Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Switching Medication

Taking medication for blood pressure causes one to make frequent trips to the bathroom. Previously one has taken the pills before bedtime as advised by the good doctor. But result in poor sleep due to the nocturnal travels required by Mother Nature. The reason for taking the pills at night is the side effect of headaches and disorientation. So sleeping it off seemed to be the best option when compared to drinking the pills in the morning at the risk of impairing one’s drive to the office or destabilizing one performance in the office. Nevertheless, one has chosen to switch the timing and take the medication in the morning. Anything that preserves one’s sleep is the better path. Losing sleep has far more worse consequences when compared to enduring slight morning headaches and disorientation. Of course, one should be able to tolerate the side effects during the normal course of the day.  Hence, one feels a little giddy these days possibly due to the disorienting effect plus the slight head ache felt at the front of the head.

Taking the medication is the inevitable result of aging. One has to exercise more especially in terms of maintaining one’s muscle mass and flexibility. One has chosen Yoga for flexibility and going to the gym for the rest of the reasons. Kundalini yoga offers an easy way to maintain flexibility and claims to improve one’s intuition and cognition. Keeping one’s cognition in old age is a primary challenge. The first to go is one’s youthful tendency to multi-task. But as one ages, this results in confusion and forgetfulness. One is not as smart or as mentally agile anymore. This situation is all the more complicated by one’s natural curiosity that results in unending stimulus and mental churning. Hence, the need to slow down and focus on one subject is not only a good way to achieve one’s goal but also necessitated by age. One also tries to stave off mental decline by exercising more, exploring new experiences and do techniques like playing a musical instrument. But my recent move two years ago to a new country and work place has stretched my ability to adapt to new circumstances.

Moving to a new environment is always stressful. I had crossed a continent to get to where I am right now. I guess it has taken a toll more on my wife as I seemed to have weathered the change. But one feels one’s age especially with the different climate. Winter is never good to the old or to those near middle age. There is also too many new things to learn that stresses one’s ability to adapt. Add the pressure and stress of one’s work and the challenge is significant if one is not physically and mentally fit. One exercises more by going to the gym three times a week. Blogging and journal writing has also increased.  But there is still something missing and needed to delay the aging process. One believes that yoga can provide some of the diminishing vitality and responsiveness.  Daily Tai Chi Qi Gong practice in the morning is good in keeping one sane but does not have flexibility exercises. Playing games in the Sony PS3 will also help in preventing cognitive decline by keeping one engaged. But one does not have quality time since one overloads the weekend with too many DVDs to watch and books and magazines to read.

Admittedly one has more leisure time and living space plus more exciting places to see, new experiences and new people to meet. The mind is engaged but still distracted. Worthless activities need to be curtailed not only to meet one’s goals but for mental serenity as well. Now what should one focus on? What are the activities that one considers worthwhile to pursue? One assumes that one should spend time in activity rather that passive entertainment like reading books or watching movies. For instance, novel writing, fishing, hiking, golf, Toastmaster, travel to nearby places, increasing communication to friends, relatives and immediate family.  Maintenance activities would be playing PS3 games, learning Spanish, yoga and learning new coding skills. The tradeoff will be lesser reading and watching movies. The hopeful result is an awakened mind instead of one that is constantly engrossed on a new idea, latest trend or art house film. Being in the ‘NOW’ as Eckhart Tolle has challenged people will be the key.

I found an inspirational book called ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. I learned about this book from an interview with visual specialist Sunni Brown who I was reading about in a CNN interview. She made a visual summary which I had found inspirational. I plan to buy the book from Amazon – Kindle version. Basically, the book describes the professionalism that artists need to develop in order to get things done. I think it is the type of book that I have been looking for.  But it now feels that I have been reading too much and ending up in blind alleys. Maybe this would be different. The author made a follow-up book called ‘Do the Work’ that was warmly praised by Robert Kiyosaki. So it’s interesting that his works – written by a well-known author to address creative writing challenges also inspires visual artists and finance entrepreneurs. But one still feels that one had read or learned too much useless things that have no practical value. As the Chinese say, knowledge that is not used is useless knowledge.

