Fitness

I am a fitness noob, but was a bigger one around the same time last year. I used to run once in a while in a small park near my place, but my form wasn’t correct. I would land on the front half of my feet, that would cause so much pain in between my knees and calves that I’d always have to rest for 2-3 days before going out. I didn’t know that my form was off – instead I thought my legs weren’t strong enough to run – until later. It was once I watched a bunch of Youtube videos did I start running correctly and enjoying it along the way. I have since run decent distances on Alki and Elliot Bay trails, and a half marathon in just 2h35m, a number I am personally proud of.

While I always wanted to run, so that I could, for instance, explore a new city through a morning run, I wanted more. But as I said above, I was a fitness noob. I joined a gym for 3 months in India and visited it for 2. The trainer gave me a six day plan, which focused on 2-3 muscles a day, and showed me the basics. I trained but didn’t focus enough on doing the exercises correctly, gradually adding weights or my diet. As expected, I hardly gained any muscle, except for the occasional feel-good.

After I moved to Seattle in April, I started group classes at a local gym. While I could just show up and start sweating by following the instructor, something that attracted me to the classes in the first place, I quickly realized I wasn’t making gains that I privately intended. I wanted more, but had no idea where to start because there were so many programs online to choose from!

I quit the gym after 2-4 months, still occasionally running. Eventually I started researching harder and stumbled upon the Icecream Fitness program on the Fitness subreddit. And that was exactly what I wanted! 3 days a week with about an hour each day, covers full body using basic equipments that were present in my apartment’s gym, raving reviews on Reddit etc.

I have been doing ICF for about 4 weeks now, and love it so far. I also started taking a protein supplement (whey protein, to be specific) for the first time hoping it’ll help build muscle. One of the challenges I am about to run into with program is that my apartment’s gym doesn’t have enough equipments for strength-training, especially a Power Rack for heavy barbells. I guess I am going to join my earlier gym again, this time just for its equipments and not for its classes.

At the end, I am excited about this part of my life, and hope to build a muscular body similar to those that movies have led us to believe are so common in men!

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Starting to write, again

I used to blog, but then I quit because it was time-consuming. It used to take me a lot of time to coherently put down my ideas, often requiring multiple iterations to get the grammar right. And the latter was necessary because I am a grammar nazi and didn’t have tools like Grammarly back then.

I, however, feel that it’s important to write for many reasons. One, my future self will be interested to know what I was thinking today. And even though pictures and tweets can serve a similar purpose, they can’t beat a well-thought blog post. Two, it gives clarity to thoughts. As Jeff Besoz says, “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.” Of course, six isn’t a strict number, and the same should apply to a three hundred word blog post! Third, it improves my production vs consumption balance. I consume way more content than what I produce, a side-effect of the always online mindset of the contemporary world. This isn’t healthy, and writing can help fix it to a minor extent.

So, I plan to start writing again. But this time, I’ll keep the process lean. I’ll prefer keeping the content short, so that the activity doesn’t turn into a burden as it did earlier. I won’t worry about the grammar that much either: I’ll get it right enough, not necessarily perfect.

I have a lot to share, about Seattle, Bangalore, my career at Amazon so far, marriage life etc.! I know it is possible the activity might not stick, but I am hopeful.

Eurotrip, in retrospect

Note: This post is in continuation to an older one, The Eurotrip countdown, where I talked about how I ended up going to Europe. Pictures can be found here.

Well, this time I certainly outdid myself. I came back from Europe in May last year, but it wasn’t until today morning that I finished going through all my photos and uploading them to Picasa with captions. True, there more than six hundred of them, but sixteen months is way too much!

Anyway, now that is done, I would also like to capture some thoughts that I couldn’t reasonably do in a photo album. They follow, in no particular order.

