Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Mathematics - my first love

[Dedicated to all my friends who know me really well and were with me during the times described below, all my teachers who loved me for what I was, and to all my students who liked me for the reasons only they know :) Happy Teacher's Day!]

"Is There a ‘Right’ Way to Learn Math?" - I read this article today and I could relate to this article so much that I felt I was writing the first few paragraphs myself..

The exact example of the relation between multiplication & addition happened with me too, and incidentally that was my first thrilling experience with the subject. When I discovered that 2 x 3 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2, I was thrilled, but when I realized that is is same as 3 x 2 and further that all of these also equal 3 + 3, I wanted to jump out of joy. The excitement continued for a few days, those few nights were my best sleep nights.

And my fascination for Mathematics continued, for a really long time particular fascination of numbers remained, while other areas like Trigonometry & Calculus enjoyed their own share of charm as well. Whatever the teacher taught in the class, used to just get imprinted on to my mind (I have a good memory people say, I agree too though it is slightly fading away - as much as I don’t want to admit, people grow old and I am no exception! :) I do have a strong photographic memory too), I never needed any repetition of any concept, anything. Once, was enough, most likely because I was in love with the subject. While I was a really studious student, I used to religiously revise what was taught in school that day and read things myself - before & after type of a thing to understand the basics of the concept taught. I would rightly guess exactly what questions would come in the exam, and when I come out of my exam I would know exactly how much would I score because I knew exactly how many marks would be cut for what kind of mistake. I never got anything without hard work, real hard work. If at all I missed a small concept, small snippet of something, that one small little thing will appear in the exam. The pattern continued through my childhood and I got real tight slaps from my mother when I lost marks because I didn’t revise that one little tiny thing. Many of my classmates did really well even without studying as religiously as me. I realized ‘luck’ wasn’t for me. I grew up to become even more studious hence. While in college, I used to sit with the calculator (the scientific calculator - it was Orpat, this one) for hours together just like that playing with numbers, I discovered the pattern:
1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987...

The differences between say 12 x 6 and 16 x 2; 15 x 7 and 17 x 5 and why those patterns and so on, by myself.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone around to share my excitement. There was something about the subject, about those numbers, all types of numbers, those theorems, the parabolas, the hyperbolas, the tan thetas and sin thetas and cos thetas. Questions like ‘why was the derivative of sin theta, cos theta?’ - I would think of these questions myself and I would find answers. It was true nirvana! Two specific instances I remember from my college days are:
1. f(x) = 1/ax: My professor who used to teach us Linear Algebra, asked a question casually once on something on some function. He described some unique thing about that function and asked us to guess and let him know the next day. All that day - during the class, after the class, during my commute to home after college, doing my household chores I kept on thinking. Suddenly, while I was doing the dishes at home late evening that day, there was a spark in my mind. I had the answer. The function was f(x) = 1/ax. Next day in the class, he asked and I answered. I was confident it was true because it was satisfying all the clauses mentioned. My professor reacted ‘Vhery good’, and he would almost jump off the dias. ‘Very good’, he repeated!
2. Two lines of regression: Related to Mathematics, my profound love to Statistics also grew. I was particularly in love with Regression as a topic. And while reading through this book Fundamentals of Mathematical Statistics by Gupta & Kapoor (this book), I found something very different from what I usually worked on. Usually, there is a regression line and we have a dependent variable and an independent variable. At least I, never thought of the case when we interchange the roles of the 2 variables. Hence, comes the concept of 2 lines of regression. This was not my discovery though, but there was something about this concept. I read the entire chapter twice and thrice to just multiply the thrill. I wished before the exam that that question should come and I would answer, and it did, and I answered like I achieved nirvana! I had this thing, I would leave all simple questions, pick up the ones that are challenging, and answer them first. Feel the nirvana and then answer the rest of them which didn’t matter much, from the nirvana standpoint. It worked, my hands ached after every exam because my mind ran faster than my hands & fingers and my hands & fingers used to feel literally racing with my mind. In that exam, I scored 58/100, for some reason all my answers were incorrect but I was extremely happy because that one question was there and I had the opportunity to answer that.

I grew up to teach Mathematics at school, both Maths and Statistics at college and so on. I loved teaching too, but never wanted to teach the regular topics, though some of my students felt the same way I felt as a student, on some concepts that I would consider basic by then. So, I could relate. I loved teaching because I liked learning, the thrill remained though not that much because I was ‘working’ and always chasing a deadline, in this case covering up the entire syllabus.

