Friday, November 28, 2008

My new job

I took up a new job this week. Its a startup. Called Grene Inc. After eight long, and by no means uneventful years in Effigent, it feels a little strange to be working in another company.

There is currently a very small team and the team is being built slowly. Reminds me of the first few months of Effigent. We had started operations on September 4th, 2000 with 4 people in an apartment at Begumpet in Hyderabad.

The work that I will be doing is pretty exciting. It will be on the Mac. The company is also involved in home automation which has been a dream area for me to work on. Hopefully I can get involved in that at some point in the future.

It is quite surprising that the technology for some very cool and efficient home automation features is already available and is being implemented. The key is to decide what is really useful and worth implementing. A lot of features sound very cool when you first hear about them. But if they are implemented, the novelty quickly wears off and after a few months you think if it was really worth buying those features.

For the longest time, I was immensely facinated by the possibility of bluetooth enabling my computer to call out "Hi Kamal" when I entered the room it was placed in. I got the software, a bluetooth enabled phone and then got this to work. For a few times, there was a great sense of achievement. Very soon, I tired of it and disabled it.

The key to a good feature apart from the 'cool' factor is the usefulness on a long term basis. Grene Inc. will be greatly successful if we are able to identify these features and implement them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

That's my cubicle!

In the swimming pool I go to for my daily morning swim, there are separate changing rooms for men and women on either side of the pool. In the men's changing room, there is a line of about six cubicles with a half length door each. The door covers you from neck to knee if you are of average height. You basically use these cubicles to change.

I, for some reason, like the second cubicle from the left. Don't ask me why. Its just that I am more comfortable in this cubicle. All of us have these quirks, I guess. At the dining table at home too, I always sit on the first chair to the left. Always. If anyone else in my family sits on that chair, I politely ask them to get up. Even when guests come home, I make sure I go and stand next to my chair so that it is not usurped from me. If I don't sit on that chair, I become upset and cranky. The food tastes weird and I get very restless.

Coming back to the swimming pool, I really need that cubicle. I go to all lengths to make sure I get my cubicle. If someone has occupied that cubicle, I temporarily put my things in another cubicle and then wait for him to finish changing. Once he's done, I take my cubicle.

Yesterday, I entered the changing room and saw that no one was there in my cubicle. The door for some reason was closed. Happily, I opened the door of the cubicle. To my utter horror, there was a man of about fifty changing and he had bent down to put on his swimming trunks because of which I could not see him from outside. I was terribly embarrassed. I exclaimed, "I am so sorry!" He was not unduly perturbed. He said, "Its all right" and continued changing. I quickly closed the door and went to the next cubicle.

I thought to myself however, "Serves you right, old man! Next time don't use my cubicle!"

Monday, November 24, 2008

In search of the perfect Undhiyu

The Undhiyu is a Gujarati vegetable dish. It is a heady concoction of vegetables, spices, masalas and 'muthiyas'. It is probably the most elaborate dish in the Gujarati cuisine. Surat is very famous for its Undhiyu.

The traditional method of making the Undhiyu is to put the ingredients into an earthen pot, put the pot into the ground and cook it with wood fire from the top. Once done, the pot is emptied into the serving dish. It is made 'undhu' - upside down in Gujarati, and hence the name!

As with most other food, the Undhiyu is rarely made this way these days. LPG and microwaves have robbed our palates of the true flavors of food and we have to make do with the quicker and easier alternatives.

Many people feel they can add whatever vegetables they feel like in their Undhiyu. They couldn't be more wrong. The vegetables must be chosen carefully. One wrong tasting vegetable and you can be sure to ruin the dish. The most important vegetable is the 'valor' which is broad beans in English. Apart from that, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, raw plantains and brinjals are added.

The 'muthiyas' are what differentiate the Undhiyu from the plain mixed vegetable curry. The 'muthiya' is basically gram flour (besan) and methi leaves rolled into a dough, turned into small balls and deep fried. These 'muthiyas' are added to the mix of vegetables and the whole mixture is cooked.

