Generating ideas and some more

If you are thinking you need to be creative or inspired to generate beautiful ideas, you are in the wrong. Because ideas don’t quite work that way. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

Many ideas to bigger idea

Firstly, you generate some ideas. And then some more. Over time, you slowly grow your creative muscle and get better at it. It’s similar to learning how to juggle. You don’t just became a world-class juggler overnight without any practice.

Luckily for me, I had James Altucher to teach me the importance of generating ideas:

But WHENEVER I’ve been stuck on the floor I knew the only way to kick into action was to start building my idea muscle again. Because it is in those moments that my brain had become smaller, damaged, and my idea muscle had atrophied. And from that moment it takes six months (on average) to 100% change my life around.

And that was when I realized the naked truth about creating ideas and its real impact on one’s life. And be warned that it can change your life – for better or for worse.

Jotting ‘em down

Now I hope I have convinced you about the importance of generating ideas. But it doesn’t stop there. One of the (two) crucial bits people forget about ideas is getting them jotted down immediately and with vivid details.

Most people mistake their memory to be expertly good at remembering their ideas and they have unconsciously failed at the art of ideas right away. A good ideator (that’s a partially made up word :-)) is one who makes sure he has scribbled down his idea somewhere for future reference – no matter how bad the idea is – because he knows the value of ideas.

Ideas when on bed

The hardworking brain

Moving on, a lot of us get some of the smartest ideas right before we are about to fall asleep. It’s almost like our brain is doing it on purpose to taunt us. If you are lazy or imagine yourself to be able to remember the details of the idea when you wake up, you have lost it. The key thing to do is to keep a notepad nearly just for this worst-case scenario. Or you can use the notes app on your smartphone. Anything that works as long as you have jotted it down somewhere.

Ideas are social

If there is one secret most “creative” people have kept away from the plebians, it’s this. Ideas are insanely social. By that, I mean if you have one idea in mind, there is a very high likelihood of having many more ideas. And they grow so fast it is almost scary. But don’t be scared if you are jotting them as they visit you.

Sharing ideas

The other crucial bit people don’t realize about ideas is that sharing ideas is actually good and beneficial. I am going to let Seth Godin argue this point:

How dare we criticize an inventor or an author or a leader for, “stealing someone else’s ideas.” Ideas can’t be stolen, because ideas don’t get smaller when they’re shared, they get bigger.

Then again, there are two aspects of sharing: giving and receiving. Even as you contribute your ideas to the pool, you should also put effort in learning about others’ ideas. If you notice, “creative” people turn out to be one of the most vociferous readers out there. If you want an idea (ha!), here’s Steve Jobs’ reading list.

I guess it’s time to leave you on your journey of creating a thousand and one ideas. Good luck!

Russian Acrobatic Dance Festival

Last Friday, I attended a Russian Acrobatic Dance Festival in Chennai. It was free and fun. It was also an opportunity for me to exercise my photography skills. Without further delay, let me now allow you to enjoy the dance festival at no cost! (And please do forgive my photography. Still at amateur level.)

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The festival was organised by Indo-Russian Chamber of Commerce & Industries as an exercise of friendship and cultural exchange. The event was decorated by the presence of late actor Shivaji Ganesan’s son Ramkumar as well as the Russian Consulate General stationed in Chennai, Nikolay Listopadov.

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The event, predictably, began with the classical display of Bharathanatyam. And then a lot of peppy music and Russian acrobatic dance!

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It seemed the Russian girls were just too happy to be performing that you could almost never catch them not smiling.

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It seemed the Russian girls were just too happy to be performing that you could almost never catch them not smiling.

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I probably wouldn’t mind attending the event again next year or so. It was a fun filled Friday evening after all. :)

The Hindu Lit For Life – Day 3 Reflections

I know it’s a little late to post about Day 3. I took a little break before I could get myself to write about it. Anyway, let’s get on with this.

