Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Signs of Christmas


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jax Marathon

The last couple of weeks were riddled with uncertainties as P's knee started acting up and she went through a couple of sports massages before she could get to the start line this morning. And, I managed to pick up a cold/sore throat in the last four days (after remaining sick free for a year - since last Christmas).

Finally, after much deliberation, both of us showed up at the start line this morning. The weather was cooler than usual and it was drizzling through out. However, it was not wet enough to soak our shoes. Having prepared for close to 6 months and despite all the odds in the last couple of weeks, both of us knew we wanted to do the full marathon. However, cutting it short to a half marathon was definitely on the table for both of us - since we didn't want do anything crazy/stupid that would harm us in the long run (no pun intended).

Just an hour into the race, it was a bit demoralizing to see Bib #1- an elite runner (the guy technically likely to win) cut short his marathon into a half. It was windier and cooler than expected. However, we kept running, thanks to the spirit of the volunteers who were there braving the cold weather and helping all of us run. It was definitely motivating to see that people of all ages- elderly people, little kids and all others in between would cheer for strangers.

In addition to the volunteers who sign up to be at designated water/potty break spots ( roughly about 2 miles apart on an average), there were people in the neighborhood who came out. There was an elderly man handing out water bottles in front of his home (This was in between the designated water stops and came in much handy). Another guy was handing out cut oranges in front of his home. The route was scenic and the small community feel started reminding us of the Tour De France where cyclists go through neighborhood areas.

There was another guy who pulled his truck right by my side and checked up on me. He asked if I wanted another orange (No wonder it is Orange County) and gave me one. 

Even the cops were very attentive and made sure they were following us when there was traffic behind. This time, it reminded the set up that elite runners have though we were much behind. 

The mistake of not taking the gel an hour into the race (as I should have done) caught up with me. I was cursing myself for straying off the plan,  delaying the first feed by about 20 minutes and gulping Gatorade instead. I was thinking to myself about the rules discussion AS and HA that  P and I had at Sweet Tomatoes and how I flouted rule #1.

I had to recover. Then I thought about RK's recovery attempt  from his experience. I slowed down and walked the next mile to reset my internal counter. Soon, in a few minutes, P and I were caught up and began running together for a few miles. For the next few miles, she was leading.

Around mile 17, reality slowly started sinking in. The famous "wall" (point of not being able to push yourself further) was theoretically ahead of us. Both of us had done up to 20 and 22 miles as part of our training regimen and hence we were soon going to be into new  territories - yet to be discovered. Generally, the spirit of the marathon would push you in the final miles. However, this one being small (about 2500 runners and most of them do half) left us in solo territory for longer durations after the half point. There was no music at the mile stops right from the beginning. However, the crowd started waning away after the half. At times, you wouldn't see any one ahead of you and any one behind you - for what seems like miles, but definitely for a few minutes.

Occasionally, it did cross my mind if I would start hallucinating and wander off the path. A lot of fear about the "Wall" was instilled in us and especially since we didn't hit one during training, I had no vague notion of what it would be like. I thought to myself - Did I miss a sign while looking down and running the last few minutes? Am I still on the right path ? This is where the small size marathon started to bother me. I started comparing this to the Detroit half, where it was crowded all around - start to finish. Again, that was a half though !

Even though we were pretty close to our training speed and actually on schedule, seeing no one around makes one wonder if we were the dead last. Luckily, at the next water stop at around mile 19 , we checked and were told that there were people definitely behind. The next water stop at mile 21 was not that lucky. There was no water and no one at the stop. A few feet away, there was a bottle of water unopened and I grabbed it just to be safe. We had contemplated whether we should bring our own hydration packs , but every ounce of weight is an ounce that we rather not have in such long runs. Again, that is the advantage of these organized runs where things are generally organized well. And it was not as if we were concerned about losing time at the water breaks. We were definitely not in for time, this being our first one. The goal was to finish injury free.