The Undhiyu can be eaten with pooris, rotlis (phulkas) and it tastes great with rice and Gujarati dal too.

It is quite difficult to find really good Undhiyu. Traditionally Surti families (families hailing from Surat in Gujarat) probably make great Undhiyu but you must be able to take the sweet flavor that goes into every dish that is made in Surat!

The best Undhiyu I've ever had was the one made (rather supervised) by an elderly Gujarati aunt from Chennai when she had come down for a wedding in our family many years back. There was a big family lunch and she took it upon her to make (or rather supervise the making of) the Undhiyu. The attention she gave to detail was evident when she asked a bunch of kids (yours truly included) to remove the skin of the seeds from the 'valor' or the broad beans. She insisted on this because she believed that the skin comes in the way of relishing the Undhiyu! The effort of course, was worth it. The resultant Undhiyu was heavenly.

Isn't that the key for all food? Tremendous care and attention to detail. No short cuts. A lot of people make the Undhiyu but it tastes good only when made the correct way. A warning: don't try making the Undhiyu by looking up a recipe on the internet. Take it from me. It won't work. This is an art that is mastered by first learning it from an experienced chef (the female kind mainly) and then making it three to four times before you have mastered it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

iPhone Tech Talk

I'm off to Bangalore tomorrow for the iPhone Tech Talk which is on Monday, the 24th of November.

Tech Talks are a great way to get to know about the technology from the experts themselves. It is really nice that Apple has started putting India on their map for these kinds of events. I remember going for the Mac Tech Talk at Bangalore a few years back with Kartik and Ravi. That was a one day event with about a hundred attendees. Most of the people were into the development of device drivers and came because their work involved creating drivers for the Mac. We were probably among the very few that were into application development and probably the only folks doing WebObjects development.

I expect this year to be very different. With the buzz around the iPhone, a lot more people have gotten into Cocoa and Cocoa Touch development (the former because of the latter!) and you see a lot of people aware of these technologies than you did just a few years back.

The situation for WebObjects has become more dismal than ever before. Unfortunate! It is really hard to fathom why such a beautiful technology continues to languish. WebObjects is really poetry in bytes! The architecture of the frameworks, the intuitive paradigms and oh, that ethereal Enterprise Objects Framework, when shall we see such a technology again?

I would really love to get back into WebObjects. I am learning Cocoa these days. Luckily a lot of the philosophy is shared between the two including the whole foundation framework.

Anyway, I hope to have a great time at the Tech Talk on Monday. I'm going a day in advance, hoping to grab some excellent food at MTR, Woodies and heaven-bless-them Nagarathpet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A big mistake

Yesterday, I made a huge mistake while starting dialysis.

There are two injections that I need to use while starting dialysis. One is Xylocaine which is an anesthetic that I usually take in an insulin syringe, about 0.35 ml, and inject a little in the arterial and venous sites to help reduce the pain while cannulating myself. The other is heparin of which I take about 2 ml, dilute to a total of 12 ml with saline and then put the syringe in its place in the heparin pump. When dialysis is about to start I give a bolus shot of 6 ml of the diluted heparin and then for the rest of the treatment the pump injects heparin at the rate of about 1 ml per minute. This is primarily to prevent the blood from clotting.

Yesterday, I had finished injecting the Xylocaine and did the cannulation. Both the bottles are always next to each other on my bed next to which I start my dialysis. The next step was to take 2 ml of heparin. I was not focusing on what I was doing. My mind was on the new job I was about to take up. The different options in front of me. The pros and cons of each.

Instead of taking heparin, I took 2 ml of Xylocaine!

I did not realize this at all. I diluted the xylocaine to 12 ml like I would do with heparin and put the syringe in the heparin pump and also gave a bolus shot of 6 ml.

I continued the rest of the process. However, when the dialysis session had started, I was putting the bottles and other stuff back into the trolley that is meant for all my supplies. At that point I noticed that the heparin bottle was full. I was shocked.

