On slowing down

Every day, on my walk back from the park, I pass by the little snackbar (Dutch for late night shoarma shop) I sometimes dine at during the weekends. I love the falafel there, something the owner proclaims is the ‘best in Amsterdam’. I don’t disagree.

Every day, I see the young son of the owner work tirelessly behind the counter, or sometimes causally standing and looking at people walking by. He has a calm demeanor and almost never smiles. At the same time, he doesn’t look like he’s got any qualms about his life.

Today I wondered – how many years could I spend without a semblance of professional advancement in my life. Most of us want to see ourselves making great strides in our careers in our 30s. For him, career is staying happy and making sure the shop stays in business.

We live a very fast life. Our calendars are chock-full of engagements and our address books full of contacts we only connect with a few times a year. Most of us have no time to even go for a walk every day.

Sometimes all we need is to slow down and zoom in on things to get a better perspective on life and what our activities mean for us, others, and this planet. Make time for the things that matter, the things that you can only enjoy now and not when you’re too old or living elsewhere. In the end, the only person judging you is you yourself. All you have to do is beat your own standards.

I am reading a lot about the psychological and physical benefits of slowing down. Changing habits is difficult but the payoff is tremendous if you can manage to improve yourself. Those 24 hours feel like 48 when your observation skills are sharp and you’re zoomed in to the world around you.

The world needs more of things that stick around long enough to actually make a difference.

How populism begins

With the current political turmoil in the UK, I have been trying to understand the concept of populism. While the definition of populism leads you to believe that it can’t really be a bad idea, it’s how it begins gaining roots is why it has become a bad thing in the modern world.

Separatist politics aside, consider this example – you rent an apartment in a building managed by a homeowners’ association.

First some ground facts. The building has an even distribution of residents that rent and those that own their apartments. The owners (and only the owners) meet fairly regularly to discuss the maintenance priorities and the current concerns of the residents. Every month, every resident contributes to the pot of money that is used by the association to provide maintenance and repairs to the building as well as things like the water heating systems.  This contribution generally passes on to the renters as well in the form of a higher rent.

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‘There is always something to do in the kitchen’

I heard this line coming from the server at my daily morning coffee spot right as I was about to get up to pay and leave. No, it wasn’t directed at me; the server, head server I assume, was speaking, rather crassly, to one of the cooks as she had come outside her little world and started lining up the clean dishes on the rack. Clearly, this wasn’t her job. I spent the next 2 minutes listening to him telling her, condescendingly, of all the other things she could have been doing instead of being out in public view, silently in-sourcing a colleague’s chore towards herself. (more…)

Electric toothbrush

I recently started using an electric toothbrush based on my dentist’s advice. It’s nothing fancy – an Oral-B Pro 4000. I got a decent deal with a 2 handle bundle so that V could use one as well.

What’s interesting is that I never knew how long I brushed my teeth. The recommendation had always been to only brush for 2 minutes at a maximum. Since I never looked at a timer, I always assumed that I was following the advice. This toothbrush has gentle haptic feedback after every 30 seconds to remind you to move to the next quadrant of your jaw. Finally, after 2 minutes it gives you a violent feedback almost as if it’s yelling at you.

When I started, I found myself only about halfway done at the 2 minute mark. It means I was almost twice as hard on my teeth and gums as recommended. And I must have done this for years! I have improved over the last week and now am able to time my brushing just right to finish at just about the 2 minute mark. Good learning!

For someone who recently moved to DE blade shaving, it seems backward to now commit to replacement brushes from the same manufacturer. But, it is different. Brushing with a ‘cartridge’ isn’t nearly as bad as shaving with a razor cartridge was for me. I am also using less toothpaste now (the brush head is circular and smaller) and timing my habit just right. Besides, brush cartridges are cheaper and there is potential to buy generic ones.

So, yes, I must be the last person I know who finally started using an electric toothbrush, but here’s to improving your life!

Time Flies, and Then it Comes Around

Corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht in Amsterdam
Corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht in Amsterdam (April 28, 2016)

I just took this picture while on my way back from my morning coffee. It has been more than 5 years (5 years, 8 months, and 3 days, to be exact) since we moved to this charming city, and every day feels like we just arrived. It is easy to get lost in that daily routine of re-discovering the city. There are still centuries old buildings that look like they were just built yesterday.

But, today, the walk home especially struck me. The scene reminded me of that rainy day in our first week in the city when I was standing on that corner, umbrella in hand, while V&I waited for the mini-bus to arrive so I could ride it to my new job. There used to be a blue-colored Stop-n-Go bus service in those days that went around the canals all the way to the Central Station every half an hour or so. It was raining, a bit windy, nothing extraordinary now, but perhaps the first time that I was actually using an umbrella in the morning. Then the bus arrived, I got on quickly, did not find a seat and so grabbed a railing on the side of the bus as I stood and waved at V.

The bus service is no longer there, and I no longer treat the walk from our home to the old office as anything that would require me to use public transport. Life has changed in so many ways, and yet, the city still has me re-living precious old memories.

Should you attend the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference?

If you are an Apple ecosystem developer you must be already aware that WWDC 16 has been announced. You have less than a week to decide about your attendance and sign up for the lottery – yes, a lottery to pay up money to attend a tech conference in a different country notorious for its visa rejections.

Geopolitical considerations aside, the question on every mind is – should I really commit to attending the conference? Tickets used to get sold out within months, then weeks, then a couple days, and the last time there wasn’t a lottery (2013), they sold out within about 3 minutes. I have been an attendee twice, once in 2011, and then the last time in 2012. Ever since then, I have tried and ultimately failed to procure a ticket to the annual pilgrimage. It hurt in 2013; felt bad in 2014; felt like a bad bet in 2015, and finally, this year, for the first time since I moved to Amsterdam, I am actually wondering if I should even sign up.

