Oct 16, 2016

Notes From Mr. Money Mustache

Mr. Money Mustache is one of the very few blogs that I subscribe to. This blog has had a huge impact on my financial wisdom and habits. Financial freedom, which is the theme of the blog is a pursuit worthy of working dedicatedly toward. I dream of the day when I no longer have to work for money and only work if I have to. Money Mustache tells you how to achieve this seemingly impossible pipe dream, with a barrage of thought-provoking posts, each post augmented by comments by a lot of smart people bringing in varied perspectives.

Of late, I realized that I've been consuming the blog only passively, without really internalizing what Mr. Mustache advises that we do, and without really understanding the math behind the numbers he comes up with. So I've decided to restart working my way through the blog's articles from the very beginning and make detailed notes and mathematical formulas as I go along, so that I can start running calculations similar to what Mr. Mustache does, only difference being that the variables are suited to my own life. We start at the very first post, here.

- Savings: The amount of money you save on your take-home pay. Deductions such as your investments in ESPP, retirement account contributions and any other investments can be added to your take-home pay.

Apr 8, 2011
- Save at least 50% of your take-home pay every month.
- Your car shouldn't cost you more than 10% of your annual gross income, and only if you can pay in cash without having to finance the purchase.

Apr 10, 2011
This post talks about what to do with the money that has been sitting idle in your zero-interest checking/savings account.
- After paying off debts, start with conservative investments such as buying units of the Vanguard VFINX mutual funds or SPY shares if you have a brokerage account.
- 7% is a fair and conservative rate of return to target, after adjusting for inflation. So if you can live on $49,000 a year contingent upon the fact that you own a house that has been paid off, you need to have $700,000 invested in a financial product that kicks back 7% every year.

Apr 13, 2011
You can retire when you achieve the below two goals:
- You adapt to a lifestyle that prepares you to live on 25% of your income, while you sock away the remaining 75% toward investments.
- Your investments and savings generate the above stated 25% for you forever.

Apr 15, 2011
- $29,000 invested over a period of 10 years with interest compounding at 7%, would yield you $57,000. How do we determine this? Here's the formula.
[Principal Amount] * [1 + (Interest)/100] ^ [Number of Years.]
For instance, 29,000 * (1 + 7/100) ^ 10 = 29,000 * (1.07) ^ 10 = 29,000 * 1.967 = $57000.
- To get a weekly expense compounded over 10 years at 7%, multiply by 752.
- To get a monthly expense compounded over 10 years at 7%, multiply by 173.
- An array of tools for various kinds of calculations: Calculator Soup.

Apr 17, 2011
- Aim to spend 25% of what the average indulgent person spends in product categories. If your regular guy spends $600/year on clothes at branded outlets, you'd do better by spending $150/year by shopping at Target.

Mar 16, 2016

A Saunter Through Death Valley

This President's day on February 15, 2016, we hit the road and headed south-east to the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America with a dark name - Death Valley National Park in the state of Nevada.

This national park is unlike anything I've seen before. A vast remote landscape with many different terrains thrown together, all close to each other. After a hike through the red rock canyon, if you feel like rolling in the sand, you are only minutes away from the towering sand dunes. As you climb up and down the dunes and then feel like getting into a crater, a 40 minute drive will land you at the mouth of a reasonably big volcanic crater. The terrain choices at your disposal are varied - Snow peaked mountains, a perennial waterfall, sand dunes, volcanic crater, large areas of salt flats and canyons all within small distances made our visit to this park quite interesting.

The drive from San Francisco Bay Area to Death Valley isn't a short one. We broke up our 8 hour onward journey into two halves with a night's stop at Bakersfield. This gave us a much needed night's rest and recharge for the second leg of our journey the next morning. It was close to noon when we made it to the valley.

Winter is probably one of the best times to visit a baking desert like Death Valley. This place is considered one of the hottest on the planet and temperatures soar up to 50C/120F during summer times, rendering a visit here during summer an exercise in fighting the sun, dehydration and shelter-seeking. During our own visit during the February winter, we found the land pretty warm. I personally would certainly not want to experience the wrath of mother nature during summer here.

Here's a brief trip report of our Death Valley itinerary.

Day 1
As we entered the park, we hit a hiking trail right away. This trail is called the Mosaic Canyon trail, a narrow pathway winding through smooth mosaic canyon walls. The drive on the unpaved dirt road to this trailhead is quite a hassle for people with humble cars like Toyota Corolla, such as me. We hiked the trail for a while, watched the sunset and then got back before it was too dark.

At the Mosaic Canyon Narrows.
We then drove back and checked into the Stovepipe Wells motel. This is one of the more affordable motels that is right within the national park. It is really commendable that such an equipped accommodation has been established in the middle of a barren, dry, middle-of-nowhere desert. We settled into our new home for the next 2 days, freshened up and eagerly awaited the National park Service's night sky program.

Death Valley is renowned for its night sky. Being way out and away from any urban settlement and its associated light pollution, Death Valley ranks high in the list of places with the darkest night skies. With this knowledge, we were very hopeful about getting to witness the Universe put up a grand spectacle up in the heavens. Mother Nature, however, works on her own terms and had no interest in entertaining us. The skies were partly cloudy, marring the view. It still was reasonably scenic, compared to the few handful stars that we get to see in the skies above our apartments, with the street lights glaring down angrily at us.

At the scheduled time, me and my wife, and a bunch of other visitors gathered at the Mesquite Sand Dunes parking lot. A vast terrain of sand dunes lay ahead of us. The park ranger, a lady named Diane, came along and took us out into the sand dunes. After walking a bit into the dunes and away from the park roads, we all settled down on the sand, gearing up for a night of Astronomical education. The skies had cleared up reasonably, much to our delight, putting up a magnificent display of stars, planets and constellations. Unfortunately, the gaseous band of Milky Way was nowhere to be seen.

