Saturday, March 20, 2021

Diya's Diary Entry on CoronaVirus

I was browsing through my old photos last night and I came across this diary entry from my daughter’s scrap book, written last March at the beginning of the lockdown.

What an uplifting message from a seven year old.

Of course it is endearing to me because it was written by my daughter. But even disregarding that, it is very inspiring.

But it is also heart wrenching to think what these kids must have gone through in the last one year, cooped up in our two bedroom flat, not being able to go anywhere, not being able to play freely, constantly being on alert. The pandemic has robbed them of their childhood.

And this is nothing compared to what many others have gone through, people lost their loved one, not been able to be with them at their last moment, people lost their jobs, business, livelihood. So many successful businesses closed up, so many innovative startups died at infancy. It was just a litany of endless misery.

Some people tried to find a silver lining in all of these. “It was good for the environment, pollution has gone down, traffic has gone down, people are spending more time with themselves and their families”. I applaud their optimism. But I myself cannot find any solace in any of these. To me this pandemic is just unadulterated suffering, the worst calamity of my lifetime. There is nothing good that can be found in this endless misery.

I really, really hope that Diya will not have to endure anything like this again in her lifetime.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Weight Loss

In the above photo I am holding a 10 kg dumbbell. For my physique, it is heavy. I cannot hold it for more than a minute. What if I tell you that I was carrying this 24X7 for the last fifteen years. I used to walk with it, sit with it, go to bed with it, and go to the bathroom with it. I never kept it down even once. You are thinking where do I buy my pot from. But it is true. Since the age of 35 my weight hovered in the range of 71-72 kg. I am almost 62 kg now. I was carrying this 10 extra kilos for the last 15 years. I know people who carry two, three even four of these dumbbells. Imagine what this does to our back, joints, knees. How much does it reduce our mobility?

Let us look at it slightly differently. If I continue my lifestyle, I hope to attain a stable body weight of 60 kilos. That means that I was carrying 12 kilos of extra fat with me. This amount of fat would sustain me for two months without food. Essentially I was carrying two months of ration with me all the time! How absurd is this? Now there is a reason why our body stores extra food. When we humans lived in the wild as hunter gatherers, every meal was a chancy affair. It could be days even weeks between meals. So to survive, our body adapted to store extra food. But we do not live in the wild anymore. We can “Swiggy” our next meal in 15 minutes. Then why store two month’s provision in our body? I have heard that some of it is stored inside our blood vessels. Think about it. These arteries that carry essential nutrients and oxygen supplies to our vital organs like the heart or the brain, we are blocking them to store provision! I remember when the Total Mall opened on Outer Ring Road 10 years ago, we went there. It was jam packed. It is my habit that when I go to a crowded place, I first look for the fire exit. When I checked, I discovered that they have blocked the fire exit to store merchandise. I was horrified, I went to the store manager and started yelling, I called the fire department. In the end nothing happened and people just laughed at me, so I left. I was thinking these people have no idea what a fire accident looks like. But we are doing the same thing. We are blocking our arteries to store fat. We have no idea what a heart attack looks like. Now I don’t want to scare you. Our body is an amazingly resilient machine. It can take a tremendous amount of abuse and still keep going. If you are young, there is nothing to worry. But as we approach 50 and these organs pass their expiry date, we should not take risk, rather give our body a helping hand. If we block our arteries and increase cholesterol in our blood, one small clot and we lose one vital organ. Why take that chance? Who knew even Saurav Ganguly could get a heart attack.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to lose weight. You do not have to make any sacrifice. In fact your life will only improve. But you have to do it right. First you need to set the expectation right. So remember the two things.