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Migrated to DigitalOcean

This blog is now fully hosted on DigitalOcean. If you didn’t know, DigitalOcean is one of the ‘cloud’ providers, the main benefit being that it is really simple to set up. Unlike Amazon or Google, the pricing model is really simple, and unless you need all the bells and whistles that these other folks provide, the functionality is really good. They use KVM to provide you root access to a Droplet (in their parlance) that you can configure any way you want. I also liked that setting up a fully functional WordPress server was a matter of a single click from their application directory.

So, the benefits –

  • hosted in Amsterdam
  • full native IPv6 support
  • virtual hosts that I can set up on my own whims
  • free SSL setup using Let’s Encrypt

 

Oh, and it’s a whole lot faster than my previous BlueHost setup which was mind-bogglingly expensive. The IPv6 is a nice touch, although I am not sure why Ziggo still does not provide connectivity. They only had a decade to plan for it.

One thing that I really like about DigitalOcean is the Snapshots. All I have to do is turn off my server (which isn’t really that bad since I hardly have enough traffic) and create one. These are completely free and are manual, which means that you can take as many and as often as you want. If you want to restore your server to a previous configuration, you just fire up a new instance using one of your saved snapshots. You could even move them around in different geographical areas. Regular automated backups cost money, though.

Setting up encryption was really easy with Let’s Encrypt. If you have a server, there really is no reason to not do it.

Do give DigitalOcean a try – they also have free trials. I am sure you’d love them as much as I do! If you have any questions about my setup, write in a comment below and I will share my learnings!

Phoenix Redux

Phoenix is the name I chose for this blog years ago. At that time, my goal was to publish a few times a week, ramblings and ideas about anything and everything. This helped me get past one of the most important phases of my life. And then, my world changed a little – I got married, moved around a fair bit, and changed jobs and careers. Social networking became the hot thing where everyone interacted with others. Original thought all but died as we started measuring our network-i-ness by the number of likes and re-shares we accumulated. Apps were, and continue to be, the only way to gather knowledge and ideas.

If you were not building your personal brand you were doing it all wrong.

I have come to believe that the world-wide-web is much more than a backend for our apps. It continues to be the one medium which is still colorful, diverse, and full of the same vigor that it had a decade ago. It also remains the best place to be whatever you want to be. The only rules are your own.

Everything has a tendency to come around full-circle.

And so, here I am again. The phoenix has arisen. I will be writing in the same tone and with the same optimism about our future as I did 10 years ago. There’s a lot more to come!

Cheers!

Happiness

What is happiness? Some would argue that having access to food, drink, companionship is what makes someone happy. Some are happy by virtue of having access to wealth which makes the aforementioned readily available. Some gain happiness from being successful in whatever endeavors they undertake, irrespective of whatever their motivation. In essence, everyone has their own basis for defining happiness. Who are we to even begin a judgment on whether they are right or not. Bottom line is being happy.

But, I think it’s a bit more than that. Happiness is also about making sure your surroundings are happy. Sure, you can isolate yourself from all that mess, but sooner or later you will see that there’s only so far you can run before the reality of living in a social, well-connected, interdependent world bites you. But, I digress. So, then what is happiness? Is it dependent on others appearing happy? Is it just wealth? Is it just success? Being content?

I don’t know. But, that admitted, I can now say that there is one underlying factor I see in all people who are happy – they live, and I mean really live life without regrets. It’s really not easier said than done. We make mistakes all the time, but only the weak let themselves fall behind and repent all their life instead of picking up and making sure the mistake(s) of their life work for them in the long term. So that’s it – live life like you have no regrets and everything that makes you happy will casually follow.

Here’s how I keep myself happy, and everyone knows I am always cheerful and optimistic –

1. Be dreamy; imagine the good that has yet to come in your life.

2. Stop worrying and just do it. If something worries me a lot, be it whether injustice towards me or someone else, I try my best to take action at the right time.

3. Never say no to yourself.

4. Do unto others the way you would have them do to you. This is not just a biblical verse. It’s one of the first step towards being human. Is your selfish behavior making life worse for someone else? You will never be happy because guilt is subliminal and goes with you.

5. Keep yourself enlightened; Never stop learning. I could learn something new everyday and still know only so much about this wonderful world.

6. Don’t let negative energies or thoughts build up. This one is really hard to adhere to, and I fail often. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to be 100% happy! And no, this doesn’t fully conflict with being optimistic. You could be largely optimistic and still have negative ideas about something in your life.

7. Don’t let others rule over your life. The only person in control of your life should be you and a very very small group of really close family members. Everyone else doesn’t matter.

8. Be loyal to people you care about.

9. Don’t lie. This is easier done than said, actually.

10. Do whatever it takes to keep the important people in your life happy. If they’re unhappy, you’ll never be happy.

11. Money is immaterial. It’s all about your mind. If you are smart, money will come, if not now, then very soon.

12. Always always think about changing the world for the better with your actions. Everyone is capable of doing so. Just smiling at that person in the train could make their day better and lead them to do something nice for someone else.

13. Be largely immune to selfish thoughts. Avoid jealousy. If you’re happy you’d be more worried about making sure that other jealous people don’t infect you with negative vibes.

14. Travel whenever you get the chance. Embrace change in surroundings.

I think this is it. This is how I stay happy and continue loving my life.

You can, too!

PS: Plato was a genius. If you’re really interested in understanding humans around you on a more philosophical level, you owe it to yourself to read the Republic. I will do so soon, too.