Akshata at the Mesquite Sand Dunes.
The ranger talk, while informative to an extent, was a slight let-down for me. I was expecting a technical talk, with topics revolving around Astronomy. The talk however centered around folk stories and legends on how the stars and planets came to be, the mythological background on the names of constellations. Despite that, I did learn some interesting, although trivial, facts such as how to locate the North star, the brightest star in the sky, the red-giant that is set to explode into a supernova - Betelgeuse. The experience on a whole was definitely memorable - being out in the desert under a sky full of stars, far away from the sounds, smell and lights of our city life.

Day 2
On our second day, we visited the park Visitor Center, watched a movie on the natural history of the park and took off to drive down to Badwater Basin. This is an immense expanse of salt flats, known to be 282 feet below sea level, making this the lowest point in North America. We walked down the salt flats, leaving the crowds behind as we went out on the flats for about a mile. On the soaring cliffs behind you, there is a marker for where the sea level is, giving you a perspective on how far below sea level you are.

Akshata at Badwater Basin.
The fact that made our visit to the Badwater Basin unforgettable was that it was Valentine's day - Not many couples will have the bragging rights to claim that they spent their Valentine's day at the lowest point below sea level within an entire continent. :)

At the Badwater Basin.
On our way back, we stopped at other points of interest, Artist's Palette being the main attraction. This is a collection of hills with colors so varied, that the name is very apt. We paid our dues here with a small hike through these hills. This was followed by another hike through the Golden Canyon trail. My wife had had her share of physical activities for the day and chose to sit back and relax in the car, while I went into the Canyon trail alone. The sun had just about set and twilight was dawning upon us. The trail was surprisingly deserted, with hardly any human form to be seen. I hiked blissfully in the Canyon for a couple miles, the trail all to myself. I could have gone on further but with daylight rapidly fading and dusk growing upon me, along with the desolate Canyon's deafening silence with only the haunting sounds of howling wind, a growing sensation of isolation and insecurity made my steps less sure-footed. I continued on for a little longer and then turned back as the fear of the dark Canyon walls drawing closer and closer upon me could no longer be contained. As I got back to my car, my wife waiting for me inside the car told me that she had begun to contemplate calling for help since there were no signs of my returning.

Wildflower Blooms in the Valley.
The varied colors of the Artist's Palette.

Day 3 - Journey Into and Back From Hell
We checked out of our motel and drove to Ubehebe crater - A huge volcanic crater caused by the explosive venting of underground steam. I had only intended to take a little hike around the rim of the crater. As I got to the mouth of the crater, I saw a small group of people all the way down in the crater. The trigger-happy reckless adventurer within me was instantly woken up and I decided on going down into the crater much against my wife's wishes. We started climbing down. My wife came down a few steps and then stopped, rested for a while and then walked back up. I continued further down. The path down was laden with little gravel stones giving me a good foothold such that I essentially ran down into the base of the crater. My descent was all fun and games, with my old faithful friend, Mr. Gravity, very much by my side.

At the rim of the Ubehebe crater.
Once down, I fooled around in the base of the crater, very proud and smug about how easily I hiked down a volcano crater while most other touristy types just play it safe staying put at view points, take pictures and leave. I waved at my wife who was high above at the crater's rim. She waved back. Reveling in my sense of accomplishment, I started my journey back up the crater. The world seemed alright for a while as I walked up. The steps that seemed easy and light at the beginning of my ascent back very quickly turned heavy. Breathing gradually turned into a struggle. It was time for a rest-stop. I sat down on the sloping walls of the crater, rested a bit and then resumed my climb back up. Five steps later, I found myself sitting down again. Things were beginning to go south. I rested another few minutes, pulled myself back up and took another few steps. My thighs burned like crazy and the breathing had turned into wheezing. I wasn't even half way up. My wife was watching this event unfold from the safety of the viewpoint. I waved a thumbs up at her signalling that I was OK. She waved at me indicating that I sit down and rest some more.

I'm a mere pixel down at the crater's base.
Pretty soon, I was scrambling up on all fours, using my hands and legs both to aid my fight against the ruthless pull of Gravity. I was collapsing down with fatigue with every 8-10 steps, with self-doubt about whether I'll be able to make it up top surging in my mind. As I scrambled on a little more, I also began feeling that I might pass out. I have passed out a couple times in the past when my physical exertion went past my limits - once when I had joined a Karate class and the instructor pushed me past my fitness levels. Had I passed out inside the crater, I would have been in real trouble. The worst did not happen, fortunately.

After countless repetitions of scrambling on all four limbs, and resting in between every ten steps, I finally limped out of the crater in one piece and dropped down at the rim. I had totally overrated my fitness levels and Nature had put me in my place. My wife replenished my Gatorade supply that I chugged down as I looked down into the little hole of Hell that I had just barely made out of.

As I rehydrated myself and the fatigue subsided, we got into our car and began our long eight hour journey back home. Death Valley indeed was a very unique place, and I was delighted with this National park, while having had my share of scary moments as well. This landscape is the closest one can get to experience what it feels like to be on the face of another planet, because the distinct barren terrain makes it hard to believe that we are still on planet Earth.

Death Valley fades in the background as we bid goodbye.

Feb 11, 2016

ಅಮ್ಮನ ನೆನಪು

ಅಮ್ಮ ನಮ್ಮನ್ನಗಲಿ ಸರಿಸುಮಾರು ೫ ವರ್ಷಗಳಾಗುತ್ತ ಬಂತು. ಇಷ್ಟು ಕಾಲ ಸರಿದ ಮೇಲೂ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಮಧುರ ನೆನಪುಗಳು ಆಗ್ಗಿಂದಾಗ್ಗೆ ಕಣ್ಮುಂದೆ ಸರಿದು ಹೋಗುತ್ತಲೇ ಇರುತ್ತವೆ. ನಮ್ಮೊಡನೆ ಅಮ್ಮ ಈಗ ಇಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೇನಂತೆ, ಅಮ್ಮನೊಡನೆ ಹಂಚಿಕೊಂಡ ಸಂತಸದ ದಿನಗಳ ನೆನಪುಗಳ ಮರುಕಳಿಕೆ ಕಡಿಮೆಯಾಗುವ ಲಕ್ಷಣವಂತೂ ಕಾಣುತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ. ಅಮ್ಮನ ಕೆಲ ವಿಶೇಷ ಗುಣಲಕ್ಷಣಗಳ ಮತ್ತು ಅಮ್ಮ ಭಾಗಿಯಾದ ಕೆಲ ಸ್ಮರಣೀಯ ಘಟನಾವಳಿಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಬರೆಯಬೇಕೆಂದು ನನಗೆ ಬಹಳ ಸಮಯದಿಂದ ತುಡಿತವಿತ್ತು. ಅಂತೂ ಈಗ ಗಳಿಗೆ ಒದಗಿದೆ.