I then realized that I probably took xylocaine instead of heparin. I was terrified. I broke into a sweat. I shouted out to my brother. I asked him to give me my cell phone from which I called my tech and asked him what to do. He asked me to empty the syringe that had xylocaine and take 2 ml of heparin as usual and ignore the fact that I had used xylocaine.

I removed the syringe from the heparin pump and then took 2 ml of heparin. But the line I used to draw saline from usually had blood in it because dialysis had already started. So, to my horror the heparin syringe now had blood in it because I used the same line to draw the saline. I panicked further.

I anyway gave the bolus shot of heparin and the dialysis continued.

When the tech came, he checked everything and said it was all right. The blood would not clot even in the syringe because it was anyway mixed with heparin. I was worried about the xylocaine that mistakenly went into my bloodstream. I called my aunt who is a doctor and checked with her about it.

She asked me how long it was since this happened. I told her it was about half an hour. She said if nothing has happened in half an hour, it should be ok. And, she recollected, they did give xylocaine IV sometimes in arythmia or irregular heart beats in some patients.

Well, I'm writing this today, so everything was ok in the end.

But this whole experience was really scary. The problem was not the error. This kind of an error could have been committed by a dialysis nurse or tech too. The problem was that I did not know how to recover from the error. That is what scares me.

What I really need is good training for home hemo. Which is not yet available in India. I need to be trained to handle these kinds of situations. When will this become available? Not very soon, I'm afraid. There are hardly any people doing home hemo on their own. This is not a priority for the medical community. When there are people who die due to the lack of dialysis itself, expecting the system to have training for home hemo is not realistic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My problem with Dostana

I saw Dostana yesterday. It was a good film.

I have one problem with it however. There is a scene in the film where Abhishek Bachchan asks Priyanka Chopra if she is ok with the whole gay thing. Is she comfortable with the fact that Abhishek and John Abraham, who are going to be staying in her house are gay? Priyanka then replies saying that of course she's ok with it. 'Its your choice'.

This is one misconception that people have. They call being gay a 'choice'. It is not a choice. It is how people are made. Their genetic make-up. When you like something, it is not that you consciously decide to like it. You just like it.

Similarly when people are attracted to others of the opposite sex or the same sex, it is not a conscious decision they are making. It is just a part of their system. Their genes are just wired that way. Its not as if at some point in life, a person decides which sex he or she is going to be attracted to.

The worst possible reaction of course, is to think that gays are perverts and that something is 'wrong' with them or that they are 'diseased'. This is ridiculous. But attributing this to a choice that they have made is wrong too.

Another common misconception that people have about gays is that they are always effeminate. Bollywood has constantly portrayed gays as effeminate. Well, some gays are effeminate but definitely not all. Nobody can make out that a person is gay just from physical appearance. In an attempt to burlesque gays and raise some laughs, Bollywood has been severely guilty of this faulty depiction.

It is high time we moved away from such stereotypes and mistaken notions.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Miracles as an aid to faith

There is a saying in Hindi, "Jahaan chamatkar, wahaan namaskar". Which roughly translates to, "Where there is a miracle, people will bow".

What is it about a miracle that attracts people?

People look up to people who are able to perform miracles because of the supernatural element. Something above the ordinary. Something they cannot do themselves. Something beyond the realms of science.

This is really unfortunate. Do we really need a miracle to be able to believe in something? Will we believe in something just because the person who propounds it can perform miracles? If a person can perform miracles, then do we believe everything he or she says?

This is really something we should think about.

Whatever I believe in is based entirely on logic. It should make sense. I will not believe in something just because the person who said this could perform supernatural acts.

What we define as 'defying science' is actually 'defying science as it is today'. Science is ever changing. Yesterday's theories are disproved today. Today's theories will be disproved tomorrow. What constitutes a miracle today could be consistently reproducible in the lab tomorrow.

I cannot base my beliefs based on what someone who can perform miracles says. These people could have vested interests. I need my beliefs to be backed by sound reasoning and rationale. Not vague concepts further obfuscated by the clever use of words.