Moral policing in Cinema

Possibly the highlight of the three day event, which was well illustrated by the bulging crowd at the start of the session (and not so at the end of it). Kamal Haasan was there, taking jabs at anything and everything that bothers him, from the redundant CBFC because of social media, educated intelligence being an obstacle to cinema, the populist game of the Tamil Nadu state government by capping the movie tickets and the commercial cinema that has no interest in civic responsibility.

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In his conversation with K. Hariharan, he remarked ‘Allegories are not present in (Tamil) cinema’ and that they use characters from life. And he has useful advice for a wannabe dictator — “Voices should be heard, not suppressed’. He clearly is not fond of the protectionist reaction, which he claims is ailing the industry.

The point of travelling

Travel writers Colin Thubron and William Dalrymple indulge themselves in the joys of travel writing and why it persists as long as it has. Colin was convinced travel is ‘one culture looking at another’ and this ignorance of the newcomer and their sharp eye towards minute details gives a vivid picture of the inhabitant, who most often takes these details for granted and wouldn’t have paid attention to it if not for the newcomer.

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Colin was also wary of using humour as a tool in travel writing. While humour can be a very useful source of entertainment, it can be dangerous if not used properly and comes across as condescending to the host culture.

Thoughts on sex and female sexuality

I must say I am lucky to have been in this session and getting a wealth of information about female sexuality, which would have remained inaccessible if not for the generous session from Naomi Wolf. Thank you for that, Ms. Wolf!

She has great concerns about how the sexual revolution, which involved an unleashing of pornography and the abundant sexual discourse, has not greatly benefited female sexuality. Her discomfort with discussing sexual pleasure among other things only made the session realistic and engaging — instead of a more harmful robotic delivery of a very sensitive topic.

There was a question put up by one of the audience – What’s the point of all these new info if she can’t exercise her right?. I think the answer possibly comes from Kamal Haasan’s session, where he is adamant a sudden overdose of freedom (relaxed censorship in movie making) would only have a detrimental effect — similar to children in a confectionery. Putting it in context, granting sexual freedom to the Indian women completely would negatively impact the feminist movement. Instead, this process should be carefully crafted, especially since our society is very conservative.

And a quote to remember:

Pleasure empowers women. Psychologically, intellectually and politically.

The majestic tigers of India

Valmik Thapar was angry (and I am saying that in the nicest way possible). He was calling for a way to end the bureaucratic, incompetent mess that is our Government. From the outdated laws in the constitution to the absurdly useless Red Tape, he was very happy to be tearing at them.

His call for including the passionate stakeholders at various levels of decision making only makes sense – but of course, the Government wouldn’t just agree with things that make sense!

The Writing life (or the lack thereof)

It is always exciting to get a little snoop into the personal lives of others (much less celebrities). And here I am, hearing Jim Crace plays solitaire instead of getting on with his damn work!

More seriously, both Jim and Samantha Shannon feels this prerogative of being writers is a burden — occasional feeling of not deserving to be a writer. They grew into realization that reviews and reviewers should be given their own space and that everyone has different opinions and be acceptable of the fact that not everyone likes everyone else’s writing.

I was greatly delighted when Jim noted Writing a bad novel is hard enough. It put a pleasant smile on my face. :-)

It’s a wrap

At the end of the day (forgive me for the cliché), I was longing for more. I didn’t want this event to end and yet it did. I wasn’t presenting a tearful departure but it was awfully close to that. Wishing to take part in Lit For Life next year!

The Hindu Lit For Life – Day 2 Reflections

Let’s hear me talk about the second day of The Hindu Lit For Life. This time, I brought my classmate along with me for extra comfort and companionship. And it helped — I believe — to some extent — surely — it really helped, I am not kidding!

So, anyway, I grew smarter and wore a long sleeve shirt just to prevent myself shivering through most part of the event. And I am going to imagine that helped me fall asleep pay careful attention to the sessions.