ಮುಗ್ಧತೆಯ ಅವತಾರವೆಂದರೆ ಅದು ನನ್ನಮ್ಮ. ನಯವಂಚನೆ, ಕೋಪ, ಚುಚ್ಚುಮಾತು ಇದಾವುದೂ ತಿಳಿಯದು ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ. ಅಮ್ಮನನ್ನು ಸುಳ್ಳು ಹೇಳಿ ವಂಚಿಸುವುದು ಸುಲಭ. ಇದರ ಲಾಭವನ್ನು ನಾನು ಬಾಲ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಪಡೆದುದು ಸುಳ್ಳಲ್ಲ. ನನ್ನ ತಂಗಿಯನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿದಿನ ಶಿಶುವಿಹಾರದಿಂದ ಸೈಕಲ್ಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮನೆಗೆ ಕರೆತರುವುದು ನನ್ನ ಹೊಣೆ. ಈ ಜವಾಬ್ದಾರಿಯಿಂದ ನುಣುಚಿಕೊಂಡು ಟ್ಯೂಶನ್ ಇದೆಯೆಂದು ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಸುಳ್ಳು ಹೇಳಿ ಟಾಕೀಸಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಸಿನಿಮಾ ನೋಡಿಕೊಂಡು ಬಂದದ್ದುಂಟು. ಇದಾದರೆ ಅಷ್ಟೇನೂ ನಷ್ಟವಿಲ್ಲದ ವ್ಯವಹಾರ. ಇನ್ನು ಅಮ್ಮ ತನ್ನ ಮುಗ್ಧತೆಯಿಂದ ಬಲಿಪಶುವಾಗುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು salesmenಗಳ ಮರುಳುಮಾತಿಗೆ. ಮಾತಿಗೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕ ಈ ಮೋಡಿಗಾರರೆಲ್ಲ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಏನಾದರೂ ಕಸಕಂತೆಯನ್ನು ಮಾರಿಹೋಗುವವರೇ.

ಅಪ್ಪ ತಂಗಿಯೊಡನೆ ಅಮ್ಮ. ಅಂದಾಜು ವರ್ಷ 1995.

ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್ ವೀಕ್ಷಣೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ಬೆಳೆಸಿಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದಳು ಅಮ್ಮ. ಆಟದ ನೀತಿನಿಯಮಗಳನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಂಡಿದುದು ಅಷ್ಟಕ್ಕಷ್ಟೇ. ನಮ್ಮ Batsman out ಆದರೆ 'ಅಯ್ಯೋ ಥು' ಎಂದು ಗೋಳಾಡುವ ಅಮ್ಮ ಮರುಗಳಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಮತ್ತದೇ ವಿಕೆಟ್ ಪತನವನ್ನು slow motionನಲ್ಲಿ ತೋರಿಸಿದಾಗ 'ಥುತ್ ಮತ್ತೊಂದ್ ಬಿತ್ತು' ಎಂದು ಬಡಿದುಕೊಳ್ಳುವಳು. ಆಟ ನೋಡಬೇಕೆಂದು ಬಯಸುವ ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್ ಆಸಕ್ತನಿಗೆ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಜೊತೆ ಕುಳಿತು ನೋಡುವುದೆಂದರೆ ಅದೊಂದು ಮೊಜುಭರಿತ ಹಿಂಸೆಯ ಅನುಭವವೇ. ಇದರೊಡನೆ ಬೆಳಗಾದರೆ ದಿನಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್ ಸುದ್ದಿಗಳನ್ನು ಗಟ್ಟಿಯಾಗಿ ಓದುವುದು ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ರೂಢಿ. ಆಕೆ ಓದುವುದನ್ನು ಕೇಳಲು ಮನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಯಾರೂ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ತೋರದಿದ್ದರೂ ಆಕೆಯ ಕ್ರೀಡಾವಾಚನ ನಿಲ್ಲುತ್ತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ.

ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಿನಿಮಾ ನೋಡುವ ಅಭಿರುಚಿ ತುಸು ಜಾಸ್ತಿಯೇ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ. ಹಾಗೆಂದು ಇಷ್ಟಪಟ್ಟು ಹೋದ ಸಿನೆಮಾಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಅರ್ಧ ವೇಳೆ ಥೇಟರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ನಿದ್ದೆ ಮಾಡಿ ಕಳೆಯುವುದು ಅಪರೂಪದ ಸಂಗತಿಯೇನಲ್ಲ. ಪುನೀತ್ ರಾಜಕುಮಾರ್ ಸಿನಿಮಾಗಳಿಗೆ ತಪ್ಪದೆ ಹಾಜರ್. ಅವನ ಡಾನ್ಸ್ ಇಷ್ಟ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ. ಹಾಗೆಯೇ ವಿಷ್ಣುವರ್ಧನ್ ನನ್ನು ಡಾ. ರಾಜಕುಮಾರ್ ಗೆ ಹೋಲಿಸಿ ಕೆಳಸ್ಥರದಲ್ಲಿ ಕೂಡಿಸುವುದು ಮಾಮೂಲಿ. ರಾಜ್ ಡಾನ್ಸ್ ಮುಂದೆ ವಿಷ್ಣುವಿನ ಕುಣಿತ ಯಾವ ಸಾಟಿ ಎಂದು ಹೀಗಳೆಯುವಳು. ನಾನು ಮೂಗಿನಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ - 'ರಾಜ್ ಎಷ್ಟು ಚಂದ ಡಾನ್ಸ್ ಮಾಡ್ತಿದ್ದ್ರು ನಂಗ್ ಗೊತ್ತು ಸುಮ್ನಿರು' ಎಂದು ಅಸಡ್ಡೆಯಿಂದ ಗೊಣಗುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ.

