2014 A Review

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I had been scratchy in writing my reflections at the end of the year in the past. But managed to write at least a few posts every year in the blog which will be stepping into its 10th year. The last year had been one of those years – where I made positive progress in the areas where I am passionate about. Personally and professionally there were some really great moments for me this year. Last year was the first full year working in US, and did involve some new set of learning and career progressions within my role. At home, my mom travelled oversees for the first time in her life, spent 6 months with me in Seattle and we travelled to Canada. She has visited 3 countries in row now if I include her Dubai adventures. And finally after 29 years I am entering a new phase in life.  In addition to these big moments, I would want to reflect the learnings I had in the areas I spend most of  my time outside work - Technology, Health & Fitness, Personal Finance , Books, & Music,movies & Travel.
Technology : I think the overall investment of my time in this area had been the lowest so far in the last 10 years. My new skill learning were on Business intelligence tools like Power BI, Power View etc. to have better data analytics. I did build a few cool dashboards at work that did help me get a good space in the team around Data analytics. But I am yet to really get deeper in this space. I moved out of Windows phone platform later in the year to really get a hang of other mobile OS. I am using a cyanogen mod which is a community distribution of stock android running on a One Plus One. Took a bet on the low cost device but with ultra specifications, so far enjoying the phone with solid build. Initially had some glitch with the configurations especially with encrypting the device but had been awesome post that. Also followed the major tech industry news, and saw the Microsoft stock soar for the first time phenomenally this year with the new focus after CEO change. Spent some time in our company Hackathon on coming up with a new concept related to intelligent learning and development systems which is integrated, machine learnt and more personalized solution. Did get some good review from people but stayed as a concept without much progress into executing the idea.  2015 is going to be a big year in this area for me. I am planning to have my next career progression into a role much closer to technology.
Health & Fitness : Excellent year of progress. I did Increase my knowledge in this space quite a bit by reading for the purpose of improvement in my actual training. So the biggest events this year were Seattle to Portland (STP) cycling event, where I biked for 328 KM in over 17 hours. Involved a good 3 months of training and a lot of practice. More satisfactory was the fact that through this event we could send 10 kids in India to school without any fee for a year. Later in the year participated in my first open water swim event across lake Washington. This was a 1.45 mile swim across the lake from Seattle to Kirkland swimming for about 50 minutes. Training for this breaking away from swimming pools and going with some open water swim groups was an awesome experience. This year had some amazing underwater experiences as well. Completed my first PADI open water diver certification in march at Hawaii , and later completed a Advanced open water diver certification in November at Phuket. About 10 deep sea dives this year and moments of bliss underwater and my deepest dive this year was 110 feet and the longest dive was close to 45 minutes. In addition to these events, got a new addiction to the Pro Club spinning class especially one of the instructor there for the Monday night cycling is just awesome. Have made efforts to be regular at the club whenever not training for the events outdoor. Regarding my food patterns, yet to hit a regular rhythm in this, but hope to do better in 2015. Went for some amazing hikes in the summer, and the Lake Serene Hike was the highlight of the year. But did experiment a lot with the right kind of food , timing, fasting schedules etc. that suits my body to stay active and energetic majority of the time in the day. Sleep patters had been not so regular this is one I need to really focus a bit, may be next year. So for 2015 , my biggest goal is going to be completing the STP 2015 in a day and completing the Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3. Yes Ironman is going to be a big stretch, but stretch goals really push us.
Personal Finance : Its been about 5 years since I started focusing really well on this area. Joined a very passionate personal finance group called Asan Ideas for Wealth in Facebook. This is not a typical stock suggesting group, this group primarily focuses on knowledge building with more Q&A. Some of the big folks in this group were the passionate personal finance bloggers including my own favorite P.V Subramaniam of subramoney.com . This year in addition to my favorite knowledge source on this area like Jagoinvestor, got exposed to various big writers and thought leaders in this space like. Pattabiraman Murari a Physics professor in IIT-M writes of freefincal , Basant Maheshwari of Thoughtful Investor, Safal Niveshak and also Sanjay Bakshi of MDI BFBV fame. Knowing these people and reading their various writings and blogs helped me really improve my knowledge in retirement planning and various financial products. On the Action zone, did a good job in building emergency fund, continuing with my pure term insurance and good medical insurance for my mother. Closed my housing loan and did focus on continuing my retirement plan systematic investment plans. Thanks to Modinomics and the overall positive economic outlook the mutual funds performed well last year with more than decent returns. But overall a good year, and needs more time investment in this especially in the action zone next year with the changes in my life situation.
Books :  Low focus this year and read probably couple of books in behavioral economics – Thinking fast and slow , Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack are the few I could recollect. Spent a good time reading Damodaran’s valuation books, that was some serious learning in the mid of the year and loved reading his posts and books. Some business books read this year include Barbarians at the gate on RJR Nabisco leverage buy-out. Simon Singh’s Simpsons and Mathemetical secrets was another good pick. But low book reading volume this year, and my next year focus is to read atleast 1 book a month. Setting really a low target but hope I get beyond the 12-15 books next year. The feeds and blogs take considerable reading time for me and could not really focus on physical books these days. A good target for next year.
Music, Movies & Travel :  After a scratchy start with Mridangam in 2013 at Hyderabad, my search continued in Seattle. This year I found an awesome Tabla teacher  who inspired me and have tried to be regular with the classes. Have been dabbling a bit with very basic knowledge. The search in this space is to enjoy the music I listen more.  A long long way to even get to that space. On Movies, a lot of movies I saw this year. Watched pretty much every Tamil movie released this year. But some stand out movies this year were in no order – Thegidi, Jigarthanda , Salim, Kaviya Thalaivan , Mundasupatti, Goli Soda, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, Un Samayal Arayil. The disappointment this year was Superstars, Lingaa, though I am a die hard fan of Rajinikanth.  In addition to Tamil movies, got crazy with malayalam movies in the last three years. All started with Ustad Hotel, this year there were some quality Malayalam movies I watched. Maybe to increase my reading, I should reduce my time watching every crap movie that is getting released. But one of my big guilty indulgence is movies.
Travel this year was amazing. Started the new year at Las Vegas and Grand Canyon trip with friends. Vegas is too artificial for me, but Grand Canyon is worth the long travel, what a natural wonder that is.  Later in March, went to Maui,  Hawaii with friends. This is paradise on earth, and would love to go to Hawaii again may be with my bike. Later in the year travelled to Canada with my mom. We visited Vancouver and Victoria Island. Victoria island is a beautiful place and a good weekend getaway as well. The year end travel was to Cambodia and Thailand. Angkor Wat , Thom and Ta Phrom in Seam Rip are must see. A cultural heritage site, with lot of references to Indian Mythology. Wonderful diving experience in Phuket and layover in Bangkok. Bangkok is crowded, nasty and to polluted and I would not want to even have a layover time there next and will do a different route.  Also had some local travel like Portland, Mount Rainier this year. Not to miss my India travel, went back home after 13 months. Had an amazing time for a week at home and with my fiancé and relatives. But overall good amount of travel this year. Next year is also going to be similar at-least in January.
Made a lot of new friends in Seattle and continued volunteering with Isha Seattle group. My blogging frequency this year was decent compared to past few years, with atleast one post a month. A lot of happenings this year, there were few unexpected turns as well and that made things more interesting. As I continue to learn, I am very hopeful about the year 2015. Not predicting or crystal gazing anything next year but very positive about the future and try to best utilize every opportunity coming in front of me. Thanks to so many of my friends and family members who have directly or indirectly helped me, without their support and help I would not be able to make any big progress.
I have very few regular readers of my blog. most of them are my friends who occasionally reach this place to know about what is happening in my life. Rest of the traffic is for the tool tips I write from search engines. Got my first Google Adsense payout this year after 9 years of having this blog.
But For my friends, I did send an email about my marriage next month. In case I missed, here is the detail. I am getting married to Sakthi Pavithra, in January 2015.  So 2014 was the last year I was single. A picture is worth more than 1000 words, ( I wrote too much, so tried a picture collage of various things in 2014)
Colalge1
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The Next Big Thing

