Category: Life

Ethics: The Small Stuff

(Written for kids with ages 16 and below.)

The one supreme power that the human mind has, is the ability to be ethical in life. This is a power, not because it achieves miracles. This power is supreme because it requires an underlying mental stamina and discipline that is unparalleled. Due to the complexity of human emotions and needs, the mind is often unable to keep things together in life for one to be ethical. If one can master the skill of being ethical, one can be assured to achieve other great things in life with the foundations thus laid.

What does it mean to be ethical?

Consider the simple case of when you have to answer a few questions in a final examination, but do not know how to. Your classmate next to you is at it though. You can almost clearly see what he is writing, and now that you know, what is the harm in writing it out? If the goal is to ensure that you know something, how does it matter if it is from a handwritten note from an answer sheet of one of your classmates?

Look at it from a logical standpoint, and it does matter. The essence of knowledge is not in repeating it, but in being able to reproduce it when you need to apply it. Reproduction of knowledge is when you add your own character to the understanding of something. Application of knowledge is thus possible to its fullest extent.

Going back to the final examination, should you write those answers down or not? This is where ethics come into play. Ethics are governed by loosely coupled rules that are meant for the betterment of the society as a whole. If the diktat from your class teacher was to not study prior to the examination, not pay attention during class, not ask for help when you didn’t get a concept – and yet come to a final examination ready to answer questions on a piece of paper, the ethics have been set to do whatever is necessary to get through those questions. Mostly because the other play by such a fictional class teacher is, unethical.

This definitely is not an ideal school teacher. Most teachers expect their students to learn, understand and grasp concepts in advance of their examinations. Here, the ethics dictate that you use those expectations alone to answer questions. In fact, it is even unethical to learn by rote, without understanding concepts and repeat knowledge. This is often overlooked, because you are not physically cheating. This is still cheating, mentally. This is how you know what is ethical and what is not. You have to understand the basic  expectations of society, and avoid what defies them. Granted, these expectations are geared towards the betterment of society – and positively geared, not in the, “it gets worse before it gets better,” way.

How to lead an ethical way of life?

So how is one supposed to live their life, following every rule and expectation of a complicated society? It is the small stuff that matters. Ethics in daily life, can be as simple as these:

  • Standing up to give your seat away to a lady or an elder person
  • Not using a fake teacher’s identification to get yourself vaccinated for COVID-19
  • If unable to answer a question, saying so – and preparing in advance to have the pride next time to be able to answer it
  • Returning to the supermarket to pay for that extra item that was accidentally not checked out (even if it was just a 10c bag)
  • Paying the overage on the parking meter, even when no one is looking
  • Keeping someone’s secret, if they said, “between you and me…”
  • Putting those pens you took from your office back into the drawer of the common area
  • Not paying cash without a receipt at that restaurant so that you can save that extra 5% tax

Why does this small stuff even matter?

When faced with these choices, your friends may often mock you and encourage you to overlook the ethics behind them to make an easier choice. They’ll reason with you, “It’s small stuff, let it go. Chill.” Stand your ground on the small stuff. Even the sun is made up with a lot of it.

Most importantly, ethical behavior is doing things when it may not benefit you personally and immediately. Sometimes even hurting you. This self-sacrificing mode is not eternal, and will force a change in your surrounding (or auxillary) behaviors to adjust to the ethical way of life. This is where your super powers are taking roots, leading to key foundational changes in who you are and what your character is. This will lead to the bigger deal in life, where you’d be able to:

  • Build self-reliance to stand up in life to take what you need, deserve and earn
  • Maintain principles in life that you will cherish, as they bring you the eternal wealth of keeping your head high
  • Garner the respect of everyone with your brand that will be set apart

Start your ethical journey with the small stuff in life and cherish them. Brag about them, and take pride when others mock you for it. And some day, when you have kids of your own, you will be able to look them in the eye and tell them about your supreme powers, your ethical way of life and transfer these on. Most of all, you will earn the respect that most can only dream of.