I am not referring to any particular religion or person. This is a phenomenon that exists across religions and cultures. 'Godmen' frequently use miracles to attract devotees. People are so gullible that they easily fall prey to these people.

When people take to a person as a 'guru' or someone who they really admire and respect, it should be because of his or her purity and definitely not because of an ability to perform miracles.

A true saint is someone who does not do things to become popular. A person who does not do things to attract devotees. A person who is so selfless and free from ego that people will naturally come to him or her without any effort. A person who is pure and free from material desires.

Not someone who needs the crutches of a miracle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Understanding a patient

In my eleven odd years with CKD, I have come across quite a lot of doctors. Believe me, they came in all varieties.

You have the grumpy old men who feel the patients are there for the sole purpose of irritating them. They will talk with a condescending air. Then there are those that think they're God's gift to mankind. They have egos as big as their paychecks. Any hint of a suggestion from the poor patient on the treatment course and they will go totally berserk.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the doctors who genuinely care for their patients. They understand the agony of what they're going through. They are gentle and affable. Easy to approach. Easy to talk to.

Patients need to have that comfort level when they visit their doctor. They are after all trusting the doctor with their lives. It can be quite disconcerting to be in the hands of someone you can't even discuss your situation openly with.

I have had instances where I would ask the doctor about the possibility of using a particular line of treatment because I might have stumbled across it on the internet and the doctor would blow his top and ask me if I wanted him to treat me or to follow what I suggested. I really have a problem with these kinds of doctors.

On the other hand, it is so comforting to visit a doctor who discusses things with you, explains the rationale behind the treatment modality he is choosing and takes your opinion, answers your questions and we come to a conclusion together.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peripheral Neuropathy

For the last month or so, I've been having some numbness in my left foot. I ignored it for a while because it was not too bad. However, when it persisted for this long, I went and met with my nephrologist, Dr. Girish Narayen a few days back.

He sounded very worried and said we should not take chances and should investigate this thoroughly. When I asked him what he was thinking this could be, he said these could be early symptoms of a stroke. He asked me to consult with a neurophysician.

It would be three days before I would see the neurophysician. I was actually very scared. The things I read up on strokes on the internet and what I had heard in the past made me visualize myself in all kinds of situations and my mind was imagining the worst.

On Monday, I met Dr. Srikant Jawalkar, the head of neurology at Yashoda Hospital. He did a preliminary examination and asked me to get a brain CT scan, a carotid doppler and Nerve Conduction Studies done. The same day I got all these done.

Yesterday I went with the reports to Dr. Jawalkar. We had the diagnosis. The CT and the doppler were normal. The Nerve Conduction Studies showed some damage to the nerves in my feet. Thankfully, there was nothing that showed a risk for strokes.

This damage to the nerves is called Peripheral Neuropathy. It is often seen in people on dialysis for a long time. It does not happen to all but it is seen in some people. So, obviously I had to have it!

He put me on some medication and said there was nothing to worry. We would review after about a month.

I was really relieved that it was not serious.

The problem with the human body is that it is designed to function as a symbiotic whole. When anything goes wrong with one part of it, it sets off a gradual chain reaction in almost all other parts of it. It is not like your good 'component' based design in software where one component should function independently of the other components! If a change is made to one component, it should not affect other components. Someone needs a course in good design principles!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gossip monger

"What are the three most effective forms of communication?"

"Telephone, Television and Tell-a-woman!"

So true!

Some women make very good gossip mongers. Anything remotely scandalous and they will suffer from indigestion unless they talk about it to every person in sight. And if you want it to spread really fast tell her not to tell anyone.

A few years back I had to pick up something from an acquaintance's house. So, I parked my car in the parking area of the apartment complex he stayed in and went up to his flat.

As it turned out, he was not at home. His mother was however there. I asked for him and was told he had gone out. I asked her to tell him that I had come to collect such and such a thing.

She said she would. As I turned to go back, she beckoned me over. I turned to face her. She said to me, "You know what? The girl in the opposite flat ran away with her boyfriend."