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Identifying the next big thing and catching the right wave to ride is everyone’s dream . That has been the constant quest for business to succeed no matter what industry they are in. With disruption happening across industries, in the last decade there had been a lot of startups that are buzzing with technology as the key enabler to disrupt.
Looking at the last decade of disruptions – an online website killed brick and mortar book stores first ( Amazon vs. Barnes & Nobles), and slowly they started dominating selling pretty much everything on the earth including turkeys for thanksgiving.  Startups to Big companies are in constant quest for this next big thing to create a breakthrough in the industry. The breakthrough could be anything like an iPhone, iPod , Search advertising or even a simple app like Whatsapp ( to remind it was worth 19 Billion USD) or even a platform like Windows or Android.  The one common thing among them - other than making huge money for business, the disruption had real impact on people. The scale at which it swept the whole world was enormous.
Recently I had to review and judge a B School Business Plan contest, which had participation from every premier B Schools in India, the likes of IIMs, XLRI, FMS etc.  So the contest was about writing a business plan for the Next Big thing with technology as a key enabler for a company to invest. The company is a high-tech product based company. With that premise there were about 40 entries to the event. I did end up shortlisting about 7 for the finals based on novelty of the idea (or how disruptive the idea was), feasibility, practical thought, research and the real impact it would have on people.  At the end of this exercise, I made some logical grouping of the various ideas among those entries and looked at what areas they are trying to disrupt, and what are the existing startup / big company initiatives around them. I am sure many of the names I will highlight are already popular and are on its way to be the next big thing, but we are yet to see the full potential.  All the below are my own observations based on submissions and may be limited with what I know and not exhaustive on what is happening in industry. Below are the groupings I finally made,
  • Sharing Economy based ideas / Peer to Peer Economy : Almost 70% of the business ideas submitted were on this space, were the focus was about sharing an additional resource which some one own.  The business ideas try to help end provider earn money effectively using that resource by sharing and also provide value addition for the end customer. The main company that is building the infrastructural support for this system would pocket a considerable chunk of profit to themselves and by scaling across markets they would grow.  The ideas proposed were around providing Car Rides, Errand work for people, Home cooked food , personal living space - houses / condos , or money for lending.  All these were enabled with the help of technology , mostly an App or a website which is social. So the leading startups in this space – Airbnb ( For shared house or vacation rentals) , Uber/Lyft ( Car Rides) , Task Rabbit (Errands) ,  EatWith ( For food or sharing the dining experience). But for Peer to Peer lending there is yet to be a leader in the space as of now, but Facebook tried  building this part of the messenger app and we are yet to see breakthrough in that.  This is one space to watch as the new generation tries to rely more on a sharing economy than owning economy we were in. In the previous generation ownership value was very high and with the new trend it is going down and this space would see some successful startups in the coming years.
  • Education based ideas :  This is one industry ripe for disruption. It is also an industry and mostly run for profit except the one which is government run. Rest of them in majority are run for profit. There were about 20% of ideas in this area around - E-learning, e-certificate management, online tutor-student matching,  predictive analytics to improve student performance, alumni management,  learning infrastructure like email, shared space for files etc.  There have been many companies trying to disrupt this space especially breaking the university system–  Massive open online courses by Coursera , Udacity and edX are some recent developments in the last few years.  There are also some good open source learning management system like Moodle and the big companies like Google, Microsoft all are trying with their own products like Google Helpouts and their productivity apps customized for education sector. But yet this is one place yet to be really explored for breakthrough. Even Coursera  like MOOC made the content available to the masses, the dropout rate  is pretty high with the number of people who actually complete the course is low vs registering for a course. The learning outcome is yet to be measured. Also how will this really impact in people’s life for better jobs, or better productivity etc. are yet to be measured successfully.
  • Agriculture based ideas : This is a big market and definitely needs to be enabled further with technology. In India, there was not high PC penetration, but now there is internet penetration with the help of smart phones.  There were couple of good ideas with smartphone / feature phone based ideas to help the farmers and also some crowdsourcing ideas around this. Especially helping farmers to arrive at pricing in a crowd sourced way rather than relying on middle men and may be the commodity exchanges. I have not really researched on the startups in this area, but an interesting space to watch.
There were few other ideas related to security , and social reporting apps with Geo-tags.  There was a lot of social and crowdsourcing aspects added to most of the ideas. It was an interesting read overall going through the various B Plan ideas, and I have been brainstorming quite some time with my friends to start some business. As always its not about the idea alone, but problem we are solving for people and the execution of that really matters for success even if that idea may not be novel. If we do a good job in showing the customers real value they would definitely make a switch even if some other alternative exists. Watching this space, in identifying the next big thing is interesting and I would continue to do.