  • You cannot starve your way out of fat. It does not work. At least for most people. You cannot function normally when you are hungry and hence you cannot go hungry for a prolonged period of time. So as soon as you start eating again, you will go back to your original weight.
  • Exercise does not have a significant impact on weight loss. Exercises are great. They make you happy, fit and motivated. But they don’t have much impact on body weight. To lose weight, you must change your diet.
So what to do? I will tell you one secret that will enable you to do this without giving away your pleasure of eating good food. Are you ready? Here it is, to lose weight, you do not have to stop eating anything (Almost. Some fine prints below). Instead you need to eat more. What you need to do is to eat 1000 grams of fruits and vegetables along with other stuff. You can even throw in 100 grams of dry roasted nuts with it if you like. Do this and I guarantee you will lose 10 kilos in six months. Surprised. Don’t be. There is no magic here. When you eat this amount of low calorie food, your desire for eating other high calorie food goes down. So instead of eating four slices of pizza, you will eat one slice. That’s the trick. Of course you should avoid some types of foods like the ones below.
  • Processed food - Avoid anything that comes out of a colorful plastic bag, Maggies, chips, oreos. They are not food. They are worse than cigarettes or pan masala. Make sure your shopping cart does not have any of these items.
  • Sugar and sugar based drinks like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. These are raw calories without any nutrients. Instead use jaggery. Jaggery is colorful, that means it has some minerals.
  • Maida - Avoid that bun in a burger, or the dough in the pizza. Again this is just raw calorie.
The best part about doing this is that this is not a crash diet program, but it is a lifestyle change. Once you adapt to it, your body will achieve its natural healthy weight. You do not have to panic if you go on a vacation to Kerala and eat a lot of seafood for a week and gain a couple of kilos. No worries, your body will lose them in a few weeks.

If you add exercise to your lifestyle, particularly the kind you enjoy doing like cycling or swimming or playing football, you will stay motivated and fit. This will change your life.

So stay healthy and have fun.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Journey of a Royal Painter

ln 336 BC, Alexander the great ascended the Throne of Macedonia after the demise of his father Philipe. The inheritance has followed by insatiable angst against the Persians and he vowed to finish them in their own land. He kept his promise in the battle of lssus. He won the battle but lost the fight to Abdul Rahman Zami, the most celebrated persian poet of fifteenth century. He immortalized Alexander‘s tale in Persian manuscript Khirodnama-i-Sikandari. The manuscript had its journey from generation generation when it passed on to the Mughal emperors Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan and eventually reached to the Indian Museum.

How Indian Museum came into the possession of this manuscript, is also a story of great interest. The Museum authority received a registered letter from Mr. Debabrata Ghosh of Calcutta on 24th July 1976.The letter suggests that Mr. Ghosh is in possession of this manuscript. It was handed over to his family by his grandfather Haruchandra Ghosh who happened to be a great scholar of Persian language. Further research finds a statue of Haruchandra Ghost at the Old house of Small Causes Court on Bankshal Street. He was the ‘Dewan‘ of Naldanga. The manuscript was finally acquired by the Curator of Islamic Antiquities on 26‘” August, 1976. Mr. Ghosh has passed the legacy for the generation to come. Khirodnama-i~Siakandari (31cmx200m) is important for its historical value.

First two folios of this manuscript bear illustration of the Durbar hall. It is dated 963 Hijri or 1555 CE. Renowned Calligrapher and artist Mir Ali penned Khirodnama-l-Sikandari. Another copy of Usufwa Zuleikha was selected by Jahangir for his private library. According to ’ Tuzuk-l-Jahangiri, the official biography of Jahangir, Jahangir paid a thousand gold coins to acquire a copy of the manuscript for his library. Abul Fazal mentioned about Mir Ali in Ain-I-Akbari. it is described at the end of the manuscript Mir Ali copied this manuscript in 945 Hijri or 1538 CE at Bukhara.

