Pepsi

Image courtesy: Google image search

Remember those plastic tube shaped popsicles they sold outside the schools? 50 paise a piece and 1 rupee for the longer one that was cut into halves? We fondly called them "Pepsi". Although I wonder, why they were called Pepsi in the first place!

I somehow had very little fetish for the ice colored popsicles. But I couldn't resist the flavored milk ones! Those were my favorites. I remember boys in my class tearing off the the ends of the plastic and using it to spray the water over each other at recess. Haha. It was ridiculous fun!

At my school we were divided into "sections". There was always a constant tussle between Section A (where I belonged) and Section B boys. Often over someone sprinkling colored water off these tubes on a random girl's skirt ;-)

After savoring the popsicles the boys would promptly roll it and inflate them with air only to make loud noises off them while deflating them. Oh the sort of stuff that made us instantly happy (only to be ruined by this Facebook-ridden online world)

On one of holidays to India, I was uber surprised to see a dedicated "Ice gola" shop setup a block from my home. And I was more surprised to see my dad taking a dig at it. From when did he start loving this stuff? When I was a kid I was strictly warned to keep off them due to health hazards (bad water = jaundice, the Indian parents preached then.) It also reminds me how this picture (below) got viral where it was cleverly named "Gogola" in google colors. Ha! Legendary stuff.

Someone build a time traveling machine. Please.

Image courtesy: Google image search

SF half marathon 2012 - Notes from Week 2

Hey ya guys! How are you all doing this weekend?

I looked forward to much needed rest. Although I did catch a bit of it, I still feel like I could use one more day;) This week was tough. Not because I had to up my running. Because it was such a tough week at work. Every day was exhausting, leaving me with no mental energy to go for a dash. I missed a workout plus a run day. Sigh. Wish there were ways to gain a day, but alas no! A run missed is a run missed. Period. Also, I am just waiting for this winter to end so days can run longer and I don't have to worry about getting a run done by 5:30 pm when it starts getting dark.  Running in the mornings would be perfect if not for cold winds. So yeah, I think in a week or two I won't have any excuse to give, weather-wise:)

My mileage run this week was 5 miles (I felt like I could run more, but I have to contain and keep it steady, not rush into longer runs.) However on mile 5 an odd thing happened, I felt a sudden surge of pain in my big toe joint. I just brushed it aside as a normal sore. But I was disappointed that it brought down my pace dramatically. Last week I was able to wrap up 4.5 miles in 42 mins. However 5 miles this week led me to ~50 mins. Not good. But I think I will go easy on myself. Maybe this sore of a thing on my toe got me slow.

There was extreme redness like a rash on it yesterday. Today, the redness gone, I felt a little relieved. However it pains when I squeeze the skin on it. Hmm. Might as well go get it checked.

Well things on my list this week - Drink more water and increase my protein intake. Also will try to incorporate some new routines for my cross training. Really bored of elliptical now..

The SF half is weeks and weeks away. But time flies. So I am not going to get all complacent about the long gap :-)

Happy Sunday, all!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Why simple is the new fancy - What we can learn from Apple

Everyday I come across so many people with great ideas. But when ideas transform into living and breathing solutions, they become something else. They do not solve the problem they were supposed to solve in the first place. The solution is no doubt fancy. It is also very complex. It also tries to solve "other" problems.

Do we care about "fancy"? No.

Do we care about complexity? Heck no.

Do we care about those "other" problems? Maybe. But I am happy if it solves the problem it was supposed to solve.

So why is it that when an idea transforms into a solution, all the above noise takes precedence over simplicity and ease of use?

Take the case of iPhone. If someone asked you why Apple iPhone is so hugely popular with the masses, what would be your answer?

My answer is simply - "What you see is what you get"

It is an unbelievably simple answer. An iPhone's popularity lies in its inherent ability to abstract away the complexity from the end user. As an end user I don't care if you used the most complex software stack or used an extremely powerful microprocessor chip. All I see is a phone that works for my main functions - making calls, receiving calls, managing contacts, browsing the Internet, streaming and downloading videos/photos/music, chatting and playing games.

So why is it important that you use an iPhone over other phones (aka why do you become that obsessed Apple iPhone fanboy?). Because Apple connects "emotionally" with people. And simplicity paves that way to emotional connection.

- Because things work at the touch/swipe of your finger (A seamless and smooth user experience with touch gestures. Seems like magic to me). That's how humans function..they use their hands and their sense of touch. And an iPhone picks on that.

- Because it is addictive. The app store is one of the biggest innovations of Apple. It is the platform, stupid! It is all about building a platform and exposing its API to developers who will build tools over it to extend its richness. Apple does nothing but cherry pick some of those apps for you. And the results are amazing for you to see, use and reuse and reuse...till you get to the point of addiction.

- Because lesser choices is a good thing. iPhone's minimalist physical interface works like a charm. It's a human psychology that given too many choices, humans are paralyzed and choose nothing. Given lesser choices, you are bound to be happier and make a choice.

- Because it is a thing of beauty. Period. And who doesn't like a thing of beauty? When you hold an iPhone in your hand, the first thing you look at is the pristine white color or the clean looking homepage. Do you know what effect it has on your human mind? (Not kidding here.) Human minds hate clutter. They despise harsh colors..

Steve Jobs wasn't an idiot when he talked about broadening one's understanding of human experiences to construct better designs. He didn't think he was merely building a fancy phone. He thought of it as the world's first "simplest" smartphone (ironical how simple and smart goes in the same line:) Which goes to say that simple things can be smart.)

So next time someone asks you to build something, think about it passionately. Try to solve the problem in the simplest possible human way.