a tale of two photos

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timehop-1

A study in contrasts

The thing that I should find most fascinating in this photo should be the technology itself.

But no. There’s so much more 1.

We need to start somewhere, so…

  • 10 years ago: 3 laptops. 4 Nokia phones (an N70, a 6670, a 6680, a 3310?). 3 portable MP3 players (my iRiver, 2 Creative Jukeboxes). A ~100 GB portable drive and (of course) a watch-with-USB-storage device.
  • Now: 3 laptops (2 Airs and a Pro). 3 iPhones (2 of the iPhone6, 1 6s). 2 tablets (1 Mini, 1 Air). A nearly invisible 32 GB USB storage. And a Nexus 4.

The 2005 smorgasboard of devices (MP3 players, phones, laptops, external storage) seemed to be the only way to complete a picture of computing. As in, each and every one of those devices had to continue being around us for years to come.

Right?

Not quite. Today,¬†storage is¬†largely¬†ignored, only remembered when you run out of¬†¬†cloud¬†storage or something has not synced to where it should be. Expanding/external storage? Not truly a “thing” anymore, again not really something people consider. Portable MP3 players of course went¬†the way of the dodo thanks to the smartphone, though in all honestly, we did see that coming. Even back then our primary cameras and music players were slowly moving to what Nokia shipped on their phones (making this experience for me all the more weird, a year or so later). Laptops do live on, but everyone seems to be in agreement that some sort of tablet-hybrid thingy¬†will replace them in the next 5-10 years (Surface Pro or iPad Pro, anyone?)

The 2005 brands. Laptops: an Alienware, an IBM, a Toshiba. But phones? All Nokia. And probably rightfully so, most of those phones represented the pinnacle of how smart you could make a featurephone-style device 2.

And now? There is 1 manufacturer behind (almost) every device on the table: Apple.

The 2005 weird device is probably¬†that watch. I could just say we were way ahead of the curve in terms of pushing the limits of what watches (or as they are termed now, ‘wearables’) could do, literally a decade before wearables went mainstream. But really. We just thought a watch from which a USB cable could be extended out so you have “wearable” storage was cool.

Now? The odd one out (but by no means the weird one) is that Nexus 4. I finally gave up midway through eking out its 3rd year, and with that started the slippery slope of Apple-ifying my technology existence. And as typically happens with current technology, the device performance itself hadn’t super suffered over 2 years of OS updates. The battery, of course, had.

The 2005 philosophy underlying all that technology seems to be storage, storage, storage. Those portable players were the shitz Рit was so important to be able to carry it all with you. And, a more subtle point, design. For us, at that point.. design was about the specs. Everything else seemed secondary, coz you could make things work as you wanted them to.

And now. Raw specs and “cool”¬†technology have been replaced by practical considerations: Does it work well? Will it last? Whats the battery like? Is it made well? Is it made in a way that ensures I will use it? 3

But very seriously..¬†the thing that most jumped out at me when I assembled those photos together?¬†The people in common between them. My erstwhile partner-in-crime, Prasanna, and of course, myself. It’s pretty widely accepted that 10 years is an eon in technology. For 2 of us,¬†this past decade has so been much¬†more. We were kids, really, back in 2005. Barely finished our Masters’ in the UK. We were months away from deciding and launching severeanomaly.org. Living it up online. The arguments and debates we used to have about technology (at least what I can remember of those conversations) seem quaint, almost naive when I think about them. I could talk about how our lives themselves have changed, but there’s too much to list in the space I’ve allotted.

Interestingly though, we still debate such things today. Guess we never learn.

Back to that study in contrasts. Have to wonder if it will be just 3 devices in another 10 years 4.

Written in collaboration with Prasanna, of course. Who does not have a blog anymore. A story for another day.