Anyway, life after that wasn’t as interesting.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

'Smart' parenting?

When I got pregnant, I wanted to read about the same, naturally, and all possible information at one place. I got this book as a gift through our company's Maternity Wellness Program, "What to expect when you are expecting" - by Heidi Murkoff. I don't want to go into the details of how stressful the phase was for me, for various reasons even outside of the normal & regular anticipated ones!

I want to talk about what worked best for me, from the points discussed in the above book a bit and the next book by the same author, "What to expect the first year".

The books talked about each and everything covering both emotional and practical aspects, which I loved the most about the first book in particular. It gave me the confidence that it is not a crime to think about my convenience.
I really liked how the book acknowledged that it is an extremely tiring experience anyway, and described some smart options to make the experience rewarding.

Among many, the four smart choices I adopted that worked the best for me/us so far are:
1. Crib: I always wanted the baby to sleep in her own crib, and not in the same bed as us because I had a strong feeling none of us would be able to sleep well otherwise. My family said the baby wouldn't feel safe/secured/protected if I did that. Well, while they planted that doubt in my mind, not that I cared too much, but I also didn't have an option because we have a dog who was used to climbing on to our bed and pushing us to make his space to settle well and sleep peacefully. After the baby came in, he has himself made a choice to sleep in his own bed, he is smarter & more considerate than we thought he was!

2. Day care: I joined office right after my maternity leave per policy was over. I didn't know how it would work out but since there were no major concerns at home and my husband was very hands-on, we thought I should join back. I was also clear that I would put her in the day care, the book made me more confident. We explored the option, she was growing up much faster than we (my husband :)) thought she would! She was about 8 months old when we started to put her in the day care, we started with the half-day option and after 3 months we moved her into the full day option. It turned out to be a very smart decision again to do so. There is no way we could entertain her at our home the way she gets entertained in her day care - with 100 times more toys than what we could keep at home, and many other children around. The day care also was the option we thought of because:
a. The other option could be having a full time maid - we were not used to having anyone at home and we wanted to have our privacy intact.
I know a full time maid at home to take care of the child is a preferred option by many to make sure the kid stays home, under our vigilance, and stay away from infections. But I think keeping vigilance is also a big task, day cares do that for us - they have a maid, and the vigilance is the teacher's duty so that headache is taken away from us. And, day cares have a reputation to take care of, and they are obligated in a way which a maid won't be in my view.
b. I am strongly against employing any girl to take care of my child, specially minor girls or even the ones who still can explore better options and not work like this.
Of course, the catch here is to find a good day care (especially to avoid infections and other serious issues) that suits your needs/preferences - thankfully we found one, and we are really grateful to the staff there!

3. Car seat: My husband and I wanted to be as independent as possible; if one of the two of us was missing, we wanted to have an option for the second person to handle things on his/her own. One big thing was taking the kid in the car, hence came the car seat. We bought the car seat around the time she started the day care. I think it is a good experience for the kids as well, she keeps looking around without disturbing, so far we have not had any unpleasant experiences taking her around in the car seat. It is safer, and suits more practical reasons as well like my clothes not getting spoilt/crumpled :)

4. Sleep routine: After the first few months, I started kind of a ritual of giving her a bath before sleep, or I actually tried this to induce sleep. I don't know when it became a routine for her - I think children adapt to patterns pretty quickly and a couple of days of doing the same things in the same order does the trick!

She comes from the day care really happy, and tired --> she is usually not in a mood to eat anything so we instructed the day care to feed her something before she leaves, it fit well in her day schedule and food timings also --> she plays for about an hour or so and it is soon 'bathing' and 'goodnight' time --> we give her a bath, change to her night dress and she has milk before she sleeps in her crib, and she usually doesn't wake up through the night, she never did even when she was young; unless in some outlier situations. After which we are able to do our work (like I wrote this blog :)), wind up and so on and get a good night sleep ourselves!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Using dogs to cure mental illness

I am not talking about deformities here, I am talking about illness, the two are different. Deformity can be termed as madness, there is a very thin line between mental illness & madness which at least in India, majority won't understand.