The Mother And Her Calf

My father once revealed to me about a cow in his household during his childhood. Given the nature of my paternal roots, this was not particularly surprising. What I didn’t quite understand was that the cow he spoke of was more than a pet or an animal. She was a ‘part’ of the household.

About fifteen years ago, I was visiting a family function in a city in central India. Taking a stroll through the streets, I came across a  calf (bovine), perched on one side of the street. Such sights are not uncommon in India, and the rest of the world now has come to terms with how Indian streets have all kinds of animals on the loose. This isn’t about whether that’s right or not, so I will stick to the story.

The calf caught my eye. (S)he was probably a few months old, light brown and had a distinct white patch running through his/her forehead. With legs folded, this beautiful creature melted me inside. I drew closer, lowered myself and gently stroked him/her with my fingers. (S)he seemed to enjoy it, raised his/her head, and soon I was an itch machine for this being.

About two minutes into this interaction, a young boy appeared out of nowhere and struck the calf with what appeared to be a bicycle tire (rubber) tube. The blissfulness of the animal transformed to a loud shriek, as his/her legs recoiled and carried it away. As for me, I was thrown off balance and almost landed on the back of my head, if it wasn’t for my hands.

This kid though, laughed hysterically. The humor didn’t escape me either, it was rather comical to see the calf take off like road runner. Sadly, this humor was not going to last for a second more.

From way across the street, as I pushed back on my hands to get up, a double-beat waltzing grew louder and more prominent in what seemed like the smallest packet of time that could pass. A raging cow ran towards us, and the only sensible course of action was to match it’s velocity vector. After I had gone maybe ten leaps out, I turned around to see  the poor kid pinned to the ground by the cow with her forehead. I rushed back to help him and loudly hushed the animal away.

A bystander came over, scolding the kid and intimidated me by asking, “Why were you running?”

“You mean, I should have just gotten hit by this train?” I replied, maybe I said something less sarcastic, but I was definitely sarcastic.

“That cow was not going to hurt you, it was watching you playing with her calf. You had no reason to run.”

This was a very unusual thing. Part of me wanted to believe what this guy was saying, because it made me feel good. The other part of me didn’t, mostly because this is some random guy on a street and didn’t quite look all that vested in my self-esteem. Before I walked away, I preached to the kid, “You reap what you sow; don’t do this again.”

I reflected on this episode, mentioned it to a few folks, and almost everyone believed the projected behavior of the cow; that she wasn’t out to punish me. It was pretty much universal, except for the immediate people who really cared about my well being, like my mother, who was just glad that I got out of the cow’s way.

Thinking back though, I do believe that that the cow was just out to teach a lesson to someone who needed it. The logical reason was the fact that she wouldn’t have just walked away with me hushing her away. If she really wanted to hit me, she could have  when I came back to help the kid.

Cows are emotionally intelligent beings, and this Psychology Today article has an analysis from a paper on bovine behavior. Yet, a large part of the world eats beef that comes from farms where these intelligent creatures are abused. You don’t eat dogs, or breed them to be grown into adults for meat. Doesn’t happen for cats either.  

Many of these farm animals are sentient beings. Consumption of sentient beings by humans is inhumane, because we’ve got the brains to recognize intelligence and emotions, as well as replicate this intelligence and these emotions. We are able to grow past this. With time, I hope that our future generations will loathe the idea of beef and pork, not just for their religion, but for their humanity. 

Curiosity Trip

Chatting with my 5 yr old, I realized that she had a particular resistance to the words “I don’t know.” It was an indication that I had to put something to an end for her, and “I don’t know” if it was fear or something else. I just don’t know. What I knew was, she had to become comfortable.