Finally just after mile 21 or so, we were put on the main road. It was a welcome relief for me to see the cars and traffic.  It was ironic that I would be motivated out of urban living. But, I guess I needed some movement and action to motivate me through the final 5 miles. At this point, the legs started hurting and I was cursing my bare foot ideologies. At one point, it dawned on me that the gloves that I wore to protect my hands from the cold weather were more padded (cushioned and thicker) than the sole of these barefoot shoes that were protecting the feet which did all the running. But again, I reminded myself, I had switched in the past to regular shoes amidst my training and that hadn't helped me. 
And since then, I have even started considering myself a minimalist runner. At least, I have to think that now to keep the next few miles going. 

Another 5 miles is close to an hour. But, I didn't want to think in units of time. Quickly drifted away from that thought. I focused instead on the guy ahead of me. Unfortunately, he was struggling too. His wife (who was not running) kept following him in car and encouraged him at various points. I had just seen them a mile ago. Now, she is driving past him and honking and would soon stop at the next mile walking a few feet with him. I focused my thoughts on the positive aspects of life. Even in a seemingly solo sport like running, we are so dependent on other people around us, family, friends, and strangers - for emotional and logistical support. I was thinking of all the volunteers who helped put together the race and manned the water stops. Without them, we couldn't do it alone.

Anyway, at this point - walking was more painful for me. Running was not. For P, it was the other way. She didn't want to damage her already affected knee and she was going to lose only a minute or so per mile walking compared to running. So, she nudged - why don't you try running the remaining 5 miles, there by possibly attempting a sub-6 hour finish? She would soon be there in less than 10 minutes behind. I  felt comfortable too since we were out of the wooded area and it was safe enough in the main roads.

This was also the stretch that had a little bit of uphill. That felt good from the monotonous flat roads (Jax is famous for and thus advertised as a fast course; It is also certified and a Boston qualifier) for a change. Now I know when they say - "Keep those legs moving". Any stop would mean the legs would lock up and it was tough to warm up again. So, no more restroom breaks beyond this point either. I soon started passing people one at a time. I reminded to myself that I have generally performed the second half (in previous races) faster than the first half. It felt good to just keep running.

Mile 23 - Another 3 miles+  - A loop around the Morton road back home. I said to myself: Been there done that. Should be easy.
Mile 24 - It seems like it was going to happen. I had never hit that number before. Another 2.2 miles - that is about three loops inside our subdivision. No problem.
Mile 25 - About a loop and half inside the sub division - Absolutely Doable

Mile 26 was no where to be found. This stretch seemed the longest of all since the route takes you off main road again into the residential neighborhood only to put you back on the street. 

Every time, I was looking for the route signs of Marathon, I would see "Homes for sale", "Garage sale, Next left". That was not what I was looking for  5 hours and 48 minutes into the run since I started. In order to target a sub-6 finish, 12 minute mile was absolutely doable since I had been running the last few miles at a faster pace than after the half point.

Finally, with 3 minutes to spare, I enter the running track inside the school (This is the finish lap). About 0.25 miles in less than 3 minutes is still doable. However, I look at the official clock (which starts NOT as soon as I personally start - but right about when the first person in the race starts soon after the shot) and it has 8 seconds before 6:00. There was no way to pull that off. I started about 2 to 3  minutes after the official gun shot. Finally, when I go through the final sensor - the time is 6:01:31. That is a few seconds  short of 6 hours per my personal start !!

A quick emotional moment later, I grab myself and then the medal and the banana. I soon see G and P's cousin. I tell them P is not far behind. She was there in another 10 minutes and soon picks her medal as well. G gets to see P taking the victory lap inside the school where this ends. She starts running in the track field saying amma amma. We take a few pictures and head back home.

Finally, as we think we have an item crossed off on the bucket list, we come home and leisurely savor the magazine (Running and Triathlon) that we picked up at the Marathon Expo before the race. In it, an ad for Pearl Izumi shoes reads...

Marathon is a race to be run -not a box to be checked on bucket list !!
So true. It is a humbling experience for sure and just the beginning !!