The next phase in life

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After 29 years, I will be entering a new phase in life. In the last 10 years, there had been so many changes in life, but I think this is going to be the biggest of them all ! It is only the last 10 years I see as a crucial period in my life, where I had exercised many choices and options that were in front of me consciously. Of course, not deliberate decisions, but making use of the best opportunities I had.

So coming to the change now, I got engaged couple of weeks back on 13th October, and would be getting married in another couple of months time. Unexpected turns , interesting outcomes in life as always. The story of meeting my significant other, let us call her SP ( It is just the Initials of her name), would be an interesting story in itself and never imagined such a journey. We both did not meet in person, even the families did not meet in person.   To clarify for those who do not understand why families meeting is important, this is a traditional Indian arranged marriages - You can read about it a lot by searching the internet, where families first decide before the couple decide to get marry.

So after having the initial few conversation over phone we both accepted to move forward with marriage. In retrospect, still I could not believe this was how it was planned and I am fine with this decision. I did have my own initial apprehensions,  and after multiple conversation with my friends and family and enough rationalization I did agree to myself. So couple of weeks back, SP and I met , hardly we spoke in our Initial conversation but agreed to get engaged. Probably we are getting to know each other well only now after getting engaged. In hindsight this looks like a right decision for me at this point. I will revisit this post after a few years and leave my thoughts as I progress in this journey. 

This is going to be exciting journey and looking forward to explore this next phase in life, with my significant other !

My constant questions and search

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I have been writing in this blog since 2006.That is when I left my home town where I grew up, to live on my own. The year I really started to earn money regularly . Though I did not really earn a lot of money, but it did teach me the importance and value of money. Probably my money blue print was forming more at this period of my life. I landed in Mumbai- and it was adventure to survive – searching for a house with torrential rain, no clue of the place and did not have some one to help, with broken Hindi speaking skill , survival instincts really kicked in me for the first time .

I started to write to improve my own thinking and writing skills. I have captured varied things in this blog as my thoughts over the last 9 years.You would see in the last 9 years I wrote on very different things. I wrote on Oracle when I was working on that, I wrote on English phrases when I was preparing for competitive exams, my experience in XLRI when I was really slogging to really cope up in the first year, even my own experiences when I was clueless on what to do next.

