Hippie, Wes Anderson-y, VHS, Retro, Technicolor awesome

A look at my spotify playlists would lead most people to start recommending the nearest therapist and sharing their most personal, insightful remedies to forget the past and be happy.

Little do they know- sometimes, it feels good to be listen to some calm yet dreary sad music. It helps me focus on what I am working. But there are other times when I am really looking for a nice way to unwind and put a smile on my face. And in such seredipicious moments, like today, it was this song that rescued me.

Right, this movie will likely be okay to watch, but that’s not what caught my eye here. Its the cinematography, the color, the peppy, 50ish soundtrack. It does sound exactly likeBelle and Sebastian and its easy to tell why when you work out the origins of the band.

And here is the full song:

From a below average day, this song propelled my mood to aha! wonderful! The power of music eh?

And my remedy dear reader is not rainbows and butterflies. Although that does help. I would much rather picture summer days, snapping away pictures of tourists having a good time. Maybe being a teenager and care free at a fair, trying out the rides and spinning around until I’m dizzy. All these scenes of course would not be out of place in a Wes Anderson flick. And that would be awesome. That is after all my ideal vacation. Fantasy, but in real life. Or rather, my inflated sense of self importance where my story is narrated. And has chapters. And is just under 90 mins. I really have work to do, the break should be short and sweet.

Maybe its a good thing I’m not always in my happy mood. I seem to be getting some strange ideas when I am there.

Ultraviolence – and other beautiful things.

There is no denying that the sound, the lyrics, the excess behind Lana Del Rey’s music is an experiment. There is the ‘cinematic’ rich sound which is grounded in 1960’s americana and it manages to conjure up some really instagram-ified pictures. And this is the whole package. The music and the videos go together. You cannot listen to a Lana Del Rey song anymore without thinking about those retro video’s and color burn effects. Or for that matter tigers and a crown and a woman who conveys no emotions from her face. Stuck in the 60’s or not, Ms. Rey has carved a niche for herself. With her new album ‘Ultraviolence’, she veers into more melancholy. But that is all good. We never expected  Lana Del Rey to be a peppy pop princess. She created a brand for herself when she gave her self an excotic name. Shedding behind the image of Lizzy Grant, she has experimented with the vintage lifestyle- which has too often been about the excesses involved.

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Don’t get me wrong. I like her music a lot. But the excess that was Born to Die, (i refer to the tigers again) is quite jarring in my world. I find Lorde’s music more relatable even if she is a little weird as well. When Lorde says, ‘We will never be royals’ – I get it. I am not proud of my address either. My choice of music is a little alternative. I listen to ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’s’, ‘Sara Bareilles’, ‘Paramore’, ‘Katie Melua’, ‘The Clash’ ,’The Shins’, ‘She and Him’ – sometimes all in the same playlist. Maybe I have no idea what good music is… But it isnt me avoiding popular music. I would enjoy the next Katy Perry track just as much as you. But I would also grow weary of it pretty soon. There are a few artists whose music however is ephemeral in my books. I have discovered them sometimes by accident – ‘The Magic Numbers’ and fallen in love with them

With Lizzy Grant a.k.a ‘Lana Del Rey’, I dont even know what is the hook. With most musicians its a single track and then you continue to listen to them because they used to be good (i’m looking at you Coldplay) The best way to describe Lana Del Rey’s music is what it reminds me of- and it has always been old beautiful things. An old Mercedes driving off in the sunset. Women with big hats. Retro cameras and phones with physical dialers. Yet, all those things define her and not me. And this is why sticking to the brand is okay. With Coldplay changing their look and sound with each album I have lost track of what they started out as… atleast with Ms. Rey I have some consistency.