ಅಮ್ಮ ಜನರೊಡನೆ ಬೆರೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು ಕಡಿಮೆ. ನಾಚಿಕೆಯ ಸ್ವಭಾವದ ಅಮ್ಮ ಅಂಥ ಮಾತಿನ ಮಲ್ಲಿಯಲ್ಲ. ಮನೆಯ ಅಕ್ಕಪಕ್ಕದ ಹೆಂಗಸರೆಲ್ಲ ಮಧ್ಯಾಹ್ನ/ಸಂಜೆಯ ಹೊತ್ತಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಬೀದಿಬದಿಯ ಹರಟೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ತೊಡಗಿದ್ದರೆ ಅಮ್ಮ ಅದರಲ್ಲೆಂದೂ ಭಾಗಿಯಾದವಳಲ್ಲ. ಮನೆಯ ಕಿಟಕಿಯ ಪರದೆ ಸರಿಸಿ ಹೊರಗೆ ನೆರೆಹೊರೆಯವರ ಹರಟೆಯನ್ನು ಮರೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಂತು ಗಮನಿಸುವ ಗೂಢಚಾರಿಕೆಯೇ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಖುಶಿ. ಹೀಗೆ ಗೂಢಚಾರಿಕೆ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಲೇ ಅಮ್ಮ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯ ಮುಂದಿನ ತೋಟಕ್ಕೆ ಭೇಟಿ ನೀಡುವ ಹಕ್ಕಿಗಳನ್ನು ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಬಾರಿ ಪಕ್ಷಿಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಜ್ಞಳಂತೆ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದುಂಟು.

ದೀಪಾವಳಿಯ ಸಂಭ್ರಮದಲ್ಲಿ ಅಮ್ಮ - ಮಗಳು. ಅಂದಾಜು ವರ್ಷ 1997 - 98.

ತನ್ನದೇ ಆದ ಚಿಕ್ಕ ಪರಿಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅಮ್ಮ ಮಾಡಿದ ದಾನ, ಧರ್ಮ, ಅಳಿಲುಸೇವೆಗಳು ಬಹಳ ದೊಡ್ದವೇ. ಪ್ರಾಣಿದಯೆಯು ಅತಿಯೇ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ. ಮನೆಯ ಸುತ್ತಲಿನ ಪರಿಸರದ ಬೀದಿನಾಯಿಗಳಿಗೆಲ್ಲ ಅಮ್ಮ ಅಚ್ಚುಮೆಚ್ಚಿನ ಕೊಡುಗೈ ದಾನಿ. ಅದೇಕೆ ಗೊತ್ತೇ? ಬೇಕರಿಯಿಂದ ಬ್ರೆಡ್ ಕೊಂಡು ತಂದು ಬೀದಿ ನಾಯಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಹಾಕುವ ಪರಿಪಾಠವಿತ್ತು ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ. ಇದು ಒಂದೆರಡು ದಿನಗಳ ಶೋಕಿಯಲ್ಲ. ಪ್ರತಿದಿನದ ವಾಡಿಕೆಯಿದು. ಪ್ರತಿದಿನ ಕಡಿಮೆಯೆಂದರೂ 8 - 10 ರೂಪಾಯಿಗಳ ಮನುಷ್ಯಯೋಗ್ಯ ಬ್ರೆಡ್ ನಾಯಿಗಳಿಗೆ ದಾನ ಮಾಡುವ ಕಾರ್ಯ ಬಹಳ ಕಾಲ ಅಡಚಣೆಯಿಲ್ಲದೆ ನಡೆಯಿತು ನಮ್ಮ ಧರ್ಮಛತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ.

ಹೀಗೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯ ಸೇವೆ ಸೌಲಭ್ಯಗಳಿಗೆ ಹೊಂದಿಕೊಂಡ ನಾಯಿಯೊಂದು ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯ ಹೊರಗಿನ ಆವರಣದಲ್ಲಿ 6-7 ಮರಿಗಳನ್ನು ಹೆತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ನಾವೆಲ್ಲರೂ ಅವಕ್ಕೆ ಹಾಲು ಆಹಾರದ ಉಪಚಾರ ನಡೆಸಿದ್ದೆವು. ಇಂತಿಷ್ಟು ಮರಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲವು ಕ್ರಮೇಣ ನಾಪತ್ತೆಯಾದವು. ಇನ್ನೊಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಮರಿಗಳು ಪ್ರಕೃತಿಯ ವಿವಿಧ ಹೊಡೆತಗಳು, ಶತ್ರುಪ್ರಾಣಿಗಳ ದಾಳಿಗೆ ಬಲಿಯಾಗಿ ಕೊನೆಗೊಂದು ಮರಿ ಉಳಿದಿತ್ತು. ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯ ನಾಯಿಮರಿಯೇ ಆಗಿಹೋದ ಇದನ್ನು ಅಮ್ಮ ಹೆಚ್ಚೇ ಆಪ್ತವಾಗಿಸಿಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದಳು. ಮುಂದೊಂದು ದಿನ ಇದೂ ಮಾಯವಾಯಿತು. ಅಮ್ಮ ಆ ದಿನ ಸ್ನಾನದ ನೆಪದಲ್ಲಿ ಬಚ್ಚಲು ಮನೆ ಸೇರಿ ಕಣ್ಣೀರಾಗಿದ್ದಳು. ಅಮ್ಮನ ಸಂಕಟವನ್ನು ಕಂಡು ನಾನು ಸೈಕಲ್ ಹತ್ತಿ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯ ಹಿಂದಿನ ಬಡಾವಣೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಎಲ್ಲಾದರೂ ನಾಪತ್ತೆಯಾದ ನಮ್ಮ ನಾಯಿಮರಿ ಕಾಣುವುದೇ ಎಂದು ಹುಡುಕಹತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ನಮ್ಮ ಮರಿ ಕಾಣದಿದ್ದರೂ ಅದನ್ನು ಹೋಲುವ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಮರಿ ಬೀದಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಓಡಾಡಿಕೊಂಡಿತ್ತು. ಅದನ್ನು ಮೇಲೆತ್ತಿ ಹಿಡಿದು ಸೈಕಲ್ನಲ್ಲಿ ಮನೆಗೆ ಕರೆತಂದೆ. ಅದನ್ನು ನೋಡಿ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಮುಖ ತುಸು ಅರಳಿತು. ನಮ್ಮ ದುರದೃಷ್ಟಕ್ಕೆ ಮುಂಚಿನ ಮರಿಗಳನ್ನು ಹೆತ್ತ ನಾಯಿಯು ತನ್ನದಲ್ಲದ ಈ ಮರಿಯ ಮೇಲೆ ದಾಳಿ ಮಾಡಲೆರಗಿತು. ದೊಡ್ಡ ನಾಯಿಯನ್ನು ಓಡಿಸಿ ಮರಿಯನ್ನು ಇಲ್ಲೇ ಬಿಟ್ಟರೆ ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಉಳಿಗಾಲವಿಲ್ಲವೆಂದು ಅದನ್ನು ಸಿಕ್ಕ ಜಾಗದಲ್ಲಿಯೇ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಬಂದೆ. ಇಷ್ಟೆಲ್ಲಾ ಪ್ರಸಂಗವಾದ ಮೇಲೆ ಮತ್ತಾವ ನಾಯಿಯನ್ನೂ ಆವರಣದೊಳಗೆ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಸಲಹಲಿಲ್ಲ ನಾವು. ಸಾಕುಪ್ರಾಣಿಗಳ ಸಹವಾಸಕ್ಕೆ ಪೂರ್ಣವಿರಾಮ ಹಾಕಿದೆವು. ನಮ್ಮೆಲ್ಲರ ಬದುಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲಸಮಯ ಹೊಕ್ಕಿ ಹೋದ ಮತ್ತೊಂದು ನಾಯಿಗೆ ನಾನು/ಅಮ್ಮ ಚರ್ಚಿಸಿ ದಯಪಾಲಿಸಿದ ನಾಮಧೇಯ 'ಲಾರಾ'.

ಹೊಳೆವ ಕಂಗಳ ಯುವಜೋಡಿ - ಅಪ್ಪ ಅಮ್ಮ 80ರ ದಶಕದ ಹೊಸಿಲಲ್ಲಿ 

ನನ್ನ ಶಾಲೆಯು ಬೇಸಿಗೆಯ 3 ತಿಂಗಳು ರಜೆಗೆ ಬಂದ್ ಆದಾಗ ನಾನು ನನ್ನ ಅಜ್ಜಿಯೂರು ಶಿವಮೊಗ್ಗ ಜಿಲ್ಲೆಯ ಸಾಗರಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋಗುವುದು ರೂಢಿ. ಈ ಮೂರು ತಿಂಗಳು ಆಗ ಧಾರವಾಡದಲ್ಲಿ ಬ್ಯಾಂಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ದುಡಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ನನ್ನಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಪುತ್ರವಿರಹದ ಸಂಕಟ. 90ರ ದಶಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಆಗಿನ್ನೂ STD ಫೋನುಗಳು ಮಾಮೂಲಾದ ಕಾಲವಲ್ಲ. ಆಗ ನಾವು ಪತ್ರಗಳನ್ನು ಬರೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆವು. ಅಪ್ಪ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಂದ ಕಾಗದ ಬಂದಾಗ ಆಗುವ ಸಂಭ್ರಮದ ಸೊಗಸೇ ಬೇರೆ. ಆ ಪತ್ರಗಳಿಗೆ ಉತ್ತರಿಸಲು ಕೂಡುವುದು ಮತ್ತೊಂದು ಬಗೆಯ ಖುಶಿ. ಒಂದು ಪತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಅಮ್ಮ ಬರೆದಿದ್ದಳು - ಅಪ್ಪ ಅಮ್ಮ ಪ್ರತಿ ರಾತ್ರಿ ಊಟಕ್ಕೆ ಕುಳಿತಾಗ ನಾನು ಜೊತೆಗಿಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೂ ನನ್ನ ನೆನಪಿಗೆ ನನ್ನ ಊಟದ ತಟ್ಟೆಯನ್ನು ಅವರಿಬ್ಬರ ತಟ್ಟೆಗಳೊಡನೆ ಇಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದಳಂತೆ.