Friday, December 10, 2010

What's the word - Opium, Alcohol, Marijuana: Legal or Crime? - A function of time

Opium: It was Business for British and a ban in China - finally resulting in the Opium Wars

  • A.D. 1200
    Ancient Indian medical treatises The Shodal Gadanigrah and Sharangdhar Samahita describe the use of opium for diarrohea and sexual debility. The Dhanvantri Nighantu also describes the medical properties of opium.
  • 1773
    East India Company assumes monopoly over all the opium produced in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Warren Hastingsintroduces system of contracts. Contracts for dealing in opium were awarded through auction.
  • 1793 
    The British East India Company establishes a monopoly on the opium trade. All poppy growers in India were forbidden to sell opium to competitor trading companies.
  • March 18, 1839 
    Lin Tse-Hsu, imperial Chinese commissioner in charge of suppressing the opium traffic, orders all foreign traders to surrender their opium. In response, the British send expeditionary warships to the coast of China, beginning The First Opium War.
  • 1856 After the second opium warThe opium trade was legalised and Christians were granted full civil rights, including the right to own property, and the right to evangelise.
  • July 2001
    Portugal decriminalizes all drugs for personal consumption.
  • January 2004
    Consumer groups file a lawsuit against Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma. The company is alleged to have used fraudulent patents and deceptive trade practices to block the prescription of cheap generic medications for patients inpain.

The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries:

Prohibitions of cannabis sativa as a drug arose in many states from 1906 and onward.
In the 1970s, many places in the United States started to decriminalize cannabis
2010 - A $20 Billion industry as per CNBC report today

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's the word - Real or Virtual ?

When I came across the title of this article Man sells VIRTUAL REAL estate in an ONLINE game of Entropia for $635,000 - my initial reaction was that of shock and disbelief.
This VIRTUAL, ONLINE property is FINANCIALLY more expensive than a REAL, PHYSICAL property in San Jose, California that has a median value of $450,000.

Who would buy a VIRTUAL product with that kind of REAL money? - That too in this economy. That got me thinking. What is REAL and What is VIRTUAL ? Has there been a precedence for this kind of sale in the past ? Or Is this a nuance of the ONLINE world? Would I ever get to that level of MENTAL state to buy something VIRTUAL with so much MONEY?

The more, I got to think about the definitions of the capitalized words above- it was actually NOT that shocking. 

Using The Reality Framework, we determine that the capitalized words in the first sentence all belong to separate Fields/domains. 
1) Real Estate - a term usually indicating space from the Physical Field
2) $635,000 - Currency indicating Financial Field 
3) Online game - a term from the Virtual Field

We are seeing a collision of Online game, a virtual world for the first time with the other two fields. However, it is no different from the following examples from the past.

Movie: A Virtual product (the movie itself is virtual though the distribution as a DVD may make it a Physical product)  that has value only because we spend time watching it and satisfy our mental emotions.
Here is a list of all time box office collections ranked by revenue.
For instance, Jaws made $ 260 Million more than a quarter century ago in 1975.

- Paintings: Another Physical product that has value only because we like to enjoy them to satisfy our mental emotions.
Here is a list of the most Expensive Paintings

- Book: Another Physical product that has value only because we like to get immersed in it. Harry Potter is a wonderful example of how financial money can be generated out of a Book. 

In other words, if we spend more and more time online and start enjoying products and services produced in the virtual domain, businesses would start advertising more in those places and thus we may soon be getting used to a $260 Million virtual real estate just like we are desensitized to a $260 Million Box office revenue of a movie.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's the word: Arsenic - Life OR Poison ?

LIFE- The Usual suspects for building blocks of LIFE - Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Oxygen and Sulphur

- Arsenic is typically considered poisonous

In news today, an example of a microbe that is bred using poisonous Arsenic in lieu of Phosphorous.
Minor traces still found as you can see in the last paragraph..
But Nevertheless, What's the word ?- Arsenic - Life or Poison ?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's the word: GM - Socialism OR Capitalism?

When the World's icon of democracy (US) bails out a poorly run private enterprise (GM) - critics derided that move as Socialist.



After the bailout, when the US Government relinquishes some of its shares into the hands of the monarchist and communist entities during the GM IPO, it is cheered as the hallmark of capitalism.

