Kite flying

Today’s piece is about kite flying. Growing up in Mumbai seeing kites flying was a common sight certain times of the year. Since kites were made of paper and water was a dampener for threads used to fly the kites wet weather months were ruled out. A bit of breeze help keep kite flying. Gujarat State in India has a tradition of flying kites to celebrate start of warmer weather after winter. Known as Uttarayan there and celebrated as harvest festival Makar Sankaranti in other parts of the country. Let’s dive into or rather soar into kite flying experience!

What is needed to fly kites? Apart from the kite a spool to wind and unwind the thread. Open space for the kite to take off. Blessings from weather and wind Gods also help the venture flying high 🙂

What are the keys to keep a kite flying high and straight? One key is the Y-shaped string knot from the kite to the spool. It has to be made in a way that ensures almost even weight distribution and prevent sway in any direction. Care also has to be taken to make sure that the holes in the kite are just small enough for the strings to pass around and not result in a slight tear that wind could enlarge and render the kite unflyable. Tying those knots used to be an art in itself back in the days. Once the string attached to the kite is tied to the spool string we are ready to fly when air traffic controllers of nature give the go ahead 😀

Anything to note about the spool and string? Spools for flying kites come with handles on either side for a person to hold it and wind/unwind fast without touching the string. That is very critical during aerial kite combat which I will come to later 😀 One person for flying and another person for handling the spool works better. As they say “Many hands make light work” 🙂 Strings can either be thin or a thicker twine. Thin strings make it easier to keep the kite flying while thicker twines need stronger wind to avoid gravitational pull down. Both have their own uses in combat missions 😉

Without a personal experience no story is complete. So, here we go! I tried kite flying at ground level in the open space of the building where we lived. Most times poor kite used to bang hard on the ground despite my best efforts to fly. In short it was more like someone attaching wings to their arms and hoping to fly by flapping their arms with prayer on their lips. Gravity is not a good ally for such endeavors unfortunately 😦 My admiration for the street cred of guys flying kites on the street went up several notches after my own experience. They would just get a person to hold the kite from a distance and after the holder let go of kite on gentle tug of string the street pros would get the kite flying with a few pulls seemingly effortlessly. All the while dodging overhead electrical cables, trees, buildings and other objects blocking the flight. My neighbor was an avid kite flyer and pretty good at it. So, I switched to caddying for him which meant I was the master spool handler while he could focus on flying and keeping air combatants at bay or defeat them in aerial battles. I guess he couldn’t have been Batman without me playing the role of Robin 😉 We graduated to take our kite flying adventures to building terrace. Height with wind blowing and no obstacles in the way helped the kites soar.

Aerial combat: What is life without a few battles, right? So it was during our kite flying adventures. We had to be on the lookout for those itching for a battle in the air. Sometimes it was mere flexing of muscles to mark their space. Other times the battles were for real, the entanglements thrilling and test of skill, nerve and power. Power as in heft of kite, supply of string, rapid reflexes to pull string rapidly or let go while the strings of each kite battled out for supremacy. At times more kite flyers would join in the battle either trying to assert their power or help out an ally kite flyer 🙂 The string type would determine the strategy used in battle situations. Kite flying strings usually had a coat of finely powdered glass. In thinner strings the density of glass was higher. This lent a thin, sharp blade-like effect if properly used. While battles involving thicker twines were more of battles of attrition with each side trying to wear out the other (usually battle ended when a weak point of string was reached OR a combatant ran out of string OR a string reached a point where it was knotted to another string to make it longer making the task of enemy easier to cut a stuck string rather than a freely moving string) if you had the thinner, sharper string wisdom lay in making a quick surgical strike rather than indulging in long drawn out battle. Reason being thinner strings could cut thicker twines like a hot knife running through butter (ok, that was an exaggeration but you got what I was trying to say 😀 ). If someone with fast reflexes could pull the thin string very rapidly it would have the effect of cutting the same portion of the opponent string very fast. You see, physics come in here (Pressure = Force / Area) and it’s the same effect as pin pricking a balloon while a heavier flat object not breaking the balloon. The Robin guy has to be prepared to wind and unwind rapidly as needed for Batman to win 🙂