There is temptation in libraries and sites like ‘The Great Courses’ that offer all sort of lectures in their website. There is an abundance of information that is available for everybody. But on a personal perspective, information is not free because one pays with his time and attention. Information also takes its toll in one’s mental serenity and equilibrium, sometimes resulting in stress. Hence, one must reduce information received at a quantified level perhaps 10 kilobytes per day, for instance.  The approach is similar to reducing weight by keeping to a certain amount of calories or the 10,000 steps per day to keep fit. Information is quantified, measured and, thereby regulated to keep the mind and body healthy. Now that’s an interesting thought.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Necessary Knowledge

During the weekend and most of last week, I watched 4 DVDs about the end of World War II. Particularly, the last campaigns in Europe that ended with the destruction of Berlin and the suicide of Hitler. My fascination with the last world war started with Erik Larsen’s excellent book ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ and Ken Burns’ documentary ‘The War.’ I learned new things from these works that I wanted to increase my knowledge of the war – particularly the remaining days of the Nazi regime, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Pacific war especially the liberation of Manila. My knowledge of these subjects is from Hollywood movies so it was a revelation to see actual documentary photos and news reels of the period. I learned new stuff from the DVDs like the geopolitical strategy of the Nazis who were influenced by strategists like Karl Haushofer who proposed the Axis alliance with Japan and Italy. Haushofer was a Major General as well as a strategic thinker and professor who widely visited the Orient - visiting Japan, Korea and China.  After the war, it was reported that he committed seppuku or Japanese ritual suicide.

Learning about the world war and the various strategies were a good supplement to my study of the American Civil War.  I watched an excellent DVD a few weeks back about the life of Robert E. Lee where I learned things like the early years of his generalship before he was appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and overlord of the overall Confederate armed forces. This was to supplement the lectures I attended in Furman University recently about the Civil War and the subsequent civil rights struggle in the Deep South. I thought I needed to know about these subjects to deepen my understanding of my new country. One realizes that America is a war state despite its peaceful inclinations. There is always a parade in some small town in the country that honors veterans of the wars especially recent ones like Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a country that became a world power because of war when other world powers were destroying themselves in their own major struggles. The English General Kitchener is reported to have said to the German strategist Karl Haushofer that America will be the next world power if they are not stopped.

Rudolf Hess, a student of Haushofer escaped to Scotland in 1941 supposedly to prevent war between Germany and England. The object was to strike an alliance so the combined powers could fight Bolshevism in Russia, Communism in China and perhaps make America a colony of Germany. But Churchill proposed the alternate and, subsequently, victorious plan to side with America and, thereby, assure its rise as a great power. (Philip Roth wrote a book about an alternate history ‘The Plot against America’.) It is interesting to read about how a society can be corrupted by evil; like Nazi Germany and perhaps antebellum South with slavery. It takes a great endeavor to cleanse the ills of a corrupt society. The great example is Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II and Lincoln in the Civil War. Learning about these alternative histories, one could say that not everything is as it seems. One wonders about the alternative realities or strategic theories that brought forth 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab spring and the fall of governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and possibly soon Yemen and Bahrain. Interestingly, the UN General Assembly met this week where the Palestinian PM Abbas raised a petition to declare a Palestinian state. The subsequent speech of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu sounded like old cold war rhetoric that did not account for new realities.

There is a schism in the conservative right where allies like Pakistan are now being accused of attacking the US embassy in Kabul using the Taliban network (from orders of the American right wing?). None other than Admiral Mullen of the US armed forces is making the accusation. Allies like Israel are now considered a strategic liability with its continued construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories. It all seems related if one considers geopolitical strategies. I borrowed Ellie Wiesal’s book ‘Night’ about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp. I hope this would end my studies of the world wars which takes too much of my time. I felt that I should spend time learning about this stuff because it was necessary knowledge for me. But necessary for what? I had thought it was something like research for a writer but in fact may be delaying me. Unquenchable curiosity is draining time from practical activities. Intellectuals (elitists?) are not appreciated here – the American hero is the underdog, not an intellectual but someone who is hard working, using his common sense and follows the rules. Intellectuals seem like arrogant people like Al Gore and don’t win elections. This may explain Obama’s recent difficulties as compared to Clinton who had similar problems but did not talk down to people (‘Bubba’ as term of endearment).   

