digital living

I should …

…write more often!

Can’t believe I am back to writing here after more than a year. The gap seemed like something I will never be able to cross. I had so many things to write about especially with the teaching assignment when everyday I had a story to tell over dinner and I would think in my mind “I should write this down.” I will phrase it while sleeping and then next day there would be one more story, one more learning and I had already forgotten about yesterdays’.

But yesterday when I was cleaning out my desk cupboards I found an old list. Written on a hotel stationary paper, it was a list of things “I should” do and on top was write more often.

If ever I needed a sign, this was it. While I have been writing regularly on my food blog – My Weekend Kitchen, writing for Volunteer Weekly and my own personal sharing here have become non-existent. So this is my first phoenix post to bring back the blog from dead. And I sure hope I don’t ramble too much :).

There was a time in the last year when I became dismayed with the online world and online existence. I kind of took a sabbatical from social media, whatsapp, viber and blogging and used only email to stay in touch with far of friends and family. It was great, but after about 3 months I felt I was being selfish. We live in a remote location in Africa and technology is actually our aide here. While I was fine, my family and friends only had social media to know what’s happening in my life. I was completely fine with nobody knowing about me but when I went back home after 3 months everybody had the same complaint. “Where have you disappeared? Is there no internet in Africa!” Well that phase is over. I am back but just on a few platforms. I actually did a factory reset on my phone to remove all the apps and then download only Facebook and whatsapp – the two apps that most of my friends and family used. It’s been good. Even with just these two, I feel like I get more information than I need but I feel they are necessary evils I need to stay with. But how much they interfere in my life is my choice.

What do you think about the interference of social media in life in general?

We just came back from an amazing trip to the little known island country São Tomé and Príncipe. I was keeping a travel journal there, something which I did after a long time. Hope to share about that soon.

muito amor,

ashima

Categories: digital living | 3 Comments

You’ve got snail mail!

In this age of ultra-fast communication, some crazy people are still following snail’s pace; writing letters to family and friends; letters to self and even letters to strangers! …leaving parts of themselves here and there.

Writing a letter is so much more than just communicating what you wish to say.

I want to imagine the journey of the letter I received, here. You wished to send me your thoughts in writing. You then took out a nice paper and a pen that brings out your best handwriting or maybe you wanted to send something in color! So you looked for your favorite color pen.

letter writing, snail mail, journey of a letter

some letters I was surprised with!

The letter begins with:

Dear Ashima,

And then the pen stops in mid-air. You want to think clearly; what it is the you exactly want to say before writing it down [after all there is no delete button]. The thinking doesn’t really work 🙂 and you say “let it just flow”. Pen touches paper again and words come alive on the paper. There are some crosses; at some places the whole sentences is crossed out and you’ve really covered it well in ink so that I can’t make out what was written! 😀 At some places there is text in between the lines.. something you thought of adding afterwards? And soon the letter ends.

Love, your friend ….

Oh! Something was left out and there comes a P.S.

The letter was then folded neatly (sometimes into 3, somtimes  4) and put inside an envelope. Then comes the question of address. At times you called me for my “exact postal address” but there was also a time when you wanted it to be a surprise so you “guessed” it!

[Yes it’s true 🙂 It happened just like that with me when Mihika decided to send me a surprise letter for my birthday and guessed what my address should be. She got parts of it right and I still think it was awesome of the postal department to deliver it! ]

And now the stamps. The trip to the nearest post office; finding out the exact value of stamps required for the letter; asking the lady at the counter “how long will it take”; contemplating buying additional stamps; licking the back of the stamp; pasting it on the envelope and making the last drop into the letter box.

And then begins the wait. Patience lasts up to the answer the lady gave at the post office. After that you start waiting for that call or message which said “I got your letter!”. Wondering if the letter got lost on the way 😮

And finally the call comes! “The mail today brought it something more than just subscriptions and bills. It brought you!”

It brought a piece of you for me to keep and cherish.

Categories: digital living, Gen | Tags: , | 3 Comments

I dream of a library…

Growing up, my first library was the local kirana(grocery) store that used to keep a big stack of Hindi comics like billu, pinky, chacha chowdhary, phantom, commando Dhruv etc.

Characters of Diamond Comics Indian Comics Magazine

Characters from my first ‘library’ books!