Sidelights: It was quite a sight to see free flight of cut kites as the wind carried them before gravity had the final say and brought them down. The finder usually was the new owner. Nothing like a freebie as reward, right? 🙂 Many were my futile attempts to run after a cut kite and get it while or after it landed. Usually these battles were won by those who were faster, bigger and stronger like most other things in life 😦 But the reward was in trying. If a cut kite landed on a tree or on overhead cable that presented it owns challenges. Typically one would tie a small stone/pebble at the end of a string long enough to reach around the loose string of the cut kite and hope with weight of stone gravity would take care of bringing the kite down gentle enough for a soft landing, not to smash it on the way down. This task also required the precision of a surgeon 😀 Stone/pebble with enough weight to reach the required height and at the same ensuring stone did not directly hit and tear the kite!

Kite flying has been featured in some Bollywood movies too like the one here:

Summary: Kite flying is a pastime, it also holds a few life lessons
1) While many a effort starts with high hopes it takes sustained effort to keep the flag flying high
2) Life is about seeking a high in one form or another. Some seek it by flying kites, some by flying airplanes, some through music, some making money and so forth. I get mine by writing. What is thine way for a high?

Modern day parable

A rich, old man (ROM), born to wealth and power, given to recklessness and wild behavior, was pulled over by a police officer (PO) for driving well over 75mph on a 65mph speed limit highway.
PO: Sir, can you please furnish your driving license please?
ROM: For what reason?
PO: Sir, you were driving well over the speed limit
ROM: It can’t be, there must be some mistake
PO: No Sir, there is nothing wrong with the radar gun, I can assure you
ROM: You got to be kidding me, I have never driven over speed limit ever. If at all I drove over the speed limit it must have been momentarily to get ahead of an 18-wheeler ahead of me in my lane
PO: That’s not the case, another PO alerted me 10 miles back that you were driving over the speed limit. We charge drivers only if they drive over the limit consistently for a stretch
ROM: Do you know who I am? I am a rich and powerful man, I have built a lot of businesses and employ thousands of people
PO: Providing gainful employment is a noble thing to do, that’s nice of you. However, that’s got nothing to do with driving over speed limit. Can I get your driver license please?
ROM: A smart, young officer like you could earn much more. I could employ someone like you as my acting chief security officer. Have you given a thought of earning more for your skills?
PO: No Sir and I must warn you promising employment to an officer on duty could invite charges of bribing. Your license please
ROM: I need to speak to my lawyer first
PO: In deference to your age I am allowing you to call your lawyer. However, I am sorry to say your lawyer has no role to play here. You were the only person in a speeding car and from what I see it’s not a self-driving car assuming self-driving cars are street legal. We also have a photograph of you behind the wheel. Nice, clear picture with your hair blowing in the wind. You must have been driving with the windows rolled down
ROM (after calling lawyer and getting no answer, muttering): Where the heck is Broody when I need him?
PO: Sir?
ROM: Oh, Broody is the nickname for my lawyer. I gave him that name, he is the brooding type you see 😀 He is a bloody good lawyer though!
PO: He might very well be a good lawyer but I can’t wait all day here. I have more work to do. If I don’t get your driver license in 5 minutes you might face additional charge of obstructing an officer from doing his duty. It’s your choice
ROM (looking at other cars speeding on the highway over the speed limit) waves his hand in that direction
PO (reading ROM’s thought): Sir, till today you were one of those drivers who got away driving over speed limit. Your 5 minutes are almost up, as you wisely noted there are other drivers that need attention too. By not furnishing your license you are preventing me from doing my duty. I need your license now!
ROM (seeing he has no other alternative) hands over his driving license to the officer who issues a speeding ticket
PO (handing back the driver license to ROM): Thank you, Sir! You are free to go now
ROM (seething with rage): I will contest this ticket in court. Will sue the hell out of everyone if needed
PO: Sure, Sir. You will have your day in court. One sage advice, Sir: Drive safe and go easy on the gas pedal. There are other officers along the way, getting more than one ticket will be considered pattern of behavior and your driving license could be suspended for reckless driving
ROM (starting his car) stares angrily at the officer
PO (while walking back to the patrol car): Have a good rest of the day and enjoy your drive, Sir!