My quest is not really to get ‘necessary knowledge’ but a waste of time that distracts one from actual work. One does not need this knowledge to be successful. Satisfying one’s curiosity is like indulging in a vice like drinking alcohol or eating too much. For example, I did not have to read the “Gnostic Gospels” but it’s a good read for serious Christians. One needs to focus on practical knowledge as espoused by Henry Ford. Perhaps that is why I also watched DVDs on Yoga (Kundalini and Ashtanga) and Spanish cooking. I think Kundalina Yoga is a good fit for me and will keep me centered, quiet the churning mind and keep me fit.  My continued readings of Eckhart Tolle should help me, too. Meanwhile, learning Spanish cooking is like returning to my roots and I hope to cook more dishes to help in the weekend. I am also thinking of learning Spanish with the free library resource to help my career in the future. Therefore, one should make a distinction on knowledge (is it necessary?) to save one’s time. I remain a disciple of Steven Covey with his ‘sharpen the saw’ technique. One should focus on developing one’s whole person: social, intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional.  Or work, family, relatives, friends and church. The idea is to grow holistically as a person which explains wide reading.

On the subject of personal development, our Toastmaster club had an induction ceremony last Friday. We invited 2 other clubs in our area. It turned out to be fun and I was emcee of the event. We had excellent speakers and I tried to keep things going while cracking a few jokes. I think I was able to elicit some laughter but I think I could have done better by practicing and preparing a repertoire. I find that I am an instinctive speaker with flashes of humor during the occasion rather than someone who prepares for the event.  This is actual experience that one can learn from. I read Robert Kiyosaki’s latest book ‘Unfair Advantage’ and there is a section that says one learns more if one practices experientially. One only retains 10% of the knowledge a week later when one reads a book as compared to about 70% when one actually practices it. That’s experiential learning which goes to show that one learns about wine by drinking rather than reading about wine. The same goes for public speaking, writing and yoga. The challenge is reducing temptation (stop going to the library?) by keeping the mind focused.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

DRT Week

Last week was disaster recovery test week. A company wide exercise that involved all the systems in the company. It was treated like a high severity event and all our partners like IBM were fully focused on the exercise. It was fitting that it was conducted during the week of the anniversary of September 11 and handled with extreme seriousness. I had some doubts that our system would survive a rapid recovery drill but somehow it did. I did not really care because we had our share of disasters during that week as well. The problems started on Monday but continued all the way to the end of the week. Somehow we were able to solve these production issues and still manage to conduct our disaster recovery testing successfully. What a week! I said to my colleagues that we were in a midst of a real production disaster during the testing week. We did not need a simulated exercise to prove that we could survive a disaster.

It was an intense time where we had to intervene and help the remote warehouses. It was the same old story. But this time we had an inkling of what could have happened. A patch was installed on the previous Thursday evening and the warehouse folks reported a change the next day. It all started that Friday and carried over the weekend where the Nevada team could not work by themselves. So the problems proceeded into the disaster week when the rapid recovery exercise was moving into full swing. A near catastrophe occurred on Wednesday when we were helping the two warehouses at the same time. Usually we had one warehouse working fine but this time the load came from both the warehouses. As was like a mad man – shifting attention from one warehouse to another to get the work done.  A few mistakes which I thought was serious but shrugged off by the business when I explained the fiasco. I had lost focused when it seemed that everyone was calling me or going to my cubicle for a chat or to follow-up one thing or the other.

Somehow I managed to survive that Wednesday. The next day we went through some test scenarios but there was some problem with the test computer. So we did not do much testing. I had missed my date going to the gym on Wednesday night as well as Thursday. Friday came as a shock as the database disk space was full. This caused problems in both the warehouses again. The problem was solved after diagnosing the problem, and chatting with the relevant support staff in India. Getting to the right person at the right time is the secret to effectiveness. The problem was resolved in less than an hour and got the first warehouse going. But there were just too many meetings that occurred that day and I had to participate remotely. Trying to engage one during the meeting in the morning was difficult because of the support calls and I had to drop from the call after the Nevada team called me.