Then from 2nd grade onward it was school library, where I got introduced to Noddy, Ruskin Bond, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Heidi, black beauty, little women and many more. That was also when the nearby book club had Tinkle, Champak and Chandamama. In junior classes we had to sit on the ground around a low table and in senior classes there were proper table and chairs… I so looked forward to library period, half an hour of stories! 🙂 Continue reading

Categories: Books, digital living, Old times | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

We read in a F or an E?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

I’m sure content managers must be aware of this fact, but for me it was an interesting find! I have recently started working on a blog on volunteering and I was reading a few articles on what and how do people consume content online. I didn’t quite care about SEO for Lime ‘n’ Lemony or even Weekend Kitchen but for Volunteer Weekly I wanted to know at least some basics. Keywords, meta-description, analytics, web master tools etc were all bizarre buzzwords until now! Anyway one of the studies that fascinated me was that we read a website in a F!
It comes from Neilsen Jakob’s eye-tracking study. What it means?F shaped reading pattern
  1. We first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area – forming the letter F’s top bar
  2. We then move down a bit and read across in a second horizontal movement which is typically shorter than the first one – forming the lower bar of the letter F.
  3. Finally we scan the left side of the content vertically, thus forming F’s stem.

I was relating it to the way I read all the academic papers also. Most often we used to read the introduction and conclusion and would scan through the rest of the article, reading the heading and sub-headings and would read another one or two sections that would have the analysis. I guess that would make it like an E! and if time was really short we would entirely skip the middle.. making it a C pattern! 😀

Anyway however we read, I guess the point is to put important things right in the beginning! 🙂

Another interesting thing which a web-designer friend of mine told me was on the width of a website – he told me that 980px (or 960px) is the ideal width for a webpages, because that is the width the eye can read without moving from left to right. Any bigger than that and you can’t read it in one go.
Isn’t it interesting how different fields bring out human behavior! Do you know of any other such study? would love to read about them 🙂
Categories: Books, digital living, education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writings from the past

Look I found my mother’s old diary!

I was inspired to write this post after reading Michelle’s Pieces of the Past. They have this beautiful bed and breakfast in Virginia, steeped in history. And they keep adding to that history. I always love her antique shopping pictures especially the tea-sets!

My find is not as exciting as Michelle’s who found letters that are more than 100 years old. But I found my mother’s old notebook :). I don’t know how old it is; and mummy also doesn’t remember when she wrote that but on page there is a number – 8.9.84 – which I assume is a date, so the notebook is 28 years old.

Yellowed pages, torn edges, dog corners… I opened the notebook with such curiosity as if I’m going to unravel some mystery or learn something new about my mom :). What excited me most is that it has recipes! 🙂 There are recipes like Apple Butter, Mango Jam, Orange Squash, Almond Syrup, Tomato Ketchup… More inspiration for My Weekend Kitchen! Mummy didn’t even remember she had a notebook like this until I showed it to her…actually because of the recipes, she might have lent it to my maasi and it was she who gave me this notebook during my last trip to Delhi.

Mango Jam, Orange Squash and many more…

Apart from recipe what caught my interest were the last few pages where she has done her household accounts..

Monthly household accounts
100 School fees; 100 Bank; 200 Ghar ka Samaan; 162.50 Milk; 45 Dance; 15 Taxi

I’m sure since taxi was a luxury it got mentioned in the monthly accounts and the bus fares did not.. Also I learned that didi used to go for some dance classes (Since I was only 3 at that time, I realized the fee must be for didi). At one place it’s also written ‘Mrs Pareek 25 Rs; Sawairam 14 Rs’ Maybe I should remind her that she has to either take from or give back this amount to them!

With our generation usually maintaining everything in e-documents, I really feel sad that our children will not have the pleasure of finding and going through diaries of their parents that have yellowed with time. That they would actually be saying ‘Look I found my mother’s old blog’!

If you liked this post, you might also want to read my other experiences of discovering old things 🙂

-When I discovered my Grandad’s old journal and learnt that he wrote shayari!

-On ‘actually’ ‘physically’ writing something. When was the last time you wrote at length on a real piece of paper?

Categories: digital living, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Letters from a Father to His Daughter – Jawarhar Lal Nehru

And finally it’s vacation time. We’ve been waiting for this vacation since so long… I can almost sing “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go” :).

I was quite easy with buying gifts for all the younger kids – toys, story books, clothes. But a gift for Faaiz was not easy. He is growing up…. He is 10! And I didn’t want to buy any Noddy or panchtantra for him…. I didn’t want to buy him hungry hippos or similar toys… And he already has most of the games on ‘his iPad’. So what could I gift him?