Her music is unique because she fills it with things she has read, likes and wants to talk about. If you will forgive me a transgression here, I am quickly going to compare her, a pop singer to the masters of progressive rock- Pink Floyd. Listening to Lana Del Rey is an experience quite similar to Floyd. And here is why…

These albums are constructions. They are not simply thoughts put together, but crafted to adhere to a vision. They have different purposes however… while Roger Waters wrote about war and loss and politics, Ms. Rey seems to confine her music to love and pretty things. Vintage is her brand. In both cases we are only passengers in what the artist wanted us to experience. We listen, we observe, we cheer and we praise how creative they are,

Maybe all it takes to make a lana del rey video is to type ‘vintage’ in google image search and pick the most beautiful images you find… here, like this-

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No. You see, there is no consistency. Maybe I need more time with this stuff but clearly there is more art in this process. You maybe have to live with the idea that you can make something special, and then develop your own unique style. After all, isn’t the music derived from these tastes?

With Born to Die, I saw glimpses of true genius. ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘Radio’ are signature tracks. There is nothing to compare the sound or the visual images they can conjure up. In fact, with Radio, I always pictured excess like one of Gatsby’s parties. So it was really apt that Ms. Rey contributed one of her the most haunting tracks ‘Young and Beautiful’ to the movie.

What followed was a hiccup in the journey. ‘Ride’ was artistic vision going a bit overboard. It made me regret liking her music. Here was a 15 minute ‘movie’ where she talked about her struggles? It was pretentious. Let’s not talk about this again.

With her new album Ultraviolence, I am hooked again. Clearly there is more coherence in her music. It is… sadder. It is still rich and cinematic. The videos still promote her as some sort of artist stuck in the 60’s. Ultraviolence has fewer ‘pop’ songs and this is good. It fits my mood and makes me want to tear some paper and throw things around. ‘Sad Girl’ could be the soundtrack of nervous breakdown. ‘Brooklyn Baby’ is the perfect song if you are driving down the road, leaving a city behind- imagining all the people you are leaving behind. And yes, the imagery I conjure up is always vast open landscapes and long drives. Maybe this is what Ms. Rey wanted to convey. Sooner or later there will be a video that will show us what she really wanted to capture. And then we will again be tourists of the past- where the fashion was a little better, the cars more prettier and the life a whole lot simpler. Until then, we are free to imagine.

Ultraviolence is a good album. An improvement over Born to Die and I am looking forward to those videos Ms Rey.

My friends, the Macbook Air users…

Most of my creative friends own a Macbook Air. They also possess 1) a pair of shades, 2) t-shirts with the latest punk metal band’s image inscribed on them, 3) a diet plan that would make most fitness trainers chest swell with pride, 4) an enviable reading habit and 5) a repulsive drinking habit.

I adore them… really. For all those reasons and more. But I never really understood why their upper middle-class, well educated, highly chic lifestyle necessitated the presence of a Macbook Air.

For all the talk of visiting wineries, playing golf, knowing the difference between what is cool and what is cool… I could not forgive this. A contentious issue often debated as mac vs. pc, I didn’t buy the argument that somehow using this device made you creative. I felt it was a signal that you aspired to creativity. Any advertising executive who dresses up like an advertising executive knows what I am talking about.

While I took issue with Apple as a brand and still believe that the Air was adopted by my creative friends because it branded them as ‘creative’- I need only look at all the women carrying Louis Vuitton handbags and the throves of young adults using Snapchat to know that this affiliation to the brand is not an uncommon or worrying trend. All of this is superficial. Using Snapchat does not make you cool and owning a LV bag does not make you more desirable. But- Am I not reading Game of Thrones simply because it is expected of every nerd to know the backstory of Lannisters and the Starks? Am I not trying to conform as well?

Yes, so my creative friends were conforming. While they endlessly praised the aesthetics of the notebook and the unique unibody design and the ‘mission control’ and ‘notification bar’ and the ‘dock’… they were really only selling the brand to themselves. How luck Apple is to have its own clan, really. :)

The funniest incident was a friend who asked me ‘Does windows have apps?’ and I replied, ‘Yes, for decades… only we call them programs’ I said the word programs slowly, weighing every syllable, letting the sarcasm really show through.