If the Persian style painting delights us in hrst two folios, the illumination in the next page astonishes us. Two Badshahi stamps and handwriting of Jahangir and Shahjahan are depicted on it. Badshah Jahangir wrote: “Allahho-Akbar! The book is enlisted in the library of the person who is enthroned in the name of God in his coronation year. The writing in the first and third page of the manuscript was by Nuruddin Jahangir, son of badshah Akbar.” Next, Shahjahan wrote: in the name of a compassionate and kind God. The manuscript bears the evidence of beautiful writing of Mollah Mir Ali, and is enlisted in the library on 25‘“ day of the Bahman month of Akbari year in l307 Hijri when l ascended the throne. The writing is of Shihabuddin Muhammad Badshah, who is son of Jahangir and Jahangir is son of Akbar badshah Gazi." Beautiful decorations and illustrations found in every page of this Farsi nuscript. The manuscript tantalizes with its bright usage golden, peacock blue, and bright red colour. The elaborate capturing of the life of Sikandar now has been carefully kept for its further museum preservation.

Source: https://indianmuseumkolkata.org/

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

BJP



Unlike previous elections, this election provides voters with a clear choice. One side there is BJP (all the other corrupt NDA allies are gone. It is only BJP now. Much clearer that way). The other side there is the Mahamilawat of effectively the corrupt brigade. I try to summarize the choice below.



BJP Mahamilawat
Impeccable leaders Corrupt Brigade
Democracy Dynasty
Decisive Government Total chaos
Meritocracy Sycophancy
Wealth creation Poverty redistribution
Secularism Jihadi appeasement
Make strong allies Get beaten by every neighbor
Safety for our children Bomb explosion every week
Hope Despair
Performance Pedigree
Sushma Priyanka
Modi Rahul

The voter registration is on. Please enroll and vote.



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

About Hiring

I have been taking interviews since 2003. By now I have taken hundreds of interviews and also given a few. I also conducted campus hiring events and walk in interviews, too. I am not good at taking interviews. No I am not being humble here. I genuinely think I am not good at it. I have seen really good interviewers. I am not one of them. One of the reasons I am not good at it is that I do not enjoy taking interviews. Measuring someone’s potential, intelligence and skills in one hour is daunting. Coupled with that the high stakes for making a mistake makes it one of the hardest task at my work. But still I have been made to do this over the years! That is probably because I speak a lot and give the impression that I am always available. So hiring managers used to find an easy “bakra” in me. Ever since I became a hiring manager, I take this task very seriously and end up doing it myself.

Having taken so many interviews I have gathered some working knowledge about it. I am going to share my experience in this article. There is no new wisdom here. This is just a collection of common practices in one place that hiring managers may find useful. So feel free to skip if you are already a very good interviewer.





Let me start by giving a sketch of how typical interviews go.