I went to lunch with the person beside my cubicle and I had a generous helping of Chinese fried rice. Afterward we went to Wal-Mart to look at the fishing rods. We are planning a fishing trip before winter comes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Making Sushi

This weekend I achieved a milestone. We made California Maki rolls  and had sashimi at home. It was a dream of mine, to be able to make Japanese food like sushi. It was simple, just a lot of preparation. Earlier it had seemed to be complex task that required specialized training but turned out that only a lot of things needed to be considered. It turned out to be much simpler once one delves into the details. I did not realize it was so easy. It goes to show that not everything is thought to be difficult if one puts his mind to it. We sliced avocado, crab sticks, mango and cucumber to place in the rolls. Cooking the sushi rice correctly was the main challenge. But it could be cooked in a simple rice cooker. It was all about buying the correct grain and the rice mixture. It was all readily available in the Japanese store. Buying frozen sashimi was the next hurdle which was also available in the store.

To gain expertise, one just needed to watch YouTube videos and all is set. I guess one is prepared only when the right time or place is reached. It was enjoyable to make the Japanese rolls and we all pitched in. We had the rice mat needed to make the rolls, ingredients including the roe placed on top. The food looked perfect and one now has the confidence to make all sorts of variation: eels, fish sushi, smoked salmon and all sorts of food. The sushi is like a platform where one can make anything. The ‘nori’ or seaweed wrap is the perfect tool to wrap the rice and any ingredient you would like to put. Once one gets his mind into the technical details, then the execution was easy. A few problems in the first rolls but easy afterward when one is used to making it. I guess it all started when one ventured to make the Thai dishes and once the threshold is breached anything can be done.

It was Japanese weekend, watching Kurosawa’s classic film ‘Red Beard’ possibly Toshiro Mifune’s best role. I also finished Ken Burn’s excellent documentary ‘The War’ which portrays the Pacific war in detail. I especially enjoyed the section on the Philippines including the Bataan death march, the incarceration of American citizens in Santo Tomas University and the liberation of Manila. I also was fascinated with the incarceration of Americans of Japanese extractions in prison camps. It was an eye opener especially the story of Hawaiian senator Dan Inoiye and his experiences in the war as a soldier. He was awarded the Medal of Honor many years later after the war. It was also the first time I understood the progression of the Pacific War. In Tokyo, I had visited both the Yasakuni Shrine (for the Japanese war dead) and the Japanese War museum beside the shrine and only appreciated the Japanese struggle after watching Burn’s film.

Ken Burns is a great documentarian and I have always loved his films. I hope to watch his film on the Civil War again now that I am actually here in the American south and attended a battle reenactment. I had watched his film when I was in Singapore and read E.L.Doctorow’s novel ‘The March’ about General Sherman’s march to the sea campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas. I have been watching my fill of DVD again this weekend and rushed through a few audio CDs last week. There is an emptiness that one feels and one realizes that these activities no longer excite me. It is only an intellectual enjoyment when one could live a real life by cooking and making sushi. Perhaps cooking will be my salvation as one gets away from the incessant addiction towards stimulation. There is just too much in one’s mind.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reno Nightmare

Yesterday’s problems continued into the early evening when the Reno office called. Yes, the contagion hit Nevada, too. But it was not as bad as I thought. In fact it was a self-inflicted wound as the user locked themselves out of their account by signing in with a wrong password too many times. But the damage was done. The call came in while I was driving home and from the time it took me to reach home, set up my computer and called the help desk to check and unlock the Reno account, was just too long for the users to wait. By the time I got everything ready and called the Reno office, the users had reversed their work and created a new transaction. Possibly about 30 to 45 minutes have elapsed from the first instance that they could not log in. It was not a good day as they wasted a lot of time due to the network delay that hit all the users. Nevertheless, the Reno folks could do their work despite the irritation unlike the other warehouse near head office where nothing could be done without our intervention.

The big honcho in Reno made his usual love letters – thinly disguised contempt in email reports to the gods here in head office. But it was courteous as one sees there is no turning back to the old system. I read thru one of his mail yesterday evening and preferred to read the other one the next day. I knew what it contained which was the day’s misadventure. It was a good thing I prepared my usual cocktail of orange juice and vodka while I worked on the Reno problem. It was a combination of technical and interpersonal skills that saved the day. Musing over the remains of the day, I called my friend - the support staff but he did not have time to chat. He was having supper and one guesses that the day troubles had tired him out. After the episode with Reno, I had supper myself while watching a DVD.  I finished an Italian classic film by Roberto Rossellini called ‘General Del Rovere’ and a Russian film called ‘Nostalghia’ made by the acclaimed director of ‘Stalker’ – I film I liked due to the visual artistry that evoked surreal scenes of a nuclear incident.