But After 9 years of moving from different places, professions and jobs there is always a question I had – are all these decisions I made were so well planned ? – the answer is a resounding no.  Life has been so unpredictable with many twists. So whenever I get the question on how deliberate have I designed my life – I have mostly rationalized the situations and decisions  post facto.

These introspections never stopped and coincidentally last week I was reading Prof.Sanjay Bakshi’s personal narration of his life, I landed on the below quote by Herb Simon in that article.

I have encountered many branches in the maze of life's path, where I have followed now the left fork, now the right. . . .In describing my life as mazelike, I do not mean that I have a large number of deliberate, wrenching decisions to go off in one direction or another. On the contrary, I have made very few. Obvious responses to opportunities and circumstances, rather than studied decisions, have put me on the particular roads I have followed  - Herb Simon

It cant be more relevant than this one. Most of the decisions I have made as well not so deliberate but obvious responses to opportunities and circumstances. So these reflections now made me more curious about life and looking forward to the next experience that is going to happen. Staying realistic and curious!! 

Enough philosophy for today,  and got to pack my bags for my India visit after 13 months. This is the longest I have stayed away from my country and excited to be there next week.

HR analytics

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I have been in HR function for the last 5 years, and I have never published any post related to HR ever in this blog. Even this was an observation from one of my friend. With Linkedin’s new Pulse platform for article writing, I posted an article which I have been thinking about for a while now. Here is the article from Linkedin pulse page.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140904010159-28286378-hr-analytics-what-we-really-do

Here is the article from Linkedin I published,

There was a famous analogy on Big data by Dan Ariely that went on rage - Big data is like Teenage sex everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it. I think the analogy can be extrapolated to HR Analytics. With the growth of digitized data there is an explosion of Talent data and every body is talking about HR Analytics / HR Big data in most places I have seen. But there are only in very few places I have seen they really convert those analytics work into meaningful insights that had some real impact on the business.

I look at this analytics stack at three layers

  1. Data Aggregation and quality management - This is hygiene factor that ensures we are able to get all the various HR data points and we pull the right quality data for our work
  2. Data analysis and visualization - This step is churning the data on various statistical (or even simple) analysis and visualize them in graphs, tables, dashboards etc.
  3. Drawing Insights - This is the step we look at the data and pull various insights by adding other contextual and anecdotal information we have about the business. These insights convert to actions for our business.

In what I am observing most of the places we are doing a great job in the top 2 layers - Aggregating quality data and do a deeper analysis also. We even visualize with fancy dashboards these days with Power BI and other cool data visualization tools available now. But when it comes to Insights , I see most of the report outs are trends which can be any way seen by visualizing. We really don't pull out insights which are actionable for business. Because we really don't add context to the data and present as insights most of the time.

In the places I have observed, we are missing some of the basics done in research methodology. In research methodology the researcher will do some exploratory research to come up with a Hypothesis. Then he does all the survey etc to do data collection then does the analysis to validate the hypothesis. But in our situation we really don't start with some hypothesis to do analysis. Rather we do regular churn of data on try to get some insights. In any company there is no shortage of metrics and dashboards anyway.

So we should start focusing with Step 3 - on identifying the real business problems we are trying to solve and formulate few hypothesis based on the anecdotal data we have. Here the contextual data is not just HR data - it is about the business related information we have as well. Once you have the hypothesis validate them through various analytics work. Like any research problems if we form say 10-20 hypothesis we may be able to validate say 1 or 2 hypothesis that is actionable intelligence for business.

Instead of starting with HR Analytics work as a project - we should start calling as data driven HR where we validate various intuitions and heuristics we have already by using the talent and business data analysis. Then business would really see value when we give actionable insights and also an ROI on our investments in data analytics.

(Image Credit : http://businessintelligence.com/)