Say you are a project manager and you need to deliver two important features on IP multicast and MPLS multicast in your next release R10. You have one staff engineer in your team Akash, who knows IP multicast but he is busy with R9 issues and will not be free for next few months. So you got a requisition for a position approved and you want to hire an engineer who can help you with these features. You give a JD to your TA (Talent Acquisition Manager) and he searches with key word “multicast”. He sends a bunch of resumes to you to shortlist. Since you are up to your neck with R9 issues and R10 planning, you delegate this to a senior team member. Then one fine Wednesday afternoon at 2:40 PM you get a call from your TA.
“Subhendu, what’s up? You had a phone screen at 2:30 PM and the candidate called me that he did not receive your call.
“Shit!” You say. “Sorry, I forgot. I will call him right away.”
So you hurry to a conference room. Pull up the resume. Glance through it. Then call the candidate at 2:45 PM. You tell to yourself. “Oh. It’s just a phone screen. I am good at it. I can manage in 15 mins.”
And you are right. It is no big deal. It is a phone screen. It can be and should be done in 15 min. You should avoid doing a phone interview, and only do phone screening. The purpose of telephone screen is to introduce to the candidate you and your company as well as the job so that he gets interest to apply for the position. From your side you verify that the candidate is good enough to call him for a face to face interview. Invest one full day on him. Most of the time it should be discernible from his resume and his references. You should just validate those info over telephone.
So you like the candidate and ask your TA to schedule a face to face interview.
Come Friday morning as you are fighting the traffic to get to work, you get a call from your TA.
“Subhendu, where are you? The candidate is waiting for 30 min in Bombay conference room! First panelist Akash is not here yet.”
You remembered Akash was chasing a release blocker till early morning and he will not come so early and it will take you another 30 min to reach office.
“Is anyone else available?” you ask your TA.
“I see Bhumika there.” Bhumika is from the Java team and she does not know C++ or embedded programming. “I have no choice.” You think.
“Please ask her if she can take the interview.”
So she goes and does a good job interviewing the candidate on his programming skills.
Then goes Anand. He is a very good C++ programmer. But he is from the L2 team. He does not know much L3 stuff and he does not know multicast.
Finally to your relief Akash walks in and jumps straight into his R9 issue. You pull him out and request him to finish the interview first. He goes in and finished in hurry in 30 min.
You meet Akash at the cafeteria during lunch.
“How is the candidate?” You ask.
“He is awesome. He knows more multicast than me. He contributed to RFC.”
You feel very lucky that you got a good candidate.
Post lunch as you are preparing your weekly status report, you again get a call from your TA.
“The candidate is waiting.”
You feel irritated to be interrupted on your work. But hurry to the conference room. By that time you already made up your mind based on Akash’s feedback.
You start speaking to the candidate casually. Somewhat apprehensive to ask tough questions fearing he might flunk. You find him very confident. Also found that he ranked 16 in his JEE exam? He worked for good companies in the past.
“24 karat gold.” You think and jump straight to salary discussion. You are pleasantly surprised to find out that is getting only 36 lakh with 14 years. The market rate is 50. Even if I offer him a 30% raise it is still very cheap.
“What a deal?” You thought.
As a good manager, you gather feedback from two other panelists. By this time you do not want to lose the candidate. So want them to say “yes”. But to your disappointment, you find that they are not OK with the candidate.
Bhumika said that the candidate has an attitude and does not test his code. He hardly even codes. Mostly give opinions to others.
Anand said the candidate is very poor with programming. He does not know C++ at all and is not willing to learn. He thinks we should change to C instead!
Bhumika is being too sensitive. You thought.
Anand is not from my team. He does not know how we work. Besides he does not know multicast!
You ignore their advice and decided to go ahead with the candidate. You walk to your boss’s cabin and ask him.
“Boss, I got this great candidate. Can you please speak to him for a few minutes?”
“I am leaving for the US tonight. I have not even packed. I have to leave now. I do not have time. You should have told me before. Let’s do this next week when I come back.” Says your boss.
“He has other offers. He will not wait that long.”
Your boss has great confidence in you and trusts your judgment.
“If you like him then go ahead and hire him. I will approve. No need to wait for me.” Says your boss and leaves. You lost your last safeguard.
You make an offer. After much haggling, the candidate joins after two months.
Then disaster happens. He took three more months to learn C++ and be productive. Then you find out that the guy does not want to do any work. He has an opinion about everything but does not produce anything himself. Finally you need to pull Akash to deliver the release with more than a month delay. Akash is so stressed out that he may leave. Your boss’s confidence in you takes a dent. And you find out the next three releases are on SDN and NFV. The new candidate has no desire to learn these new things and is useless. You basically have a passenger in your team, who is causing more harm than help and you need to hire more people to deliver the next releases.


Of course I am exaggerating. Most hirings do not go this way. But surprisingly, quite a few do.


So what went wrong here? Everything. Let me try to list a few.


