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What a laptop outage can teach us about life

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Apple's 1st line of Intel-powered (Core Duo) MacBooks (Courtesy: EveryMac.com)

When I turned my back on a corporate career and embarked upon a protracted stint as a full-time blogger, I knew I had to make some adjustments. I was mentally prepared for the 12-18 months of cash flow impact but that was only the first adjustment.

I reached into my inner ‘Indian middle class’ roots for inspiration. My wife was convinced that those roots were long dried up. She fully expected me to outfit myself with the latest MacBook Pro (I’ve been a Mac user since 2003) and the latest smartphone before I hit Publish on my first blog post.

As it turned out, I surprised myself as much as I did my wife. I dusted off my 2006 MacBook (heavily used for its first two years, lightly used for the next three) and my 2007 Nokia N75 (then one of the ‘leading lights’ among camera phones), bought new batteries and got to work. Nine months later, these antiquated bad boys haven’t made me feel like I belong in the twentieth century. Eschewing a smartphone and sticking with the N75 has been a game changer but…that’s a story for another day (this one’s about my MacBook – MB).

As I subjected the venerable MB to a daily regimen of two browser windows (with a gazillion open tabs), Word, Excel and an occasional iPhoto, it started creaking, whining and groaning (literally and figuratively)! The creaks were tended to easily enough with a judicious use of scotch tape. The whining and groaning? MB was not getting any younger and it was still running Tiger (Mac OS 10.4) so… A few weeks after Apple fanboys were urgently upgrading to Lion (the latest latest version), I finally upgraded MB to Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6). Boy! what a difference that upgrade made. Everything became significantly faster – booting up, shutting down, application loading and context switching!

What didn’t change was the cooling fan behavior. Perhaps my usage of MB changed after the Snow Leopard upgrade… I suppose I had started running more applications simultaneously and since Google Chrome was a heck of a lot more stable than Firefox, I was possibly using more tabs than before? I started noticing that once the cooling fan came on, it would just not switch off until MB went to sleep mode or shut down. Since there were so many open tabs (with so many half-read articles), to preserve my blessed “context”, I found myself doing less and less shutdowns – my procrastination was reaching the level of an art form.

A few weeks ago, MB started speaking up. Above the regular whirring of the fan, I would occasionally hear other sounds – sudden high pitched wails lasting a few minutes to irregular tap-taps that sounded like a hard drive in distress. I was alarmed of course. My backup frequency changed from weekly to daily. I also started getting selective about which applications remained open throughout the day. The number of open tabs on the Chrome browser perceptibly reduced.

Then 2 days ago, in the midst of a rather innocuous work session, MB abruptly shutdown. This had NEVER happened in MB’s 5 years and 6 months of existence (application and system hanging – yes! but not this!). After a 1-hour break, I booted up MB again – it worked fine for the rest of the day (non-continuous usage though).

The next day, abrupt shutdowns happened twice. It now increasingly appeared that MB’s days might be numbered. A few hours after the last shutdown, it suddenly dawned on me that I was no longer hearing the whirring of the cooling fan. The fan must have got fried and the overheated circuitry was probably triggering emergency shutdowns! A few Bing searches later, my speculation had turned into a real hypothesis. So what next? In a few days I’ll be taking MB to an Apple care center and will find out if my hypothesis is right.

In the last few days of MB’s unpredictable behavior, my usage of MB changed rather significantly. Since the abrupt shutdown could happen anytime after an hour of continuous usage, I found myself being a lot more deliberate about my ‘next hour of computer time’. Did I really need to start that second browser window? If I clicked on an interesting Twitter link, I would either finish reading the article (if it sustained interest) or would close the new tab (if not interesting). Since the first hour of computer time was more deterministic than subsequent sessions, it made more ROI sense to work on the most important tasks (making progress on a blog post instead of catching up on Twitter-verse).

MB’s abrupt shutdown behavior has presented me with “what would I do if I had only one hour of connected computer time available”. One hour at a time, with some R&R breaks thrown in between the hourly sessions. The real test starts after MB returns from the Apple service center. Would I return to my old ADD-context-switching ways or accept that the next computing hour could well be the last…before an expensive and context-switching reboot?

(circa 2007: one of my few successful DIY moments — replacing memory modules on a MacBook)

Update (Jan 1, 2012): A trip to the Apple Customer Care yielded mixed results. They ran the basic diagnostic utility (Apple Server Tools) which gave a clean-chit to MB. Uh – what? “Not possible. The cooling fan ain’t coming on.” I told the technician. The technician allowed for the possibility that something was wrong but…running the next-level (more elaborate) diagnostic check would cost 1,500 INR. There was one catch though…the technician pointed me to the “VIN” prefix against MB’s serial number on her console. “VIN” = vintage which means that even if they determined that the cooling fan was indeed busted, Apple was no longer carrying the parts. Yikes! I suppose with all the iPhone frenzy in the market, a 5-year old MacBook certainly warrants the ‘vintage’ tag. Crestfallen, I returned home.