Anyway, for the past 10 months, I have been a Macbook Air user. No I did not acquire the device to experiment or to identify myself as a creative. I am not that creative to begin with :) However, this exercise gave me the opportunity to really compare my Windows world with that of the Mac- and this is wot I think…

The Mac is cool. It is light, fast and something I use to launch Chrome and that is really all I care about. Having said that… I would not part with the Mac for any new Windows PC. The main reason for this is the latest version of Windows that I do not like… but really, its a little deeper than that. I am not a Mac convert by any stretch of the imagination. I still think I would be more productive and more creative on a PC… but that is simply because I have used PC’s for so long that I know the internals. But, the Mac has proven a worthy companion. yes- my output on the blog has reduced and I don’t spend as much time sitting in coffee shops typing a novel or a blog post…

Although the Mac demands attention… I do not provide it any.

The reason for my love/hate relationship with my Air right now is… I do not have the time to leisurely explore everything the device and do. I am determined to be ruthlessly efficient in my tasks and that entails – more of than not –  my work. Now we have been talking for a while and I believe I can say this without any judgement here, because this is our safe place – I am a workaholic. And yes- I sleep enough. 6 hours or thereabouts though every once a while I may drop dead for 15 hrs or more.

When I have the time, or am not pre-occupied by some task at work, I am able to spend some time thinking about writing a novel, or reading a new book. But presently with the Mac, I see this potential and still I squander it. Perhaps the branding can even influence my work… who knows? Maybe the next blogpost or novella I start on the Mac will actually be worth reading :) Dude- stranger things have happened.

Coming back full circle on my awesome friends who adored their Mac. I forgive you. I can see why you liked it. It was convenient and it provided you with the brand. And there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe I should not have questioned the choice in the first place. So, uh… sorry.

Damn You Red Wedding.

The Red Wedding. It is worse when you know its coming. (Spoiler Alert)
Here is the playlist I’m listening to so I may recover.

There is something strange about the way I unwind these days. I either am endlessly reading the Game of Thrones series or I am listening to the same tracks over and over again. The music helps me recover from all that is going on in this world. And while I listen, I mull over the next thing I really want to do. That is either a trip to some nicer place or a staycation (stay at home vacation) where I lose myself in either a different city or a different world (book) Yes, another book because as much as I like it, Game of Thrones, if I have to resort to listening to happier songs to recover then something is really not right! It is getting a little frustratingly dark and miserable in Westeros. The cast of characters are so great and I absolutely love the books, but I’d much rather be reading a more uplifting happier tale.

When you kill of important characters, whose deaths impact my favourite characters then I am not impressed. Arya  Stark is my favourite character and Tyrion is a close second. I like Arya because she is vengeful and on the road. She is the underdog and I feel only darkness and death awaits her. She is like the little boy from the game Limbo. Her fate cannot be a happy one. But as she grows harder and less like her former self, I feel I am seeing a transformation from innocent, playful girl to a cold assassin. Will she kill Cersei? Or the Jaimie? Both? Petry? All of them? Or will she be denied even that?

I prefer stories that have a sense of hope. Some of the best books I’ve read have not been kind to me however. Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds, The Dark Tower, Atonement have all ended leaving me unhappy and GoT for all its fantasy, politics, scheming and wonder is, I fear, heading the same direction. 

A fine way to fill my free time eh?

And so I listen to the Smiths, Paramore and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s to try and lift those spirits right back up. And then maybe I can start obsessing about something else. Maybe work. Haha. All this music is to remedy the murder. There has been enough bloodshed for today, So here is a happy unhappy track to help me forget.

It is 12:44 AM on the night of 25th may 2014. I have a warm coffee mug and am thinking happy thoughts. All is well. And sorry Arya, you are an orphan.