  • Preparation: No one plans for interviews. Interview is some invisible task that somehow fits into our schedule. Hiring is the most crucial part of team building. Take it very seriously. Add it to your plan, make time in your schedule as well as the team member’s schedule and your boss’s. Divide the work, who will ask what. One person should cover programming, another networking knowledge, another system building. Train your panelist on what to ask, as well as what not to ask. If the candidate is married, if he owns his flat or rents, where is he from. These are information that you do not need to know. There are other ways to do small talk and break the ice. Most importantly, make preparation in advance on how to receive and evaluate panel’s feedback. Stay objective and do not get clouded by prejudice.
  • Hire on potential not on skills: Skills requirements change, potential does not. You are hiring the candidate for what he can do for you, not what he has done before. While past is a good indicator of the future, it is not an insurance. The guy may have ranked 28 in JEE, may have been a star performer 10 years ago. But that is past. You must evaluate what he can do next. And this is not easy. Some tips on how to do is to see how he extends a solution when given additional requirements, how easily he gives up when asked a tough question. How inquisitive he is. Has he learned anything new recently? When a very tough question is thrown at him, does he accept the challenge or recoils with resignation? Ask him something totally new, not at all related to what he is doing currently and see how he proceeds. Introduce a new and interesting concept and see if he shows interest and asks more questions to broaden his knowledge.
  • Do not look for a deal:  Look for a deal when you buy a computer, not when you hire a team member. People have emotion and self-worth. When you pay them less than what they are worth, you hurt their self-worth and that impairs their confidence and ability and reduce their engagement. So once you decide to hire someone, pay her market rate and not try to get her at the cheapest. By doing so you are not helping your company much but you are hurting your team big time. You will add a disgruntled team member who will not perform well and will stay dejected and spread negativity. She will become a constant source of worry for you for the next few years. Not worth a few lakh. And once you hire someone at a certain rate, it will be difficult then to correct her pay to market. Rather consider low pay as a red flag. Why is this candidate  paid so less? It may as well be that she was genuinely deprived. But probe that and make sure that this is not an issue. Ask her about her past appraisal ratings, how she fared compared to her teammates. Only when you are satisfied that she is OK you make a hiring decision. On the other hand if you surprise the candidate by paying more than what she expects, you now have an enthusiastic member who is eager to perform and surprise you in return.
  • Do not ignore attitude and temperament: Cultures matter. Sometime they matter more than skills and ability. If you have a very competitive team and you hire a soft, introvert member, you are asking for trouble and vice versa. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. “I have done this” is confidence. “Only I have done this” is arrogance. You should be careful about spotting that line. For example allow the candidate to brag about some past achievement then observe if she also gives credit to her partners, does she also mentions her shortcomings. Be on the lookout if she persistently cribs about her peers, boss, and company. See if she is very opinionative. Does she focus more on ‘who’ than on ‘what’? Take HR feedback seriously. You do not need to make a hiring decision on a feedback like ‘the guy has attitude’. But make a point to probe her if you get any such feedback.



Here is how I approach this. Again this is not the best practice and I am sure people have better ideas. But I have not made many hiring mistakes so this can be used as a working hypotheses that can be improved.  


I break a 60 min interview into four main parts.


  1. I spend first 10 minutes introducing my company, the job and then myself. Thereafter I ask the candidate to speak about him. This has two purposes. One is to know about his past which gives strong indication about his future. More importantly it allows the candidate to calm down and gain confidence. What I observe is attitude and temperament along with skills he picked up.
  2. In the second part, I spend 10 min as an elimination round. For most candidates I give a moderate program to write. Like run length encoding or shifting bits in an array. This is an elimination test. If the guy flunks it, I give him another chance with a different problem. If he still flunks, he is out. This again has two purpose. One is the elimination test. It weeds out the bad candidates and saves me 30 min. But for the guys who passes this it gives a morale boost for the next question. It works like a tonic and the candidate gets charged up.
  3. The third part is the main interview. This is where I try to gauge the candidate’s potential. What I do is ask the candidate to design something big and complex, like design Facebook or Uber for senior candidate. For junior candidate I ask for example to design a software bridge. First I observe his reaction and his approach. Then I give him lots of hints to make good progress then again I leave him alone to extend. I spend about 30 min in this part. Sometime I give the guy a NP-hard problem without telling him. Like I ask to give a shortest path algorithm. Once he does that I ask him to come up with a longest path algorithm. In the exited state he does not realize that it is hard. Then I observe how easily he gives up or does he try his best to solve it.
  4. I spend the last ten minutes on checking cultural fit. I ask questions about her past achievements and failures. Ask her to describe how she received help from peers and boss to overcome shortcoming or gain competencies. Ask her to describe career transforming experience, how she coped with them, who helped her during the process. The objective here is to allow the candidate to talk a lot about her and then look for clues on temperament and attitude. There is no secret sauce for this. This is all about practice and discipline.