We started with the concept of asking “why” more. She prides herself heavily in knowing answers, and like most kids, takes a lot of joy in the praises therefore. Once we settled, she quickly asked me, “why is it ok to say I don’t know?” My job was half done, and I was sufficiently pleased with Vasvi. If anything, I told her, “you will never know everything, I don’t know the answers to most questions.” For brevity here, I did explain that “I don’t know” is the beginning of knowledge. There is no end, and when no one knows the answer, you have the intense potential to make meaningful impact. The trick is to know what is already known to get to the limits of available knowledge.

The conversation was sparked when we read an article on a quote from Einstein, that was about spending most of the time on a problem, than thinking about its solutions. In a recent interview, this was my biggest peeve. The candidate jumped to solving the problem in the first few minutes, without analysis or questions on the problem itself. At the end of the interview, when the algorithm chosen didn’t solve the corner cases of the data structure provided, I did mention, “I wish you asked me about ‘why’ I was even posing this problem.”

Most people presume that the world around them is in some harmony. This is what I want to prevent my daughter from sliding into. The harmony is a good thought, not exactly reality. Making your kids understand that the last generation doesn’t exactly have their ducks in a row, is what drives us forward. The sooner they get it, the more curious they become.

Ultimately, curiosity evolves the cat. A couple of hours I spent chatting with my father this weekend brought back some intense curiosity about how do ATM machines verify currency – that was easy to answer. What stumped me was, “how did they do it in 1980s? There were no scanners.” After a minute of googling it, the term ‘magnetic ink’ lit the bulbs. One thing led to another and I had a huge spike of curiosity, meaningful enough to keep the rest of the weekend interesting.

The only challenge is, curiosity to me, is not to be driven in the direction of what cannot be known because it is dependent on human reaction. In other words, if sound and unemotional logic cannot be tied back to a reason, the trip is unworthy. Vasvi agreed, but did not ask why. That is a discussion for to tomorrow, and it may turn out that she enlightens me to prove me wrong.

Flying From Twitter

Twitter Journey
Twitter Journey

This last Friday, after just over two years at Twitter, I decided to drive down the street to Uber.

The most difficult part of this decision was the fact that I only spent, what seems like an extremely short time at Twitter. The experience was amazing – the methodologies, the technologies and above all, the wonderful people I’ve had the honor to work with.

Will truly miss the relationships I’m leaving behind, especially my immediate team (Aras, DRob, DavidJ, Jeff, Joe, Mike, Toby and Zeke). And then, there’s Ian – who has become a very close friend in this very short time.

Really looking forward to the next adventure.

Sanity

About 20 or so years ago, I had the privilege of having a guest at our place. Amazingly enough, we would almost always have dinner on the dinner table, unlike how I’m used to with my kids (on the couch, bed, standing and sometimes, on the table meant for this exclusive function).

This guest was from a part of India, now known for its exceedingly high PM2.5 (particulate matter). The air pollution itself is responsible for lung and neural diseases. Add to that the fact that you have sewage seepage into drinking water pipes and we’re talking serious long term damage to the brain and lungs.

Cut: back to the guest at our dinner table. As is customary, you serve your guests (with generous portions of food), and acting the good boy, I started doing so. Taking the lid off of one of the bowls, I kept it facing down on the table. “WHAT are you doing?” said the person, very perplexed and a bit chidingly. Looking confused, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?” – as that was obviously the question instead. “Don’t put that lid facing down on the table, ‘germs’ will get back into the ‘daal’ from the table when you re-lid it.”

This was a lesson that I haven’t unlearned since. The transfer of biological hazard from a dining table that looks clean, but really isn’t – through a lid’s internal surface. It made total sense. My father did laugh in a way that made me think that he disagreed with the phenomenon, but didn’t want to argue unnecessarily.

Many many years on, an offspring of this guest was infected with Typhoid. If you don’t know, the only reason you can get Typhoid, is when you have consumed human fecal matter. The only sane way for that to happen, is through contaminated food or water. The only places with the highest reported typhoid cases in the world, are Africa and India. Note, “reported.”