ಅಪ್ಪ ಒಂದೆರಡು ವರ್ಷ ಬೇರೆ ಊರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ದುಡಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ಸಮಯವದು. ಆಗೊಂದು ದಿನ ನಾನು ಅಮ್ಮ ಮತ್ತು ನನ್ನ ತಂಗಿ North Indian ಖಾದ್ಯಗಳನ್ನು ಸವಿಯಲು ಧಾರವಾಡದ ಒಂದು ಪ್ರಸಿದ್ಧ ಹೋಟೆಲಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದೆವು. ಭರ್ಜರಿಯಾಗಿಯೇ ಸಾಗಿತು ನಮ್ಮ ಸೂಪ್, ರೋಟಿ, ಪನೀರ್ ಮಸಾಲ, ಕಾಶ್ಮೀರಿ ಪಲಾವ್ ಗಳ ಭೂರಿ ಭೋಜನ. ಕಂಠಮಟ್ಟ ತಿಂದುಂಡು ತೇಗಿ ಸಂತೃಪ್ತರಾಗಿ ಕುಳಿತಿರಲು ಕೊನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾಣಿಯು bill ತಂದಿಟ್ಟ. ಅಮ್ಮ ದುಡ್ಡಿಡಲು ತನ್ನ ಪರ್ಸು ತೆರೆದು ನೋಡಿ ತಡಕಾಡಲು ತೊಡಗಿದಳು. ಆಕೆಯ ಹುಡುಕಾಟವನ್ನು ನೋಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದೇನು ಅಮ್ಮನ ಮುಖದಲ್ಲಿ ಭೀತಿಯ ಛಾಯೆ ಬೆಳೆಯುತ್ತಿದೆಯಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ನಾನು ಗಾಬರಿಯಾದೆ. Billಗೆ ಆಗುವಷ್ಟು ದುಡ್ಡಿಲ್ಲ ಪರ್ಸಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಎಂದು ನಾನು ನಿರೀಕ್ಷಿಸಿದ್ದಂತೆಯೇ ಅಮ್ಮ ಉಲಿದಳು ಗಂಟಲು ಒಣಗಿದ ಕೀಚಲು ಧ್ವನಿಯಲ್ಲಿ. ಅಯ್ಯೋ ಈಗೇನು ಮಾಡೋಣ ಎಂದು ಎಲ್ಲರ ಎದೆ ಡವಡವ. ಜನರ ಮುಂದೆ ಅದೇನು ಅವಮಾನ ಕಾದಿದೆಯೋ ಎಂಬ ಆತಂಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಚಡಪಡಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾಗ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಸುದೈವದಿಂದ ನೆನಪಾದದ್ದು ಹೋಟೆಲಿನ ಹೊರಗೆ ಪಾನ್ ಅಂಗಡಿ ಇಟ್ಟಿದ್ದ ಅಮ್ಮ ದುಡಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ಬ್ಯಾಂಕಿನ ಗಿರಾಕಿ. ಆ ವೀಳ್ಯದೆಲೆ ಕಟ್ಟುವ ಮಹಾಮಹಿಮನಿಗೆ ಅಮ್ಮ ಬ್ಯಾಂಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಹಲವು ಬಾರಿ ನೆರವಾಗಿದ್ದಳಂತೆ. ನಾವು ಆತನಿಂದ ತ್ವರಿತವಾಗಿ ಕೈಸಾಲ ಪಡೆದು ಅಂತೂ ಗೌರವಯುತವಾಗಿ ಹೋಟೆಲಿನಿಂದ ಮನೆ ಸೇರುವಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ತಿಂದ ಮೃಷ್ಟಾನ್ನವೆಲ್ಲ ಭಯಬೆವರ ರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿ ಕರಗಿಯಾಗಿತ್ತು.

ತಂಗಿಯ ಮೊದಲ ಹುಟ್ಟುಹಬ್ಬದಂದು ನಾನು, ತಂಗಿ ಮತ್ತು ನಮ್ಮಮ್ಮ. ಜನವರಿ 6, 1995.

ಅಮ್ಮನ ನೆನಪುಗಳು ಮೊಗೆದಷ್ಟೂ ಮುಗಿಯವು. ಈ ಮನಮುದಗೊಳಿಸುವ ಜೀವನಾನುಭವಗಳನ್ನು ಮತ್ತೊಮ್ಮೆ ಮಗದೊಮ್ಮೆ ಕೆದಕಿ ಗತವೈಭವದ ಸಂತಸವನ್ನು ಸವಿಯಲು ನಾನು ಸರಿದು ಹೋದ ಕಾಲದೊಳಕ್ಕೆ ಆಗಾಗ ಹೊಕ್ಕಿ ಬರುತ್ತಿರುತ್ತೇನೆ. ಈ ಹಿನ್ನೋಟಗಳ ತೀವ್ರತೆ ಸಮಯ ಉರುಳಿದಂತೆ ಮಾಸದಿರಲೆಂದು ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಅಕ್ಷರಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಅಚ್ಚಿಳಿಸಿರುವೆ.

Jan 24, 2016

Deliberate Practice Series - 3: Daily Rituals

With a general foundation of deliberate practice laid out, it is now time to translate that into a workable daily ritual for my area of software development.

Creative Mornings
Mornings will be exclusively reserved for programming. Below are some guidelines I've come up with for my intended 5:30 AM - 8:30 AM time slot.
- Begin with studying up on a BIOS/Bootloader driver source code.
- Make copious notes on the functionality of the driver and what it does in a sequential order.
- Now, using your notes and your memory as your sole reference, recreate the driver's source. This isn't as easy done as it is said, because BIOS code gets pretty complicated with data structures that run up to tens, if not hundreds of fields, and interactions with a multitude of hardware registers. So I need to be practical about what an acceptable level of my recreated code is, because after all, this is not an exercise in code memorization.

Consumptive Evenings
I plan on carving some time out during my evenings for reading. I expect it to be beneficial to maintain a good mix of reading general Computer Science books and highly domain targeted Industry Standard Specifications and Manuals. Some guidelines here would be:
- Since it isn't always feasible to find time/energy on evenings for study, I might want to experiment with getting my daily work done by 5 PM and then read until 5:45 PM before I head home.
- Try allocating at least an hour of the rest of your evening for reading.

General Guidelines
Here are some general guidelines that apply to both my morning and evening plans:
- Stick to one particular topic for at least 3 to 4 days. Do not jump around from one topic to another. This will give you a good amount of sustained immersion and lets you go beyond superficial exposure.
- Have a list of 3 to 4 topics that you rotate through every quarter. After a quarter, switch gears and move on to newer territory.