There are enough & more reasons for stress/frustration/depression in our country. My learnings about mental illness are:
-Every single person is prone to mental illness. Some people go through the toughest problems in their lives and are mentally fine, and some people go through the most minor issues but go into depression. It is totally dependent on the ability of the person to handle a situation in a particular way.
-The causes of mental illness can be two: one that is genetic and is developed through the course of one's life and two that is triggered due to an instance in one's life.
-When someone in a family goes through this illness, the entire family goes through extreme amounts of stress and there is at least one more life that gets dedicated to taking care of the patient. It is not practical to expect the family to dedicate their lives to that patient and let their lives revolve around the patient's. But a few years for sure are gone! And especially in middle class families, more complications get added for reasons I don't need to mention.

Due to the very low levels of knowledge on mental illness, people don't take the efforts to understand the illness and rather suggest variety of things to act as a silver lining, many suggest a new relationship - either a marriage, a new friendship, having a kid etc. Why not an animal?!

I visited my sister's home some time back and everyday in the morning while she leaves for office, there is a squirrel that visits her backyard and waits for her to offer a roti. The way that squirrel holds that roti in its hands and slowly breaks it into pieces and eats it is the epitome of cuteness. That is its daily 10-15 mins and watching that act is an extremely relaxing activity.
Similarly, there is a small cat also which is a regular visitor to her place for a cup of milk every morning :)
It is a way to distract yourself and get a smile on your face. The biggest positive about animals is they don't expect (rather, they don't need to) anything in return and so you don't have to worry the way you do with human beings. It is a relaxation with minimum (or as per choice) or no levels of commitment.

My strong belief is having animals around can reduce the chances of mental illness to an extent.

I am a dog parent for the past 8 years. Since I brought the dog home:
1. I never entered my home without a smile on my face.
2. I spent at least 30 mins every single day with my dog - playing or talking or just petting him. I read in a magazine sometime back that if you have a dog, you should spend at least 10 mins of your daily time to love the dog; something happens inside you (I didn't bother reading the details) which does many good things to your body.
3. I meet at least a few other dog parents every single day who are as happy as me, and when we meet no discussion of mine with them is anything to do with cribbing, complaining or any other unpleasant feeling in life or anything around - so at least 10 mins of happiness sharing every single day.
4. I meet many stray dogs and some of them walk the entire way with us. And some just come wagging their tail, they just want us to pet them once. The activity of petting that dog is doing something really nice to me and my body. I can feel that relaxation.
5. There is somebody around me to listen to me - ALWAYS!
6. I have walked at least 1 hour every single day - I have breathed the fresh early morning air every single day.
7. I was never alone, I am in my ME space but at the same time I have a company.

Dogs are slightly different from other animals because they respond to humans better than the others. I could not find much research around using dogs as mental illness therapy, but I have a strong hypothesis that they can act as great remedies! Long time back, I read an article in an in-flight magazine about an organization near Pune that trains dogs to act as therapy for autistic children. I searched on Google recently and found it, it is called "Animal Angels Foundation".

My dog may have reduced my chances of being prone to mental illness :)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Start-Ups & Funding

[Disclaimer: The thoughts in this post are my personal opinions derived from the in-person and virtual interactions with start-ups & potential start-ups, publicly available data, experiences & observations as a user/customer of many businesses, articles in various media that I keep reading, and the knowledge of the market and the consumer that I have developed over years.]

How this word 'Start-up' took a huge leap in a very short span of time is beyond imagination. How many of us would know friends of ours from a decade back retaliating that they didn't want to be the heir of their ancestral business. All of a sudden the phrase 'meri dukaan' has garnered so much of valuation for itself, its startling!

Starting one's own business is very easy but running it can take a toll on you. And in the current times it is exponentially more difficult than running our father's dukaan, with all the hype that the idea has attracted. I joined this app called the StartApp started Sharad Seth. Everyday, on that app, there is at least one new message on a new idea or a new ask for funding. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm to just START UP. However, there are a few things that are worrying:

1. Lack of focus on the user: Most of the businesses have huge dependencies on their website/app. Take all the websites started in the last few years and check how many of them are mobile friendly. I am quite disappointed that apart from the key big ones and some niche ones, none of them are user-friendly on mobile devices at least. In the current times, there is a very high chance that a user would encounter your website on a mobile device first. In such a case, one needs to focus on building a seamless mobile experience first, then focus on the desktop one; not to say desktop is not important.
It is a harsh reality that the user is critical and has very high expectations. A few basic but extremely crucial principles that need to be followed while building a website/app are:
a. The user should never be confused on landing on the website/app. Many websites (even a few big ones) still don't have the full product information on the page: like the dimensions, size, volume etc.
b. Once the user lands on the website/app, the user should know an exhaustive list of things he can do or can get on that platform, on one screen itself. That one screen (landing page/home page) has to be the ultimate summary for the user. Usually, in the competitive spirit to make the 'BEST' website/app possible, the designer in the makers might overtake the focus on the user and that may lead to a disaster. It is extremely necessary to sit and chart out the entire flow of the user journey in sheets of a paper (this I learnt from my friend and colleague Aniruddh Jain, founder of and I cannot agree more on this with him.

2. Lack of knowledge of feasibility: I have always believed and stand by the belief that India has a latent demand for just about everything. However, that latent demand is not in masses. Many people think of an idea but also think of going mass at the same time. Not all ideas can be mass ideas. There is a huge enthusiasm about 'I want to start this', 'I have this idea', but how much is the market is something many are not thinking, though all planning would be based on these facts. To this, all think we just start off and it will run! Never be that sure. Of course, it will run but the scale and other facts need to be realistically known before starting.

3. Lack of conservative thinking: 3+ years back, I ordered a nailpolish from a very well-known apparel+accessories ecommerce website [no prizes for guessing which one!]. When I received the package, I was shocked. That packet could have fitted at least 3 200ml bottles comfortably. In that package, they sent me the 6ml nail polish bottle. My colleague noticed my reaction "how are they going to survive!", and replied "who cares about packaging Sridevi!". "Isn't cost the first thing that a business would look at?!", I wondered. 3 years later, just a week back I ordered a house utility article from one of the top ecommerce websites. The object was a small one that could have fitted very comfortably in the packet of say a 500ml Milton flask (20cmx5cmx5cm). The object was sent in a packet (cover) which was approximately 40cmx60cm. There are many examples like this, I would have ordered hundreds of articles online and I just keep calculating the savings they could have made from a more efficient packaging! The key is that the big guys can afford all this, it is the VC's money; but it is someone's money right! How can it be overseen! Looking back on how much money could have been saved on packaging alone, it would be a very starling figure, it would have possibly covered for all the discounts offered.
Everyone thinks they can get VC Funding, there are some messages on StartApp that read "need funding", some claim that they have an idea and it is a multi-million dollar one! We all think high of ourselves, but we need to analyze ourselves critically too!

4. Lack of Long-term vision: I wonder how we don't have an inch of hesitation from participating in a rat-race! This start-up wave has also evolved very quickly into the same again, and one just wants to enrol to participate in the race. The questions on 'what after enrolling', 'are we ready to participate if selected', 'are we fit to participate', 'how long will we be able to sustain in the race', 'what if it is too sunny', 'what if it rains': none of these questions are asked by many! The fancy terms like "Exit" which few are lucky to be a part of, have caught up which I think is leading to lack of commitment. By the way, I am sure many of us have come across businesses that are not clear on what to do with the ones they acquired (is it 'if I won't, someone will'?)!

Some key questions to ask before ideating would be:
1. What is the problem that this idea is going to solve?
Is it only your passion or is it a problem in the market that you want to solve?Also a lot of times, due to the early fame that the business attracts, the business model is changed and the fundamental problem that the business started to solve disappears in the fame! That is very sad.
2. Is the problem, really a problem for the users you are targeting?
And more important, do the users you are targeting really want a solution to the problem?
3. What are the pre-requisites for a user to use the service/product?
I see some business ideas based on apps, but the users targeted don't seem to be the target group owning or using smartphones :)
4. Are you committed towards the business you are starting?
There are some problems that you know your business model has or would definitely encounter. You don't need to start and run the business to know and realize them. These days, failing, and talking about learnings from the failure is considered a resume point unfortunately. Yes, it would be, but only for the founding members and not for the employees. When you start up,  you are taking a risk. But it is of utmost responsibility for the founding members to realize it is much riskier for the employees joining them.
5. Never start off by giving your products or services for free or discounts extraordinarily.
Much is talked about the ecommerce businesses thriving on discounts, those were big businesses and still they are a victim of this. Take a look at some data from on how much funding has gone into the businesses!
A scheme is good like a promotional offer, referral bonus or loyalty points, but don't ever bank all or majority of your business on discounts. If it is a marketplace, the discounts offered may be by the seller but as the marketplace owner, do make sure that you don't offer very differentiated pricing.
6. Never, ever over-commit - neither to yourself nor to the market.
I personally don't find any need for this, it is totally unnecessary. Make the realistic commitment and just strive to keep them, that itself is a mammoth task! If you exceed it is very good but try and never miss.