Into the new world of Open water swimming

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My life has some some past connection with water.  When I was about 7 years old, we went on a family trip to various temples in South India. One such Devipattinam Navagraha stones in waterplace we visited was Devipattinam, a coastal village in Ramanathapuram District in Tamil Nadu. This place is famous for their Navagraha temple which is in a form unique to this place. There is a story that Rama had to calm the sea to build his bridge to Lanka , and he installed nine stones as a representation of the Navagrahas  or the nine planets. You would see nine stones partly submerged in water in the sea close to the beach near to the famous Thilakeshwar temple. So we had to go 9 rounds the nine stones inside a fenced structure in water. At 7 years, I was one of the shortest kid in my age group and definitely the water level was up to my neck when I was walking with my parents and other relatives during the nine rounds inside the fence. But it so happened I slipped and went inside the water. I had no clue of swimming. And as you drown in water you struggle to come out and I tried about 3 times and could not , and started to be going with the tide and just about to cross the fence and get washed into the sea. All my relatives panicked and my uncle who caught me by my hair just a second before I was taken away by water near the fence. I must have gone with water long ago.  But some how saved, and my mother ensured that I learn swimming after this incident. She took me to a local pool in Coimbatore to put me in Swimming class. I drank enough water in the pool too , and even cried I would die if I am left in the pool. My coach forced me to swim. I struggled and learnt a bit of survivor swimming during that course and managed to swim with my head out like a dog pedal. One thing I was comfortable was just float in water with face up, I had enough body fat that time my buoyancy was phenomenal. I could float without doing anything in water. But not much of swimming any happened during the course.  Its been more than 20 years since this incident happened.
Though I did not really continue much on my swimming endeavors till I moved to Mumbai for my first job with TCS. But there was some attraction with water that pulled me into the nearby pool and I started to swim. I hard could complete a lap because I never learnt properly how to breath in water. All I know was to kick the legs and move my arms to move forward. When I moved to a new apartment with my friends in second year with TCS, there was a dedicated club house where I started to go regularly. I used to watch the way kids swim and tried to practice a bit of swimming in laps for the first time. Then later XL life was busy in Jamshedpur and never ventured swimming much till I moved to Hyderabad. I saw the Gachibowli pool in Hyderabad and there was an instant attraction again to jump in water. I had a chance to go on a rotation program in Redmond in 2010. It was only then, my skip level manager Matt , taught me the  basics of swimming and how to breath while in water. I was lucky to get a 3 month of membership in an awesome sports club in Redmond. I did 3 months of continuous  practice to really improved my swimming. I had posted about this in 2010. 
Since then I have been regularly swimming for the past four and half years. May be not every day but this is one of my favorite active sport and regular at it. Have improved my Lake Washington Park to park Swimcomfort level with water tremendously over the years and now I just still feel like jumping into water the moment I see it. So the next level of experience with water I was longing for was open water swimming -  Get in water and break free from swimming pools. I wanted be with that open water again.  2014 was a year for that. First was to experience deep sea diving and I did about 5 deep sea dives  so far and got certified as an open water diver. But loved that experience every bit of it. The most blissful moments when you inside the sea and with the fishes and corals in Hawaii. Amazing time. The next was the real open water swimming. The best attempt I could begin was to do the Park to Park swim in Seattle crossing Lake Washington. I trained for couple of months in Washington lake and Rattle snake ledge to get comfortable with open water.  Finally I completed a cross lake swim of 1.4 miles in 50 min. Though the timing is not super awesome , it was a big win for me in breaking free from pools to swim open water. This opens a new world for me and it is bliss to be in the water and just enjoy every moment of it. Hope to do some more good open water swims and awesome deep sea dives in the coming years!!  My passionate dreams track some of my goals I have in this and you can look for the photos of my recent swim in my Facebook feed.  #Loveforwater

The day I survived 202 miles cycling - STP, 2014

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There are moments in life when you feel you have hit your physical limit, but there is something so strong in your mind pushing you to continue. At that moment, somewhere in your body there is a sudden spurt of energy to help you overcome the odds and continue with what you are doing. I had that particular moment when I biked last month on July 12th for 202 miles from Seattle to Portland.

There were moments of excitement and joy as I cruised at 16-17 miles an hour for the first 100 miles of the ride in just 6.5 hours froclip_image004m the start point at University of Washington to half way point at Centralia. I had big hopes at this moment that I would be finishing the ride in another 7-8 hours and probably driving back to Seattle on day 1. There came a point at 110 miles on the first day where the temperature shot up to 103 Fahrenheit, the hottest day in Washington, when we were passing rolling hills to Winlock and Lexington. This is where I was completely dehydrated, cramping and totally sapped. At 120 mile mark I fell flat on a stop point thinking I am almost done.
But there was somewhere in my mind I kept telling I am riding this event for a cause and not this is just not another ride for me today. I wanted to support Isha Vidhya initiative by Isha foundation for my first STP ride. Isha Vidhya has taken giant strides in the last few years in helping rural kids in India go to school and get best education. The goal was to raise $5 to support for every kilometer of the 328 KM (202 miles) ride, which would fund one year of education for 10 Kids at Isha Vidhya. With the support of my friends and family, we raised about 2300 USD before the event through direct and matching contributions.

clip_image006This definitely played a great role in pushing me to give my best shot on the ride. This mental strength gave me that additional energy to continue the ride. At the 150 mile mark there was a high elevation to bike, where you cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge, which is a 2722 feet long cantilever bridge. But the thought that the other side of the bridge is Oregon State and I am just 54 miles to end point gave me that sudden spurt of enthusiasm to bike harder now. I continue to bike till I reached 176 mile mark to St.Helens at 9 pm when it turned dark I had to stop for the day. Till this point I had biked for about 16 hours with a couple of hours at stop points to eat. My mother and a friend helped me at this point to get to the hotel to rest for the night.

clip_image010I started to ride again the next day on July 13th at 6.45am from St. Helens in the morning, when sitting on the saddle was excruciatingly painful. With just another 30 miles to go I rode for another 2 hours to reach the end point at Portland at 9 am when I was in tears and gratitude. My mother bought me the Isha Vidhya poster as I hugged it with a sense of satisfaction.
I was in the bike riding for about 18 hours in total till the finish line, and in that time span there were moments of excitement, joy, pain. As Sadhguru says, when you do things with absolute involvement not with hesitation and calculation things happen for you, and I felt this during this ride. Thanks to everyone who helped me in supporting Isha Vidhya for this year STP.
Special Thanks to Kaizad, who trained with me for the last 3.5 months riding more than 1000 miles for this ride. He did this STP for the second year and without him I would not have definitely not know what to train and what this ride was all about.  Also should not forget to thank Karishma , my friend and Kaizad’s significant other who was our SAG support along with my mother over the two days. They ensured we get the right food and nutrition all along the two days. 
You can see more photos from the event from my Facebook feed and link to the fundraising page.