Every once in a while, it is important to just step back from the rigorous routine and reevaluate the whole scheme and its effectiveness. This will be helpful to spot inefficiencies, rectify such areas and take your routine through a course of evolution for the greater good.

(Photo by Luis Marina)

Dec 24, 2015

Deliberate Practice Series - 2: My Own Deliberate Regimen

This morning, I worked out my initial draft of a Deliberate Practice (DP) framework to aid my development as a software developer. The schedule appears intimidatingly rigorous and demands discipline. Gradual attempts to ease into this routine will be more sustainable than embracing it cold-turkey, which is a recipe for burn out.

Here are the six traits of Deliberate Practice, as I discussed in my previous post.
1. It's designed to improve performance.
2. It's repeated a lot.
3. Feedback on results is continuously available.
4. It's highly demanding mentally.
5. It's hard.
6. It requires (good) goals.

Deliberate Practice for a Software Engineer

Working within the bounds set by the above six guidelines, a DP framework to expand my software expertise looks like this:
- Incorporate in your schedule large amounts of Creation (writing code) and an even larger amounts of Consumption (reading code and relevant literature).
- Keep a watchful eye on diminishing returns. You need to make sure your activities aren't turning out into mindless and passive drivels.
- Be able to provide a convincing explanation for the fundamental concepts in your domain. Do not build on top of a weak foundation.
- Be able to write simple, small, functional pieces of code that exercise a particular conceptual feature. The skill of writing dummy prototype code is valuable.
- Build a text document over time that you can use as a readily available reference booklet for quick lookups instead of resorting to searching through the Internet or Industry Standard Specifications.
- Try to recreate complex pieces of code. If available, read the documentation for a particular modular code snippet and then try implementing it yourself. Then compare with the actual snippet to get feedback on where you fell short.

A Deliberate Routine

1. Tapping into the Calm of the Morning
A software engineer's daily work routine is typically filled with distractions. There are meetings to run to, emails that constantly keep interrupting your focus, people that you need to interact with and similar such randomness spans a big part of your day. With these activities filling your workday, carving time for DP at workplace is very hard. That leaves us early mornings and late evenings. After a tiring day at work, you just wouldn't have the energy for cognitively demanding activities that require stretching your thinking. Besides, it is important to indulge in rest, recreation and have some fun too on your evenings to recharge for the next day.

Malcolm Gladwell advocates that to become world class in any field, you would need to invest 10,000 hours honing your craft. That is close to 20 hours a week for 10 years, which translates to about 4 hours a day Monday through Friday. This is in agreement with what Stephen King recommends in "On Writing" for aspiring writers - 4 to 6 hours of mindful effort everyday.

With evenings out of the equation for DP, we are left with mornings. With my work schedule, the best I can do is to schedule my DP 5 AM to 8 AM before the daily drivel begins. Having been a late riser, waking up at 5 AM will be a challenge, but a challenge that I am willing to take up.

2. Recharge with Easy Evenings
Scheduling cognitively demanding tasks for evenings after work will be punishing. I would like to reserve my evenings for other activities like Guitar, Running, reading non-work related books and many other fun things that help me rest and recharge, and have a life. However, it shouldn't be very hard to squeeze in one hour and maybe an additional half on top of it to do some study of literature related to my field. This will not be as mentally draining as my morning regimen. Again, this routine resembles what noted writers do - Scheduling your mornings for creation (writing) and reserving your evenings for consumption (reading) and relaxation.

3. Complement with Passive Tasks on Weekends
Toiling away under a rigorous routine in isolation, while undoubtedly rewarding in its own way, is not wholesome. It is important to get involved and become a part of a thriving community that is related to and engaged in your field of work. Adding a social element to your ventures will broaden your perspectives, establish relations and bring in opportunities that you wouldn't even have conceived of. If nothing else, putting your work out there for the world to see, whether anyone cares or not, is motivating and makes you more accountable.

Here are some ideas on throwing in some social spice into your cold and hard regimen.
- Explore online forums (like stackoverflow), ask questions, answer questions if you can, sign up for mailing lists, etc.
- Do a survey of open source projects in your field, read their documentation and see if you can get involved in any way.
- Find out about conferences, if any, that are held in fields relevant to you.
- You will surely know of people at work that are highly skilled and experienced. Leverage their expertise by regularly seeking them out with questions.
- Read books on loosely connected areas that interest you. For instance, although I'm a BIOS engineer, I enjoy reading up on the Linux kernel.
- Put your work out there. Update your blog with how you are doing with your DP endeavour.

It is important to realize that these social activities are only supplementary. It is very easy to trick yourself into believing that these arenas are where the maximum benefits lie. Most people get sucked into this rabbit hole where most of their valuable time is spent fooling around mail lists, forums and networking. This is akin to students forming study circles, where most of their supposed study sessions transform into mindless chatter.

I plan on spending not more than 2 hours or so on a weekend working on the social side of things.

Closing Notes

While the whole conception seems extraordinarily overwhelming when looked at as a whole, it will be more humanely manageable when I start incorporating little chunks of it into my daily life. For instance, I can begin with waking up at 6 AM instead of 5 for a month or even two, and then gradually build up the nerve to push the clock back to 5 AM. I could put aside only 40 minutes during my evenings for study during my first 3 months instead of 1.5 hours everyday.

From past experiences, I have now been convinced that building habits at a slow and easy pace always beats a sudden burst of adrenaline fuelled inspiration that dies out or burns out in a few days. This is the reason a person running a couple blocks for 10 minutes a day regularly will get ahead of someone who makes a new year resolution of running 5 miles everyday, and then gives up after a week. I will apply the same principles for my Deliberate Practice routine. It is inevitable that I will face days where I just won't have the motivation to do absolutely anything and just laze away, or days where I simply won't care about waking up at 5 AM. But as long as I keep chipping away at this beast one little blow a day and build the habit muscles over time, I should be able to fare decently well.

In my next post, I will break down my routine into a finer level of detail where I will lay out my plan on what exactly I would be doing on a given day.

