Archive: Nov 2008

Being thankful

Thanksgiving was spent being glued to the computer. Monitoring the #Mumbai twitter stream, tweeting like a maniac and watching NDTV and CNN-IBN online.

It didn’t feel like there was much to be thankful for.

Like so many have said, this felt more personal than any other terror attack. I never spent much time in Bombay before I met R. But Bombay is as much home for him as NY is. He spent a year living and working in the Oberoi Trident and every time we went to India, we went to Bombay. We stayed at the Taj. We stayed at the Oberoi.

The last couple of times we were there it was to contemplate moving to Bombay. I hated the thought of it. I’d just gotten my mind around living in NY and now I had to move to a(nother) dirty, crowded, overwhelming city? No, thank you. I still remember a late night drive from the Oberoi to Oval Maidan to get advice from a friend on how to deal with scary prospect of having to live in Bombay.

Circumstances changed and we never ended up moving to Bombay, but R spent a lot of time there each month. And every time he was there he did a dozen meetings at the Oberoi and the Taj.

Because of the limited time I spent in the city, because of the fact that I’d stayed in the two hotels briefly, because of having eaten at the restaurants, this felt so personal.

But imagine if I had grown up there. Imagine if it was part of my life – woven into the fabric of my being. That’s what it is for a lot of people in Bombay and it is those people and the people who were caught in the nightmare who have the right to feel truly overwhelmed.

When R heard the news, he smsed everyone he knew in Bombay. Almost everyone smsed back. One of our friends did not. So I emailed her just to check in. She emailed back. She’d been a hostage for 11 hours. One line in her email has stayed with me all day and will stay with me for a long time to come – she spent the 11 hours “… waiting to be slaughtered”… But providence in the form of the commandos, or destiny or fate stepped in. She walked out of the Taj alive.

2008 has been an incredibly difficult year personally. One filled with minor and major struggles including a very serious health issue of an immediate family member that we are still dealing with. But this Thanksgiving, there’s actually a lot to be thankful for.

I am thankful my friend is alive and okay.

I am thankful so many were saved in Bombay.

I am thankful R’s trip to Bombay is this week and not last week.

I am thankful that J&G are in my life – adorable and incredible.

I am thankful that we identified the health issue when we did and am hoping and praying the person recovers completely.

I am thankful to have R in my life.

I am thankful for my family and their love.

It is easy to be thankful in a great year. This thanksgiving tested that. But even in the bleakest of times, it is important to me to realize that I am so fortunate. Important to me to pause and appreciate what I have. So even though this post is late, it was something I had to do.

Despite everything going on around us, I hope all of you have a lot to be thankful for as well.

Give away stuff that makes your product easier

I bought a big jar of hand cream a while ago. I love it – it works great, it smells good, my hands always thank me.

But it comes with a screw-on lid. Not a big deal, right? I thought so as well. But I noticed that the jar has lasted me a long, long, long time.

Last week, I ordered more cream to put around the house. One of the options was to order a pump lid for an extra $1.50. I wasn’t sure it would work since the cream is really thick, but on a whim I decided to try it.

Two days after I screwed on the pump lid, I’ve gone through the rest of the cream and have transferred the pump to a new jar.

Happy Pump Lid

Amazing how something small like that can increase usage so dramatically. I think back as to why the old jar lasted me so long – it was because there was always an easier option around – a tube with a pop lid, a dispenser, something that was easier even if it wasn’t as good.

Imagine being the producer of a great product, a product that was clearly superior to everything else out there, but it was always a second or third choice because of how it was packaged and dispensed. The packaging and the dispensing is the user interface for the cream. And it was really holding the core product back.

If the cream manufacturer had given away the pump lid – something that probably cost less than 50 cents to manufacture – I would have gone through three jars instead of just one in the same time, increasing revenues and customer satisfaction at the same time.

When you build accessories/add-ons that make your product easier to use and increase usage, give that stuff away like candy! Your main goal is to get people to use and love your product. Anything that makes that easier is only a good thing.

The web’s M.O. (from the Sonal Shah episode)

Apparently the web has gone into shoot first, ask questions later mode. And too damned bad for anyone who stands in the way.

So Obama names his transition team and in it is a South Asian – Sonal Shah. Her bio is impressive –, Goldman Sachs and the founder of a Peacorps-like organization, Indicorps, focused on India.