But I did not pay too much attention on these films which were actually boring despite their reputation in art house circles. I was surfing the internet, updating my blog while watching the movies. In a previous life, I would have enjoyed these ‘art’ films but now seems a waste of time. I still enjoy Japanese films especially the classic samurai films but anything contemporary will do. I particularly liked the Japanese contemporary comedy ‘Shall We Dance?’ which I watched last weekend.  These films are the remaining link to my life in Asia.  Food is another memory. I plan to make sushi this weekend having bought the ingredients the other day. Last weekend was Thai salad and Japanese sake (but made in California). The sake was quite good, close to the real taste. The film ‘Nostalghia’ was about a Russian poet exiled in Italy. The poet could not get the Russian country side out of his mind. Similarly, I have begun to think of my past life, my trips to Thailand and Japan and my life in Singapore, eating good food and watching classic movies. Now only the classic movies remain, easily borrowed from the public libraries.

Now the Asian food is all gone but one can still try to make them but without the authenticity, taste and variety of the Singapore food stalls, without it’s sounds, smell, people and general atmosphere; the rain, heat and humid evenings of the tropics.  Today I tried to search for old friends in the company Intranet, to find out what has happened to them. Some have remained in Singapore while others have scattered the earth. Some have moved to India, Dubai, Philippines and Australia. One does not realize the loss immediately, only during times of alienation and solitude. My recent project and subsequent problems have kept me busy and focused on the issues. But despite being able to solve the problems, there is an emptiness that one feels as one cannot share the exhilaration of the challenge with a fellow Asian. One must keep busy in order to survive the loss. I guess it is the same thing that my family feels being jointly uprooted from the past.

There is still free time, a lot of it when compared to Asia. But one fills the time with books, movies, magazines, travel and new experiences. But now is the time to be still and centered so one can finally write. There is always the urge to fill up the space when it’s free; when the best solution is to be comfortable in that space. Space meaning silence, inactivity and solitude. But it is not emptiness as the thought of emptiness is man-made. Being comfortable in emptiness will result in creativity and freedom. Perhaps that’s the environment needed by the mind to write and be creative. Mental churning stops and silence reigns. But the mind is addicted, to activity and stimulation, so one succumbs to insomnia, intoxication, self-abuse and mindless activities in the guise of enjoyment. It’s a trap that one can only escape by recognizing the addiction. Strangely, it’s a strength recognized by books as having an open mind, free to accept unlimited input and stimulation.  But awareness is a start and maybe combined with activities like Yoga and meditation. Now that’s a plan.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Merry Go Round

The bugs came out again today. Similar to the episode in mid-August, no one seems to know what happened. It came like a soft rumbling in the ground, like a coming earthquake. Luckily the scale did not tip over. The first inkling came at dawn when the support staff called me at home as I was getting ready for work. My mobile phone rang at about 7:30 am when I was dressing. Earlier, he received a call from the warehouse at 6:30 am and tried the usual next steps to get it running but the program just didn’t work. So he called me an hour later after his futile attempts. I did not check my laptop right away, thinking I had time to have a quick breakfast and drive to work. My plan was to have everything fixed by 8:30 am; not too bad a delay for the warehouse. But as I got to my desk at 8 am, it looked like something had changed. It was acting strangely. We were in for a wild ride today.

We got to work checking everything in the server, logging into systems and making phone calls to the warehouse. The support staff walked over to my desk as we fiddled with the keyboards, looking at the computer screens for any sign of a logical solution. But it was a mystery. The system was hanging in the warehouse, stalled by some invisible barrier that we could not find. It seemed like some malevolent virus was stalking the network, mischievously delaying the packets of data whizzing by, creating havoc at the warehouse. We just could not find what was wrong. We tried the usual steps again which the staff had done earlier. It seemed to have stopped working but suddenly it started to work, sending down the reports from head office down the wire to the warehouse.  We had beaten the bug. Or so we thought. We called the warehouse and asked them to try again. But the fellas got the same erroneous response. The program was not working at their end.