I was browsing through books in children’s section at Landmark when I saw this one. Maybe it was the cover that made me pick it up but as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I’ve found my gift. It was about the Universe, the Earth, plants, animals, human beings, money, languages and about so many things of the world that we live in. What I liked best in the short 10 minutes reading that I gave to the book before buying were the illustrations; they help you visualize as you read…

I think Faaiz is of the age when he will have questions of how was world formed? Where did we come from? Why do different people speak different languages etc etc… Being a smart kid and living in a digital age; I won’t be surprised if he has already found a website that answers all these questions for kids :). But I still wanted to give this book… This book is a series of letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to his 10 year old daughter Indira. Apart from fuelling a lot of inquiry, this book presents the lovely notion of letters! An art that has been completely forgotten in the age of emails. It also presents a more personal side of Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s upbringing. I’m not sure whether Faaiz knows who Jawarhal Nehru or Indira Gandhi are; living in the US, I’m not even sure if he will ever read about them in school; but I’m sure, being an Indian, one day he will know who they are or after this book he will want to know who they are.

I read the book before gifting it because I wanted to make sure he will enjoy it. The letters travel from the big bang – the beginning of solar system, to how life slowly developed over millions of years; how man from being the weakest animal became the master of all; the beginning of civilizations, trade, language, currency and politics. To me this book was a refresher of what I’ve studied long ago in history classes and also a revisit to a lot of museums I’ve been to. I could picture the ancient coins I’ve seen in museums, the tools early man used, the Egyptian tombs and mummies… The illustrations will definitely add to a child’s enjoyment of the book. For a 10 year old, this book will open new doors of knowledge. I hope it will lead to questions, inquiry and wonder.

Towards the end the letters might confuse the young mind as things move very quickly. There is suddenly too much information; too quickly, which is bound to happen… as Nehru himself says “when you cover millions of years in a few letters”. The letters should be read as they were originally meant to be read –one at a time.

Categories: Books, digital living, education, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

An inclusive RTI Act

I think I’ve already said this in my earlier post that I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. The Act is true power in the hands of citizens and till now it has been used very effectively, however at times it has also put RTI activist’s at risk. But that hasn’t deterred them. However, as I also wrote in the earlier post, RTI application isn’t very easy.. and a step to increase it’s accessibility was taken earlier when government announced an interactive website and a call center.

In another positive move, recently Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (SIC) took the initiative of responding to Visually handicapped RTI applicants in Braille! This means that the blind no longer need to  depend on others for filing applications and receiving replies. The Tamil Nadu SIC is doing this with the help of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped. The Institute had earlier also helped the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in translating the RTI Act in Braille. The copies of the Act in Braille may be obtained from their office in Dehradun.

Such initiatives give positive hope! As a friend of mine, Shruti, had said “It’s really good to see so many people doing such good work! makes one hopeful for the country.”

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My Right to Information

I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. Imagine I can ask the government anything (well almost!) and they have an obligation to respond to my query within a stipulated time frame!

It’s such a big power to citizens to ensure participatory democracy… and undoubtedly a lot of scandals and injustices have been brought forward by people through the exercise of their Right to Information. One of earliest such example that I had read was of MKSS fighting for workers and peasants rights. I was so proud when we were discussing MKSS campaign during one of our class on Governance in LSE. I don’t know of any other country that has such a law. At least no one spoke about any such law in their country that time… and we had representation from at least 30 countries in our class!

There have been a lot of times that I have asked/ told people to use the RTI act to speak up against injustice to them but I could never say it with complete confidence… The reason being I have myself never used this Right. Not that there weren’t time when I wanted to use it, but just because it’s too much of an effort to send an RTI application. First you need to write the application in the given format, the send it via registered post/ speed post and pay the fee of Rs 10 via post office, DD, IPO etc…

So when I read in yesterday’s paper that government is soon planning to launch an interactive website and a call centre for RTI, I was very happy. (I liked it! Tweeted it, facebooked it and the works J)A call center will ease the application process so much; almost everyone has access to a cell phone and RTI is just a phone call away! No more fretting over if I wrote the application correctly or not or about payment options.. They can simply make the phone call to that number expensive…

But then on second thoughts, would making it easier to access, increase its misuse? More prank calls, more people trying to access the call centre for random queries and as a result the genuine ones will suffer… I can just foresee hearing the recorded message “all our RTI executives are busy on other calls…please hold on or call back later.” While it’s a step in right direction, I hope the implementation will be robust enough to ensure accessibility to the rightful applicant.

You can read the official act in almost all official Indian languages at: http://righttoinformation.gov.in/

The details of the RTI Call centre and Portal Project are available at: http://rti.gov.in/rfp.htm

 Image credits: mandla.nic.in; lawctopus.com

Categories: development, digital living, LSE | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s in the Cloud!