- 1% owned by Saudi Prince, Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, from the royal family of Saudi Kingdom - an Islamic Absolute Monarchy

- 1% owned by SAIC, an entity owned by the Chinese Government - a Single party state governed by the Communist Party of China

Strange Definition Indeed

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Man - A Rational Animal ?

Man - A Rational Animal ? Not so soon at least - not in 2010.

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. – Bertrand Russell

I already have the last two events in my bucket list. I am adding the first one too.
Click on the links below.

Hologram Rock star - Japan 2010

Kumbh Mela - India 2010

Burning Man Festival, Nevada - US - 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

While rich countries diet -- Emerging countries load up on the debt diet

May 5 2010 : Greece:

Public sector pay frozen till 2014
Public sector salary bonuses - equivalent to two months' extra pay - scrapped for higher earners and capped for others
Public sector allowances cut by 20%
State pensions frozen or cut; contribution period up from 37 to 40 years
Average retirement age up from 61 to 63; early retirement restricted
VAT increased from 19% to 23%
Taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco up 10%
One-off tax on profits, plus new gambling, property and green taxes


Oct 2010 - France:
Retirement age up from 60 to 62


Nov 2010 - England:
Proposed fee rise, up from the current £3,290 per year to £6,000, with an upper tier of £9,000

South Korea: What next ?

  • Declining Birthrate
    1990:1.6 children
    2008: 1.2 children
  • Slower GDP Growth
    2000-04: 5.3%
    2005-09: 3.4%
  • Women in the Work Force
    South Korea: 53%
    All Developed Nations: 57%
  • Rising National Debt (pct. of GDP)
    2000: 16.7%
    2010: 32.1%


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's the word - Scientific or Indigenous? The Science of Indigenous Knowledge

<-- Excerpt from an email, edited for context -->

There are two ways of learning and leading one's life in the modern world.
1) Based on scientific proof / evidence
2) Based on Intuitive and evolutionary guidance that was passed over the years - I have been referring to this as indigenous contribution in my earlier email. My point is not necessarily specific to Hindu culture vs. Muslim culture vs. Native Americans vs. Aborigines Vs...

Over the years, we have demeaned ourselves by eliminating as much as we can on the second style in the name of being scientific and rational. 

Decades ago - when the modern scientific movement that is typically credited to the likes of Descartes and Newton for their reductionist approach to problem solving inherent in the scientific method originated, and Centuries ago where the likes of Socrates and Plato were credited for their contributions to logical thought process in the west -  there used to be a lot of holistic thinking and sometimes pagan thinking where Gods were invoked to explain all natural phenomenon - all over the world. Since then, we have made quite a lot of progress. 

However, what I mean by "pendulum has swung too far in the other direction" means that we have now started being totally analytical and are losing our instincts and have started questioning everything that falls in the second "traditional" category. We wait for the wisdom of the generations to be approved by the scientific community before we accept it.
And that is precisely where my problem is - that indigenous knowledge is being viewed with indignity because it is not backed by science. A healthy skepticism is OK, but not a fundamentalist approach to scientific reasoning!

Of course, the contributions from science and technology are vast and immense. I would be insane to downplay the effects of science. However, our unwavering faith in science is unfortunately misleading in some cases and increasingly making us lose our instincts.
We have come to rely so foolishly on science and technology that the email floated earlier this week - one is ready to go to war based on google maps, seems ludicrous.

In a few years, it would be like saying you don't exist / you are not alive because I don't see your profile on facebook :) OK - that was a joke!

Now, speaking of FDA and the health side of things
1) A few years ago - Babies were advised to sleep on stomach and then later they advised to sleep on back. One of my elderly friends jokes about this. They have two kids and the recommendation changed between the two. So he says - he screwed up one of them. Don't know which is right.
2) Atkins (high protein diet) and Bread for life diet (high carb diet) are both backed by science and contradict each other.
3) An entire generation was raised here on Orange Juice for breakfast until recently they started scaring the heck out of people with acidity advising them against consuming on empty stomach.
4) The shoe industry in the 70's started making shoes with heels (backed by science) till recently. Now there is science to prove that shoes with heels distort the natural running form and the heel strike is  causing more injuries. Hence the recent disruptive change in the shoe industry to go minimal and barefoot. So, now there is science to prove that forefoot striking is better. (10% of industry is minimal now - All the major shoe ones including Nike have minimal shoes now and this is a major growth segment)

The point is that there is science to prove anything and its contrary. A new born baby does not need scientific evidence from FDA on whether formula milk is good or breast milk is.
He/she is drawn to  instinctive and evolutionary knowledge passed over the generations.