Update (Jan 3, 2012): I wasn’t giving up so easy. If not Apple, there must be some resellers still carrying replacement parts, right? I wasn’t in a terrible hurry since I had commandeered my wife’s personal laptop… Today, I fired up MB and lo and behold! the cooling fan switches on within 15 minutes! Uh – what? The plot thickens.. To be continued.

What progress, oh human being?

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I found another gem from Pandit Usharbudh Arya’s Mantra & Meditation:

When you create a spaceship, the metal and machinery converted into the spaceship has made progress through the touch of human intelligence. When you can flash a light on or off, the light has made progress through the touch of your ingenuity. But what progress, human being, have you made in the past five thousand years? If you were left standing alone in a desert or a mountain cave without any material props, without anything external to depend on or project onto, if you stood absolutely naked in solitude and silence, what could you do with your six-foot frame? In what way are you an improvement on what the man five thousand years could do? Are your senses under greater control? Can you divert, through the application of your wisdom, the attention of an opponent from an attitude of conflict and turn his mind from war to peace? Can you control your anger today more than the man of five thousand years ago? Can you pull yourself out of a depression without paying another human fifty dollars an hour? Can you slow down your breath and thus prolong your life span? Can you improve your digestive function internally, or permit greater absorption of life-giving oxygen into your system? Can you, at will, from within your body, produce antidotes to poisons and pollutions administered to you by your own product, civilization? And finally, can you know and dwell in your ever-pure, ever-wise and ever-free nature without being agitated by external inducements?

These are the things that yogis can do. Their path leads to true progress of humankind, but yours leads to the progress of houses, ships, trains, and other forms of metal and rock. These are necessary for our physical comfort, but they are not necessarily comforting for the mind, as the ever-increasing incidence of mental disturbance in modern civilization attests to.

 

Bangalore’s Population Trends – 1871 to 2001

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

As I browsed through the 107-page Invisible City-Makers research report, came across this gem from JNNURM BSUP CDP (key for these acronyms below the table).

Who knew we had population records in the 1800's?

If you were wondering about the Bangalore population in the 2011 census, provisional results released by Directorate of Census Operations in Karnataka peg it at a whopping 9,588,910!

JNNURM -> Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (website link)

BSUP ->Housing Project Under JnNURM

CDP -> City Development Plan

 

If you want to ‘feel’ the American civil rights movement, listen to this song

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone

By Nina Simone’s own admission, this was her first civil rights song. It was inspired by the murder of four girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on 15 September 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. It is, by far, one of the most powerful protest songs of the time… Lyrics of the song below but you really ought to go listen to this song.

The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam

And I mean every word of it

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can’t you see it
Can’t you feel it
It’s all in the air
I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Washing the windows
“do it slow”
Picking the cotton
“do it slow”
You’re just plain rotten
“do it slow”
You’re too damn lazy
“do it slow”
The thinking’s crazy
“do it slow”
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don’t know
I don’t know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I bet you thought I was kiddin’, didn’t you

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it’s a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you anymore
You keep on saying “Go slow!”
“Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Desegregation
“do it slow”
Mass participation
“do it slow”
Reunification
“do it slow”
Do things gradually
“do it slow”
Will bring more tragedy
“do it slow”
Why don’t you see it
Why don’t you feel it
I don’t know
I don’t know

You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

A definition for pleasure and pain

September 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I found the following gem in Pandit Usharbudh Arya’s Mantra & Meditation:

The Lawbook of Manu (IV.60) states:

All dependency on other than one’s self is pain,

Whatever is controlled by one’s self is pleasure;

Know this to be, briefly, the definition

of pain and pleasure.

Shoshee Chunder Dutt on Patriotism

June 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The mountain torrent rushing down

Can ne’er its course retrace,

And souls that speed on glory’s path

Must ever onward press:

Aye, onward press — to bleed and die,

Triumphant still in death:

Imposter, hence! in other lands

Go draw thy coward breath.

Swami Vivekananda on entrepreneurship and focus

April 14, 2011 3 comments

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

Ok. So Swami Vivekananda wasn’t thinking of startups or entrepreneurship when he spoke these words. But they are definitely words of wisdom for today’s startups and entrepreneurs. The power of focus. The discipline to leave every other idea alone. I struggle with it every day.