I was shocked. What did that have to do with me? I neither knew the family nor the girl. I had probably visited that apartment for the first time in my life. I figured the lady must not have met anyone from the morning and was dying to tell someone. She ran into poor old me. So she had to tell me!

"Oh!" I muttered as I hurriedly left the place. Through the corner of my eye, I caught her looking pleased and relieved.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

'Everything will be all right'

I've heard this baloney quite often. It is the ultimate universally reassuring statement. Whatever happens, don't worry. Everything will be all right.

It can be very irritating sometimes. What will be all right?

CKD has taken away the best years of my life from me. It has brought a host of other problems with it. But don't worry, everything will be all right.

Do these words really help? Do you think they offer comfort? They are really easy to say. Easy to utter. And people think they have done their job by saying this.

I understand that the intent is to ease the agony with the hope of a better future. But honestly, they don't help at all. I know what I have. I'm not that foolish to think that there is going to be a day when I will not have any medical problems at all. I'm stuck with this for life. I know that.

Don't get me wrong here. I am definitely not depressed. I am totally composed. I deal with this very objectively. I am handling this quite well. It is very easy to give up. Pavan Joshi did. I am not going to. Not so soon anyway.

But making such silly statements is totally unnecessary whatever the intent.

One other piece of advice I have for people going to visit someone in a hospital. Never discuss the problem. You never know enough to offer advice. Visit and discuss something totally unrelated. Politics, films, work, whatever. Never ask the patient or the family about the problem. Your visit should be an opportunity for them to get away from the problem. They have discussed this enough.

I have had totally ignorant people coming to visit me (years back when I was in hospital) and ask me what the doctor said. How does that bother you? You know what he said? He said I should not tolerate nosy visitors. Never mind what the doctor said. Let's hear what you have to say instead.

Sorry for ranting so much today.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Technical versus Managerial

I'm at the crossroads of my career. I need to make some important decisions which will stay with me for a long, long time.

The most important decision at this time is whether to choose the managerial route or the technical route.

The 'normal' career path of many people in the software industry is that they start off as programmers, testers etc. and learn the ropes, so to speak, for a few years and then either continue in the technical area by graduating to design and architecting or slowly get into a managerial role where they lead teams and are responsible for delivery.

Due to my rather unique circumstances, however, I did not get a chance to spend enough time on programming in my early years. I had to take on a managerial position pretty soon. I like to believe I did well.

Now, when I have some time on my hands, I find myself inclined to the technical side. I am focussing on learning Linux on the one hand (shell scripting, how Linux works, the different libraries etc.) and Cocoa (building desktop applications for the Mac) on the other hand.

I enjoy this thoroughly.

On the other hand, some of my friends feel I make a good manager and dealing with people is my forte. Also, some people have suggested that I should now aim to handle an independent software unit rather than manage single projects. This is because I have been doing this for the last few years and doing some technical stuff or managing single projects would not be a step that could be construed as 'growth'.

This is the dilemma I must resolve. And do it quickly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Swimming in the cold

Its getting a little cold in Hyderabad these days. The minimum temperature is around 16 degrees celsius. When I started swimming regularly earlier this year, I often wondered if I will be able to continue this in the winter months.

It is early November and I am glad that I am still swimming daily. I think the body adjusts to circumstances quite well. If someone who has not been swimming comes one of these days and gets into the pool, it will be quite a shock. But since I have been swimming for a few months now, my body is gradually adjusting to the cooler temperatures.

The place I go to has two pools. For some inexplicable reason, the water in one of the pools is always slightly warmer than the other. The water is not heated at all and the pools are next to each other. Inspite of this, the temperature of the two pools is different.

Until now, I have always been swimming in the cooler pool but a few days back I've switched to the warmer one.

I really don't want to stop swimming. It keeps me fit. I've lost a few kilos. My waist has reduced by a couple of inches. And the best part is - I thoroughly enjoy that time. What more could I want?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Late night encounter with a traffic cop

Last night, after a very stimulating discussion on different things (more about this in another post) with some very conscious people over dinner, I was heading back home when there was a posse of traffic cops on the left side of the road arbitrarily stopping vehicles and doing some checking.