Finally I close thanking the candidate and answering any questions she may have. Once again I briefly summarize the job and clearly explain the next steps in the selection process.
So that is a long discussion about hiring. Thanks for reading this far and hope this will be of some help in the upcoming hiring season.  


Monday, June 06, 2016

Quitting an Addiction


Kicking a habit is not easy. If you rely solely on your willpower, you are probably going to lose. Willpower is absolutely necessary, but there are tricks that can help. The key thing in giving up any addiction is staying positive about your life and making a villain of your addiction. If you constantly think that your life with addiction is a great one and you are giving up something precious to prove a point or for long term health benefits, then chances are that you will soon lose steam and get back to your old dear life with addiction. So what you need to vilify the addiction, gather evidence how miserable it made your life. Let’s face it, no matter how you glorify, an addiction never makes life better it only makes it worse. So it is not hard to come up with facts about the short-term negative impacts of an addiction.
So why in the fight between willpower and addiction, it is the addiction which wins most of the time? The answer is simple, cravings are short term, gratification instantaneous while the benefits of quitting are long term and imperceptible. So how do we win this battle? By relying on the short benefits of quitting, while recognizing that while cravings are powerful, they go down very quickly. They are pretty much gone in about a month. So if you can hold on for a month, your chances of winning increases dramatically.
So how do we focus on the short term gain? This is mostly on the healthy living. Whether you are quitting smoking or drinking, it immediately leads to very healthy improvements in your lifestyle. You sleep better, you get more energy. Convert that into activities, cycling, swimming and you will feel a lot more cheerful. You can fight negative thought more effectively. If you are quitting drinking, then you are getting back your wit. Use it to something cerebral and you get an immediate return. Read a book, play chess.
For myself, quitting drinking brings enormous benefits. My wit is all I have. I do not have a great physique, I have no social skill, I do not enjoy the company of others that much, I do not watch TV or sports. I live my life through my brain. I have a house full of books and a computer full of movies. I can enjoy them much better if I keep my wit and use my brain, instead of losing it every free evening I get. Then why it is still so hard to give up! Why indeed :)

Friday, June 03, 2016

Stay Healthy


Folks stay healthy. You cannot enjoy life if you are not healthy. No matter what you have, a private island, Sunny Leone and Katrina Kaif (Hrithik Roshan and Irfan Khan for ladies) as company, a few million dollars in the bank, a yacht of your own, no matter what. Even a small boil is enough to kill your happiness, forget big disease like diabetes or heart problem.
So what should be your priority in life? The following.
  1. Have a good night’s sleep. I try to get 10 hours. But everyone should at least get eight.
  2. Eat a proper breakfast. Not two toasts and a glass of milk. Proper meal, rice or roti or muri.
  3. Do not smoke, chew gutka, pan masala.
  4. Avoid drinking. At least minimize to no more than twice a month.
  5. Be active for at least half an hour every day. Walk, cycle, play with your daughter, anything. Try to break a sweat.
  6. Try not to eat a heavy meal at night, especially after 8 PM.
  7. Avoid sugar, packaged food and drink. Most packaged food contains only maida, oil and sugar, sometimes harmful chemicals and no nutrients whatsoever.
  8. Remember purpose of eating is to get stuffs that sustains our body, namely vitamin, protein and minerals. Calorie comes with them automatically. The amount of work we do, we need very little calorie. You don’t need to eat extra calories.
We are a pretty healthy family. We rarely fall sick and when we do, they are pretty minor. My guess is that we are plain lucky so far. But there is a little possibility that it is because we follow pretty much all of the above. What we do wrong:
  1. We do not drink milk at all.
  2. We hardly eat any fruits or vegetables.
I am trying to correct them slowly.