(Photo by Hartwig HKD)

Dec 12, 2015

First Few Steps in the Wilderness

I recently took an introductory class for wilderness Backpacking. The outdoor adventure company REI offers an array of outdoors classes, and this was their weekend class that introduces one to the fundamental skills involved in going on backpacking trips.

Backpacking is a form of wilderness travel where you head out into the wild carrying everything you would need for the trip in your backpack. This is in contrast to car-camping, where you load your stuff into a car and drive to a campsite and pitch your tent, with your car being accessible all the while. As you can imagine, backpacking would require a lot more thought, planning and experience compared to car-camping, because if you are 50 miles away from civilization and you cannot light your fire to cook food, or if you are not well stocked up on drinking water with no water source around, then you are in trouble.

We were a group of 8 and our instructor was Jeremy, an experienced backwoods expert with years of wilderness travel behind him. We started off with a brief introduction to backpacking right outside REI in the parking lot where Jeremy talked in detail about clothing, the Ten Essentials, food management and efficient packing of a backpack. REI had provided us with basic equipment such as backpacks, tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, food and snacks.

We all packed our backpacks, got into a van and drove off out from the city into a nearby wilderness area called Portola Redwoods State Park. This is a beautiful, damp and ancient forest with giant Redwood trees just an hour away from my city. This state park is part of an interconnected state park system that runs west from the San Francisco Bay area all the way to the Pacific ocean coastline.

We got to our destination, unloaded our heavy cargo, had a quick lunch of sandwiches and strapped on our backpacks. And then we began our 4 mile journey toward our campsite. Jeremy continued imparting us his pearls of wisdom throughout the journey. We had frequent pit-stops to drop the backpacks down to the ground, catch a breath and rest our thighs, and of course, to pause and take in the lush-green, damp and mossy Redwood forests around us.

It takes bodily strength to carry a heavy backpack (10-15 kg for a weekend trip) and walk for miles under changing elevation. A dedicated backpacker needs to stay very fit for the physical challenges of backpacking. It is important to regularly keep going on practice hikes to nearby hills and mountains with a deliberately-made-heavy backpack.

After about 2 hours of hiking at a relaxed pace, we got to our campsite. It was just a small clearing with a picnic table nearby. Jeremy got started with showing us how to pitch our tents. It sure is amusing when you get to see how small a one-person tent is. You cannot do more than duck down and crawl into the tent and just call it a day. If you sit up, you would push against the fabric of the tent roof so there's no head room. There's not enough width that you can so much as even stretch your hands.

Jeremy explains setting up tent.

This is my fully assembled one-person tent.

Dusk was falling upon us by the time we got done setting our tents up. We then walked to a nearby stream to replenish our water supplies. Here we were shown how to use different hydration systems such as manual pump water filters and gravity assisted water filtering. After about close to an hour near the stream, we then walked back to our camp in the dark, with our headlamps lighting up our trail.

We wrapped up for the day by gathering near the picnic table (seen in the picture) where Jeremy walked us through the nuances of cooking stoves and camp cooking. There was a nice overhead tarp set up by our instructor to shield us from the rain that was beginning to fall. We all had our freeze-dried meal and retired for the day into our tents. I had quite a warm and comfortable night's rest in my little tent despite it being cold and raining all night.

We started our day early, had a quick breakfast, broke up our tents and hiked back out of the forest. On our hike back, Jeremy addressed an important topic - how to poop while out in the wild with minimal environmental impact! That was funny to listen to but definitely isn't fun to have to deal with, although there's no escaping this.

As we approached our trailhead, we were given some closing advice and tips on how to train physically to stay fit. We then got into the van and drove back to civilization. I was really glad I finally took this class and got the basics of backpacking under my belt. I now look forward to building on this foundation and start taking little trips by myself.

An excellent book to learn about backpacking that I'm reading right now:
Allen and Mikes Really Cool Backpackin' Book

Nov 22, 2015

Deliberate Practice Series - 1: How Do You Measure Real Progress

Here are some things I'd feel accomplished if I get really good at:
- Be an extremely competent Software Engineer and a Programmer.
- Play the Guitar really well.
- Learn the ropes of Investing and gain the experience and insights to make good, informed Investments.

To make well-defined, measurable progress in any of these areas is not as straightforward as just putting in the hard work and toiling away. For instance, to turn into a competent programmer, it doesn't suffice to read a few books and write practice programs. If I want to get good at playing the Guitar, then picking up the Guitar everyday for half an hour and hammering away won't help me make notable progress for years. Improvements will be very slow in coming. Be it cognitive or mechanical, any reasonably complex task requires more than working through a few books or putting in some unstructured practice time.

I've been contemplating this area for a while and am increasingly convinced that to make real progress in a given area, you need a well defined set of benchmarks that you can measure yourself against, and a solid plan that helps keep you focused and lets you realize whether you are on track or are steering away.

A significant amount of literature (books and blogs) exists out there that deals with the question - How does one get to elite levels in any cognitive field? I have in particular been attracted to the concept of 'Deliberate Practice'. As far as I know, the book that really made a name for itself in this topic is 'Talent is Overrated' by Geoff Colvin. I had read this book a few years ago and it was liberating to realize that no field is the proprietary playground of a few hand-picked lucky folks with natural god-gifted talents, except in physically demanding areas like Sports where people with certain physique have a natural advantage. The book makes a strong case of the fact that with consistent application of Deliberate practice, anyone can reach elite levels in their chosen cognitive fields. A blog (my favorite) that also deals with the concept of 'Deliberate Practice' at length is Study Hacks.

Below are the constituents of Deliberate Practice (copied guilt-free from here)
1. It's designed to improve performance.
2. It's repeated a lot.
3. Feedback on results is continuously available.
4. It's highly demanding mentally.
5. It's hard.
6. It requires (good) goals.

In the next few posts, I will be laying down a deliberate practice framework applied to my above areas of interest. If at all I wish not to be doomed to a life of mediocrity, it is vital that I do this.