  • You gotta take the plunge! Yes, for someone who hasn’t done this before, starting on such a long solo adventure isn’t a trivial affair. But look at this way: if you don’t do it now and keep waiting for all the stars to align (right time of your life, right company etc.), do you actually think it is ever going to happen?
  • Hostel receptionists are great sources of local knowledge. And are almost always enthusiastic to share it with an attentive listener.
  • Walk a lot. It is the (only/best?) way to explore a new place.
  • That women are treated as equals is easily visible. For e.g., I saw women driving trams, handling metro ticket counters, managing restaurants, validating passports at airport etc. This is certainly not a norm in India, especially in the public sector.
  • I had always felt that a foreign traveler, staying in an Indian city such as Hampi for five days, was experiencing it better than me, who would be there for only a weekend. This, however, changed when I met a guy in Lyon who had been there for almost a week. While I was roaming around the town, this guy was sleeping all the time in hostel. Such a big waste of time, something that I can never do.
  • Folks are so well-dressed, even on a usual day, in some cities such as Lisbon and Madrid.
  • In Lisbon, car drivers halt for you, even on a green traffic signal, if you show the slightest intention to cross.
  • You seldom see anyone in a hurry. On the contrary, you might come across a public garden full of people on a weekday afternoon. Now, are Europeans generally not industrious or do they try hard to find time for themselves, that is a separate question I can’t answer.
  • If only India focused more on tourism, there is so much more money that it could make.
  • Their pricing strategy of metro trains is stupid- why would I pay a constant amount, irrespective of whether I need to go two stations away or twenty.
  • Europeans get easily offended, easier than Indians at least. For e.g., a French woman at a metro ticket counter in Paris asked me why I didn’t greet her first and if this was the norm in my country. I realized I had offended her because she said it out loud. But there might have been other situations where I was behaving normally, as per Indian standards, but not so for the people around me.
  • People don’t stare at others, probably because they are too engrossed in their lives (cellphone, music etc.) or with their partners.

All in all, it was an amazing trip, one of many ‘firsts’ and new cultural experiences. I am planning another one, this time to Eastern Europe, in 2016. Fingers crossed!

The Eurotrip countdown

This post happens to be unique as it is the first I am writing outside India! I have been backpacking alone for a month in Western Europe- a long vacation (not so long in non-Indian SI units, of course) that has been full of many new experiences. While a detailed post and/or photo album will follow, let me first talk about how I ended up planning this trip, the challenges I faced, etc.

A difficult decision:

To be honest, I was intimidated, right from the beginning till I checked into my first hostel. I had my reasons. First, I had never stepped out of India before, and suddenly I was thinking of traveling alone for a month. Most Indians at my age have had been to foreign places because of their job, an internship or with their family. These are much ‘safer’ or ‘easier’ ways of traveling abroad as compared to what I had in mind. Second, I had no idea of how to best manage/get foreign currency, travel inter/intra countries, etc. Third, security concerns. For example, I was somewhat scared to visit Amsterdam, given its reputation.

Why Europe?

Last November, I begun toying with the idea of traveling abroad. The initial inclination was to do a trek, such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountains in Africa and Europe respectively. But when estimated the costs, I realized that I could go much higher in India itself, such as to Stok Kangri, in less than one-fifth the cost. It was then that the idea of a Eurotrip stuck me. I got excited, and here I am!

Moreover, I was pretty sure I would travel alone. When you go with folks, you end up discussing the pros and cons before doing anything. Everyone has an opinion, and what you end up doing is a sum vector of what everyone wants. No judging, but that is how things are. On the other hand, traveling alone gives you complete freedom, something I wanted to have while spending so much money.

Visa formalities:

Oh, the things I had to go through to get the visas! In spite of no prior experience in these matters, I thought I could manage it on my own and didn’t consult a travel agent. What it eventually lead to were six (yes, six!) trips to VFS, the firm that acts as a middleman between you and an embassy, for two visas: Schengen and UK transit! It was incredible.

I initially thought that I would first get the Schengen visa and then chart out details of the trip. I applied to Portugal, as it was my port of entry, without any accommodation proofs. But when they asked me to visit their embassy in Delhi for an interview, which was mandatory as I never had a US, UK or Schengen visa, I decided to wait and see if I could leverage some other option to save at least 15k for a visit to Delhi. I found out that Germany and France have their consulates in Bangalore. I ended up applying to Germany as it turned out, on actually planning the trip, that I was spending most days in Germany. Last, I applied to UK for a transit visa.

Currency:

Arranging currency turned out easier than I expected. I stumbled on a website, BookMyForex, that promised better rates than HDFC or Axis bank. I gave a shot at using their services. The process wasn’t smooth, but they eventually got everything in order before I caught my flight. I took little currency and an Axis prepaid travel card. I mostly used the card because there was no additional charge on swiping it, that in turn meant I could roam around with less cash in my wallet.

Phone calls to India:

There were majorly three options: Viber, Skype and Nymgo. I eventually went with Nymgo for two reasons: it was cheaper than the others and I had heard good reviews about their call quality from a friend who had widely used it while he was in Ukraine. During the trip, Nymgo betrayed me for two days in Bruges- otherwise it has worked great.

Inter/intra-country travel:

I purchased a EURail Global pass with a validity of 24 days of continuous travel. It cost me about 500 EUR, a price that well worth it given the exorbitant prices for train tickets in Europe.