Oh well this is a first…

I’m blogging from a phone. I think the appropriate format here is to micro-blog. That is what is expected from a phone is it not? A careless thoughtless process by which you tweet about how your day is going and show off that new selfie or do up your nails and instagram them.
I jest of course. I love twitter and instagram. Its only tumblr and pinterest that I take real issue with because while I do like them as time sinks browsing an endless stream… But I always feel incomplete after doing so.

1. Its endless and
2. Maybe 5% is original and the rest is just reblogs and reshares.

They are our cultures greatest enablers of plagiarism. And twitter? Oh that is just as bad.

But getting back to where I started from… I’m blogging from a phone. A Nexus 5 currently playing the new, well, the new-ish ‘She & Him’ album while I try and decide if Zooey Deschanel has a perpetual sore throat or is this her signature sound. I feel I’m transported to the 60s listening to her album and that makes this entire process of using a smart phone to blog so surreal.

Be that as it may… I still need to talk about what has been going down and up and anything significant to report in my life… Of which there is unfortunately nothing. Yea I did recently binge watch downtown abbey again and that was a happy weekend.

But lets get this out of the way…

Summary is… My work is good. Exploring android on my phone is good. Reading books has stopped and this is not good. Haven’t really watched any interesting movie, TV show or even documentary that has engaged me which is kinda bad. And finally my blog has been ignored which is unforgivable!!

Let’s not do this again… This listing down things. It reminds me that I in fact do not have it all..
And that is just depressing!

Okay… Heading back to my self directed and starring role of ‘day dreaming presents… the fabulous life’.
Uff that sounded awful. Need to come up with a better title for this movie always playing in my head.

3 months later at the best place to work.

It has been an exciting 3 months since I Joined Google on the 2nd of September 2013. During the arduous interview phase, I had researched Google well enough to write a book. I knew the history, i had read all the important articles (and research papers), I knew about the products and the vision behind it. I had watched Larry Page talk about Moonshots and read Eric Schmidt inspiring book about the digital future (the New Digital Age) I was excited about adding to all of this awesomeness… I was going to be part of Google! But… i did worry that it would be very hard to have an impact. Well, I am happy to report that so far it has been a dream come true. And this is one of those good dreams, the type where you try and go back to sleep just to prolong the dream and hence turn up late for work… not that you could turn up late to work at Google… because there is no designated start time or end time…

And while it is true that having an impact here is going to be a challenge, the scope of my work and the immediate feedback  or connection I have makes this a role like no other. Where else can I directly influence millions if not billions of users? Where else can I have conversations about the future of the internet with the very people who are designing those systems? A day at Google is unlike any other.

Google has been named as the best workplace in Australia.

Work  (if you want to call it that) has given me great opportunities to learn technologies and tools that are easily the best of breed. The engineering talent at Google is second to none and the infrastructure.. more on that later. What I can tell you is that I have seen the sheer scale of Google’s operations and my expression was a lot like that of the cat below when i first realised what I had gotten myself into.

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(you know you have failed as a writer when you need to resort to an image of a cat to get cheap laughs)

The elaborate scientist analogy that will make no sense

I think I should compare myself to a scientist for whom Google is NASA. And this Scientist formerly worked at a high school science lab where he built a model of a solar system to impress students. But now the Scientist is being asked to plan the manned space mission to Neptune. The Scientist knows what Neptune is, but he has no idea how big or how far it is. He also has no idea why everyone else thinks its a piece of cake. SCALE. That’s the hardest thing to get your head around. And you are expected to launch an iterate… ie improve your design after you have launched to Neptune. Famously, Google Search and most early Google products used the same format. Your skills are suddenly meaningless. Your tiny scientist brain (even if you had a Phd) can start to get overwhelmed…  and the talent level of your peers gives you the shivers. You are called… a ‘noogler‘.

You wear a funny hat with a beanie on top. A propellor cap. It is funny. It’s a ritual. It is fun.

