Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Secret of the Nagas - Amish Patel

Was a bit hard to pick up initially, since I'd forgotten some of the characters from the first part. But picked up pace like the first one, and was a fast read like the first one.

If there's one complain I have its that its got just way too many characters and tribes now, wish they'd edited a few out.

But still worth a read.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Running - Bangalore 10 k

Some days just dawn perfect. Other don't. And the variation between them is huge, at least for me. On some rare good days, I've run continuously for 4 kms, averaging seven to seven and a half per km. On bad days I've struggled to do even 2 km at eight.

So unfortunately for me, this 10k that I'd been eagerly anticipating, just happened to fall on a not so perfect day. Within the first 2 kms, I found myself alternating with very generous amounts of walking, and at a particularly low point of the 2nd, the stomach cramps almost made me feel like give up. But a bit of persistence got me past them, and luckily they stopped by the third.

On the good side, after the initial hiccup, I didn't hate any part of the remaining 7-8 kms, and though it was hot and sunny, I'd been prepared for that after my experience 2 years back. I picked up water at regular intervals, and walked a generous amount. Found that I kept that pace pretty much till the last km, without getting any slower in the last 2 kms.

On the flip side, it just wasn't my day for running, no amount of pushing got me to a consistent pace, and that showed in the final time of 77 mins, 7 mins over what I'd been targeting, and a tad slower than last time, in spite of having prepared much more.

Anyhow, now for the next target, lets see if I can do my very first half marathon in a couple of months. Targeting 2.5 hours, which is certainly not going to happen if I go at this pace, lets hope that its a good day that day!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Em and the Big Hoom - Jerry Pinto

I don't know how 'normal' people would view the book, the book cover mentions things about it being well written , funny even. I daresay, for a normal person, many things would read differently. 

Me, I wept through a lot of it. There were phrases and lines, that seemed to leap right off the page, like I'd been thinking them all my life, and just had never known how to string them together in a sentence. While growing up in a world of voices, intrigue, paranoia, I remember how the the definitions of 'normal' had taken on layers of meaning. How ambivalence was learnt early on. How loaded the intricacies of the parent-child relationship had been become. Loaded more than seemed fair. 

Perhaps I'll read it again, and do a more neutral and objective review another time. For now, I can only say how much I identified with the son, with the home, sometimes even with the mad-dow.  And how much I loved the writing. 

Moving on..

I hadn't expected the slight lump in throat, as I finally packed up to leave this particular workplace for good.

So much had already changed in the past year.  The employer had formally changed. Friends had left. The less said about the work, the better. Packing up had been a conscious choice. Unlike my usual excuse of not making much effort to direct the flow, and usually washing up at whatever shore the tides left me, this time, I had chosen to leave. Anywhere, anything, but this.

And though I would miss the comfort of known faces, known systems, after over 6 years of familiarity, and an eternity of procrastination, it was finally time to go.

So its good bye to r and our endless cups of tea, the interpretation of dreams, the crazy food cooker designs, the terrible lunch time choices. Bye to a, whom I just got to knowing in the past few months, and the great fun we had swapping movies, books and run stories. Bye to n and k, two friends from the very first team from 6 years back, who're still around. Bye to memories of the most fun team I worked with, of which I'm the almost the last person still around.

Funny that the first thoughts at leaving , are about the people I came to know along the way, not about the work I did ( or didn't do!) in this time. Workwise, I guess these years finally baked me completely into a cynic about software companies in general. They pay the bills. Occasionally they give you a jigzaw puzzle to solve while you're at it, which can be good fun. Mostly.. ah but why bother with such descriptions, they are what we perceive them to be. I guess they can be anything.

But at the end of it all, its the rose tinted glasses that kick in, and I nostalgically look back at the flowers, rather than the thorns.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Inside Job - Charles Ferguson

I quite liked it, a good documentary on the 'financial meltdown' for dummies like me, who don't really know much about economics or how these things work.

It has a series of interviews with various people associated with the world of finance, directly or indirectly, ranging from traders, regulators, politicians, , academicians, even a  psychologist a and sex worker. It also has a couple of neat charts which show simplified views of the money movement.