I will end it with a crisp example that I read in the Systems thinking book about applied anthropology. Copying verbatim from the text book.

--Natives on the pacific island of Nauru traditionally drank a strong home-brew made from fermented palm leaves. But after world war one,  Nauru was mandated to Australia and prohibition was imposed. Infant mortality rose to 50% level within 6 months. The reason ?
The people's natural diet was so low in Vitamin B1 that infants being nursed got the required amount of it only when the mother was drunk. When the natives were allowed to drink again, infant mortality fell at once to seven percent.

My intention is not to sound as the radical anti-science guy. However, I am trying to draw the otherwise wise,  scientifically dependent, analytically left-brain guy to also rely on the   other side of brain, the instinctive side and have a healthy respect for the indigenous knowledge.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's the word - Clean or Hygiene ?

Almost 8 years ago in Time magazine - I remember learning first about Triclosan.
Triclosan in 2002

And now in 2010..See how it percolated over the years
Triclosan in 2010
In fact, over the last few years, it has been increasingly difficult to find a wash without one.

Now- Read it in context with
Is Dirt Hygienic?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Clay for thought !

Why Kenyan women crave stones


Greek democracy - then and now

Around 340 B.C - Aristotle on Democracy

About 340 Greek drachma converted per Euro as it entered EU

And 3 people killed in violence in less than 40 days since the Greek bonds were oversubscribed by up to 3 times.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Hindus: An Alternative History

<<< Excerpt from email #1>>

I went in with a totally open mind into the book and am on page 480 and 200 odd pages to go in this voluminous book. Not sure if I can go on further. plan to though...

Mixed emotions. A good read as it starts with the Indus period and offers the usual interpretations around Aryan invasions. Haven't been able to keep it down in the last week and wasn't even running (thanks to Pollen too). 

But I can certainly feel that the author had her mind set on raising a controversy or at least preparing for one. It also feels like she had a magnifying glass for all the negative things to say about the Hindus based on her loose interpretations based on 20th century Freudian terms (which themselves are an outdated viewpoint) and chose to barely touch the so called positives. 

The tone started sounding more bashing as the chapters go past the Vedic and Upanishad times. She was even able to put the reader down from time to time by having a total disregard to the point that she occasionally intersperses good things to say in a chapter full of otherwise seemingly slamming off-hand remarks. 

If she were to author a book on American History - it was as if she  had just focused on slavery, Trail of Tears,  civil war, KKK, and Greed  with an occasional mention of the virtues of  the land of the free, capitalism and stock markets. Not getting into details on the topics if some of you hate the spoilers like I do before picking up any art form.

Is it too much to expect a careful handling of history from a non-native author? I was prepared for the occasional or even reasonably cynical viewpoint. But it seems like her disparaging tone has a purpose behind it.

<<< Excerpt from email #2 >>

First to answer D's comments - the definition of Hindu takes four pages or so in the beginning of the book. And a few paragraphs for Muslims too.

History is usually written by winners who survived. We had been told all along the history in India (as any other country does) in a pro-native way obviously. The attempt these days, which I first felt first with The Argumentative Indian (Amartya Sen) is to retell the history in an inclusive way giving a fair share to not only a Hindu India but to a multi-cultural India. (This is the liberal view in India).

What is good about the book:
1) The author is definitely thorough in her prep work. She has strong basics of the region across the ages - vedic, vedantic, epic, and during the Mughal/British periods.

2) She attempted to relay History not just from the typical Kshatriyan and Brahminical points of view as is told in India and was inclusive in incorporating the view of the Adivasis, the tribals, OBCs, the SBCs etc in addition to covering the foreign ruler's and women's point of view.