Update : The story was published in Isha Foundation blog as well on August 15th. Here is the link to the Page  : A 200-mile Journey for Education - Cycling for Isha Vidhya from Seattle to Portland. 



Basic financial literacy–Ignorantia juris non excusat

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Have been procrastinating a while since finishing STP last month for most of the regular tasks and that includes writing in the blog or reading a book.  But this study by Livemint gave some inspiration to write over the weekend.
imagePretty interesting article posted by Live mint, which has questions from Youth Money Olympiad 2014. Straight forward basic financial awareness questions related to Banking, Credit , investments and basic of economics like Inflation. These are not even getting into deeper areas like stock market trading, option & futures etc. But the % of responses given below the questions is scary. They did this break up with City wise (link), and Chennai was the lowest. Not surprising from the land I come from – where most of our relatives are LIC agents selling some Jeevan-X endowment policy and a lot of misselling . I still remember my mother was sold by one of my relatives, a classic LIC endowment policy on my name, when I was at my 17 years old. At that time she was the bread winner of  the family . Who is to be blamed in this situation - the misselling done by my relative or the lack of financial awareness from my mother at that time.  At this juncture-my Law professor’s statement comes to my mind – “Ignorantia juris non excusat”, Ignorance of law is not an excuse to a mistake.
So we can keep blaming misselling in the industry – I was missold a Ulip , endowment policy , pension plan etc. We can also crib that the regulator is not doing anything about it, but that is not going to change anything for us and until we take personal accountability of our own personal finance. If we take effort to understand the basics of managing our own finance – keep it as simple (and also sensible) as possible without buying any complicated product there is enough we can progress in this. There is enough written about this in books in amazon. Maybe start with a a simple book (but powerful) like Retire rich invest 40 a day. I read this book when I was 24. I wish I had read this book even before. Well have I become an expert at it now, the answer is a definite No. I am still baby crawling to understand this huge world of knowledge. But have got couple of simple lessons, keep your thinking simple, disciplined in taking action, and do not have over confidence on your intelligence and forget that we are very very biased in our decision making. I am not searching for most optimal solution but a satisficing solution and accept the fact that I am bound to make mistakes and keep learning from them. (Bounded Rationality it is!)
Financial literacy is so important and the best place to start is at home with kids. Teaching them to handle money on their own, living within a budget and not blowing that away when they are kids. That makes the learning easier and not preaching them not to have maxed out the credit card when they are in college or on their first job. So why don’t they have basic personal financial education as a course in school, and please don’t force them to grade this so badly that kids start hating this subject like some subjects like Economics. Making personal finance knowledge teaching fun and interesting for kids to learn is probably an area to be explored big and that is one of my interest to get in later maybe !
Update : Pretty interesting quora discussion where Jimmy Wales talk about expectation setting. Read Quote of Jimmy Wales' answer to Jimmy Wales: What advice would Jimmy Wales give to the young generation? on Quora

Support me to educate a Child, As I cycle for STP, 2014 (Seattle to Portland)

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The first time I rode the cycle was when I was 7 years old. No, it was not a shiny new bike.. it was a rented cycle that my Dad got from a cycle shop near my house. 
When I joined my first year of college, my mom gifted me a cycle. My first cycle. It  cost her 1500 INR and it was a huge amount that my mom was willing to part with considering our financial situation 12 years ago. I cycled my way to college. However The 3 KM distance was all I could manage considering my fitness level back then.

When I was doing my masters, I used to borrow my friends' cycle and together with my room mate explore Jamshedpur. We used to cycle about 20-30KM around the city especially around the airport routes. It was a beautiful experience. Slowly, cycling which came into my life out of necessity, became a passion for me.
I have to mention, Matt McTee, my first manager in Microsoft who encouraged me and made me buy my first hybrid bike when I joined Microsoft in Hyderabad.  I joined Hyderabad Bycyling club and started to do some regular rides.  But I got my ACL torn in a triathlon event in Hyderabad after which I could not do cycling vigourously like befire. 
It has taken about a year now, since I got back to cycling again and have been regular since I moved to Seattle. For the first time I would be biking a long distance cycling event 204 miles (328 KM) on July 12th 2014. While biking gives me immense joy and fulfillment, one of the few things that make me happier is the smile on the faces of little rural children at Isha Vidhya School in India. Educating a kid is like teaching someone to fish. A good 150px_IshaVidhya education could transform the life of the kid and also their family. This is made even more special by the fact that many of them being the first generation in their family to go to school!