I am going to make this reflection short and sweet because, well, I feel exhausted after two long days of intellectual exercise and I am missing out on some helpful sleep. And, Kamal Haasan is making his presence tomorrow!

History of the ancient India

Ramila Thapar, quite evidently a veteran in the field, wasn’t in agreement with the colonial scholars’ opinion that ancient India (especially Indus civilization) was ahistorical and Indian past was oriental despotism. She said the question of whether there were any historical records is irrelevant and I am going to agree with that.

She also commented that Mahabharatha was an Ithikasa and was believed to have happened (with layers added onto it over time) whereas Ramayana was a Kavya and has had more literary aspects to it. She being an expert in this field should very well know about this more than I do but that particular comment was quite surprising to me. I imagined both these Indian epics have a grounded real version and I am only partially correct.

Adding onto that, she remarked epics are ‘repository of recording consciousness’ and not historical text. However, I do think epics give a general idea of the way of life in the ancient India. For example, the practice of polyandry by Drowpadi and the clan system in Mahabarath and importantly kingship politics that existed several thousand years ago — the current day politics don’t even match to that.

Despair for mega cities?

There was an unison agreement that the cities ought to be crucibles of democracy yet they are turning out to be crucibles of inequality. The advent of xenophobic vibe in Mumbai was a genuine cause of concern.

I however am not sure which camp I would find myself in if there was a similar movement going on in Chennai. The lack of effort from the urban migrants to culturally merge into their destination cities irks me occasionally. I am glad these irks are temporary — but only at the moment. I also find myself in a dilemma — because everything I hate about the migrants of my city was what I was doing in my four-year stint in Singapore.

Travelling in Tibet

Colin Thubron did well to tingle my senses for travelling. I feel I am missing out on a huge part of life and what it has to offer to me simply because I am not travelling.

Colin reminded me something I had known before – Tibetans leave the dead bodies out in the open to be consumed by the vultures. It is very much a unique exercise in the entirety of the human race, where people prefer and wish to be buried, cremated or even martyred. But not Tibetans, who manage to stay not larger than life and continue to show modesty and dignity, in their true ways.

Tall tales

Aswin Sanghi defined mythology as ‘a touch of truth with several layers on it’. He also touched on a point that I have been labouring for quite some time. That divinity are things that are yet to be explained; that it is an element of unknown.

Samantha Shannon seemed uninterested in censoring books, especially to children. She makes it a point that books are a safe place to experience what the children would experience later in their life. In a world that makes a ‘spectacle out of violence’, she thinks there is thrill from danger without needing to experience it first-hand.

Revisiting the history books

William Dalrymple made me re-realize what it feels to get back to the history books. Everything of value comes right from it and it is almost surprising how we manage to get away from it despite having it right under our eyesight. I am going to begin by grabbing the nearest copy of ‘Freedom by Midnight’ and hopefully finish it within the next month (February).

The great lie that is fiction

“Fiction is the great lie that tells the truth” claimed Dorothy Allison. Or so claimed Abraham Varghese that Dorothy claimed so. Whatever. The point was, Abraham showed what true passion can do — make you really mad that is.

He also left this gem about finding one’s voice when writing:

When you’ve written something that your spouse finds deeply disturbing, you have found your voice.

And I took his little advice for wannabe writers to the heart: Read, read and read. I hope to update my little reading wish-list and keep to it at once.

The Hindu Lit For Life – Day 1 Reflections

I have had the great fortune being part of the audience in the first day of The Hindu – Lit For Life 2014. And as always, I am comfortably awkward and clueless around social events. I am however happy that I continue to give my honest attempts at partaking in social events instead of chickening out. I am hopeful this is just a phase and I can get better at this with each passing attempts.

Some initial thoughts about the event

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That you see is the ‘Beyond Words’ theme/logo. It felt a little jagged, out of place and not so soothing to the eyes. Could very well have everything to do with my poor fashionable sense.

And if only were the concert hall not freezing (OK, not nearly as bad as what North America is currently facing), the whole event would have been a lot more enjoyable.