 

Image by Toons4Biz at http://ClipartOf.com/8909

As a kid I thought there was only water vapour in the cloud.. but well now there is storage space, money and telent! All in the cloud 🙂

In the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk about cloud computing with substantial growth in cloud services, companies and users. Cloud computing means services provided over the internet that replace the need to install applications locally. For example using word on Gmail instead of buying Microsoft Word application. Simply speaking all my presentations, documents and spreadsheets can be stored in a “cloud” which I can access through Internet.

Recently I was doing a research on social enterprises in India and in one of the companies model’s I came across “cloud financing”. Fancy term to use, but I was confused on what it really means and how does it work? Internet search didn’t tell much. All I got was IBM cloud financing, which is financing solutions for companies moving to cloud computing. So during the interview, I asked about cloud financing to the enterprise’s VP. He explained that cloud financing was raising capital through Internet from individuals. So I would say it means the same as  ‘crowd financing’, which simply means raising money from different people. The idea is not new,  NGOs have been doing  this since long (remember the collection boxes at payment counters in supermarket and malls) but Internet now has made it very easy to reach out to the crowd. Not just NGOs but startups and social entrepreneurs also seek support from the crowd. More recently it has been used by a Bollywood Production house for the movie I AM. Production money was raised through twitter and facebook. The director, Onir, offered supporters co-production credits and a share in profits.

Just like crowd financing is for raising capital; crowd sourcing is used for raising talent by tapping into the customers. So many companies now have customer forums on their website to give feedbacks, ratings and provide solution to fellow customer’s problems. Customer feedbacks and user generated media such as blogs and Wikipedia are reducing organisation’s research expenditure.

Businesses don’t just depend on customers for demand of their products but a lot more. As Jeff Howe, the author of crowdsourcing says

“The Power of Crowd is driving the future of businesses”

 

Categories: around us, development, digital living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ve forgotten how to write…

In my school, we used pencils until Std V and then moved on to fountain pens from Std VI. We wrote on ruled pages. The English notebook had four sets of lines in earlier grades to ensure that we write letters in proper proportions. I don’t see those notebooks anywhere now (unless you specifically look for them in the calligraphy section)..instead I do see grid notebooks. Guess they solve the same purpose. I remember how we had to copy the sample handwriting our teacher provided and she wouldn’t be satisfied until every curve was in place.

Good Handwriting. Something that was the norm has actually become an art now. First with the coming of ball pens and later the most common culprit of spoiling all things good and old – the computer (or more precisely word processor!).

The last time I wrote a real letter was in 2000, when email was not so common (at least with my parents’ generation) and phones were expensive. We may say technology has brought us closer, made ‘staying in touch’ easier; but it surely has taken away the personal touch. (This somewhat relates to my earlier post of an ‘online hug’). Emails have replaced snail mails, e-cards have replaced real cards, picture messages have replaced postcards.. I no longer feel the need to check my ‘snail’ mailbox because I know it would be a phone bill or a credit card bill, which would anyway come via e-statement as well!

But I’m digressing from the real reason of this post. So I have my exams in 20 days and they are each 3 hours exam requiring us to ‘write’ some 12 pages of social policy stuff. All theoretical and requiring lots and lots of writing. So my supervisor advised that since the last time I gave an exam was 6 years ago and that too a quantitative one which didn’t need so much of writing, I should practice giving a mock exam at home and just answer one question for an hour. Me like a very obedient student wrote and I was shocked first at my handwriting and second by the fact that my wrist was hurting so badly that writing with the same speed for another 2 continuous hours was almost impossible. Though one comforting thought was that its legible and I think that’s what they care.

I look at my supervisor’s comments in the margins of my paper and I can’t make heads or tails out of it. I literally had to take it back to him to decipher. There are jokes about how only a chemist can understand a doctor’s writing. Somewhere, during the great inventions and innovations we lost the art of handwriting, because there no longer was a need for it. The only analogy I can come up with is that man lost his tail during the evolution process because it was rendered useless. Soon signatures will also become redundant (they have already started to be replaced by digital versions or passwords). Fountain pens have become a thing of past or those very high end ones which are no more than style statements. Chalks are no longer required in classrooms; everyone uses Microsoft PowerPoint for giving lectures. Will kids now, not know how much fun throwing chalks was?

My mom has a BIG box full of letters, which my dad wrote while they were courting.. and I just have an envelope with some cards and few letters because we belong to the email generation and calling is no longer expensive 😦

Ironically, diaries have made way for blogs!

Categories: digital living, Gen | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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