First – Euphoria.

Then, a scathing article about Shah’s politics – attacking her for being part of the despicable and detestable Hindu far right. But the article does not actually provide any fact-based backup for these claims. Instead it points to the associations of her parents. Guilt by association.

Shah is instantly condemned on blogs and in newsgroups – the very same blogs who would defend Obama against the Rev. Wright association (hmm…) Do any of these people fact check? No. It is left to Sonal’s acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and calmer, saner minds to defend her. A gentleman who started a volunteer organization in Pakistan based on Shah’s Indicorp stated categorically that “Sonal Shah has wanted nothing but the best for Pakistan and its Muslims”. Would that be her approach if she were a Hindu fanatic?

Sonal herself issues a statement denouncing the policies of the Hindu far right and disassociating herself with those policies.

What then? Do the people who jumped on the “oppose Shah” camp apologize? Do they even admit they might have over-reached? Oh no! That would be… too civilized. They offer no apology. They move on.

Could Sonal have been more careful about which groups she associated with her efforts to do real good? Sure and it is a very valid point. By the same token though, those who are ready to tear someone down should be more careful to check the facts.

In this day of instant opinions it is incredibly easy to cause irreparable harm. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?? There are two sides to every story – why not wait to figure out both before hanging someone up to dry?

In the instant and constant news cycle, it sometimes makes sense to wait a while before forming an opinion and publishing it for the world to see.

Obama and the War on Brains

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual. 

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.

Op-Ed Columnist – Obama and the War on Brains –

Saving Languages

TEJGADH, India — In an academy deep in the agrarian countryside of western India, five students were writing briskly in ruled notebooks. They were in their early 20s and newly enrolled, but there was no discounting the gravity of their assignment: When they are finished, the world will have five more documented languages.

This is so positive and exciting. India has been pretty pathetic at archiving her history – museums, libraries, documentaries are all below world standards. That is such a pity given the richness, depth and diversity involved.

Modern India has 22 official languages that are recognized by the Constitution and there are over a thousand dialects. The Adivasis are India’s tribal people. As the younger generation moves to cities and towns, they steep themselves in the prevailing language in order to integrate and survive. But in doing so, the Adivasis are at risk of losing their language as well as their culture.

He created the school, known as the Adivasi Academy, with a burning question on his mind: Why do we wait for cultures to die to memorialize them?

“There is a continent of culture getting submerged, and that’s why I wanted to take the plunge,” Mr. Devy said.

With financing from the Ford Foundation and other philanthropic groups, the Adivasi Academy tries to preserve a culture by steeping a new generation of villagers in their own quickly disappearing traditions.

I’m glad Mr. Devy is doing this – just like the world tries to save species from going extinct, we owe ourselves the effort of saving cultures from vanishing. And along the way, the younger generation embraces its heritage…

“If a community has a strong sense of identity and a sense of pride in that identity, it wants to survive and thrive,” Mr. Devy said. “The new economy is important. The old culture is equally important.”

The Lords Are Blogging

Commenter Krishna alerted me to the fact that Members of the House of Lords are blogging!

The aim of the blog is to help educate, raise awareness and engage with the public on a range of issues relating to the role and business of the House of Lords.

The blog is authored by a group of Members from across the House. Each Member has their own profile and personal section of the blog. A ‘homepage’ provides an at-a-glance digest of the latest post from each Member.

The experiment is being run by the Hansard Society – an independent, political research and education charity based in the UK. Their stated goal is to “strengthen parliamentary democracy and encourage greater public involvement in politics.”

It seems that right now, about eleven Members are blogging and there is an open invitation on the blog for any interested Members to contact the Hansard Society to participate – further reinforcing that this wasn’t mandated but rather a little skunkworks experiment (that and the fact that it a blog!)

This is such a brilliant idea. For example, you can read about how Lord Taylor met with Barack Obama three years ago or read an overview of the debate the House of Lords had on the prevailing economic situation.

There’s a lot of talk about how companies should blog and have open conversations with their customers. How excellent would it be if the politicians we have elected to represent us start blogging? A blog for the House and the Senate? They should look to their colleagues across the pond for guidance.