Oh btw, I am not a scientist. Also, I don’t have a Phd.

In those first days, you try and get the jargon right. ‘Excuse me, is the BigTable the one in the cafeteria by the window? How am I supposed to flush the BigTable then?’ or better yet, ‘So, if I run MapReduce, I can access Google Maps faster huh?’ Luckily no one laughs at you though I am sure they wonder how I got in. But here I am, jotting down all sorts of commands and hyperlinks that get through the day. At some point you realise that you are the only guy who says, ‘eh. sorry? I didn’t get that’ – a lot. But its OKAY! I’m a Noogler!

While all this talk about work has been great and the people extremely friendly and accomodating, I must confess I have been lucky. Work has not yet taken over my life. Despite my attempts to work my ass off, Google’s distractions have helped kept things engaging and fun. My friends will know that I am committed to learning things really fast and this could very easily be misdiagnosed as a borderline obsession- but… I am also finding time to take breaks and enjoy the distractions that Google throws at you

Distractions

And those distractions are: a million cool projects, a great games room, amazing video’s about all the tech, talented and smart people that lead to interesting conversations, the great free food, the micro-kitchens, the schwag, the massages, the gym and… did i mention the food?

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(this cab mysteriously showed up at work today. No one knows why.)

Here is a list of the top 10 most important things I did once i started….

  • Migrated to Google Apps.
  • Attended TGIF with Larry and Sergey!
  • Learnt some fancy new terms like MapReduce, Big Table… also, uploaded some code to a Google Data Center.
  • Sampled all the free food.
  • Got the Noogler Cap!
  • Set my personal moonshot and 10x goal and am working hard to achieve it.
  • Met all the managers and leads- this is called networking during the MBA… but I think for a change I had fun in those conversations.
  • Presented something to the engineers at MTV- this was a high point.
  • Dogfooded some amazing new products.
  • Changed my email signature to say -Sr. Strategist at Google. And the feeling was EPIC.

So, what is the plan for the next 90 days?

For starters to master my role as fast as possible. I am on the right trajectory, but I want to be nimble and ready to make a course correction when required. I need to also take the feedback fast and often to ensure I have a meaningful impact soon. I also need to work on that new trick shot I have been developing on the foos ball table. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, I need to make time to read, to write and to blog.

But that should change now. (i hope)

TED Talk – Envy, Jealousy and…?

So in my random searches on TED and YouTube, i came across this great TED talk. Funny, deserving of multiple views..

In this talk, Editor for the New York Times book review compares how envy is portrayed in fiction. While we do not seem to fully understand why we feel jealous- in fiction, we see different variations of it. We also see the same in social media- why people share etc.

This talk may make you think a lot about why you covet and why you dislike somebody for what they have. But here is the catch- you only feel envious about someone you can relate it to…  people of the same social economic background. Ie… you feel jealous of your work mates, your neighbors, your (yes!) friends. And this is because you feel entitled to the same prize as your friend because you came so close!! You do not feel jealous that someone won a Noble Prize, but if your neighbor wins an award for the best lawn, you will go on ebay and look for a lawnmower.
So how to be jealous and not be a dick?

Alain de Botton to the rescue. In this talk, Alain describes how to be kinder of your own and other people’s success. He also gives you important tips like 1) dont dislike someone who has a ferrari and 2) never go to your school reunion.

There… so now you have two nice talks to see you through the weekend and hopefully they will get you thinking.

Naturally I have been thinking long and hard about what is it that exists past this realization that we are unfortunately wired to be envious. You could take the routes Parul suggests- ie, become Tom Ripley, murder people and take over their lives OR- the more reasonable suggestion- to read literature where envy plays a central role, to understand it and rejoice that we are in good company.

Or- take the nobler route that Alain de Botton has laid out- which is to not be a snob.

I personally am a fan of the Ripley method, but for now… while my plans are still in their infancy… my enemies are safe.