Lastly, kudos and best of the best wishes to all in the race; definitely a tough-one!

Sunday, May 1, 2016


When I search for 'ant' on google, the prominent results are on 'Apache Ant', some software. Why?

When I click on the Images tab, the images that turn up are totally unpleasant to the eyes, some are creepy as well. I feel sad for this little nice creature! :)

In my school days, when I was in classes 2-5, we used to go to a small evening school called the 'Hindi School' in this place called Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh. It used to be an independent school in itself. It had proper classrooms for its standards/classes (like the classes 1,2,3 in a regular school). Initially of course I only used to mug up things and just give the exams. Doing that, I passed the preliminary class with flying colours and moved to the 2nd class of this Hindi school, the class/exam was called 'Prathmik'. Now I had small stories in my books. It was then, from the story of Shahjahan that I learnt that he built the Taj Mahal in the memory of Mumtaz and that he amputated the hands of all the labourers who constructed the monument. I could not sleep for a few nights after learning that. I kept reading the story again and again, and kept feeling sad!
There was another story called 'Gora aur kaala' which was about 2 girls one of whom was 'gora' and the other one 'kaala'. The story was about fair girls insulting dark girls and the moral of the story was that one should not look at the colour of the skin but the person :) It was a very cute story.

That was the starting point of my interest in Hindi. As I moved ahead, I became very good a grammar (even things like sandhi & samaas), reading, writing, reciting and so on. I was good at interpreting poetry as well and my teachers were quite amazed by that, and the credit always went to the fact that my upbringing happened on-and-off in Ahmedabad.

And that is how I actually know a lot of Hindi literature poets like Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Maithili Sharan Gupt, Sumitranandan Pant, Kabir, Rahim and Tulsi ke dohe and all. Kabir ke dohe are the easiest to interpret and while there is a tie (at least for me) between Rahim & Tulsi, my vote for the toughest goes to Tulsi(das). I actually don't remember any of the Tulsi's dohe now (sad!).

Coming back to the ant, I grew up with too many creatures around me - the prominent ones I recollect are: birds (sparrows mainly), cows, pigs, buffaloes, catterpillars, lizards (both domestic & garden lizards), rats (my favourite in this family is something called 'pandikokku' in Telugu; everyone was so terrified just by its sight, it used to be a huge rat, its sign used to be a huge hole among the bushes in the garden) & snails.
While I did notice flies & mosquitoes also around me, what I never thought of was this creature that was nearer to me, more than the rest; until I came across this poem called 'Cheenti' in my Hindi text book. It was a wonderful poem written by the great poet Sumitranandan Pant. I had not preserved those books but thanks to this wonderful invention called the 'World Wide Web', I could to locate the poem. Since my encounter with that poem, I started noticing the ants a lot and started admiring them so much.

This new house we have moved in to, is a slightly old construction and is cozy with respect to the atmosphere and the climate (I mean good insulation etc.). This possibly is the reason, I again got a chance to have these little creatures around in my kitchen. A few days back, while filling the water bottle from our PureIt (in a nuclear family, even filling water bottles is a task), I noticed this line of very, very small ants, on the edge of the wall, moving up, to somewhere. I could not figure out where the line was ending. I think I found a reason to fill the water bottles again, only to attempt to resolve that mystery! I was successful in my 3rd attempt and a few cms below the ceiling, I noticed a small little black dot. And on observing this line very carefully, I noticed that the line was disappearing at that small black dot. I then realized that small black dot was a tiny hole in the wall and noticed these little ones entering into that hole. We covered the hole this morning and since then, this group seems to be at work for a plan B. They have not given up!

[And I googled, there are quite a few articles on corporate lessons to be learnt from ants - haven't found an impressive one yet though!]