As I was reading an article on Delhi’s PM2.5 levels (close to 1000 now), and the mention of contaminated drinking water, I realized something.

People often obsess over things they’ve been brought up with. There is a lot more to be obsessed about, but the key learning for me and my kids is to constantly evaluate your obsessions. This guest’s freak out, made a lot more sense in 1970s may be, but there are way more things to worry about in 1996 – and the perspective changes even further, in 2015.

The last place to get bacteria in your food is from the dining table. FWIW, those bacteria are probably going to help strengthen your immunity. Worry about the lavatory more, or, if you’re in Delhi, about the sewage pipe running next to your water supply. Welcome to sanity.

Beaming Out of Yahoo

After 7+ years, I am leaving Yahoo. Going to join “the flock” at Twitter.

This is big and then, not so big for me. My role and responsibility remains somewhat unchanged as I go from Yahoo to Twitter, but I’m moving to San Francisco (the movers finished that yesterday). So, living in the city will be new. I’ve not taken very kindly to the traffic there so far, but this will change I’m sure.

Yahoo is an amazing place to work for. I’ve repeated this, that I’m not that good at transactions. When it is not time to buy a house, I go and buy one. This, was probably not the best time to leave Yahoo. The share price is kicking and the products coming out are simply amazing. I can’t say here, but there are some amazing surprises on the way for people using Yahoo products. I don’t say this because I work(ed) there, I really mean it. If you want to join Yahoo, this is the time – and it is not going to be easy. It is well worth it.

Then why did I decide to move? I was getting very comfortable. Things were  smooth, stuff was getting done and all the wheel-work needed was just some oiling here and there. I felt that this was the best time for me to get out of the groove as well as the team and people I would transition things out to/for wouldn’t be as affected. Taking a lot of time and careful thinking for the transitioning, I am happy that it has been very successful. Much better than leaving a ship that’s about to sink.

People in my team have extended amazing support for this decision. I am very moved by their kind words and actions during the last few days. This has been a big surprise, since a big part of me always felt that I was not doing enough for them. I want to call out (and in no particular order): Alex, Deepthi, Hitesh, Sudip, Ram, Mike, Muthu, Tom, Jason, Sachin and Srinivas for everything they’ve said and done. Thank you folks, you all are simply awesome. Selling Yahoo is extremely convincing when I give examples from interactions with people like you.

Twitter is an equally amazing place to go to. Seeing the amazing energy in the Twitter office, I’ve been very excited about what they’re doing and about to do. I am yet to find out more, but from what little I’ve seen, the people there are super nice (just like Y) and the culture is alive and kicking. Their technology platform stack is either mostly open or about to open up, something that excites me even further.

All said and done, it is no lie that if you cut me, you shall see that I bleed purple.

Me Cook Food

When hunger strikes, you have to finally get cooking. For the first time ever, I served food out for myself like a civilized being (instead of devouring from the pots and pans).

On the table

  • Arhar Dal (Lentil)
  • Matar Pulao (Basmati Rice with Peas)
  • Aloo Pyaz ki Sabzi (Potatoes and Onions)
  • Sliced Tomato Salad

Took about 35 minutes to do this.

Phuton

Got a disassembled futon at my place – and it’s assembly was quite a project. Took me about two hours to get it together. Photus phollow (wife took camera away to click our daughter, so the trail is a little incomplete).

initial mess
initial mess
arm frames
nuts and bolts
nuts and bolts
futon pad
futon pad
left frame and transmission
left frame and transmission
plan on board
plan on board
frames attached to stretchers (progress 1 hr later)
frames attached to stretchers (progress 1 hr later)
transmission attached (another ½ hr later)
transmission attached (another ½ hr later)
attaching the seat/back frames and rolling out the pad - final outcome
attaching the seat/back frames and rolling out the pad – final outcome