Moral of the story: Don’t mess with the cops unless you want to turn a bad situation worse!

What would I otherwise like to do for a living – Series #1

I am sure every job has its own requirements and attendant pressures. For many folks how they do their job depends on what has been promised to the customer and what their own targets have been set to. Lot of time is spent in following processes and ensuring company directives are met. Which means less time likely spent in actually doing the work and more time getting approvals and documenting the work in trying to follow defined processes. When all you want to do is solve a problem or fulfill a customer requirement it can be frustrating to have many processes that slow things down and/or place too many restrictions. “What would I otherwise like to do for a living” series is in that context. My first choice would be to be a writer of short pieces. About anything that people can relate to. It could be about nature, sport, profession, food, man-made structures, good deeds, life experience etc. In short find extraordinary in what might otherwise be considered ordinary and offer unique perspective. If it brings a smile to the reader and/or the person is able to relate to it that would be satisfying. Even otherwise there is inherent satisfaction in putting something together.

Which brings us to the word of the day: raconteur – a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.

My first option for a living if given a choice: raconteur 🙂

Why do I write?

Not being a professional writer I have myself wondered why I write. The objective is to put into words something that others can relate to and brighten up the day by bringing a smile. I liken my writing to an amateur and enthusiastic cook making and serving a dish to see the reaction of those who taste the creation. As I pondered some more other reasons came to mind too
1) Writing for me is a creative and exhilarating experience. The fun is as much in the journey as one puts together the different ingredients and seeing how the final product shapes up
2) Writing has a meditative effect for me in that it helps me calm down and focus on what I am trying to convey. For others similar experience might come from walking, cooking, cleaning, building or fixing gadgets, meditation, painting or whatever an individual’s passion is
3) Trying to write something light or positive also keeps negative thoughts at bay which is very important in today’s world
4) I am more of semantics guy who doesn’t like to worry about syntax. When one writes for fun there is less of a need to conform which appeals to me
5) There are multiple thoughts or ideas running in my mind many a time. Putting into words one idea or thought brings that thought or idea to a logical end and frees up space for others waiting in a queue. Find it kind of liberating
6) As forgetfulness increases find it useful to note down a thought before it is lost
7) I have always admired those who are good at different things or do routine things differently. In relation to writing that translates to bringing an unique and different perspective
8) To be effective my mind likes to drift in and out of a problem. Has the effect of taking a break and coming back to take a fresh look at a problem. If solution to a problem appears to be elusive it helps to push it into the background for the subconscious mind to mull over it and do something like writing in the foreground
9) The joy is more when there is not much of an expectation other than sharing some experience and having a good time. Writing brings that kind of joy
10) When one wakes up early even on a weekend with no planned activity writing helps kill time 😀

Public libraries

One of the nicest things in the country is the public library system. Becoming a member of local public system is a breeze. Show proof of residence (Driver License/Utility Bill) for library membership and once you receive the library card you are ready to rock n roll! Plenty of books to choose from but I generally get videos. Over the years my reading has been reduced to bite-sized offerings online. Once inside the library I just head straight to the recently returned cart. Not for me the trouble of going through shelves to find the right book or video. My logic for browsing through recent returns is simple. Saves me time, I don’t care for the latest and greatest and if some other library member has found a video worth watching it’s likely to have some appeal. Works almost always and I also get to discover some gems waiting to be enjoyed like the National Geographic/BBC Nature/Disney Nature specials and good movies that have not had a wide release. One cardinal rule I follow religiously follow when I watch videos: The subtitle has to be on always 🙂 If there was a poll for the most well read video watcher of all time I will be a shoo in to win the competition 😀 Sadly there is no such competition 😦 Anyways if one library visit does not result in good yield there is always a next time!