  1. Yes,¬†the photo on top is mislabeled. Not sure why. 
  2. Back then, Nokia seemed infallible (the N82¬†will probably always be one of Prasanna’s top devices ever). Today, there is literally no real¬†technology brand associated with the name Nokia. The other big brand from those times: Motorola. Per the latest, we’ll be lucky to see the name ‘Moto’ on devices made by the parent¬†company. 
  3. And, based on our choice.. it appears we believe¬†Apple is the best¬†company in all of those¬†aspects. Latent Mac-tardism, ahoy! (With special acknowledgement of¬†Prasanna, who was previously renowned for his hatred of all things Apple. But then I did say our lives have changed) 
  4. Maybe more though. Kids will want their own [insert future crazy ass technology here], and those will probably join ours on that table? 

#10

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A post reminiscing about the past should begin (fittingly) with recalling the post I was going to write for the ninth anniversary of this blog.

It never got written. (Incidentally, neither did the 8th).

And, further back.. the 1 year anniversary post of this blog?

It was 1 line.

At the half-way mark to this anniversary, I noted that I was at post #675. 5 years later, this is post #771. Barely 20 posts/year from what used to be ~70 posts/year. I actually made note of needing to work on this post back in August 1. Drafting began in September. And here it is, finally published at the end of October. Yep, I spent a month-plus on this anniversary post.

How many will read it? I wonder.2

In the decade since I started this space, “my blogosphere” has mostly disappeared. Heck, in the larger web, blogging has gone from cool to overkill to dead to a (sort-of) renaissance. My own community originally grew out of all the sites I found to try to pull readers to my own blog. There was the Blogger ‘random blog’ button. There were the blog-traffic sites where you submitted your URL and then “stumble” onto other blogs.. all so that other bloggers then stumble onto your own3. My link-list organically grew out of this internet — where people seemed to mostly go off in discovery mode. The “social” internet we know today barely existed.. discovery today is basically 10 people on your Facebook or Twitter feed linking to particular sites. The term ‘blogging’ itself was a catch-all for a bunch of internet-related activities — link sharing, commentary, long-form writing, editorials, what-have-you. The web has since supposedly “evolved” to having more focused tools for each of the above. Each of which then enables easier, more broadcast-able access to a (closed) community. I guess one could say that the blog itself has evolved, in its own way4.

Anyway, back to the future. When I started out on Blogger in 2004, it was literally a random exercise in writing. I had no idea if I could fill a blank page with random thoughts and musings. No idea if I could do it everyday. I’d spent a significant chunk of my college and school years writing in class, at home, anywhere. Sure, the stories never always made sense (in truth, some of them are pretty psychedelic reads when I go back to them today). But I’ve always enjoyed wordplay. My little attempt to push the envelope. Think about structure and story, with imagination5.

I had the time to blog. I decided to find out.

Starting out, one of my more distinct memories is of sitting in a bus stop on my way home, furiously scribbling a bunch of thoughts down on paper.. which I later transcribed (talk about passionate, I guess). Then, of course, the adrenaline rush of having 3/4/10 different people comment on a post.. and getting these completely unexpected interpretations based on what I penned. All said, though, I never did think my writing would evolve into this space. Arbit observations. Personal memoirs. Notes about things that strike me. Reviews. Philosophical frustration. And some fiction. It is actually a space that I revisit now and then, just to remember.

The 10 years of this blog’s existence incidentally signifies one other event: a decade since I left India for shores abroad.

10 frickin’ years.

So many things have happened in this time (expectedly, it is 10 years after all). Places visited, friends met, relationships established, and so much, much more. I’ve gone from student to trying-to-figure-my way to PhD to an actual researcher. From single to married to having a kid6. Rediscovered so many facets of my youth that I didn’t know were ensconced in my memory. So many different houses I’ve lived at, culminating in my current one.. which I can call ‘my home’.

From Blogger to FortuneCity to self-hosted WordPress to WordPress.com ūüôā

So I can’t really come up with a reasonable summary in how much life has changed.. in, well, the most changeable part of life. Big surprise.