At the end of it , one is of course left with the questions about greed and regulation. No easy answers there, and I don't think the documentary seeks to provide any. Does pure uninhibited capitalism's amazing self-regulation work? Can it work, or is it indeed an interfering government that always causes problems? Do free markets with completely free information always find the best price of everything? In real life, there are never any easy villains.  Occupying wall street might be a way to vent frustration, but it doesn't solve the underlying issues.

Definitely worth a watch, for its slick narrative and neat editing.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doctoring the Mind - Richard P Bentall

The full title of the book is 'Doctoring the mind - why psychiatric treatments fail' , and that perhaps says a good deal about whats going to follow in the book. Good read overall.

The book raises some some interesting questions. Firstly, the description of metal diseases itself can be relooked at. It builds up a case of how the neat slotting of schizophrenia , bipolar etc doesn't always hold ground. And a continuum probably exists for the symptoms, rather than a clear demarcation of 'healthy' to 'ill', rather than a neat demarcation of where health ends.

Another area to reconsider is the simplistic descriptions about genetic causes, imbalances in dopamine etc. Its  an area not fully understood, and there are various complexities to deal with, if you treat dopamine like it was hemoglobin or something.

Then there's the whole area of clinical trials data , and how the data is open to much simplification, glamorisation, and plain misreading. If someone's never worked on any areas of data mining/number crunching, that part itself can be rather eye opening.

The parts where he was building up the case of psychiatry's limitations, ( and why psychiatric treatments fail) was fair and information enough.

However, the author is a psychologist, and one can see quite clearly, where his sympathies are. The problem is, that the arguments against the simplifications of clinical psychiatry, don't automatically mean scored points for psychologists or the alternative forms of therapy. In fact, I couldn't really find any convincing case in the book against the so called dodo bird theory, which claims that all forms of psychotherapies are equally effective. Its important to note the distinction between ineffective and equally effective, the therapies do seem to be effective.

On the minus side of psychotherapies, which he's mentioned, and I've read in numberous other places as well, is the much larger burden that falls on the effectiveness of the psychologist , rather than the branch of therapy that she/he aligns with. Its something that can't be underlined enough. While we're beating down the effectiveness of dopamine blockers and SSRI's or the seeming cruelty to ECTs, you can't underestimate how psychotherapy will also vary hugely based on the effectiveness of the therapeutic alliance.

My own take has been that the two things are needed in conjuction, and in various situations one or the other can be more effective. And its noteworthy that effective doesn't always mean a cessation of symptoms, it can sometimes mean just the ability to cope. Thats something psychiatrists often underestimate, guided as they are by a very symptomatic view of illness, and their general low opinion of things 'touchy feely'.

Interesting book overall, but it seemed to be a little lopsided, since it was more of a reaction to the blinkered view that psychiatrists often take. But for someone who's just interested in what makes the brain tick ( or not) and doesn't really have a dog in the psychiatrist vs psychologist fights, it won't come across as a balanced book.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Future Shock - Alvin Toffler

Sort of mixed feelings on this one. Found chunks of it really interesting, and chunks of it rather repetitive and boring.

The book first builds the case, that the rate of 'change' in our lives has exploded dramatically in the last few decades, and we have in-built limits on how much change we can cope with, beyond which we start reacting in atypical/sub-optimal ways. ( which the author describes as future-shock).

I liked the way, the general vague idea we all express - 'life is too fast/ there is too much change' is actually quantified over many chapters. If we compare our lives to someone living a hundred years go, the rate of change is huge. The noteworthy thing here, is that its the 'rate' being talked about, not the change itself. Its the number of items we use and discard, its the homes we change, its the number of people we meet/interact with , just to name a few. Its noteworthy that the book was written in 1970, and the case that he's made laboriously, is now increased by orders of magnitude, when we think of FB/twitter/email etc.

Its also an interesting read, because of the various interesting snippets of studies and factoids sprinkled throughout. Eg increased inductrialisation doesn't necessarily translate to increased uniformity or lack of choices.

However beyond the the fact that these changes exist, and are indeed increasing, there's still not enough to go on, in terms of what can be done about this. Of course, given the general idea behind future-shock, there's obviously not going to be any easy way to 'diagnose' it, or prescribe simple remedies.

Worth a read definitely.