Long live and flourish the public library system and the subtitle industry for the videos!

Tale of a violin

Few years ago there was quite a bit going on at work. With my restless mind worrying about projects and multiple thoughts/ideas always running in the background calm of the mind was proving to be elusive. Tossing and turning in bed at night wasn’t helping get a good sleep either. So, in an effort to calm my mind, wife suggested I learn to play the violin. The reasoning was simple: I like good music and the violin is my favorite instrument. When played well the melodious sound from that instrument has a soothing, calming effect and can move one to tears. In theory if I learned to play the instrument, practiced diligently and with focus it would calm me down and the effort would tire me enough to get sound sleep at night. Rented a violin from a local music shop around Christmas time. We had a nice violin teacher in the community where we live who is a family friend too. First class was awesome! I exceeded expectations and the sound of my playing came out confident and clear. Weekly once I had violin class. One month passed and everything went swimmingly. I decided I should go all in and bought a violin. The hard part part started shortly after that 😀 Nothing comes easy without practice. I would not practice entire week and just an hour or two before my class try to play the instrument just enough to progress further. With age learning gets slowed down and it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. In my class too I would discuss music more than play the violin. Even when I tried to practice a bit was finding it difficult to get the technique right. Suffice it to say after 3 months I was still as good as new 🙂 Teacher was of course very patient and encouraging. I was getting impatient with my slow learning.
Spring arrived. One evening, to beat the rain, I decided to use the weed whacker to get rid of some wild growth in the backyard. Absentmindedly I ended up whacking my index finger which required 5-6 stitches. A bit more deeper and I could have sliced the top of my finger. Very painful but perfect excuse to stop learning 😉 The violin lay gathering dust unused and shedding tears 😦 Few months later my wife decided to learn. She practices regularly and diligently and finds happiness doing that. Of course her learning is a bit slow which is to be expected when you start late and have many other things going on. I am glad she is enjoying it. My finger has healed since and the violin has healed too from my abuses and now sports a happy look 🙂
All things considered it wasn’t a bad experience at all. I learned a few life lessons that could be useful: Having good taste doesn’t mean having good skill. Nothing comes easy, all the effortless ease one sees/hears is a result of ceaseless practice. And main lesson: If you want to do something start early, learning will be faster and mistakes won’t be very frustrating

James Holzhauer’s life in Jeopardy! :)

It’s a been a great treat past few days for viewers of the popular trivia quiz show “Jeopardy!”. In 12 wins aired so far James Holzhauer has averaged an astonishing ~ $70K/game and has broken previous single day winning total 4 times already. To put it in context the previous record for win in one game was $77K and James’ average win/game itself is close to that amount 🙂
His strategy for winning has been quite simple actually: Start with the big $ amounts at the bottom of each category, build up a huge total, hit a daily double and bet it all/bet big, respond correctly, swell the lead to such proportions that the other contestants are forever trying to play catch up or resigned to playing for the consolation prize. Typically contestants on the show, even the winningest, have tended to start cautiously at the top or middle of each category, consolidate their lead and bet safe amounts in Final Jeopardy to ensure victory. The traditional way is akin to middle distance running: Get a decent start, gradually build a lead and then have enough for a big push down the stretch. Extending the racing analogy what James has achieved in his wins so far is the equivalent of doing a Usain Bolt over a full marathon distance, then coming back and waiting at the one mile mark to shake hands with the other two competitors still trying to make it there! This strategy to win just requires a preternatural ability to buzz in early, incredible breadth of knowledge, oodles of confidence, get almost all responses right and then have the heart of a gambler to bet big and win bigger! All that’s needed is a near perfect game and ability to replicate the strategy in each game. Very simple indeed 😀 When you witness such a display of incredible brilliance on a regular basis all you can do is shake your head in disbelief, let out a loud guffaw and tip your hat 🙂 If rumors are to be believed the producers of Jeopardy! have filed for bankruptcy in the wake of James’ incredible wins 😉 😀