With your support, for the very first time, I hope to successfully finish Biking 328 KMS (204 Miles) From Seattle to Portland on July 12 2014. I look forward to your generous contribution to raise $5 for every kilometer of the 328 KM race. Every single dollar of donations from you shall go towards teaching rural children at Isha Vidhya. Together, we can send as many as ten children to school for one full year. Needless to say, this shall also strengthen my resolve on every step and every kilometer of this cycling expedition.
As a gesture of my heartfelt appreciation, I promise to mark your names on a ‘gratitude poster’ and have it across the finish line with happiness in my heart. Your contributions to Isha Vidhya will be a great encouragement for me.

Looking forward to your support.  Cycle this STP with me for Isha Vidhya!  I shall personally bear the full costs of participating in this race. This ensures that all your contributions go to the children who need them most.
You can contribute here : http://www.razoo.com/story/Stp-Vidhya
I am half way through the fund raising goal, and look forward to your support by contributing even with a minimum amount possible to you.

I will post the event pictures in the blog after the event next week. Wish me luck!

(Thanks to Archana Anand for minting the words so beautifully)

Patience–What is it?

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Read this quote by legendary cricketer Rahul Dravid , he definitely is legendary according to me compared to many other popular players, who stood for the team and with held pain longer. Life is a Marathon and it is not a sprint, and patience is must. Below is the quote,

Rahul Dravid on “Patience”

“When I’m requested to speak to youngsters I like talking about this phase of my life and liken it to fascinating plant: The Chinese Bamboo. You can take a Chinese bamboo seed and plant it in the ground, water and nurture the seed for an entire year & not even see a single sprout. Infact, you’ll not see a sprout for 5 years. But suddenly, a tiny shoot will spring from the ground. And over the next 6 weeks, the plant can grow as tall as 90 feet. It can grow as fast as 39 inches every 24 hours. You can literally watch the plant grow.

What was the plant doing during these 5 years, seemingly dormant period, it was growing its roots. For 5 full years it was preparing itself for rapid, full growth. Without this root structure, the plant simply couldn’t support itself for its future growth. Some would say the plant grew 90 feet in 6 weeks, I would say it grew 90 feet in 5 years & 6 weeks”

The last line applies in many areas of life. I would tie this back to couple of my passionate areas.

  • Personal Finance – Being frugal and continue to invest regularly and start early in a systematic way( or they call it SIP) month on month, day by day. Penny saved is penny earned. Patience has its own fruit and building the big retirement corpus is not that tough than managing that corpus in your post retirement phase.
  • Fitness – In an era of instant gratification, you need to painfully with hold yourself from many distraction to continue to eat right and keep fit.

Only Rahul Dravid can say these lines, because he actually lived by these words in his career on the cricket field.

4 Tools to become a Productivity Ninja at Work

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Every day when I drive back from work, I ask myself two questions
  • What was productivity level today compared to the previous day ( Did I level up/ down / same) ?
  • How satisfied I was at my own work and what would I do differently the next day?
An honest answer for the above two most of the days was not satisfactory for my own conscience. Majority of the days I felt, I could have done something more/ different. It would have been good we get everyday ticker like a stock market like going up are down based on every day trading which clearly called out how we performed that day. But that is a nightmare as well, would have resulted in additional stress at work.
Coming to the Key point of this post – Productivity. When I looked at my own productivity regularly – the biggest time suckers on a work day were because of my own behaviors.  I would group them under three heads
  • Multitasking – doing too many tasks at the same time which result in lower quality of work across.
  • Switching – In snail mail days, we know when a post would arrive everyday and it was easier to check for posts only during that time of the day. But with emails, social feeds there is flurry of info all the time ( though most of them are junk), I have started to check emails / messages too often. This is like another addiction. This goes with Skinner’s operant conditioning experiments with rats – where he found rats work much harder when the rewards are unpredictable. With the new medium of email / social feed, we tend to expect some juicy gossip / information( reward) and tend to check again and again. It is like posting a status update, and checking facebook often to see how many people like it or commented on it. But the because time killer in addition to checking these often is Switching cost. When I switch from work to something like emails / social feed, I lose context on what I am working and it takes about 5-10 minutes to gain that context again on the work I have been doing. This was pulling my productivity even more.
  • Prioritization– this is like trying to hit every day work inside outlook/ mail box. When we get a email I start working on that without prioritizing on a checklist or a sense of direction.
So I decided to use some tools to help me more productive over the last one year. And definitely it has  shown significant improvement in my own productivity.  Here are some of them -
  1. Make lists, no war : Workflowy – This is the only one open in my browser all the time across devices. My phone /  laptop browser. This is a very effective tool to make checklists, track them and also organize your own project with its zoom-in and zoom out function. I have my personal tasks / work tasks. This has a simple design and a web based tool, with a cool interactive design.  For tracking tasks/ checklist – this is a great tool for you to give a try.
  2. Get yourself Cold Turkey during office hours. This is a simple background program that runs to block my distractions – like Facebook, personal email , news feeds etc. You can choose the websites to block and the hours you want to block in a day in advance. Once it is set, you cant go and stop it unless you uninstall that program. On my core hours I have moved away from using all those distracting sites and have at least saved me from  switching cost.  ( I did not switch to doing anything else in the last 30 minutes I took to write to this post as well :)
  3. Just get F.lux  - The nature of work nowadays is more and more in front of a computer and you are watching direct light everyday. This excites my eyes before sleeping, and it took a considerable amount of time to fall asleep even if go to bed. To avoid this,use flux – which is a free software that warms up your computer display at night, to match your indoor lighting and also it matches with the sunrise and sunset timings. You can disable selectively if you are doing some color sensitive work sometimes. It did improve my sleep pattern.
  4.  One Note – Not to mention , this is one app I use a lot across my phone / laptop for taking notes on anything I want , even like grocery list, map / address to some place, and notes of any meetings. You can organize them well like notebooks, sections and papers.  You can search notes across notebooks, as I read I snip some info to one note, even print some info directly to one note and access across devices.
I would say these 4 apps are some of the most often used app for me that has helped my overall productivity from my personal experience. There are better alternatives for them and also some things I would have missed it feel free to comment them. 