So what then for the next 10? Dare I think of a “next 10”? Will my (apparently) ever-filling schedule allow me to make the time to come back here and pen something that I can look back on to commemorate 20 years of this blog? I want to say ‘Yes’, but the recent past makes me… wonder. I’ve even gotten bored with writing posts lamenting my lack of posting. I’ve tried a bunch of different “post-types” to try to ensure a regular schedule. I’ve tried the weekly challenge here at WordPress.com. Kinda, sorta.. out of ideas.

But then… based on the time I’ve taken in crafting this post, it doesn’t feel like I’m ready to say goodbye. Or farewell, for that matter.

I wonder if I can think of a way to rejuvenate this space. Keep it alive.

To riff on Doctor Who, I guess its time to say something I never did say to this blog. Or to whatever audience this blog has.

Hello.


  1. At which time I realized that Greatbong and I started blogging within months of each other. And to be completely honest, it’s pretty amazing that he has actually taken it to the next level (books, public writing etc.). Lets not talk about what mine has become, mmmkay?7
  2. To be honest, if I was doing this for the readership, I would have shut shop a while ago. But to be fair, the long gaps between posts probably made my readership think it was over. Until, y’know, posts like this. Out of nowhere. 
  3. Yeah, I can’t believe I used to have the time to do such things either. 
  4. Example: Svtble and Medium. Also closed. 
  5. The auld saying goes ‘There is a book in all of us’. I have no idea when my book will actually get written and whether I’ll ever publish it. But it’s something that’s been on my list for a long time. Someday
  6. A kid who will probably find this space one day. I wonder what she will think. 
  7. I was doing these manually with a little HTML snippets = pain. in. the. butt. Discovered Markdown support on WordPress.com, and here we are! Really need to keep up with WP developments on these sort of things more closely :) 

inner child

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I grew up watching ‘Aladdin‘.

It was¬†on this set of video cassettes which also housed ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, ‘The Little Mermaid‘, ‘The Jungle Book‘, and ‘101 Dalmations‘. And all those movies.. their sequences, their songs, their jokes.. they’re just about etched in my memory (as well as my sister’s; she probably loved those movies even more than I did). Then, of course, there were the Christmas Special movies that aired… of which one of my top picks (at¬†that age) was ‘Hook.¬†

And thus I came to recognize Robin Williams: in my mind, he was the only child-like man who could have brought Pan to life 1. Did I know, at the time, that Robin Williams also voiced Genie? Not in the slightest. All I knew was that as much as I enjoyed watching these movies, there was someone behind the screen who enjoyed doing those voices and that dialogue even more. Channeling an inner child who was really having fun during all of this.

A few years after my incessant watching of ‘Aladdin, one of my more distinct memories is of my dad and my¬†uncle taking me out with them – fitting the “older” kid that I was then – for a Grown-Up Outing. We caught the train to VT, made our way to Regal Cinemas, and walked into a show of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire‘.¬†At the time,¬†the¬†places¬†where you could catch a Hollywood movie were¬†mostly relegated to that¬†triumvirate near VT, so this was a real Trip and a Big Deal (for me anyway). ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘ remains a movie that I can happily sit through to this day (I actually skipped through it recently). I have a distinct memory of acting out the entire¬†movie with my cousins later that week, probably¬†barely doing the genius of Williams’ comedy any justice at all.

The point of this correlation? I grew up watching Robin Williams and his movies. I also have vague memories of watching¬†‘Jumanji‘ (another recent watch: 90s CGI at its worst), ‘Patch Adams‘, Flubber’, ‘Bicentennial Man‘, and ‘Robots‘,¬†among¬†others (thanks, cable TV). In hindsight, I dare say that this set probably barely hold up as 90s movies, though¬†Williams is clearly (still) enjoying himself in them.

Skip forward a few years more and I eventually discovered my inner movie nerd and got down to the more serious Hollywood fare. And this was a Robin Williams I didn’t know could exist. ‘Insomnia‘, ‘Dead Poets Society2,’Good Will Hunting‘. Dark, deep, inspiring.. and not even the slightest hint of the cackling¬†funny man I had grown¬†up watching.