Surprise! Surprise! In real life James is a professional sports gambler 🙂 He attributes some of his knowledge to reading children’s books with pictures. If his offspring/s are reading the same books I want to bet big on their winning Jeopardy! in future, breaking records. And make it a true daily double please 😀 It’s possible that the strategy could backfire, maybe even spectacularly, and James could die by the proverbial sword when the reign ends. It hasn’t happened so far and it’s time to enjoy the run as long as it lasts.

I know dream of a lot of trivia buffs out there is to take on James and beat him at his own game. The Raj lives to make such dreams come true. To get a crack at it here’s the Final Jeopardy category: 9-letter plural word describing emotional reaction

The clue: In a stunning finish resulting in defeat of the defending champion the winner witnessed ——— of delight from the viewing audience!

Put your thinking caps on for the opportunity of a lifetime with the correct response 😉

Silicon Valley enterprise!

A declining enterprise in Silicon Valley was in danger of losing relevance as many of their competitors marched ahead of them. Years of underwhelming performance led to low employee morale with many leaving to seek their fame and fortune elsewhere. Competitors from both coasts, Texas and even upstarts from Seattle were stealing their thunder. Determined to reverse the trend they looked for help outside even willing to entertain the idea of seeking suitors willing to buy and revive the enterprise. The old ownership gave away to Valley veterans with successful track record in VC (Venture Capital) and starting/running startups and entertainment industry. That was the first step. The task of turning around the enterprise still lay ahead. The new owners decided new, exciting talent was the first priority to revive the fortunes of the enterprise. Towards that end they got couple of very talented young men who were very creative. The youngsters did not disappoint, they were splashy and willing to take risks. Since the new talent was inexperienced it would take them a few years to mature to be at their productive best and they needed to be nurtured and tempered along the way. In short this would be a multi-year, multi-million dollar project requiring full commitment from the sponsors and product owners. The next year a passionate and talented young lad was added to the team. The young team needed someone with experience who could guide them through the ups and lows and keep them focused. For that they got a veteran of many battles. The team performance got an immediate lift and picked up
noticeably. After a few iterations realization came in that the team was still not performing to its fullest potential. Even though the team was agile, responsible and collaborating well there were errors creeping in. Analysis revealed that the guide was a strict manager and there was a communication barrier which was coming in the way.

Another search ensued and this time the person selected to guide was more of a mentor and a leader and less of a manager. This new addition also came with the advantage of having experienced success multiple times at the highest level overcoming personal tragedy and adversity along the way. This mentor was not averse to letting the team make mistakes and learn in that process. Also let the team work in their preferred style, be more communicative and take collective responsibility for resulting success or failure. The team left competitors trailing in the dust and achieved great success. However, they fell short of expectation in the next project after starting with great promise. Some soul-searching ensued with the realization the missing ingredient for more consistent success was the need for a veteran with zen-like calm and a warrior mentality without disturbing the team dynamics. Luckily one veteran, among the best in business and hungry for major success, was looking just for such an opportunity. With this new addition the enterprise that once appeared moribund turned around in a spectacular way and has been enjoying great success. Some areas of concern have appeared in recent times though. In an age where quarterly results matter a lot, the now uber-confident team has been performing with the mentality all that is needed for a successful year is a strong 3rd quarter and maintaining a reasonably high level of performance in the 4th quarter. Competition has been nipping at the heels and hubris could yet upset the apple cart even as whispers of team members wanting a greater share of credit for their role in the success have emerged.

I am, of course, referring to the Golden State Warriors 🙂

Bet you knew that already!