Biking and beyond..

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Its been 7 months now in Seattle. Came here in the end of summer, followed by a yellow Fall, survived my first winter and just seeing the beautiful SpringWP_20140420_001. One has to live in Washington state to witness why this is an evergreen state. It is beautiful and green all round the year. I have just started bike in Seattle in the last three weeks after a 6 months wait. Already in love with this place again. I am reliving and riding the same trails I have been in 2010 when I lived here. This time the target is to complete STP 2014 in July. This is going to be tough 204 mile bike in one day, but up for the challenge.
With my new Fuji Altamira 3.0 cruising at 20-22 miles per hour is just an awesome feeling along the shorelines of lake Washington or  lake Sammamish. This photo was somewhere along the shoreline of west lake Sammamish way. More rides to come till July and will post some of the most beautiful routs. This is just a 25 mile route. But if you are looking for a longer route try the Sammamish and Preston fall city route. Check the route here
More to come and excited about the beautiful trails in the evergreen state.

What do you mean by A/B Testing

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I have been hearing this term A/B testing at work often and was curious to learn what it is, how it is different with our Controlled experiments in social sciences. A/B testing is simply put – testing simultaneously two versions of a product – version A & version B with user group to identify which is the most effective version. This is popular recently with the internet explosion, people are trying to use A/B testing to identify how their online, web presence should be designed.

A simple example for this is – take the case of designing an experiment where I am designing how many steps are involved in selecting a product in cart to final checkout stage. We can create two versions – Version A with 2 screen series, Version B with 3 screen series but there is a choice of selecting some related products to cart during payment. So here we would test - which version converts visitors to buying the products or increasing the items they finally end up buying more number of products in the site. So you are testing the two versions simultaneously and not one after the other, with different user groups and evaluate which version helps in reaching your goal.

This area is getting more popular with website optimization where you get live feedback loop from users behaviors to better improve your site and achieve your targeted goals. I find this fascinating, because most of the conventional wisdom we have when we design a product will get quashed when we have real user behavior data. So when we do A/B testing we need to reject our default judgments and look for intuitive or sometime non-intuitive info on the  behavior data. That is when we leverage the power of experiments.

To understand the power of experiments, in one of the recent courses (MOOC) I am in , read about the power of experiments on a simple case of Organ donation.  If we look at the chart of people who have voluntarily signed up for organ donation there is a wide spectrum from as low in the 20% to high in the 90%+.  The conventional reason we would jump to is the awareness level of the program, marketing, availability of the program etc. But by experiments, if you look at the final result, it gives a totally different reason unexpected.  The way the form is designed changes this a lot. Yes, if it is an opt in form, people tend to ignore this, but if it is opt-out version where you check only if you do not want to sign up for the organ donation - most  people chose not to check that. So we tend to take the path of least resistance. This is an example result from experimentation. I am sure A/B testing is becoming more and more popular with top online companies now like Amazon, Google,Bing, Facebook .

You can read more about the suggested pricing scenarios where we behave differently for A/B Testing in this article.  This is getting more fascinating as we get in to choice modeling and choice architecture.

Crowdsourcing

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Crowdsourcing is getting more and more traction with the penetration of internet, as we have more and more people staying connected. There is now a plenty of ideas mushrooming focusing on this. I had already posted sometime back “How to make money money by doing small errands – Service Networking”. With services like Task Rabbit, Amazon’s Mechanical or M-Turk or click worker people can use their expertise to help other people across the world. With the same intention Google has also launched a new service called Helpout which leverages its hangout platform. I am not sure how Google is going to scale this, but the intent of the service is focusing on Google’s mantra of know everything in the world through Google services and platform. So in Helpout, you get real help from real people. They screen folks, before making them helpers in their Helpout platform.

This crowd sourcing is an area, slowly getting crowded, as big players like Amazon, Google getting into this space. There are many areas which could leverage this Crowdsourcing platform. More to come, as I research this area.