It seemed like the event only attracted a sizeable crowd (partly made up by the orange-clad volunteers) at the beginning but I am glad to have mistaken — as the day progressed, the concert hall was brimming with people.

Spoilt for choices

There were concurrent activities planned in the concert hall as well as the courtyard. And I am bad with choice making (possibly since watching Barry Schwartz’s Ted talk The paradox of choice). They should consider making those hard decisions on my behalf — I can sleep better passing the blame onto someone else!

Aravind Adiga and nasty letters from a South Indian

The one person from South Indian writing ‘articulate and nasty’ letters to Aravind Adiga might very well have been sitting next to me. The kind gentleman didn’t need any invitation to flog any comment from Adiga. At one point, he took great offence when Adiga called Utpal Dutt ‘a funny comic guy’ and did not hesitate to brand Adiga ‘an idiot’. How true that is I don’t know. Yet to read ‘The White Tiger’. :(

Adiga’s remark during his mostly unidirectional conversation with David Godwin that Chennai is not a conservative city but rather, a radical city was one to be pondered. I doubt it was a haste comment made without much thought and I am hopeful there is a hint of truth in that. :)

The recurring animal motif in plenty of new urban migrants’ letters and how this new freedom to explore their sexuality, the freedom to choose their life partners and the freedom from caste and the customs of arranged marriage drives them in unique ways was an interesting thought to nurture. Maybe I will write more about this on a future occasion.

The new Indian “offensive” women?

It seemed the forum ‘Rough Passage: The Coming of Age of the New Indian Woman’ was put in a way to be intentionally provocative — to invoke strong feelings of disgust and uneasiness. If that were one of the motives behind it, I must say they did a good job. There were moments that made me slightly disgusted, awkward, uncomfortable and occasionally a little offended too.

At various occasions, I felt the forum was just appealing to the senses and feelings of the so-called “new” women instead of, perhaps, posing jeopardizing questions or thoughts to them. That I believe could have helped them come of the age with a more personal touch. Still, credits for being straightforward and forthcoming.

The attempts at making sense of arranged marriage were appreciable – it does seem pragmatists don’t mind it at all. More on that later on another day. Anyway, I would not mind a working woman as a wife. After all, that would give me more time to focus on my hobbies!

Rewriting mythology

I genuinely laughed when Paul Zacharia claimed ‘Church doesn’t read’. For whatever reasons, that reminded me of this quote from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons:

Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed.

It makes sense. The so-called God’s word ‘Bible was written by vulnerable people’ and it’s only natural that they embellish certain details of the ‘self-proclaimed martyr Jesus’ to make it look like impossible things are made real; to make people fear the wrath of the supernatural. No offence to all my seven readers.

Literary novels

The day only got better (subjectively ofcourse) with Jim Crace being at his very best: making fun of himself and his works. And he seemed happy to be celebrating telling lies. OK, let me give him one back. Jim, you totally rocked that session. Just kidding, that session was potentially the highlight of the day.

I have one kind suggestion to Jim: hold another session about ‘The Art of Lying’ — Making people believe your lies just doesn’t cut enough as a fulfilling point.

And finally, the one takeaway from Jim was what he said at the very beginning: “A good literary novel shouldn’t have questions answered but questions posed”. Sounds cruel eh? :)

Women of the 21st century

The day’s finale (for me — I had to leave a little early) belonged to the, must I say, feminist ladies. From Barkha Dutt making sure she doesn’t agree with most things Naomi Wolf throws her way to the audience’s regular applause interval, it was a session to remember.

Naomi made it a point to bring pornography to the table when she remarked “The pornographification of culture has taken its toll on young minds.” I don’t have too much to say to that — too innocent.

Some quotes from Naomi about feminism that struck me:

“Feminism is the logical extension of democracy”.
“It is a mistake that feminism tells women what to believe”.