So the rest of the day was spent helping the fellas remotely, printing their reports and doing the other stuff that they normally do. Otherwise, work would stop and the product will not be delivered to our loyal customers. So we continued helping throughout the day, and the fellas did not show any irritation except for that sweet old lady, a grandmother actually, who displayed a brief flicker of contempt like a flash of a steel blade sinking into your flesh. A problem ticket was created in the help desk so the root cause could be found and fixed. But like a bumbling idiot, we watched the ticket make its way around the globe, first to the warehouse support staff in Bangalore, India. After chatting with him, he went to check their application, found nothing wrong and transferred the ticket to IBM. But not before alerting his boss here in South Carolina, so we got into a short group chat to make sure it was not caused by their application. So the ticket made its way towards a different group of folks.

Soon the hardware folks were chatting me up on the problem. A person I worked with in past based also in India. So we exchanged screen captures, information on the problem, possible avenues to check and so on. But it was an exchange of polite accusation, trying to point the blame towards each other with civilized courtesy. But we would not budge, sticking to our logical constructs in our minds until another path was found to divert the problem to the application team in Cleveland, Ohio. So sent these folks an email with screen captures of the server errors. So far no reply yet as of this moment. Soon a head honcho from IBM called me, a nice guy actually, with a good reputation and respected by the department. It looked like the wire was not upgraded as planned and the bandwidth was not increased. I was skeptical since I suspected something was adjusted in the back end and were not told. Some confidential security measures were applied to prevent any virus or malware attacks and affecting our program. But it’s my old paranoia, my suspicion that there is some secret conspiracy happening behind my back.

In the meantime, we were still getting phone calls from the warehouse as they tried to get on with their work.   A problem came up at the end of the day and I had to get assistance from another Indian colleague beside my cubicle. I walked over to him and explained the problem and he worked on fixing it. Meanwhile, no word from the folks in Nevada. They seemed to have no problem working with their program. It a strange world indeed when two parties are using the same program but only one party having problems. One assumes it is the size of the transactions. But that is the nature of the ‘cloud’ where problems strike in the ether and one does not know where the glitch is.  The merry go round with continue tomorrow if the problem is not fixed. But the head honcho said that the bandwidth will increase tonight. We shall see. I had planned to go to the gym tonight but just felt tired. The merry go around is getting to me too. After a while, the folks in Ohio replied to my email and found no problem at their end. The problem ticket remains open in the ether with no ownership.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letter Writing

David McCullough’s new book ‘The Greater Journey’ has received mostly good notices in recent months. I have not read the book but I have read some of his previous ones particularly the abridged version of ‘Truman’ and ‘Path between the Seas’ about the Panama canal. I also enjoyed the HBO miniseries ‘John Adams’ which is based on his Pulitzer Prize winning book. I also enjoyed the film about Harry Truman starring Gary Sinise which was also based on his award winning work. Research for his recent novel is based on letters of the main characters on their experiences in Paris. In a Time magazine interview, David McCullough laments the decline of letter writing in recent years and marveled at the way people wrote letters in the past. To write is to think. He said letter writing is a good way to refine your thoughts – a way of thinking out loud and expressing them to the letter’s recipients. He doubts today’s emails or blogging can provide the traditional benefits of letter writing as practiced in the past.

From one’s perspective, writing a blog can clarify one’s thoughts which a diary or journal could do as well. But writing to another human being is a different form of expression – something that requires one to be circumspect and real. After all it’s not a debate or a rant (maybe sometimes) or an intellectual treatise (perhaps) but a story about one’s present circumstances. How is one doing at work or how the wife and kids are doing and stories of one’s new life situation. I guess that is the difference when comparing the different types of writing. A blogger or journal writer would have the means of refining their thought process so the thinking experience exists. But the authenticity of expression is lost as intimate communication is not the goal of blogging or journal writing.  There is no other person that one is communicating to; only a general public or one’s inner conscience.