The trip has turned out well till now. Photos, with detailed captions, coming soon!

The old age symptom

This post was written sometime last year, but didn’t publish it until now.

When I joined my first job out of college, I was one of the youngest members of my team. I then had a gala time teasing my seniors about their “old age” even though none of them had crossed thirty. That, however, was a long time ago and three years since, I can offer more meaningful insights for this discussion.

When do you become old? Age certainly can not be a criteria for this as examples abound about people who achieved something substantial at an age of 50 which many couldn’t even muster the courage to think about at 25. Consequently, you shouldn’t be called old simply if your face starts showing wrinkles or hairs starts turning white. Do you turn old when you start assuming bigger responsibilities in life? I suppose not.

On one of my Himalayan treks earlier this year, our trek guide surprised me when he said he preferred guiding first-time trekkers because they are more open. The first-timers are not weighed down by their prior experiences and hence are willing to learn anything new that the guide has to offer and they do not keep saying “this is not how we used to do things in my previous treks”. When I think about it, one becomes old when one becomes resistant to change. You are either too comfortable in your comfort zone or are unwilling to try something new because “that is not how you used to do this thing previously” or you are not willing to take risks.

It is imperative that we try something new every once in a while. From what I have seen, doing this is not straightforward. Still, this is all that can give any meaning to what we do with our lives.

A hobbyist’s backlog

In the closed meeting rooms of offices, we solemnly discuss sprint backlogs and technological debts. Why not talk similarly about a hobby that you pursue a little more seriously? With the tune of Misty Mountains playing in the back of my head, I search for words to illustrate the kind of debt that I, a serious movie-watcher, owe to myself!

This is majorly about The Lord Of The Rings. I first saw the movie and then read the book but I still felt I had just skimmed the surface of an epic which has enthralled so many. I always wanted to revise the trilogy but only got around to start doing it during my current Diwali visit to Ahmedabad. I don’t intend to finish it, something that is no small task given the humongous variety of characters, events and perspectives that constitute the LOTR. Rather, I intend to watch the movies again, paying more attention to details, and also go through the book as time permits.

Apart from the trilogy, there are other movies as well which I have to revisit to understand them better, or just to find more reasons to call them great. Some of these titles include No Country for Old Men, Once Upon a Time In The West and Lost Highway, among others. This Watch Again list is different from My Watchlist which is simply a list of movies to help me quickly choose a new film to watch next.

One other thing that goes on, along with the usual movie-watching, is an attempt to get the benchmarking of my IMDb ratings right. There was a time, in the beginning, when I’d rate most of the movies as seven or eight, and only occasionally rate a title five. For example, there was a time when I gave Torque a full seven stars out of ten! I am still learning how to get my ratings right.

The big man’s story!

An avid reader during childhood, I have seen a huge shift in my reading habits since long. The detective novels and random non-fiction books have largely been replaced by posts from Facebook, Twitter, Quora and other random places on the internet. So when I began reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, a gift from a close friend who said the book might help me make sense of my entrepreneurial thoughts, I wasn’t too excited. However, now that I have read the entire thing, I have begun to appreciate what the world lost when Jobs died a couple of years ago.

Being a well-researched project, with inputs from the man himself, the book is an authentic account of Jobs’ life. The two aspects of the latter, that impacted me the most, follow:

  • A tremendous drive to get things done and an obsession with perfection: Some of the most iconic products that Jobs created were, in fact, already there in the market before. They, however, distinguished themselves from the competition because of their innate simplicity and user-friendliness. Jobs introduced features which, though pushed engineering to its limit, eventually gave a beautiful experience to the end user.
    For example, Mac copied the GUI from a Xerox machine, but it implemented it in a much better way. Sony was already in the digital music player business before the iPod, but the latter swept the music industry off its feet with a sleek look and a much simpler user interface. Jobs introduced a touch phone, and later a tablet, without a stylus at a time when every smartphone carried one. Moreover, the swipe-controls so common in smartphones today were actually a very cool thing back when Jobs introduced them in iPhone: if you don’t believe me, just search for the first iPhone launch video on YouTube and hear the crowd erupt in amazement when he first swipes through a list of music!
  •  A rebellious nature and a don’t-care attitude towards insecurity and dogma: When ousted from Apple, Jobs said he wanted to start another company because he was thirty and he had nothing better to do in life. For someone raised in a society which insists on having a job for financial security, this story was thought-provoking.

Grab a copy if you can. And maybe you’ll like it as much as I did!

P.S.- If you’ve already read about Steve Jobs, you’ll definitely love, and more importantly, understand, this!