Very recently, I watched ¬†‘Toys‘ and ‘Popeye‘. ‘Toys‘ is likely one of the weirder movies Williams ever did in his career, and doesn’t quite work… maybe¬†because the character falls in between the dark and light extremes¬†that Williams could do¬†so well. But¬†‘Popeye‘ is as pitch-perfect a¬†recreation of the cartoon as it gets.. basically propelled¬†by¬†RW in his d√©but role, nailing every little mannerism perfectly. While it’s a complete co-incidence that things came in such a full¬†circle (honest!), I cannot help but reflect¬†on¬†how much more I might have loved ‘Popeye‘¬†as a kid —¬†I “required” less from my movies. More obviously,¬†watching 80s movies as an adult in 2014 is a very¬†different experience from watching these¬†movies as a kid in the 80s. But still, there was something there… something about the little bon mots¬†Williams muttered under his breath that hooked in me as an adult,¬†but he was clearly playing the part for the sake of the¬†kiddie audience.

iconic

And so, reading about RW’s death this past week hit a lot closer to home than I expected.¬†It’s¬†a little hard to believe such a constant fixture¬†of my childhood has passed on. Not just¬†that a fine talent has met a sad end, but more selfishly, it¬†made¬†me¬†feel like my¬†own childhood was somehow retreating even more into the mists of time. A vague disappearing act is slowly being enacted because the actor who brought those parts to life is no more. I’m sure watching ‘Aladdin‘ or ‘Hook‘¬†will always trigger something in me.. but should one really stay fixated in the past, even just to¬†relive that ‘being-a-kid’ feeling? Which reminds me¬†of how much time has passed since I was¬†a child.. among other things, well, I¬†have a child now.

A¬†little ‘un who’s just beginning to discover so many things around¬†her.

Hopefully, among them she’ll happen upon something¬†with¬†the¬†Robin Williams brand of humor, zaniness, and child-like fun that I grew up with.

Which, even years later, never fails to remind you of that inner child you can so easily forget.

1. In retrospect, ‘Hook‘ does not hold up as well as it should. But I am always transported back to being a kid watching Williams¬†re-learn how to fly. Just so much¬†fun.
2. Incidentally, this movie is more than a little tarnished by the fact that I kept thinking how badly ‘Mohabbatein‘ riffed off it.

not too long ago, i decided to steal this meme

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So here it is.

20 years ago I . . .
1. was in the 4th grade (Section A or E, possibly) in the Modern High School, Dubai.
2. was living in Dubai, attending Bal Vihar classes, doing my homework every night, and generally being an all round “good boy”.
3. believe I might have started using a computer properly, beginning with a typing game. (Might have been a couple of years earlier too, but its a vague memory at best.)

10 years ago I . . .
1. was between my 2nd and 3rd semesters of engineering. After those exams, and the results I¬†achieved.. there came a number of realizations about my ability — none of them good.
2. had attended my first ever RAIT fest, Horizon 2001, as a pure attendee. Spent the night on the roads of college with none else than Erkenbrand for company.
3. knew I wanted to do something in Biomedical Engineering, but had no clue how or where to even get started.

7 years ago, I started this blog.

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sibling rivalry

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Purple or orange? Orange or purple?

She looked from one to the other. And back. Then back again.

Someone moved in the far corner, and she whipped around to see what had happened. There was a movement in front of her which she felt, rather than sensed, and she reached out blindly. While turning back to the choice at hand.

The decision had been made for her: she was left with only purple now. Where was the orange?

*******************

“Ammmmaaaaaaaa! Ammmmmmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaaa….”

Yes, that was me. Yes, I was whining.

My little sister was bullying me. She wanted my Superman. Actually, she had taken my Superman.

And given my parents absolute lack of concern about my Superman, it didn’t seem like I was getting it back.