Being a true writer in the form of a novelist requires a transition. One wonders whether the past experience was a boon on thinking or writing. I guess it’s both - writing is an expression in written (pen to paper) language. Speaking is another form of expression where one verbalizes the thinking process when one declares one’s thoughts.  Those folks who have practiced their thinking via writing may have difficulties speaking as his mind is too fast for his mouth. His verbal skills cannot catch up with the thinking mind. But speaking is closer to letter writing because there is a recipient of one’s verbal message. So one should keep his diction and style at a level understood by the listener. The difference is being conscious of an audience and their capacity to understand. Indeed, listening to oneself speak or listening to audio books is a different learning experience than reading. The spoken word is processed differently by the mind.

Reading is more a visual process as compared to listening which is an auditory process.  Recently, I have been listening to Philip Roth’s ‘Everyman’. I know he is a great writer because his stories remain in my mind like a popular song. His voice is clear and simple with an elegant dexterity. He is a better writer than John Updike because of his simplicity of voice. He does not write with the ascetic style of recent Cormac McCarthy or Don Delillo but with the understated verbosity of Saul Bellow; more concise without the elegant flourish of Updike or even Thomas Pynchon. The story and authentic voice remain and one is not lost in elegant phrasing. Listening to books is a much easier way to ‘read’ but lacks the intensity and focus of actual reading. Ideally one should visually read major works and keep the listening to the lesser works. But unfortunately one does not have time. To illustrate the problem, I also listen to audio books in investment and finance but miss the technical details.

Important investment advice (or non-fiction works) may be lost if one relies on listening. One must take notes, perhaps doodling or visual note taking to remember the important details. Just like attending class or a lecture. But audio books may be right for general literature.  But is it enough to be a writer? One must read books to be a good writer; can this requirement be met by listening to audio books? Similarly, writing in whatever form is also important; but logging many hours in blogs or journal writing enough? Is public speaking helping in the process of creative writing? For example, like making speeches in Toastmaster. One hopes these activities are not shortcuts but truly help achieve the goal of being a writer. In fact, one achieves a level of comfort and confidence in expressing oneself. There is an ease of communication and expression. Hence, the only remaining task is learning the craft of creative writing.

Last year I attended 4 one hour sessions on creative writing. But much has been achieved this year.  I attended a 2 month course on novel writing (a 2 hour class once a week) based on a text book by the NYC Writer’s Workshop. I attended a 2 day writer’s workshop over a weekend at a nearby college. I attended some literary talks like the recent one sponsored by the local library with author Sue Monk Kidd. I watched videos in YouTube and other sites with writers speaking about writing. I worked on my short story and completed some writing exercises which got some critiques in the workshops. Most importantly, I networked and talked with fellow writers or would be authors on getting their work published. One has a good sense of creative writing after attending these events. For the remainder of the year, I plan to attend the local Scribbler’s session in the library and join the SC writer’s workshop where one can share and get constructive criticism of one’s work. I will also participate in the NANOWRIMO novel writing event in November.

Hence, one continues blogging, listening to audio books (or actually reading one), watching videos on writing, watching DVDs, participating in Toastmasters, writing and evaluating speeches, attending speech contests and workshops.  All the while, making a living, working on one’s career and projects, going to the gym, settling to new circumstances and establishing a semblance of family life. For instance, this weekend was Labor Day. I spent the long 3 day weekend at home, eating, going to the gym, watching DVDs (Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Robert Redford and Ken Burns) listening to music CDs and reading a Civil War picture book. I wanted to go to Robinson Lake but it rained. I wanted to call my brother and parents back home but was lazy. I also promised to write a letter to my mom but have not done so.  Instead, I listened to an investment book called ‘The Great Reflation’ and Roth’s ‘Everyman’ and thought about the protagonist’s lament on old age, loss of family, loss of friends and his youthful vigor.  I also made Thai Mango salad and Thai Cucumber salad and thought about past visits to exotic Thailand.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Perception Fiasco

After going live in Reno, a number of issues have cropped up. The problems were due to the environment and not the program installed. Someone in a back office mistakenly pulled a plug or a switch was not working or someone tripped over a cable. The week after going live was a nightmare with the support team struggling to get the warehouses running again. All hands on deck as people scrambled to get the problem fixed, calling the warehouses and doing the job for them in their cubicles at head office. With the wonders of technology, the needed reports and labels flowed to the warehouses from distant offices; a task these folks could do themselves before the event. But a day or two after the incident, things started to go back to normal. It was a disaster that could have turned worse if not for the efforts of the support team. It was a hair rising couple of days. But the damage was done even after the glitch was fixed. A perception of a fiasco in people’s minds.