You see this happening quite often in Hyderabad these days. A group of traffic cops on one side. The junior guys stopping vehicles at random and checking on things like seat belts, license, registration book etc. The senior guys standing a little distance away leaning against their vehicles writing out the 'challans'. They pick on a spot and then set collection targets - over the table and under the table!

I myself have been accosted quite a few times recently for not wearing my seat belt. Which might be a good thing. I usually pay a fine and leave. Some of the more brazen cops suggest that I can hand them a hundred bucks and I will not have to pay an official fine. I have guiltily acquiesced on more than one occasion. Well, I have my shortcomings.

So yesterday, one of them standing right in the middle of the road signaled me to pull over. I did. He came up to me and came so close to my mouth while asking, "Alcohol piye?" that I thought he had an inbuilt breath detector that could guage the level of alcohol in my breath. "Nahin", I answered.

"License?" I opened my dashboard and started sifting through the innumerable papers in there. I was certain I would not have it. I almost gave up hope when suddenly the red colored bound license caught my eye and I hurriedly pulled it out and showed it to him.

"Ye aapka hai?" What kind of a question was that? "Haan mera hai." He was probably surprised to see my license because it was one of those old non digital licenses, the ones that are the size of an A4 paper and have all the details written manually in the worst possible handwriting. Not the swanky new ones which are the size of a credit card.

"RC?" The cop was now getting agitated. He was trying everything to get his hands on a hundred rupee note or maybe more.

I had gained in confidence by then. I found the RC in a second and gave it to him.

"Oh 2004 ka registration hai?" he exclaimed as if he was surprised that he had actually found a car registered in 2004. How could a car be possibly registered in 2004? That was the tone of his voice. I said "Haan, kyon?" He shook his head in response.

By now, he could sense that I was winning the battle. He then took out what he thought was his trump card. "Pollution?", he said with a smug look on his face. I could almost hear him say to himself, "Got him finally".

"Not so soon buddy", I almost blurted out. Without a word, I pointed to the green pollution certificate on the back of my rear view mirror. I was totally covered.

"Ok" the cop sighed, the feeling of defeat engulfing him totally. He signaled me to carry on.

I never felt as good as I did when I drove away from the place.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How do you determine the exact weight gain?

I'm on nocturnal home hemodialysis. So I start my dialysis usually immediately or shortly after dinner. This means that my weight just before dialysis will always show a little more than what it actually is. This makes it very difficult to know what exactly has been my fluid weight gain between two treatments.

The extra weight that shows up because of the food you just ate is never constant. It depends on what you ate and how much and there is no way to tell the exact amount.

So, you never know how much fluid you need to pull of during a dialysis session.

For example, a few days back, my closing weight after a session was 78 kgs. At night, just before my next dialysis session, my weight was 81 kgs. But I had just had dinner. I usually remove 1 kg to account for dinner. So, I assumed my actual weight was 80 kgs. So, I set the ultrafiltration amount to 2.5 liters (to account for the 500 ml of water that I usually consume during dialysis). So, in effect the nett fluid removal would be 2 kgs.

But, in reality it is never so straightforward. The 1 kg that I assumed is the tricky part. It is very difficult to guage the exact amount.

Yesterday for instance, I assumed the 1 kg and ended up pulling off a lot more fluid. The first half of the day I felt like someone had squeezed me and put me up on a line with hangers to dry. I felt giddy, weak and totally drained. I had to drink a glass of fresh lime water and another glass of Thums Up to even begin to feel better.

Now that's the good part of getting too dry! You get to drink a lot of fluid!

I really wish there was a mechanism to measure the exact amount of extra fluid in the body that was not dependent on the weight. Maybe like measruingt he density of the blood? That should be fairly simple to integrate into the dialysis machine itself. But then, that wouldn't account for the extra fluid in the tissues which could be a significant portion.

Solutions, anybody?