Apr 23, 2014

Coming Around a Full Circle

Less than nineteen years back, I took my first trip abroad to the US. Still remember day 1 in US and my first bite of food at JFK airport - a baked potato loaded with cream cheese. 

From then on I've been fortunate enough to have got a chance to visit various parts of the world and experience different cuisines. Along the way chicken became one of my favorite foods to eat. Whenever we ate out while in India or abroad, I would seek out chicken in various forms. 

Thai cuisine has been one of my favorites. A month back I got my first visit to Bangkok and I was pretty excited to be in the land of Thai food. Tried to blend in during the first couple of weeks and eat along with my colleagues at the local restaurants. Just couldn't stand the sights and smells of the various kinds of meats and sea food there. 

At some point I thought about trying out only vegetarian. It was quite an effort ordering vegetarian food at the more traditional restaurants but it was okay at the more international ones. It's been over 2 weeks now eating only veggie stuff. This week I've been eating MTR packaged food for lunch. 

And guess what... I am feeling great. It's great to know I don't have to worry about what I am putting into my mouth. 

So whereas 19 years back I made a choice to each chicken meals to have a variety of choices, I think now I am making a choice to eat vegetarian and keeping it simple and real. Let's see how it goes. 

चलो सात्विक भोजन खाऐं। 

Apr 6, 2014

A Gentle Introduction to Peak Oil

Recently I picked up this book "The Third Curve - The End of Growth as we know it". The book is written by Mansoor Khan, an alumnus of IIT Mumbai, Cornell University and MIT, Boston. For those of us smitten by celebrities, he is the director of two of my favorite Hindi movies: QSQT & Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. 

The book explores Peak Oil in detail and how it impacts our lives. Very simply put:

  1. Growth based economies of the world demand Perpetual Exponential Quantitative Growth (PEQG).
  2. Growth is directly or indirectly related to Oil and its byproducts which are a finite resource. 
  3. World Oil production has peaked around 2008 and from there on, the amount of Oil we are able to extract from the Earth has been declining. 
  4. Just because we are at half way mark does not mean that we have many more years before Oil runs out. Our consumption rate has increased exponentially so if we continue the same consumption pattern, Oil will run out in 3 to 5 decades. Remember the king who granted the wish of one grain of rice on one square of a chessboard and doubling it on each square until the entire chessboard is full - only now, its the reverse: we started from abundance and are consuming exponentially towards 0. The book has a quote on this by Prof. A.A. Bartlett, University of Colorado who says The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
  5. Alternative energies such as Solar also depend upon Oil for setup and maintenance and do not provide us the byproducts, e.g. plastic, fertilizer, etc., which our economies rely on. Also alternative energies are not as energy-dense as Oil and other hydrocarbons. 
  6. Summary: Growth based economy, as we know it, is not sustainable. 
Source: http://www.thefuture.net.nz/peakoil.htm

The book confirmed a few of my theories and also opened up my eyes to a few facts which I was not aware of. Always used to wonder at the wisdom, or lack of it, of transporting common vegetables, fruits and flowers across large distances. Never understood complex financial instruments. Always thought we can survive without oil or reduced oil by reducing consumption and using alternative energies - definitely not possible considering our reliance on oil byproducts. 

So, where do we go from here? Is it all doom and gloom? 
Fortunately no. There is a better and more wholesome world out there but it does require us to change our outlook drastically. It has to be back to grass roots - local as against global and community as against individual. We have to rebuild the social capital which we so far have been systematically destroying for achieving growth. 

There is some historical proof of this as well. The dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 led to a severe economic crisis in Cuba; this period is called The Special Period. Oil imports dropped by 75% and food by 80% resulting in rationing of food and fuel. GDP dropped 34% and consumption reduced by 20% of previous levels within first two years. Cubans dealt with this crisis by developing a local system and tackling their situation with a community approach. Agriculture transformed from industrial to organic farming and local food markets. Today 80% of Cuba's food production is organic. This has improved soil quality as well as the general health of the people. 

Who does it? The governments? 
No, each of us have to build the awareness among our communities about what is coming. We have to engage our school teachers and college professors in Peak Oil discussions and enable them to educate our children and youth on the subject as part of their regular curriculum. Business and Banking community has to be engaged to make them understand that economic shrinkage is the new reality. This will then lead to involvement of the local authorities and governments. 

Scared? Interested? Want to know more?
I am sold that this is the next opportunity... one where each one of us have to play a role, it's almost as profound as providing one the Purpose of Life. The goal is how to make our lives sustainable in the post Peak Oil period. 

Awareness is the first step. Build it using the following resources:

Jan 2, 2014

2013 - The Year That Was

Year 2013 turned out to be a difficult and trying one - both on the home and work front.

Much of the year was spent in trying hard to survive and deliver in a very difficult work environment at Thomson Reuters. Fortunately for me, one of my social contacts made through Cloudspokes helped me land an interview at Salesforce Services in early August. A speedy interview process and early relief at Thomson Reuters enabled me to join Salesforce Services in early October. 

It's been close to three months at Salesforce now and I have to say that this truly is a #dreamjob. In the few months I have been here, I have been part of multiple successful customer projects. I have been a key contributor in the migration of Salesforce developer discussion forums from Lithium to Chatter Answers. Check out the new forums. What tops the work is the team dynamics - blessed to be part of the wonderful team at Salesforce. 

On the home front, demise of my father in law in September after a short bout of critical illness meant a lot of stress and pain in the extended family. Support came from within and outside the family. This has been my closest encounter with death so far. Strangely I was quite calm and my belief that death is just a part of the whole cycle helps deal with the loss. 

Few more highlights of the year: 

  1. Road trip to Chennai and Mahabalipuram with Sanjeev was wonderful and truly the only time I really felt free this past year. 
  2. Got my Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 in June. Haven't gone on any really long trips myself but my brother and his friend took it out to Karwar and back during last week of December and enjoyed it. 
  3. Sanjana got enrolled in German Exchange program at her school. We had a German student from Augsburg stay with us for two weeks in Sep/Oct. Sanjana herself will be visiting Germany in April this year for two weeks. What a wonderful experience at this young age. 
  4. Shobha is getting better at her drawings and paintings. I still have to build a site for her - need to get on with it quick!

A recap of my wishes for 2013:

  • Improve fitness and restart cycling - failed miserably - just 387 Kms cycled in 2013 
  • Learn to play Guitar - failed - didn't even start
  • Be a better person - I sure tried but others have to say whether I succeeded
  • Decide between getting a Royal Enfield Thunderbird or Harley Iron 883 - Got the Thunderbird
I've been pretty bad this year in connecting with friends and family. There's just been so much going on. Need to get better at this. 

Some wishes for 2014:

  • Improve fitness - cycling or otherwise
  • Learn to plan an instrument
  • Improve professional competence and credentials
  • Blog more often
  • Contribute more at home
Wish you all a very Happy New Year - 2014. May the year bring with it your share of joy, happiness, opportunities, challenges and the strength & resolve to deal with them. Be different, be adventurous and above all have fun.