The big boys did not think highly of the whole thing. It was a mess looking at the way the users in Reno were complaining. The program was unstable and not working correctly. But there were a lot of issues that involved other systems, the network and the server. But it all came into the application just installed. So the director in his great wisdom suspended the roll-out to other sites until all issues are fixed. Every small problem catalogued and reported even if trivial. Written down in e-mail reports, simple incidents are raised into staggering proportions. The warehouse head was not around in Reno when the program was installed. He came a week after from a business trip; just when the team left and when all these glitches occurred. So he started to write daily reports of these incidents – broken printer ribbons, program cannot connect to server, system delays and page errors and so on. It looked like a big mess from the perception of the director.

But keeping things in perspective, products were shipped without a single day suffering a shut down. There were some delays but products were loaded into trucks and driven out to feeder warehouses, into railroad trains, loaded into trucks again and finally delivered to the customer. The program held and system did not collapse. It was working despite the many problems. But once the incidents died down, it was looking good despite daily reports from Reno reporting trivial issues. But one should not take these reports lightly as the director is monitoring the exchange of emails. One should be respectful and consider the other’s point of view. One’s ally is time as it rushes forward without delay, until one is adapted to the new change and accepts the altered conditions as the new normal.  From a larger view, it’s a move towards the ‘cloud’ as formerly decentralized programs are moved to the ether. Cloud computing making its presence felt in distant warehouse at the edge of great cities.

Yesterday was a good day when the report from the warehouse was positive only to come back again in today’s mail with some minor glitches. It is the nature of the ‘cloud’ that one cannot battle. But one is glad that issues have subsided. It’s like the ebb and flow of a wave where one approaches the shore and eventually the water recedes back and one walks into dry sand. The issues have died down although there are still some nagging problems which our friends from the great IBM are trying to fix.  It is the network that is the problem, the highways and feeder roads of cyberspace. The veins of the ‘cloud’ - an ethereal entity that no one sees; the new God in the internet age. The main challenge is to allow the users’ to wrap their heads around the new concept (or religion).  It’s the new normal in life with ceaselessly onrushing work and new projects coming on stream. Amidst these weeks of stress and bewildering issues (which IBM seems to fix in the background), one starts a new project, attends several project meetings and joins a 2-day seminar on business analysis. One goes to the gym, swims and exercises and attends baseball games. Life goes on and one must try to seek normalcy as soon as possible; to go through the motions of a regular life even if the mind is swirling with thoughts.

One keeps active, reading books, participating in Toastmaster meetings, talking to new people and attending speech contests.  An old friend visited again from Canada and had friends over for dinner for three days. The dinners are always great with good conversation, jokes and laughter, looking at photographs in the Internet, listening to music, reminiscing about the past and having a fun time. One does not dwell on work but moves on. I had stopped bringing my laptop home but did so again since going live in Reno. Reno is three hours behind us (Pacific Time) so any problems that come up during their day close would be reported in Eastern Time at about 6 or 7 pm.  One must be ready at all times – so one brings his laptop using a back pack to avoid the shoulder stress of a normal computer bag.

Finally, this weekend is Labor Day and one must try to use the holiday to re-charge. Perhaps a hike in the hills or kayaking in a lake or maybe a visit to a mountain town somewhere in the Appalachians.  Baseball season has ended so one must look for the next diversion. A lot of DVDs borrowed from main library will keep one busy. Classic Japanese films on samurais and ninja’s and modern salary men learning to dance, Fellini’s ‘Amacord’, Ken Burns ‘The War’, a Middle East war film ‘Marooned in Iraq’  and the last film of a great Russian director. Numerous books to read - one about Google, the Civil War (a picture book), a book about life hacking, a cook book on Southern dishes, numerous magazines like Fortune, Business week, Time and Wired. Plus listening to Philip Roth’s excellent ‘Everyman’ in the car’s CD player.  A great writer that remind one of both Saul Bellow (for his Jewishness) and John Updike (for his suburban tales reeking of sex). No wonder that one cannot write. Being a writer requires a serenity of mind with no external stimulation that result in mental churning.