*******************

She wanted the orange water-bottle. This purple one was clearly substandard. The cap had come off when she had pulled at it to open. Her elder sister appeared to have an invulnerable bottle. Plus it was orange. Orange was awesome. She looked around, her parents only seemed concerned that she not fall off the table. She had to make them see the point. She pointed at the orange bottle. No reaction. Split-seconds later, she started crying. Out loud. Pointing. And crying. Immediate reactions.

Except her elder sister. Who seemed perfectly content to watch TV while drinking. Out of that awesome orange water-bottle.

Oh she wants your bottle, P___. Just give it to her. Its ok. See this purple one? Just as good.

No effect on the older sister.

She’s a baby, P___. You are older. Give it to her, na. When Daddy says something you’re supposed to obey, right? Continue reading

alma mater

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Looking out the window, I recognized familiar landmarks. The things you see every day, that become part of a routine; and then one day you see them no more. I was dropped at the corner as I had been all those years ago. I started a walk I had done every day for nearly 4 years. The rubbish dump on one side was still just that – a dump. The other had transformed into an upscale building. I craned my neck to try and see any changes down the road – the eventual destination. I could see some new signs, the rest was obscured by the trees – the trees still remained there. A couple of raindrops fell. And for a minute I was a 12 year old treading carefully around puddles, and heading towards school.

Flashforward. I was here. I stood at the gates, gates that had seemed imposing once. The school building looked about the same, the hall.. everything. Some things had changed. The few shops near school seemed to have improved from their once tiny appearance. St. Andrews College opposite seemed to have cleaned up a bit too. I remember warnings from school teachers about how we had to be “careful” – college students were wild people who smoked, drank and were not good company to have. They obviously automatically became people to observe clandestinely.

The watchman would not let me in at first, eventually, good sense prevailed. A side entrance remained the same, I entered. The first difference came to light as girls..girls! came running past me. We had been boys, boys and more boys. Thus the existence of girls at St. Andrews was one of the reasons for heightened allure. I stepped into the office, rewarded by a smile of slight recognition by an office staff member. Smalltalk ensued while a teacher who might know me a little better was sent for. I looked about the office – the stacks of paper, the files, the running in and out of peons.. all of it seemed about the same. And then Jayanthi miss appeared. It is amazing how even after so many years, the ‘miss’ is tacked on automatically. Her smile at seeing me…

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vishu kani

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Getting up at 4 am, bleary-eyed and barely awake, I would half-stumble, half be dragged to the swami corner. Multiple applications of water to the eyes would ensue as my parents attempted to make me notice every single tiny detail of the vishu kani. Eventually, about 10 minutes later, my brain would actually comprehend what it was being made to see. I have the most memories of celebrating vishu at home when Thatha was around – he would be sitting there watching me take it all in. In the end there would be a single question as to whether I noticed the finishing touches such as the gold, and the multiple currencies. By this time, Warsha would be taking an active interest in the world around her, even if both our eyes drooped ever so occasionally. Then would come a small prayer, and we would reverentially touch swami padam before we reached what we termed as the best part – vishu kaineetam. Each of us would get it in turn from Thatha, oldest to youngest.. and the tally of how much we “earned” would begin. I remember a time when it was a competition between all us cousins – any and all sources of vishu kaineetam were valid and would be used. Bonus would be when one of the other Thathas dropped by for a visit – it meant significant augmentation to our hoard.

There are a few things that have dropped by the way over the last 5 years. I could earlier figure out vishu based on the preparations the previous night – Appa and Amma would start post-dinner to arrange the many items that had been accumulated over the past week. Different parts would be brought in from their cubby-holes as the decoration progressed. It would be done pretty quickly, but too long for me and Warsha – it was something that we constantly ran away from doing. Contrastingly, my UK vishus were marked by remembering to see God early in the morning, rather than email. This year I managed the closest I could get to something “normal”: managing to see rice, dal, god, and gold at a decently early hour. There is much more I could have done, what I find strange is that I innately want to ensure I hold on to doing them. I am barely religious, and rituals are not high on the priority list – but these small things seem to be the anchors to a better time, a simpler time.. when vishu truly marked the beginning of¬† a new year.

Happy Vishu.