Decoding Cancer Genes

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about medical stuff on my blog, but the complexity of the human body has always fascinated and confounded me. I never wanted to be a doctor, but my two cousins are brilliant doctor-researchers and they explain complex medical issues incredibly well and through them I have a sliver of a window into the world of medical academics.

The news that “researchers have decoded all the genes of a person with cancer and found a set of mutations that may have caused the disease or aided its progression” seems like an incredible leap forward in the understanding of cancer.

The new research, by looking at the entire genome — all the DNA — and aiming to find all the mutations involved in a particular cancer, differs markedly from earlier studies, which have searched fewer genes for individual mutations. The project, which took months and cost $1 million, was made possible by recent advances in technology that have made it easier and cheaper to analyze 100 million DNA snippets than it used to be to analyze 100.

The study was done at Washington University in St. Louis and is being published Thursday in the journal Nature. It is the first report of a “cancer genome,” and researchers say many more are to come.

Having the full genome decoded expands the pool of suspects dramatically… and that could change the way that cancers are treated.

Indeed, 8 of the 10 mutations his group found in the leukemia patient had never been linked to the disease before and would not have been found with the more traditional, “usual suspects” approach.

Despite all the years of research, I find it amazing that there is still so much that is not known about cancer. Forget cancer, but about the human body! It is completely understandable and completely frustrating at the same time. In fact the article talks about how they studied others with the same disease and none of them had the eight mutations of the first patient. So it seems like it will take a lot more effort and research to find the commonality that causes all the patients to start at different points but end up with the same disease.

Still, it seems to be a wonderful first step.

Dr. Wilson said he hoped that in 5 to 20 years, decoding a patient’s cancer genome would consist of dropping a spot of blood onto a chip that slides into a desktop computer and getting back a report that suggests which drugs will work best.

I hope that number is closer to the 5 year mark – for the sake of all those who suffer through cancer and for the families that love them.

Now, to rise to the challenge…

Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.

“Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it,” argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. “That was certainly the case with Lincoln, F.D.R. and Truman.” Part of F.D.R.’s greatness, though, “was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy — the New Deal — out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited.” Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.

Op-Ed Columnist – Finishing Our Work –

Congratulations President Obama

I have an incredible feeling of optimism. Finally, a new beginning. Hope. Progress. A joyful new day.

Congratulations President Barack Obama. I can’t wait to see you in action. Make us proud!

UPDATE: Obama’s victory speech gave me goosebumps.

Here are my favorite bits…

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Its the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America

… But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

Blog redesign – better than a spa day!

I’ve had the same basic WordPress K2 theme since I started this blog. It always felt basic, but I was fine with that. In contrast, Tatvam, designed by uber-designer George, was beautiful and elegant.

For the past few months though I started wanting a new, fresh look. I looked at the WordPress themes that were out there, but none of them really grabbed me. Then one day I saw a really unique illustration done by someone called MayG (Mahjabeen Umar). I dug a little deeper and found that MayG designs websites and has just started styling blogs.

MayG and I got to work. She asked me a whole bunch of questions to figure out who I was, what mattered to me and what kind of design aesthetic I wanted. She then cranked away and about four days later sprung what I consider an incredible illustration on me. It’s the multi-handed image that you see on the top left of the new blog design and it was love at first sight. The concept was cool and she did such a great job on the execution (in the process making my online avatar look better than reality!) And it really felt like even if I had a most basic theme, this illustration would set it apart.

But she was just getting started. Far from producing a basic theme, she designed something elegant and unique with style elements that are uncommon in blogs. At the same time she stuck to my requests for classy, elegant, clean and non-cutesy.

And voila! We have here Shripriya’s Post-It theme. It’s a theme that can change with me and morph as my life does. It makes me smile.

As MayG promised me early in the process – a blog redesign, when done right, can be better than a spa day. The past few weeks have been incredibly rough on the personal front and I need not just a spa day, but a full spa month! In fact, I actively sought distractions to help me get through things. Well this little redesign was definitely a step in the right direction.

I can’t say enough good things about working with MayG. She has the right balance of her own creativity and giving the client what she wants. She is incredibly talented and very responsive. She’s up on all the latest design trends and has informed opinions on what works and what doesn’t. And she hits the timelines she promises.

If you are thinking of redesigning your blog or just want a new avatar, MayG is your gal. I could not recommend her more highly.

In addition to having a new blog, I also have a new friend. What could be better?