3) Her pulse on the Hindus is so precise to the extent that she knows that most temples in America are run by women - a keen observation contrasting the male dominated religious circuit in India. There is even mention of the BAPS in Atlanta.

Why it could have been better:
Especially when an author writes for 690 pages, the reader expects to see a holistic view of the history.
1) For the ancient period - The sacred texts alone are the basis for her interpretation of how the people may have lived - to the point of coming to conclusions and making side remarks. There is a sloka in some text about what the husband can do when he hates the guy who slept with his wife. She focuses on the word - "hates" and has a side remark that it is not applicable for those who may have indulged in a menage a trois. Such side comments are through out the book and brought her down as a serious author in my opinion. For instance - at another place , her comment on reading Vedas by day and Kamasutras by night is insulting especially when the two subjects are from two different times about a few hundred years apart. Again, I have no problems discussing the two together. They were catered to two different audiences. There are people who read PlayBoy and there are people who swear by Bible. Though there may be some who do both - using that together in a sentence seems to  justify that as a common trend as opposed to an exception (possibly).

2) She is talented in making any one look bad. I understand History is not about making any one look good or bad. But - a disproportionate coverage of the negative takes away what any person or event actually stood out for.
When she has a sentence about Muslims robbing Indian temples, she is quick to add in a bracket that Hindus also had robbed other temples. This constant "support" of the opposition party (If I may) leaves a distaste when you are in the middle of one version. I have NO problems in talking about Hindus who DID rob temples. But, every time you talk about the mischief done by the oppressors, it seems that she justifies their wrong doing just because it was also done by the victims themselves.. Again, this attitude prevails through out the book for every one.
On the few pages about Gandhi -sleeping with girls was discussed quite a bit,
On the one page about Vivekananda - his statement about his preference for beef was a paragraph.
On the couple of pages about Sankaracharya - his sleeping with the philosopher's wife (as an interpretation of the incident around Grihastha experience where Sankara gets into soul) was discussed enough.

3) 80% of the book is focused on bashing males, the so-called upper castes(and predominantly Brahmins), common religious and social views of the day and de-emphasizing the main aspects of Hinduism, extrapolating the myths of the day to treat them as actual version of what happened. I DO believe that some of the so-called upper castes treated others unjustly. There is no argument about that. However, focusing only on the negatives without mention of the other events that happened in that time is not an accurate portrayal of History either. For instance - Aryabhatta was mentioned for a couple of words within the same sentence. That's it.
4) Though there is mention of the parallels between Sanskrit and Tamil from the ancient days, there is not much coverage of the south. I would have expected more. Roughly 70% was for North Indian based coverage.

5) Tantra took a decent coverage. I am sure she would have talked about Nityananda had she waited a little longer to publish this book :) However, it is sad that tantra took more coverage than the philosophical concepts of Vedantic Hinduism. Actually, there was less coverage for the "Brahman"  or the soul (NOT the Brahmin) than what Tantra had.

6) Hardly any coverage on the other aspects of life - For instance arts, dance, yoga, mimamsa, culture took the back seat. Dogs, horses and Linga took the lead.

7) Too many modern/recent theories (Freudian for instance) and views (feminist for instance) imposed on analyzing a slice of the spectrum of events from the past.

Bottom line:
Worth a read for the alternate view. Couldn't muster the fact that my money would go to her (in a selfish pro-Indian way - and hence the above review could be somewhat biased as much as I try not to) and hence opted the library route. Inspired me to look into my next studies on other cultures that shared the monistic concepts and to focus on Avesta, Confucius, and ancient Greek religions.
2.5 star on Amazon is a true reflection of what I feel about the book!
PS: Intended to write this as a brain dump as opposed to an article.
So, the usual emphasis for proper writing is not there. I didn't even spell check.

<<< Excerpt from email #3>>

On the Hindus in America.. it was mainly about
- Vivekananda's speech here 
-  the temples built here
- Hollywood influence and other articles (toilet seats, slippers etc with Hindu Gods as example)
- American Tantra and 
- talking about sites like eprarthana as if every one does just that !

Again, it is based on boundary conditions as if it is the mainstream!