Later on, when quizzed about rape, Naomi clarified that sexual repression is not the cause of rape. Rather, “rape is a crime of opportunity”. I had always struggled to understand the motives and some of the dynamics of rape. I am grateful this session put some of my personal inner struggle to bed.

And by the way, I am yet to figure how the two ladies managed to wear matching Red outfits. :)

Ask Ubuntu – In the year 2013

Before I get anywhere, let me convey my thanks to slhck for his help with the data visualization and his awesome R skills.

Having got that out of the way, let’s look at some stats involving Ask Ubuntu in the year 2013. There is no real purpose in this exercise other than whetting my appetite for numbers.

Let’s start with the big picture. At this point, I should state the data points are not cumulative and represent the state of the site during that period of time.

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The total number of questions asked has almost tripled since 2011. Number of questions not being deleted has quite a linear growth as well. Remember, “questions” are deleted on Ask Ubuntu for a variety of reasons, including spam, offensive content and rants among others.

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The percentage of questions closed to total questions asked has decreased over the years but the questions closed as duplicates has increased.

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Breaking 2013 into months, we can see there are two peaks around 13.04 (2013-05) and 13.10 (2013-10) releases.

And what about the answers?

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There is a steep increase in the absolute numbers of questions with zero answers. Questions with accepted answers has taken a hit and so does questions with multiple answers.

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In the various months of 2013, yeah.. we have work to do on that. Yet to fully recover from 13.10 release.

How goes voting?

One of the selling points of Ask Ubuntu (being a part of Stack Exchange network of sites) is that it is community regulated (via votes among other means). 2013, however, is not a year of voting on Ask Ubuntu.

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Despite having more questions asked compared to 2012, the number of questions with at least a positive score has decreased. Questions with 3 or more votes have decreased sharply as well.

Questions with no positive score have skyrocketed. Guess it’s time to pull our socks and vote more. Want to help? :-)

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The monthly breakdown of 2013 seems to suggest a general decrease in votes as well.

Questions and traffic

For a site that is currently getting about 260k views per day, the following might be surprising.

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50% of the questions asked in 2013 don’t have more than a 100 views, which is not particularly appeasing. It seems not a lot of questions are getting enough eye balls and are adding to the growing tally of tumbleweeds on the site.

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Making the truth more obvious since the 90s.

Scores, views and answers combined

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More page views clearly increase the possibility of a question getting either a vote or (hopefully) an answer.

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The last couple months of 2013 have a higher number of lowly viewed questions. Guess they need a little time to garner more views.

If any data wiz out there wants to play with the data, here’s the spreadsheet. And that would be all from the numbers department this year.

Giving back 2013

You know what’s the best part of being a moderator on Ask Ubuntu? Not the great informative posts. Not the fun and frolic around the community. And definitely not the many flags. The former two comes very close but don’t quite beat the best.

Every year, Stack Exchange makes it a tradition to donate $100 to charity on behalf of each moderator in the network. Back when I was just merely a contributor to Stack Exchange, I needn’t an invitation to spend my time and energy on the site. Already sold by their policy of making Internet a better place, I was on the site every other day learning new things and teaching others what little I knew.

So, when I first heard about Stack Exchange’s “giving back” program in 2011, I secretly started hoping I became one of the moderators on the network. Stack Exchange’s repeat of the program in 2012 further fueled my desire and I threw my hat up for the business in the next elections in February 2013.

Luckily enough, with the blessings of the awesome community, I became one of the community mods on Ask Ubuntu and I continued my contributions to the site and the community.

Relatively engrossed in my commitments to the community, I had almost forgotten about the Stack Exchange’s program until I happened to receive the pick-your-donation email from Stack Exchange earlier in December 2013.

I joyously made my decision to donate to Wikimedia Foundation. Donating $100 out of my pocket is almost impossible at this point of time for me and I am grateful to Stack Exchange for giving me the opportunity to taste the feel of philanthropist.

Thank you once again Stack Exchange and wishing the readers a happy and prosperous new year 2014.